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Yes We Can

Encouraging female photographers to get ‘out there’

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Cheryl Hamer

Photography is my passion. I turned pro 4 years ago and now run my own photography workshops company offering workshops at all levels here in North Wales, Iceland and the USA. I really enjoy teaching people - almost as much as making my own photos - I love those 'light bulb moments' when i can see that people have 'got it!


Encouraging female photographers to get ‘out there’ on their own at the more ‘unsociable hours’ of the day or night – and experience the immense photographic and personal satisfaction in doing so!

About a year ago I came back from a solo trip to Iceland doing some reconnaissance for the new photo tours I was planning to run.

This was a BIG THING for me; I had never done this kind of solo trip before, all my previous excursions abroad had been along with other people, and I had never been to Iceland before either. So while I was very excited, I also had quite a lot of trepidation about the trip, particularly as I intended to do some night photography as well as sunrise and sunset shots.

This isn’t an uncommon scenario for women. In the course of running my various workshops and holidays, I get a lot of women coming along and I always try to encourage them to go out at those times – repeating what most of them already know really, that it’s at those more ‘unsociable’ times that they stand the chance of getting their best shots. I also try and encourage them to go out on their own, because again to get our best shots I think we have to really be ‘in the zone’ and totally focused on the landscape; for many of us, other people - even other photographers - can become a distraction and interfere with that experience.

I’m not surprised really that I often get a sharp intake of breath and an exclamation something like “oh I couldn’t possibly go out on my own at those times, I’d be too afraid.”

I’m not surprised really that I often get a sharp intake of breath and an exclamation something like “oh I couldn’t possibly go out on my own at those times, I’d be too afraid.”
Well I have to say, I totally understand those feelings; whilst I’m not normally worried when I’m out at sunset or sunrise on my own, in the middle of the night in Iceland every fibre of me was crying out not to go out in the first place, not to walk up that very dark track in what felt like the middle of nowhere all on my own, and once I got there – to leave as soon as I possibly could! It was a real ‘mind over gut’ moment that had every nerve vibrating away chaotically!

However, the result from that shoot is the aurora shot taken at Kirkjufell shown (above, below, wherever!), and I have to say I’m immensely proud of it, not only because it’s a beautiful picture but also because of what it symbolises.

Similarly, the pictures (above, below, wherever!) taken on Jokulsarlon beach were taken in the blue hour before dawn, and again I was completely on my own with the waves roaring in.

As women, most of us simply aren’t brought up to think that we will do this sort of thing even in the 21st century. There are always rare individuals whose sense of adventure completely overrides the usual constraints, but for most of us – well we are ‘mere mortals’ and have to overcome those inbuilt limitations – often by giving ourselves “a stiff talking to” and doing it anyway! (Thankfully the world is continuing to change, and I do think that for young women these constraints aren’t so strong, so hopefully there will be more and more female photographers ‘doing it’ as the years go on.)

However, for us ‘mere mortals’ quite what’s going on in our heads that’s stopping us I’m not quite sure, but from my experience, those fears are often working at a very visceral level and are so tough to overcome. However, the rewards if we can achieve it are immense at both a photographic and a deeply personal level.

Let’s just step out of this maelstrom of emotion for a minute and look at the facts. I’ve never heard of a photographer being attacked while out on location, have you? As for our fellow male photographers – who are the people most likely to be out in those locations at the same time as us - well

Let’s just step out of this maelstrom of emotion for a minute and look at the facts. I’ve never heard of a photographer being attacked while out on location, have you?
my experience is that they are rarely anything but helpful and considerate. Some of them may well be feeling some trepidation as well. I had the most wonderful experience a few months ago coming down from a mountain in a thunderstorm; a man was sitting on a rock clutching his camera, and as I passed he said he wasn’t sure he dared go any further as it was so scary! Good for him that he had the guts to tell me he was struggling; thunder and lightning are probably more likely to damage us on mountains after all, than fellow photographers or walkers! Similarly, anecdotal evidence tells us that psychopaths, sociopaths, and robbers with violent intent are very unlikely to be out on a hillside or beach at unsociable hours!

I’ve been having a look at a few facts about violent crime in compiling this article. They clearly show that violent crime is falling faster in the UK than in any other European country and that rural areas are far safer than towns. See the map and graph below which clearly show these trends.

The most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales also gives us some interesting data about the balance of violent crime committed against men and women.

Two-thirds of homicide victims in 2011/12 were men. Homicides against men were also more likely to be committed by a friend or acquaintance whereas for women it was most likely to be committed by a partner or ex-partner.

Women were more likely than men to have experienced domestic or sexual violence - 3% of women had experienced some form of sexual assault (including attempts) in the past year, compared with 0.3% of men according to the CSEW 2011/12

So where does all this leave us?

For me, it shows that as women, there’s every reason to embrace President Obama’s slogan and say “YES WE CAN.”

We are far more likely to be attacked by our partners than we are in the middle of the countryside whatever the time of day or night. Although we are more likely to be subject to sexual crime as women that is only by 2.7% - and this is extremely unlikely to happen when out on a photo shoot in the countryside!

We are also far more likely to have an accident while out on a mountain than we are to be attacked in any way – and of course so are men! We only need to take the standard precautions that are freely available on any outdoor adventure website, to ensure our safety – and of course, always make sure that someone knows exactly where we will be going and approximately what time we will be back.

These days there are more and more women getting into photography and experiencing the joy of being able to express our creativity using this unique art form. The rewards of getting out and about in those golden hours – or during the night – are well documented and self-evident. Surely as creative individuals, we want to make the very most of our talents?

These days there are more and more women getting into photography and experiencing the joy of being able to express our creativity using this unique art form.
Perhaps the way to do it is to start small? Go out at sunset on your own first – at a well-known location perhaps where there are likely to be other photographers – but resist the temptation to join the others and just ‘do your own thing’, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how liberating that can feel.

If you can’t face that, by all means, go out in a small group at unsociable hours to start with and see if you can build up from there.

Then see if step by step you can take if further, so that at some point maybe you can even take yourself off to somewhere exotic on your own and have the photographic time of your life! I did just that in Iceland, whereas only a few short years ago I just couldn’t have countenanced it.

So, I hope I’ve encouraged all you female photographers to ‘get out there’ and just do it; and to all you men, if you see us out there on our own, please come and say a friendly ‘hello’, wish us well and then leave us to get on with it!

  • It’s probably impossible for any male to make any comments to try and ‘help’ women photographers without being patronising or condescending. So this contribution is no doubt worthless, and I’ll probably wonder why I wrote it ;-) I hope Cheryl’s piece really does help, females (or males) to get out there at silly times and in remote places.

    It’s sad that anyone should feel like this, whatever gender. As a male out regularly in the early hours I too can sometimes feel vulnerable, especially with valuable equipment we carry. We advertise we’re carrying stuff worth stealing. We stand in places for ages making ourselves obvious, frequently unaware of anyone likely to be approaching us – the sudden “good morning” can often be a real surprise. The evenings are worse I feel. I reason anyone out to cause trouble is more likely to be around in the evenings. So mornings are my preferred times, for this and other photographic/light reasons.

    There’s also another factor as a male being out at these times and that’s the reaction I’ve received from females out, say walking their dogs. Some are clearly very nervous when they see me. When I’m out walking with my wife I never sense this reaction. I feel bad that when on my own I should have this effect on other folk – it’s even worse when I’m out running. I go out of my way to let others know I’m approaching, but so often I’m not heard until I’m too close. Slowing down and apologising helps, I guess. I’ve never actually experienced any real problems. I frequently engage in conversation with folk I meet in these early mornings as we pass by and I can say I’ve never met anyone who has been other than friendly, *eventually*.

    As Cheryl points out accidents are probably more likely, female or male. For this reason I always carry a loud whistle and have it to hand, tied to my compass and not buried in my camera bag. Might this be a useful suggestion ?

    • cheryl hamer

      Thanks for this Barry. I do think you’re right that if you’re a male on your own some women will be quite anxious as you approach and I have experienced that myself. I think a friendly smile as you approach and a cheery ‘hello’ will go a long way to defusing that! :-)

  • tobers

    Well said! I disagree with Barry below. Nothing wrong with a bloke saying a friendly hello to a lady photographer just as you would to a male photographer. If you already think you’ll be patronising or condascending, you probably will be.

