In Part 3 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 Catherine Connor of Aspire photography training to get her outlook on what the guide book aren’t telling us.
Please explain your thoughts on the quality, design and information included in guide books and mags on the market in the past and today.
Guide books are something historically I have not been drawn towards even though I have looked at them many times with a mission to be included.
They generally do not appeal to the type of client that would be attracted to Aspire. I would love to get involved with the concept of a photographers guide; however, unfortunately they tend to be more directed towards landscape photography.
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?
The industry was not as it is today, the SWPP convention had not yet been created, no Facebook! All was very limited.
I can recall how biased the industry was towards men – i.e. girls with little on handing out marketing materials at trade shows. I found this quite shocking and it was not the vibe that appealed to me.
The industry has evolved forward, yet still not enough. You are still subjected to glamour as a method to sell. I am sure it appeals to some, yet not all.
In the past photography felt like a gentleman’s club and I was not able to become a member, as I was simply the wrong sex! Then a wave of change came and we were very much pioneering that change at the time.
We created our training company, flooded the market place with new images, and liberated photography and photographers. It became very much what you see today.
This was far from easy, but we had a new vibe, a new approach to training, and lifestyle photography was launched. A lot of credit going to Fujifilm, Canon and other major players who empowered women to understand they had the ability and aptitude to become successful photographers.
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?
We often say there are two types of photographers: those very technically minded and those who shoot more intuitively.
The birth of digital made photography more accessible, and with the prices of digital cameras affordable for more people, it ensured a camera could be available in most households across the nation. Women began taking more pictures, the camera became an item now that women could own, whereas historically it had been a man’s game.
Women soon realised by taking pictures of friends that a career could unfold with the right knowledge and professional training. We witnessed the change in seminars where the percentage of men vs women attending became more balanced. In the past we may have spoken to an 80% male audience and a 20% female audience.
Women enjoy the experience of learning, they feel encouraged, informed by debate within class, and I have to say quite a few men do too.
The main difference between the technically minded photographer and the photographer that shoots intuitively is how they like to receive information. The technically minded needs the facts, data and handouts, while the non-techie ones need experience, images and to be inspired.
When we design the seminars we consider both, and ensure the pace of the day feeds both tribes. I believe to be an exceptional photographer you have to be both, and each person will have differing degrees of the balance.
Those who gain the understanding fast that you need to be both often become the pioneers of the industry. Gone are the days where a technically precise image will capture attention, an image needs to be technically executed with amazing content and the content, has to be a mile away from what the consumer could achieve themselves.
Photographers that demonstrate this theory are Kate Hopewell Smith, Tamara Peel, Stuart Cooper and Lisa Aldersley – all very different, yet very intelligent photographers. All are exceptionally creative, gifted, and produce breathtaking images.
All gave time to learn, become the best they could be and left nothing to chance. Much can be learnt by this approach to our craft.
I often hear “I need to learn flash” and I answer why? Which type of situations are challenging you and lets now plot your learning.
Don’t get me wrong, we train the right usage of lighting. I believe it has an important role to play, yet so many use flashes when it is not required – why? And who mainly falls into this trap – men.
I believe they are tricked into believing if you have all the gear, your photography will be stunning, but sadly that is not always the case. I am being general and this is not always the case, but a case to share, to protect those entering the industry.
As a trainer, do you approach teaching men and women photographers students differently?
Women need to feel safe, the environment matters, the experience is important and sharing that experience with those who are nice to learn alongside makes all the difference.
Men want the information, the knowledge like a nice space to learn yet it is less likely to be important.
What is the biggest learning curve for men and women photographers?
Men have to learn it is important to read female magazines; women will be the ones making the choice to book a photographer, so the business must have the ability to attract women and the business does not have to be pink. Men have to give time to understand women – what they want how they want to feel.
Women should trust and believe in themselves more. I meet amazing women photographers who should enter more awards, give themselves more credit and go for their fellows sooner than they might believe. Confidence is a biggie.