Did you watch the first episode of Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls? I love a bit of rubbish reality TV, it’s about all my poor brain can cope with after 9pm these days! Two days in and most of the men had utterly exhausted themselves running around trying to find the water source, get the fire lit and build a shelter. The camera pans over their broken dehydrated bodies lying face down in the sand then cuts to comedian Shazia Mirza who points out the futility of the men’s approach before she leads the group in a successful mission for the life giving water. The show became a study in gender differences and left me wondering about the same topic in our industry.

Why are there not more women speakers at wedding photography conferences?

Now I’m just looking at women for this because that is the question that I saw crop up a couple of times in social media yesterday as another conference was announced with an almost all male line up. Also… I am a woman and I have been on both sides of this firstly as a speaker and then someone who organises photography events. I have a slightly different experience to many so feel like I can have a say.

Here’s the thing, when I started in weddings waaaaaaaaay back in 2000 it was a male dominated industry. When people thought wedding photographer, they thought man. Think of the guy who’d set up his studio on a local high street shop doing family portraits and weddings. Venues, suppliers and guests would often comment on how unusual it was to see a female wedding photographer when I arrived to work. Back then, the names that people looked to as educators, with the obvious exception here in the UK of Annabel Williams, were pretty much all men. Hell, I still have a copy of Damien Lovegrove’s Complete Guide to Professional Wedding Photography gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

Fast forward a few years and I feel like the wheel had gone the other way. It was definitely time for the women to shine and it was no longer a surprise to anyone at a wedding that a woman would turn up to shoot it. Wedding blogs were dominated by female photographers and stages at conferences started to welcome more female speakers. There are no official stats on this kind of stuff so I’m going to discuss it from my personal perspective. I feel that I’ve been around for a while and can see some patterns.

In fact let’s talk about 2012… why? Because that year I went to WPPI in Vegas, the largest wedding photography conference globally. Speakers included Elizabeth Messina, Jasmine Star and Jessica Claire all considered to be leading the way in wedding photography. In 2012 I was invited to B&H in New York to do a talk on wedding photography and Canterbury university asked me to give a lecture on what they termed the New Wave of Alternative British Wedding Photographers which also included the brilliant Emma Case. 2012 is the year I was invited to enter the 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography, sadly for me I had been in the game for too long to be eligible but that year the winners included 17 women, 9 men and 4 duos. Rising Stars is a pretty good representation of who is considered to be doing well in this industry and it’s not about who puts themselves forward as you have to be chosen. So out of interest, let’s fast forward to 2016’s winners. Just 7 women, 13 men and 10 Duos. And another respected award, the Junebug Destination Photography Awards were released this week. Over half the winning images are by men with a pretty even split of the remaining 50% between the women and the Duos.

Yes I think in the five years since 2012 the industry has evolved, I’m endlessly fascinated by the shifts and I do believe that right now more men are at the top again. It’s just flipping the same coin and that is reflected in who we see speaking at conferences and events. There are simply more men excelling right now than women. This is in no way saying that there are not brilliant women too but just not in the percentage rates that they were five years ago. In fact did you notice the group that is on the next biggest increase? Yes, Duos and so I predict that in a few years’ time the industry and its events will feel very much dominated by team shooters.


 

So back to Bear’s Island and the differences in how men and women approach challenges. One element that I believe plays a huge part in all this is how men and women feel about standing up talking about themselves or their work. Any kind of public speaking can be terrifying and I feel like more women say no because of that than men. I think in general, men just don’t overthink it as much. Or women see it as an ordeal whereas men actively set out to enjoy the experience.

 

I cannot speak for any other person planning a conference or gathering but I have had more refusals from women than men. One female speaker has recently pulled out as she knew her anxiety would be too big a challenge. Rather than seek to tick boxes, I approach potential mentors that I am genuinely a fan of and want to learn more from. This year’s FarmShop ended up being an even split but FarmShop18 will pretty much reflect the same ratios as Rising Stars. It’s been interesting to examine this subject but really my priority is to focus on eduction and offering a valuable experience for the people who attend. It’s almost time to share the line up and I think when you see it, you will agree that I have chosen people at the top of their game with something valuable to share.

 farmshop 17 images | lee allen