    Just looking at the audience at the On Landscape conference live stream tells you all you need to know about the male dominance of landscape photography. The more ladies that can join in the better.

    • Tobers, I agree with you. I am all for the friendly hello. Is that not what I wrote ? The first part was just about joining in with the discussion as a bloke and trying to contribute.

    • cheryl hamer

      Great stuff Tobers – thanks for that :-)

  • Ellen Bowness

    I’m all for encouraging any photographer (male or female) to get “out there”, but speaking as a female photographer I’ve never had any problems when out at unsociable hours. And I’ve bumped into plenty of male photographers who’ve without fail always been friendly. I know that’s just one person’s experience, but hopefully it adds to Cheryl’s encouragement to any other ladies reading this article. My biggest worry is in fact falling in a waterfall/river while trying to get a good composition and no-one being around to help fish me out!

    • cheryl hamer

      Thanks Ellen – and i think you’re right about being in danger of falling into a river etc being more likely. Glad to hear that you’re getting out and about at those more unsociable times – keep on shooting! :-)

  • Anna Stevenson

    I really appreciate the sentiment of this article – but the question have you ever heard of a photogrpaher being attacked whilst out on location – well yes. Recently a fellow male photogrpaher was attacked by a group of youths on Dartmoor. Fellow photogrpaher David Noton was attacked at knife point on a beachin Brazil – in the daytime. And I’ve had to steer clear of a couple of dubious looking young men whilst out and about in Canada. Sometimes it isn’t worth the risk. Othertimes just going with a couple of other people is the best option. If you are in the zone they won’t distract you.

    • cheryl hamer

      Thanks for that Anna – and I’m so sorry to hear of those two attacks, both against men. I still think on the whole that we’re pretty safe, but as you say, if in doubt going with others will be a further safeguard.

  • Sara Cremer

    A very inspiring article Cheryl and ‘yes we can’! I spent many hours on location as a single female. For safety i would always let someone know where i was and what time i’d be back. I always carried a mobile phone for help if i needed it and most importantly always checked the tide times when i was shooting coastal. Had i of waited until someone was available to go with me to places i would of never had the experiences that i have had and would never have built a portfolio of images. Happy shooting!

    • cheryl hamer

      Thanks for that Sara – and I’m really glad that you get out and about on your own – fab – and I enjoy seeing your images too :-)

  • Ursula Lawrence

    A good article. You are right the fear is on a visceral level. I know what the statistics say (logical side of the brain) but we are social animals and much of our time on this planet was spent sharing it with animals that would happily make us an easy meal (limbic side of the brain). Many of our social punishments to ensure conformity, are based around the fear of being alone and not becoming prey to the predator e.g. ostracism or solitary confinement. The expression of this primal fear is evidenced in the common plot device for B movie characters, often female, going off alone and being killed. Seeing this at regular intervals throughout your life has to have a conditioning effect.

    Statistics also demonstrate that it is not the probability of risk but our perception of that risk that controls our behaviour. We do things on a daily basis e.g. driving/crossing the road which are proven to be more unsafe than night time photography but we get in our cars without a second thought.
    Personally, I have found that the fear depends upon the visibility. It is much easier to give yourself a stern talking to on a hillside where you can see quite a way. A whole different matter when we are among trees or boulders (back to the B movie plot again).
    That being said, push the boundaries, the predator animals have gone, other photographers are generally helpful.
    As many have said, be sensible with your personal safety to prevent accidents which is where the real risk lies (risk perception again). You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t even think about tides and don’t/won’t tell people where they are going or even see it being an issue. But that’s another topic entirely.

  • Hajnalka Berényi-Kiss

    Thank you for this article Cheryl. Surely we can, but I’d disagree with female photographers not being attacked in those “unsocial hours”. The fact that you haven’t heard about it or because it’s not been reported, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It might be safe to wander around in Iceland or Norway. I have done it myself. But it surely is not that simple in different locations.

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