I can take a decent photo, but to be honest, photography isn’t my area of expertise. That’s why I was so excited to chat with female photographers who are killing it in their industry. My own skills have plenty of room for improvement, and who better to offer up some tips than four camera-wielding ladies with badass portfolios?
But beyond gleaning photography advice, I was ready to ask these women about the adversity they face building careers in a field that not long ago had an all-male roster of top names. I was surprised and pleased to hear that everyone I spoke with felt the tide had turned.
“I think now more than ever… there are women shooting and making real names for themselves,” said wedding photographer Maria Bentley, when I asked about her own experience.
“I think women are actually starting to rule this industry!” echoed portrait and architectural photographer Emily O’Brien.
If the Women’s March on Washington taught us anything, it’s that women have the power to make their voices heard. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that ladies with cameras are taking the photography industry by storm—after all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and women have a lot to say.
And, reader? You might want to listen up. I asked a bunch of questions—here’s what I learned.
1. Your cellphone photos are totally legit.
Maria Bentley is an accomplished destination wedding photographer, traveling the world with her husband Nick. She also has a background in fashion photography and made a name for herself as the winner of VH1’s The Shot, which is basically America’s Next Top Model for photographers. But her first steps toward becoming a professional photographer started with a cell phone:
I took over 5,000 photos on my first phone with a camera...this is NBD these days, but back in 2001, it was A LOT! I was obsessed, I just had it out all the time, noticing light hitting objects in interesting ways, and just documenting my life... I suddenly realized that I had a major passion for it. I decided at 25 to halt my 9-5 entertainment job and get myself into art school.
2. Don’t over-complicate things.
Maria’s advice for taking a good photo is all about breaking rules:
Try not to get caught up in the rules too much—it can stifle you. Learn the rules to break them! Sometimes if you over-complicate it, you can miss something really beautiful that was there for a split second… I think the best images are made with feeling and heart, and without over-complication. Approach it organically, and always try to enjoy the process.
3. Use the tools that are right for you.
Maria has favorite tools, but she says regardless of which tools you use, success is all about knowing how to use them:
I currently shoot Canon digital: 5D Mark III. My favorite lens hands-down is my 85mm 1.2—I use it for almost everything. I also shoot GoPro when I use the drone… I absolutely love being able to use it to get some different perspectives.
I think you can make beautiful images even with the smallest of budgets. It doesn't really matter which tools you use, as long as you know how they work so you can get the best out of them.
4. Practice and persist.
Music photographer Anna Larina shoots live shows and musician portraits in LA. She’s been documenting live music for almost ten years and attributes her skill to practice (“though I like to think it’s also an inherent talent,” she adds):
There was a time I’d be going to three shows a week and turning photos around the next day... Same thing with shooting film: practice and persistence. I want to say I’ve shot upwards of 1000 rolls since 2011, and only ruined a couple.
5. Take the photo no one else is taking.
Anna says the key to taking a good photo is to strive for something unique:
Can you find this same photo on google images? If yes, don’t take it—turn around.
It’s cool to document famous places and everything when you visit, but... I think photography should be about documenting the undocumented, creating something new.
6. It’s okay to shoot with that expired film that’s sitting in your fridge.
Anna has a whole set-up full of preferred cameras, lenses, and film—but she’s not afraid to try something different:
My digital setup for shows is a Pentax K-1, Zeiss 35mm f/2, Pentax 24mm f/2, 50mm f/1.2, and 50-135mm f/2.8. My main two film cameras these days are a Pentax K1000 35mm and Bronica GS-1 6x7 medium format. The K-1’s lenses all work with the K1000 (most originated with it) and the GS-1 normally has a 65mm on it. My favorite film is Kodak Portra 160VC, with Portra 400 as the readily-available runner-up.
Lately I’ve been shooting through the expired black and white film I have in my fridge.
7. Shoot what you’re passionate about.
Wedding and editorial photographer Julia Arielle Cox photographs “women of all shapes, sizes, ages and talents,” whether they’re musicians, brides, and/or mothers. She says taking a great photo requires passion:
Photograph what you are passionate about. Have heart. In today's day and age, don't do it with the "likes" in consideration. Do it with HEART. Do it for you. What matters is if it matters to you.
8. Take inspiration from collaboration.
Julia draws energy from the people she works with:
One of my favorite times in my career as a photographer was working for Relevant Magazine and collaborating with a team of people on photo shoots and photographing all the amazing artists who would come in.
Another to note is collaborating with my good friend, Audrey Kitching who I always turn to for a "refresh" whenever I feel stagnant.
9. Give yourself options.
Julia has multiple cameras and shoots both digitally and with film:
I have two Canon 5d Mark 3 cameras that are paired with a Canon 85mm 1.2 and Sigma 35mm 1.4. I also love shooting with film and have a Leica m4-p, Contax 645 and Mamiya RB67 that I shoot with primarily.
10. Keep learning and trying new things.
Emily O’Brien takes beautiful shots of babies, families, nature, and architecture. She says that expertise is all about continuing to learn and grow as a photographer.
If you want to be good at something, be passionate and curious about it. Go find all the technical information you can, and then put it into practice to develop your own style. I am constantly looking to expand my education and trying out new techniques in my downtime. The last thing I ever want to produce is the same work I was producing 10 years ago.
11. Take your time.
Emily’s tip for taking a good photo is to take the time to do it right:
Slow down. Even if you are shooting on your smartphone—take a minute to frame your photo, try different angles, and get the lighting right.
12. Your gear should be comfortable.
Sometimes cameras are heavy—and it’s tough to do good work when you’re in pain. Emily found the solution that worked for her:
[I shoot with] the new Canon 5D Mark IV and a range of lenses. My 70-200mm is my go to portrait lens and it is heavy enough to keep my arms in check! I also can’t live without my spider holster that allows my camera to sit on my hip, hands free, so I can use my hands quickly in between shots. It also takes so much weight off my shoulders, which I was destroying, so my body thanks me for using it.
13. If you want to get into photography, don’t let anyone stop you.
When Emily first started taking photos, she says a well-respected teacher told her she’d never make it.
"I figured a challenge like that is always a good reason to succeed,” she says.
To find out more about the photographers in this article, check them out on their websites and social media pages: