Where are All the Female Nature Photographers?

So many well-known wildlife photographers are from Mars, but not many are from Venus. Why is this?

As the book from the 90’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus implied, there certainly are distinct differences between the sexes. Could those differences explain some of the reasons why there are many more internationally known male wildlife photographers than female?

When my interest in nature and wildlife photography started in the 90’s, I had no female mentors. My mentors were Art Wolfe and Tom Mangelsen – both men. When I took my first overseas photography trip to Antarctica, the two ship photographers were men: Wolfgang Kaehler and Jonathan Scott.

Over the last 12 years I have worked in earnest to develop my skills as a wildlife photographer, as well as sharing my expertise by conducting photography workshops and showing my work in juried art shows. But I have learnt that it is essential to develop your confidence, and not be shy about self-promotion, to succeed in a male-dominated profession.

Doing all of this takes so much time, especially with the need to learn all the other things involved in the post production side, which is constantly evolving since digital has become the standard. You must be a salesman, or should I say salesperson, as well as having lots of time, perseverance, and the ability to be critical of your work to push yourself further.

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In the beginning that was a bit difficult for me. I did not have any children, and I kept at it because I wanted to be one of the best. Also, I think that the competitiveness of the business side of things comes more naturally for men. You know, getting your elbows in there to be seen, or shouting that much louder than the rest.

But even the equipment involved could be part of the problem as to why the industry is at a 70:30 split in favour of men. The super telephoto lenses, which are often needed to make that next step in one’s development, are incredibly heavy. The weight can be intimidating, and then there’s the cost too, of course. But that has changed in recent years, with much lighter quality telephoto glass coming at a much lower cost and weight.

Could it be the social side, or should I say the rather unsocial side, of being out in the woods alone. How many women love hiking long distances, sweating (a lot) with all sorts of insect spray on, plus carrying heavy equipment. I would say more women would say “no” to that than men. My quest does take me to wearing rather non-feminine clothes, not much make-up and a cap that keeps my hair from getting in the way of taking pictures. But… I love it!

How about the technical side of photography, or what’s maybe known as the “geeky side”. It seems more men are interested in digging themselves into computers, cameras, tripods, tripod heads, etc. I have tried to learn as much as I can about each camera that my workshop clients use: the different controls, how well different gear performs in certain situations.

I smile when some women I am around talk about just spending money on a Louis Vuitton handbag or Gucci shoes, when I think it is amazing when I get some new Merrell hiking shoes or an Arc’teryx jacket. So maybe it has nothing to do with the sexes, but just different strokes for different folks.

As of late I do see more and more women breaking boundaries: Judy Lynn Malloch, Denise Ippolito and Lisa Langell are just a few of them.

But this has all been food for thought and a bit of me thinking out loud. I have great appreciation for all of my mentors for their inspiration. I have also learned a lot from previous photography trips, as well as instructors, about how to reach out to people (and how not to). Even though they’ve all been men, it hasn’t stopped me from doing what I do today. In fact, much the opposite!

My workshop clients have been equally split between men and women, and both genders have enjoyed our time together and have given me very nice feedback. One gentleman flew all the way down from Canada to have a full weekend workshop with me in Florida. I felt very honoured! We spent 12 hours each day, one out in the field and the next on the computer learning post processing techniques. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, especially when I saw that light come on and the smile on his face after seeing his images at the end of the weekend. I get much fulfilment with these types experiences, with all my clients.

So, women, do not be shy! If you have the interest and love how YOU feel out there, then give it all you’ve got! One of my favourite sayings is, Live MAS, Live BIG or MORE!! There might be a part of this world that would fulfil you, ladies? We will see in years to come if the ratio increases on the female side or not. What do you think?

Nancy Elwood is an award-winning wildlife photographer who resides in Florida, in the United States. She has been perfecting her skills over the last 25 years, travelling throughout the United States, Africa, Antarctica, and Central America. Nancy shares her skills conducting photography workshops, and shows her work in juried art shows. Her passion is capturing nature at its best!

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