Two Good Questions
One of my students recently asked me this question:
Samantha, what is a day in the life of a professional nature photographer like? Is it difficult being a woman in a seemingly male-dominated field?
These are two huge questions, so I will break them up and give it my best shot!
A Day in the Life
The answer to this question is a big IT DEPENDS. It depends on the personality of the photographer and her priorities. It also depends on how long the photographer has been working because the photo industry is in a huge state of flux right now. Those who have been around for some time will likely still be doing their old work: shooting for stock, heading out on assignments, or fronting the financial risk on a trip to get new images. But they will also most likely be spending increasing amounts of time doing new things like teaching courses, leading photo tours, and building a presence on the web.
I asked Darwin about this as he has been around the scene for some time. He used to head out to the wilderness and capture images he thought would sell, hand them over to a stock agency, and then head out again. There was some administration in dealing with the odd print sale or camera club talk, but he spent much more time out in the field than at a desk. Even if he had a book deal it involved working outside in nature. Now, he spends relatively little time out shooting and most of his time behind a desk processing images, dealing with emails, and building a presence online.
And that describes my days too since entering the field about three years ago. At an entry level, photography is much easier because modern advances have created programs that take the guesswork out of exposure for the beginner resulting in more and more amateurs picking up a camera. At the same time, the digital era has allowed for near instantaneous transmission of images over the internet resulting in a flood of decent images for a fraction of the cost.
What is also a part of my day is the pressure to master a multitude of tasks seemingly unrelated to photography per se in order to build my business. Various computer software programs, such as Adobe’s suite, need to be mastered in order to teach and stay current. Photoshop, Bridge, Elements, Lightroom and InDesign are all programs I am continually trying to advance in. Even when I feel like I have a grasp on one program, new updates, plug ins or other software make that knowledge dated. As well, I find the more I understand web (and graphic) design, traffic patterns on the web, preparing images for the web and networking on the web, the better for my business.
When I do get out to shoot, it is usually with a product in mind and not just for the joy of it. You have to enjoy making images that you can sell to succeed at this business. I spend most of my time at the computer on collateral aspects of photography and not on the taking or processing of images.
Working in a Man’s World
The answer to the second question is an unequivocable YES.
Some of the reason for this is just that, when one gender dominates a profession, it starts to look a certain way that is reflective of the values of the gender that runs it. For example, in the traditional photo industry, hierarchy is important. Women can be possessive, but in my experience we are less hierarchical. I have bumped up against the ‘hierarchy’ wall in photography a few times. For me, if something is good it should receive appropriate recognition whether that image was made two years into a career or twenty. Opportunities should be awarded based on merit, not station.
Another big difference is that photography is considered more of a craft, or even a trade, than an art form for many photographers. This is obvious from the emphasis placed not on the principles of photography (why, what) but on the mechanics (how). I know of very few art forms where most of the discussion revolves around the gear required to make art than the actual making of the art. The thinking is that, the better the tools, the better the image! Camera companies recognize the importance of tools to modern man and exploit this in their marketing. If they were marketing towards women, I imagine the name, colour, size and weight of all camera gear would be substantially different. If you aren’t a gear-head, the constant hawking of camera ‘toys’ and the endless discussion over gear is disheartening. Let’s just say that very few people I meet debate the merits of composition and visual design!
But…. That shift in the industry I mentioned above is also having a large influence on who are the photographers. More women and more young people are picking up cameras. This, too, will have an impact on the industry. These people tend to be multi-talented, juggling more than one job and bringing in sophisticated media skills into the mixture. Graphic designers, software creators, animators, scrapbook lovers—anyone who works in visual media may find it easier to get their own stills than hire a photographer. Remember Mom always behind the digicam? Well now she’s taking an online course on photographing pets and updating her family’s facebook page with fresh video of the family vacation.
The ‘old way’ of photography is dead. I think if you are flexible, multi-skilled in media forms and happy to network online, now is a great time for you to join the industry.