5 Influential Female Photographers You Should Know

Marianne Stenger
1st March 2020

Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It’s been more than 100 years since British women first voted in a general election, and although there is still progress to be made, there’s also a lot to celebrate.

Although photography is a historically male-dominated field, female photographers have always played an important role in its growth and evolution. In fact, it was a female photographer named Anna Atkins who published the world’s very first photo book, featuring cyanotypes of British Algae.

These days, an increasing number of female photographers are gaining recognition for their contributions to the field. Some are working to highlight important issues such as climate change, and others are establishing a presence in traditionally male-dominated areas of photography such as sports and photojournalism.

With this in mind, we wanted to highlight some of the many talented female photographers working in the industry today. So we asked five female photographers from different areas to share a few insights about how they got started and what they have learned along the way.

1. Emily Garthwaite, Photojournalism

Emily Garthwaite is a London-based photojournalist who covers humanitarian and environmental issues. She was a finalist for Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2015 and 2018, and was included in Forbes 30 Under 30 for Media and Marketing in 2019.

“I’ve been taking photos since I was 15,” says Emily. “I’ve always been an immensely inquisitive person, introspective and independent. I’ve always spoken to strangers at bus stops and thrown myself out of my comfort zone as often as possible. When I held a camera in my hand, it gave me purpose. People seemed to light up when I took their photos - and so did I. I haven’t stopped since.”

Emily has documented everything from wildlife trafficking in Indonesia to the Arbaeen Pilgrimage in Iraq, so we asked her which of the projects she’s worked on so far has been her favourite. Here is what she had to say.

“In the Spring of 2019 I spent two weeks living with a family in Dearborn, Michigan and documenting the town for a series called MidWest Muslims. Considering that it was my first visit to the USA, it was an intriguing place to start.

Dearborn has the largest Middle Eastern population outside the Middle East, and rests on the suburbs of Detroit. It was the first time I gave myself space to tell a story, slowly and carefully. I hope to continue the story for many years to come.

The experience in the USA came after a great deal of research into Islamophobia, and was informed by my previous experiences both in the UK and Middle East. It felt like the first moment of peaceful reflection I’d had the opportunity to experience after my whirlwind trips to Iraq and Iran.”

Emily says if she could give one piece of advice to other female photographers who would like to start working in photojournalism, it would be to forge your own path.

“I wouldn’t have told my younger self too much, for fear I could discourage her,” she says. “I firmly believe that if you’re passionate, driven and positive, you can achieve anything. Stay persistent, form a healthy relationship with failure and lean on your camera. I find great comfort in my camera. 

Be inspired by other people’s journeys, but forge your own path. Know when to be blinkered, and when to look around you. Remember that social media is a tool for reaching a wide audience and using your voice, not for affirmation. Check your privilege and read up about informed consent. 

I love my job.  It has been a struggle since the day I started, but I’ve done it myself, on my terms. I haven’t compromised my integrity, and because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Image © Emily Garthwaite

If you want to find out more about Emily Garthwaite’s work in photojournalism or her upcoming projects, visit her website or follow her on Instagram @emilygarthwaite.

2. Marina Cano, Wildlife photography

Marina Cano is a wildlife photographer from Spain. Her work has been on the cover of National Geographic several times and she has published a number of her own photo books. In addition to her photography, she organises wildlife workshops and African safaris.

“I’m lucky enough to live close to Europe’s largest wildlife park in northern Spain, called Cantabria. I started to go there to take pictures. I took many types of photos, including landscapes and portraits, but I fell in love with the animals and the wild. I forgot about anything else and focused on what I loved the most – wildlife. It became my passion and my full time job.”

Marina says although she finds it difficult to choose a favourite subject or environment to photograph in, she loves capturing the social behaviour of animals.  

“It's difficult to isolate a favourite subject because I really enjoy spending time with all animals. But the interactions between families, such as mothers and babies, couples or fights; it's what I love capturing most, whether I’m photographing elephants, cheetahs, baboons or tigers.

I'm really proud of the film in which I've starred in the Kalahari Dessert, working as a Canon Ambassador for the new Canon EOS 1DX Mark III presentation. That the largest camera brand on the market has trust in me and my work is something I am really proud of.”

What advice would she give to other women looking to build a career in wildlife photography?

“My advice is to trust in yourself. Working hard and having passion is also very important to start with, but to trust in your own work and keep pushing forward is not easy sometimes. So go girl go!”

Image © Marina Cano

If you’d like to see more of Marina Cano’s photography, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram @marinacano.

3. Alanah Torralba, Environmental photography

Alanah Torralba is an independent reporter and photojournalist based in the Philippines. Much of her work focuses on environmental issues and her images have been published by the likes of TIME, The Guardian, and the International Herald Tribune.

“I've been a photojournalist since I was 19-years-old when I began covering environmental issues as well as major natural disasters in the Philippines,” says Alanah. “I started to focus on reporting about climate change in 2017 after seeing that not a lot of journalists cover the issue here in my country, despite it begin highly vulnerable to climate change.”

Alanah believes that although climate change is still a nebulous concept for a lot of people, photography can help to show its very real impact on our environment.

“It's not easy to understand carbon emissions and global temperature rise if you only read about it through scientific studies that are peppered with jargon. Seeing the impacts on actual people, however, can humanize the issue and illustrate the concrete ways in which the climate crisis is affecting our society and ways of life,” she explains.

“Photojournalism is a powerful tool for truth-telling. It’s now more important than ever to harness the potential of this medium in the climate emergency era. But it’s also imperative to rectify the mistakes photojournalists have made in the past, such as perpetuating stereotypes of marginalized groups or depicting human suffering as one-dimensional, by wielding the power of this medium more conscientiously and self-reflexively.”

So which of the projects that she’s worked on so far has had the biggest impact on her?

“In 2017, I went to a remote village in Bukidnon in the southern part of the Philippines to document an indigenous people's struggle with a year-long drought that had affected their village's health, food security, and livelihood,” says Alanah.

“In climate reporting, especially in a typhoon-battered country like the Philippines, it can be rare to read about the slower impacts of climate change such as prolonged droughts or sea-level rise. Learning about the struggles of the Matigsalog-Manobo people gave me a clearer idea of how policies about climate adaptation and climate risk insurance on the global level affected grassroots communities.

It also affirmed my belief that the solutions to climate change are already out there, and are being practiced by indigenous people, small-scale farmers, and local fisherfolk. We just need to listen to them.”

Image © Alanah Torralba

To find out more about Alanah’s work on environmental issues, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

4. Sara Lindstrom, Nature photography

Sara Lindstrom is a nature, travel and outdoor lifestyle photographer from Sweden. Her work has taken her to more than 50 countries on five continents, and in 2016 she won the title of Environmental Photographer of the Year.

Sara says her curiosity, fascination and love for nature as well as the diversity of landscapes made nature photography a natural starting point for her.

“It didn’t take long until I began to include more people into my landscape shots, driven by a desire to not just showcase the beauty of the Earth, but also how we are such an integral part of nature. In a world that only spins faster I want to inspire people to venture outside, reconnect with nature and learn how we can interact with our wild spaces in the most fulfilling ways.”

Of all the photos she has taken during her career so far, she says her favourite is the shot “Wildfire,” which earned her title of Environmental Photographer of the Year.  

“Getting that shot was a thrilling and incredible experience and the message it has helped spread around the world makes me remember the power and potential of photography. Wilderness is in steep decline globally, despite its undeniable importance for the survival and overall health of all species on Earth, and I want to be a part of the huge efforts needed to protect them by giving them a voice through my photography.”

So what’s her best piece of advice for other female photographers looking to pursue a career in nature and travel photography? “As with anything in life – if you really want it you just have to dare to take the leap and go for it,” she says.

“Get clear about what you want and then work hard to improve your skills and build a stunning portfolio to put in front of potential clients. Put aside time every day or week to do a bit of networking and start building relationships with people that can potentially help you get where you want to go. Start by thinking about what value you can provide them and communicate that. Then maybe most importantly - have patience.”

Image © Sara Lindstrom

If you want to see more of Sara Lindstrom’s work, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram.

5. Anna Jackson, Sports photography

Anna Jackson is a sports and fitness photographer based in London. She has worked for well-known brands including Asics and Reebok, and photographs events such as the Crossfit Open. We asked her to tell us how she got started in this field of photography.

“Before I went to university I had no clue what I wanted to do. I sat with my family around the kitchen table and we scrolled through course options until someone shouted “Stop!” and that was the course I decided to do. It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

In hindsight I could have just done an apprenticeship instead of spending money on university, but at the time it felt like it was the only option. Whilst studying, to pay for living costs, I started assisting being a second photographer at weddings and I taught rock climbing. Both jobs gave me a sense of satisfaction. I loved the energy of photographing weddings and the thrill of climbing, although at the time I didn’t think it would be possible to combine my two passions.

After university I worked as a commercial photographer in Oxford and architectural photographer in London, but the shoots didn’t inspire me. It wasn’t until a friend asked for some active shots on the side that my freelance career started to become an option and a reality.”

So what motivates her in her photography? “Other photographers, my mother and that pesky monthly need called rent,” says Anna.

“No two photographers are the same so why can’t we inspire each other more? My mother pushes me to be better and she’s on my case in the best possible way. She started a business when we were tiny and has grown it ever since. She inspires me daily. Rent is a big factor, as living in London is not cheap. But I like the hustle each month as it keeps me on my toes.

I love people, smiles and sunshine. If you combine all three I’m a happy photographer. Extreme sports thrill me the most, whether it’s kayaking, windsurfing or sailing. I love being the only female photographer at events or shoots. It gives me a thrill to know that I’m pushing boundaries and proving my worth.”

Finally, her advice to other female photographers looking to work in this field of photography is to never give up. “Cheesy I know, but totally true,” she says.

“I’ve had so many companies, usually for running clubs, picking male photographers over me because they think they will be faster. I’m not the fastest runner, so they’re usually right. But they forget that to get shots you can be strategic. I find loop holes in the route where I can run across and get that perfect running shot.

You need to think on your feet and believe you can do anything, even if you are unsure. Also, sell the crap out of yourself, because no one else will do that for you. You are your own marketing, finance, production manager and receptionist. It’s a tricky balance but nothing good comes easily.”

Image © Anna Jackson

Want to see more of Anna’s work? Visit her website or follow her on Instagram @annarachphotography