10 Jun 2013

Why Are Landscape Photographers Predominantly Male?

I seem to have gone from working in one traditionally male-dominated industry (banking) to another (ie. photography). It dawned on me as I stood on a cold beach in south-east Iceland at sunrise earlier this year, having walked along the beach past 12 other photographers, all of whom were male. I'd never thought about it until that moment. I wondered whether this was just a one-off, and thought back on all the other professional photographers I'd come across on my travels - the photographer on that Antarctic ship, the guy light-painting the moai on Easter Island at dusk, a guy I'd photographed alongside the previous year in Iceland, and so on... Yup, they'd pretty much all been male.

* One of the male photographers perched on an iceberg on the beach at Jökulsárlón in South-East Iceland

I thought about this a bit more and did a bit of digging around on the internet when I got home to see if anyone else had researched the male/female photographer split. I wasn't surprised to find that this topic has not only come up before, but everyone else had reached the same conclusion as me.

So why is this, I wondered? The number of women studying at photography schools and colleges is slightly lower than men and then those that have studied it drop out along the way. Fewer photographers who join the profession later in life are women too. I think the main reason is probably because landscape and travel photography are both very time-consuming and solitary and hence not practical if you have kids. Given that women are usually the primary carers of children, spending hours (at strange times of day) out in the middle of nowhere just isn't possible. Perhaps women are also more nervous about going out on their own too. Perhaps, also, the technical side of things puts women off; men love their gadgets, after all.

I'd love to know how many female travel or landscape photographers (or photo-journalists) have children; I suspect the number who do have children is quite small, as they'd have to leave them for long periods of time in order to be able to do the job. I would expect a large proportion of the women who do end up becoming professional photographers specialise in areas where the hours are more regular - such as portrait and weddings, and where the physical risks and separation/isolation required are lower.

* This is me, of course, as there weren't any other female photographers in sight!

I noticed today that National Geographic has started its own photographic stock agency and that out of their talent pool of 73 photographers and videographers available for commissions only 13 of them are female. No surprise there then.

So in the end, it's not dissimilar from banking - the proportion of women that start out in the industry is under 50%, and an increasing percentage of those women drop out along the way, because of children, higher aversion to risk, etc.

I guess I'm something of an exception to this: I have no kids, just a husband who can look after himself and a dog who can be looked after by my husband or parents, so I can just fly off to take photos for 10 days if I want (and if I had neither the husband nor the dog, I would be flying off a lot more!). Most 42-year-old women would not be in a position to do this, mainly because they do have children. When I spoke to some of the other photographers that I met in Iceland (who were also in their forties) they mentioned holidays with the wife and kids, but the photographic trips were always alone or with other (male) photographers; the wives always looked after the kids back home.

One thing that doesn't really fit in with my theory, however, is money. These days photography is rarely well-paid, so not usually the profession of the breadwinner in the family (who still tends to be male). I wouldn't be surprised that with the traditional stock revenue stream dramatically reduced for pros this might serve as a barrier to entry for both genders and there will be fewer and fewer photographers who are able to make a living out of it in the future, male or female. But that's another story.

I'd be very interested to hear people's thoughts on and experiences about this gender observation...


  1. I noticed the Maleness of photography to, even in the model world it is all male dominated with a few shooters that i have followed in the past being female mainly one woman that caught my eye by the name of Annie Leibovitz, I learned of her in the first photography class I took.. Is is really quite unique and somewhat all over the place, meaning she has her camera in all the cookie jars, not just one... LOL .. Anyway i am looking forward to exploring your work Sophie Carr.

  2. Interesting question! I hope my comment isn't taken the wrong way, but here's my initial, gut-reaction guess as to why:

    I don't think women tend to love nature any less, or be any less capable of producing astounding works of art, both landscape and otherwise. I do, however, think they probably tend to feel less safe wandering around locations at dark, carrying expensive equipment. Pulling into a remote parking lot hours before dawn, sleeping alone in tents, walking on park trails after the sun has set... all of these are things that can make my skin crawl, and on average, when I bring women along, they tend to be more unnerved than me. Perhaps enough that it would not be worth the trek if they were unaccompanied.

    I think this idea, if true, is still saddening... think of all the amazing perspectives we might have missed due to lack of safety.

  3. Agreed Matt - when I was in Iceland I went out in the early hours of the morning to try to capture (pretty non-existent) northern lights and felt rather nervous when a car went past! I was in the middle of nowhere, no-one knew where I was, and I did feel uneasy. And that's in Iceland, which feels like one of the safest places in the world.

    Yes, sad to think of all that creative talent out there that's too scared to go out at night!

  4. One of the interesting things I've noticed running a landscape photography magazine (On Landscape) is that although women are in the minority, they are generally ploughing a more creative/varied furrow than many of their male counterparts. I don't know the reason for this but I have a few ideas - mostly around the social isolation that women feel and then the 'clubby' nature of male landscape photography. In a strange way I think males need more social approval then females (as a massive generalisation)

  5. Hi
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  6. Beautiful landscape photos are often defined by the quality of light they were taken in. Amazing photographs , nice work..

    Regards Eduard

  7. Amazing, these shot looks stunning and absolutely breathtaking. Truly an inspirational works of art and photography.

    CD stock photo

  8. I just saw this post, it is an interesting discussion, I have just written a post on it myself and there are lots of ideas on why it might be so. One thing that many women find is they find it very hard to be recognised as a landscape photographer, which is so sad. I find myself, I do want to do landscape photography and architectural photography that I am not really taken seriously.
    Great post.

    1. Thanks Leanne. I guess we just have to work at being taken seriously by being very good at what we do, just as women have been struggling for years with in other industries to prove that gender is irrelevant - it's ability that matters.

  9. I simply saw this post, it's a remarkable discussion, I actually have simply written a post on that myself and there are scores of concepts on why it'd be thus. One issue that several ladies notice is that they notice it terribly laborious to be recognized as a landscape artist, that is thus unhappy.

  10. As they say, behind every great man is.. well, a woman.

    I'm a female landscape photographer and most of my contemporaries are men, however I do know a fine lot of wonderful female shooters. I've been interviewed a few times and they always ask this question; Why so few females?

    I think I've noted this and you've seemed to touched upon it also. Let's be honest, there is not much money to be made anymore in this field. Magazine's don't pay what they used to and the stock image market has crashed, workshops are a dime a dozen. Unless you are big big draw like Art Wolfe, Peter Lik, Nick Brandt, on and on.. you're struggling a bit.

    Men have a much better chance of having that "back up" income of a working wife to help support their art. I know many who do just that. If they were left to survive on just their sole income as a photographer they'd never make it.

    As a single woman and a landscape photographer, I have to rely on my job in the medical field to pay for my travel and equipment. I basically work 2 jobs. How many women can do that with kids, family obligations and financial concerns. While I do make some money with photography, (Published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine, August 2014) freelance work for The Arizona Republic, stock work, etc. I could never make a living off of it. At least not right now.

    Secondarily, I think that it's a man's world (photography) and we get overlooked. Look at Canon's Explorer of Light program. Last I looked, it had 50 explores and only 2 were women. I contacted Canon and wanted to know why…as well.

    As women in landscape photography we have to over-come many obstacles men don't. Heavy gear, equipment engineered for men. My fully packed camera backpack is almost 1/4 th my total body weight. We must travel with huge safety concerns being alone in the wilderness. Jennifer Wu, one of the very rare Canon Explorers, writes a great blog article about the different safety issues women face.

    Either way, I'm out here and proud to be a landscape photographer. The good thing is that WE are finally making names for ourselves.

    1. Thanks for your reply Valerie! I hadn't heard of the Explorers of Light before - just had a look and now there are 5 out of 35 women - so perhaps things are getting better!! I'll have a look at the Jennifer Wu blog.

  11. I came across your blog post asking this question! I also work full time in a male dominated industry (web development). And at the moment I am young and have no children. I just hope when i do have children i can continue my hobby/side career ....

  12. I came across your blog post whilst writing up a landscape photography critical review and have just got to writing up why there are not many women. Thank you for the posts and the comments which confirm that it is still hard for women to get into a male dominated area. Even some photography clubs have the same male clique.