Women Photographers: what the guide books aren’t telling you (Part 2)

Women Photographers: what the guide books aren't telling you (Part 2)

In part 2 of our series speaking to women photographers about what it’s like being a photographer in a  business largely dominated by men, we spoke with leading wedding and lifestyle photographer Kate Hopewell-Smith to find out her views.

Kate Hopewell-Smith

Women Photographers: what the guide books aren't telling you (Part 2)

Please explain your thoughts on the quality, design and information included in guide books and mags on the market in the past and today.

I rarely found the cover images of the photography books and magazines inspiring – particularly if it was just another shot of a model (i.e. no one of real interest like an actress etc). Or it was another landscape or insect. Yawn.

In terms of content, often the guides started from the technical aspect – i.e. what f-stop or shutter speed should you use rather than the reason behind the image, the choice of location or light.

I suppose that’s why I don’t love studio work – it all gets boiled down to light ratios too often. The design is often not very appealing to women either – it’s very information heavy and has no real eye for clean, modern layouts which allow content to breathe!

That said, there is definitely a shift towards a more ‘designed’ look – which is all good as far as I’m concerned.

In terms of technical information, one thing that is so often missing is the focal length an image was shot at. It’s all well and good saying an image was taken at f/2.8 on a 70-200mm lens, but what really helps with technique is saying it was taken at a 200mm focal length. I spend quite a lot of time explaining to people how important their choice of focal length is in the final look of an image.

Another nice shift is that it’s OK to just get an opinion these days – the rise of the column and hearing about how someone is surviving the photography market – survival has become a crucial subject matter.

As has business, and I’ve noticed so many more articles on branding, marketing and selling finally. Maybe it took a recession and saturated market to make this happen?

Differences between men and women photographers

All images this page by Kate Hopewell-Smith

From your own experiences, what one thing do you wish the guide books had told you when you were first starting out in the industry?

I can only talk from the social and lifestyle aspect, but what is NEVER mentioned is that YOU are your biggest USP – or in some cases weakest link. Because I train so many photographers I really do see a cross section of the lifestyle market.

I am often amazed that people with very few social/people skills want to be social photographers. They may be technically brilliant but if you don’t have empathy and ability to talk to anyone you will not make it. A fact – I swear.

The photographic industry has seen more women enter its ranks over the past 15 years. What do you think are the main differences between female and male photographers in terms of approach to learning new photography skills?

Such contentious issues, this one. Men don’t like the fact that social photography seems to ‘suit’ women.

Women are good listeners, they are usually naturally empathic and understand a women’s potential to fret over how they are portrayed – we all want to look our best and I know that I get booked because I will make a women look their best. I notice bingo wings, back fat etc and I use light or posing to minimise.

Am I all about truth? No. I’m not a purist photojournalist (it’s a very male sector and generally they don’t like interacting with people/couples). Please understand I respect them hugely but it’s not for me or my brides. I want to make people feel good about themselves.

Women generally want to learn visually and by practice – they like to see a finished image and work backwards so that the technical is the vehicle and not the reason for shooting.

We see a scene and we want to be able to capture it as we see it. We generally don’t go out thinking – I’m going to shoot on f/16 today so what should I shoot? Women also tend to share more  – the ups and the downs – so are very suited to the explosion of social media like Facebook, Twitter, blogging etc.

What are the differences between men and women photographers?

What do you think the internet and traditional guide books could learn from each other?

This is relevant to my comment about sharing experiences. The internet is very good for dipping in and out of and answering questions like – “What shutter speed should I be using during the first dance with my Speedlight?” Yes, we want the answers to these questions!

We like to hear opinions on why a technique works or not. What women hate about the internet is the snobby attitude of male photographers who say, “If you are asking those kind of questions you shouldn’t be shooting weddings.”

They are probably right, but the fault lies with the lack of regulation in the industry, not with the person who has agreed to shoot a wedding for a friend. There is also no regulation on the internet so people may be following advice from photographers who are actually technically poor.

I love reading photography books and would love to write one at some point – but I would really need to know what people WANT.

Are guide books alienating women photographers?

As a trainer, do you approach teaching male and female photography students differently?

Absolutely not, but I tend to attract a more female audience because I take the focus off the technical – i.e. I say yes it matters, yes you need to know this stuff, but you also need to understand your clients, how they are feeling and how to market and brand yourself.

It’s much more about the whole package you need as a social photographer – there are a lot of boxes that need ticking.

What one mistake did you learn from a guide book and later realise was wrong?

I think that I am someone who only absorbs the information that I deem relevant to me – I skip over the stuff that doesn’t resonate. I do believe that there is no ‘one’ way to shoot and you have to find the way that suits you.

For example, I don’t like using a light meter when I’m shooting with studio lights – I find instinct and trial and error gets me the results I want.

For instance, I don’t think, “The meter is saying f/5.6 so it must be right.” I think, “What is the look I am trying to achieve here and is that more like f8?”

Famous women photographers: Kate Hopewell-Smith on what it's like working in a male industry

What is the biggest learning curve for male and female photographers?

It’s different for everyone and I don’t think is gender-specific. For some it’s the technical knowledge; for others it’s the interaction. Others may struggle with the post production and workflow. For me it was the technical knowledge because I had the social and business skills already.


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