Are Cameras Just for Men? The Industry Needs to Change

Olympus has produced a beautiful series of videos on YouTube whereby its ambassadors visit some stunning locations, exploring Lapland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Namibia. What’s noticeable is that all of the Olympus Xplorers are men.

As an industry, photography has a reputation for being male-dominated, and this is reflected in some of the major manufacturers occasionally forgetting that half of their potential market is in fact female. Just over a year ago, Nikon presented a team of 32 photographers as the face of the Nikon D850, but failed to include a single woman. Unlike its Instagram, this Olympus campaign seems to be of a similar attitude: the Xplorers series on YouTube revolves around the heroic image-making achievements of men. Across the various videos, one or two women have a very brief presence, holding a camera for split second, but otherwise spectating as men discuss maps or light fires, and then posing to be photographed. Ultimately, it reinforces the stereotype that men are active and achieve things, while women are passive and, when included, are there simply to look pretty.

Olympus Xplorers series features active men and passive women

Screenshot from olympusXplorers in Lapland.

In stark contrast, the outdoor industry — a sector that’s arguably perhaps a little more progressive in its attitudes towards gender — is up to speed with the fact that women are equally capable of going on adventures. This is a realization that has largely been driven by greater recognition of equality and women’s increased spending power. To a frequent consumer of outdoor industry-related media, the way that Olympus is perpetuating stereotypical gender norms with its Xplorers series feels strangely out of place.

The photography industry seems to be a little slower when it comes to understanding gender politics, and while it may seem that the overwhelming majority of photographers are men, the numbers don’t necessarily agree. These statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor suggest that of 205,000 photographers, 47.7 percent are women. When you also take into consideration the fact that women account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases, you have to question why so much of photography’s media is geared deliberately towards men and is at times markedly sexist. I’ve lost count of the number of male photography YouTube gurus who are perfectly happy to present themselves as technically skilled, all-knowing fonts of wisdom while female models stand awkwardly alongside, not speaking, often unnamed, offering some flesh for an audience that is assumed to be unable to make it through a video if there isn’t something pretty to look at.

In its defense, Olympus’s Instagram account is a different story, featuring several well-established female outdoors photographers. Perhaps its YouTube department simply needs to catch up.

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Previous comments

"Fear of physical retaliation, fear of career consequences, shame, fear of not being taken seriously, feelings of helplessness, depression, disbelief, dissociation, having been drugged "

So you're saying those are worse than rape? Because they're not. And coming back 20+ years later when it's "safe" is meaningless, as nothing can be done beyond hashtagging phrases. Except in Hollywood, where everyone speaks the truth all the time...

Alex Cooke's picture

Read the last line of my initial response to you. That’s where your problem stems from.

JetCity Ninja's picture

maybe the vast majority of their youtube viewers report as male, while a majority of their instagram followers report as female, and thus they've tailored their marketing to match.

you've failed to include the demographic breakdown of their Xplorers program membership. that alone would tell the tale of total women in their ranks and their specialties to see if your assumption has any merit.

anyways, you may now continue to jump to conclusions while exposing zero facts. i'm sure the female photographers of the world are relieved to know a man is here to advise them on when, where and to whom they should be outraged.

JetCity Ninja's picture

let's be real though: the most celebrated photographers are women. anecdotally speaking, take a look at Yelp under "photography studios" and you'll find just as many women as men listed in the larger towns and cities across the US. and neither of these account for the fact that women are the ones who spend more on cameras annually, worldwide.

while men are spewing malformed opinions on youtube and gracing ads, women are out there making a living in photography more consistently than men. could women be better represented in camera ads? sure, but let's not pretend photography is some boys club, like michelin starred, celebrity, or even just run of the mill chefs. there may be sectors of photography that's male dominated, like sports photography, but there are sectors that are dominated by women and others that are equally represented.

bottom line, it's the image that should be the focus. a great image is a great image, whether the photographer held the camera with her vagina or pressed the shutter button with his penis.

michaeljin's picture

Level headed and rational opinions are not permitted here. Go troll some statistical forum, nerd. :P

Tim Ericsson's picture

I completely disagree: it's much harder to hold a camera with your vagina than it is to press the shutter with your penis. So in that regard, we should give those women more credit!

Konrad Sarnowski's picture

Exactly! I'm just fed up with such "articles" (as they lack basic journalistic work & ethics).

FYI: even Playboys' Fotoerotica competition in Poland was won by female photographers a couple of times recently...

David Pavlich's picture

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! I swear there is a group of people that wake up every day looking for something that is sexist or racist or bigoted or name your poison.

A group of photo clubs here in Winnipeg are hosting a workshop in the spring. The photographer is a Nikon Canada Ambassador and SHE is a very good landscape/portrait shooter. That's right, SHE!

Some out there need to give it a rest.

Rob Davis's picture

Well if there's a female photographer in Winnipeg I guess this was a big false alarm. Roll back the discussion fellas, they got one in Winnipeg!

David Pavlich's picture

In the first paragraph, Olympus is named as having all men as ambassadors. I pointed out that Nikon, in fact, has at least one lady as an ambassador. Just giving Nikon kudos. If you had read the article then had the ability to relate it to my post, you would have figured it out.

michaeljin's picture

Hold on. Let me consult my wife about her thoughts on this topic. Oh wait... she doesn't care.

Cesare Bonazza's picture

Hey man, you need to get some S...

Simon Patterson's picture

Whether I look at the contributors on the photography group for my area or ask people who run photography workshops, I conclude that photographers comprise approximately a 60% male / 40% female split overall.

But to understand why camera marketers choose to put who they put into their promotional material is a completely different question. They'll make their marketing decisions to maximise profits. If putting mainly men in their ads will maximise profits then that's what they'll do!

Maybe it would be more pertinent to ask why women seem to generally not care that they are proportionately under-represented in camera marketing materials.

Edward Blake's picture

The thing that is bothering me is that the word "need" is used based upon an implied premise.

Why do they "need" to change? 48% of professional photographers are female, OK, cool. So are you arguing that they "need" to change for economic reasons, and if they don't change they won't survive? Or are you really arguing from a moral posotion that they 'should' change, for the sake of representative fairness?

Martin Nesvarbu's picture

I would understand if this article would be published on some feminist or sjw page, but fstoppers?

"while it may seem that the overwhelming majority of photographers are men, the numbers don’t necessarily agree"

Pretty much wraps up the majority of SJW concerns.

Rob Davis's picture

I think you should re-read the quote you chose.

Rob Davis's picture

Just for the record, if you're offended by this article YOU are the Snowflake.

Kendrick Howard's picture

See that's where you miss the point. We're not offended, we're just tired of it.

Mokhtar Chahine's picture

A #MeTooICanWhine Era.

Damn Naggers.

greg tennyson's picture

If it's a male dominated industry then half the market ISN'T women. How come SJWs have such a hard time with math?

Alex Cooke's picture

Because it's your math that's wrong. Read the statistics in the second half of the article; the male-dominated remark was in regards to the reputation of the industry, not the objective composition.

greg tennyson's picture

The stay at home moms shooting weddings for $400 on costco cameras have plenty of time to fill out surveys.

I take issue with the sample group. Like I said, math. It's hard.

Alex Cooke's picture

Nice try trying to reframe your mistake, but I'm still gonna take issue with your assumption of the abilities of US Department of Labor statisticians to get accurately representative statistics — an assumption that is obviously borne of a biased (and pretty sexist) representation in your head. But you're right, math is hard. I know because I have a master's in it.

greg tennyson's picture

I'm working on the assumption that any government agency is borderline inept.

If I'm guilty of anything, it's assuming the sex of the men who've been standing next to me in media pits for the last 8 years.

Go write an article about how men are under-represented as models and I won't argue that

Alex Cooke's picture

The fact that you're extrapolating from your singular experience in a specific niche to comments on the entire industry tells me everything I need to know about your understanding of statistical analysis. Math is hard.

greg tennyson's picture

The day I show up to a gig and I'm outnumbered by women I'll issue you a public apology.

If there was a mechanism to exclude "photographers" who earn a net loss from filling out your survey I'm sure the demos would be a liiiiiitle different.

Michael Kormos's picture

Or perhaps Olympus just chose three great photographers to help market their camera?

I made an account here purely to say that this is by far the stupidest article I have ever read on this site.

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