March Visual Trend: The Female Creator

This month we’re focused on women on both sides of the camera lens. It’s Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day is on March 8th, and both are coming on the heels of the historic Women’s March on Washington. It feels like an important moment, like there might even be a seismic shift in progress. With all of this in mind, we take a closer look at how images of women in stock photography are changing, and how women are changing photography.

It’s no secret that a lot of stock images of women lack diversity, and reinforce stereotypes and gender norms — women are pictured slender, delicate, domestic, unthreatening, and models are often Caucasian. But we’re seeing more and more photographers stepping up to the challenge to change that. Female artists are bringing different and new perspectives to the table, and they’re building a much fuller representation of the human experience.

These new images of and by women are filling a critical gap in the stock photography market — designers want unique photos that buck gender stereotypes and appeal to female consumers (which is especially critical given that women make 85 percent of all consumer purchases). Journalists are looking for stock images that can accompany stories about social change and the real lives of women.

In fact, we’ve seen a big jump in searches for women in the Adobe Stock collection recently — searches are up 39 percent year-over-year, and explicit searches for females as the main character are 1.8 times those for males. With this growing interest in mind, we asked Helen Fields, a photographer and Adobe Stock video contributor who often covers women, about the responses she gets to her stock portfolio: “People are keen to bridge the gender gap,” she told us. “They want women in unconventional roles…If you don’t include women in your content, you’re restricting your own portfolio.”

Turning history into her story.

Stereotypes of women in stock photography are a small piece of the bigger picture — historically, photography has been dominated by men, so the male gaze is what we most often see. Today, more and more women are working to correct the balance.

Casey Meshbesher is one example. She’s an American photographer interested in street photography, but she noticed that she couldn’t find much of it from a woman’s perspective. That’s why she founded Her Side of the Street. The collection brings attention to the work of female street photographers and, as she told The Guardian, “Projects like these are all an important part of the fuel for the fire about women in the arts, which in turn is part of a larger flame from a resurgent feminist movement.”

The founders of Girlgaze are onto the same idea, looking to bring more attention to how the world looks through female eyes and women’s lenses. Their project promotes and supports female-identifying photographers and “the power of the girl gaze,” through a regular online showcase, live exhibitions, a grant, and a biannual publication.

In another important project, Daniella Zalcman is taking on the lack of women in photojournalism. As a photojournalist herself, she heard from one too many editors who said they’d hire more women if they could just find them. So she launched Women Photograph to promote the work of female photojournalists. The site already features talented photographers from nearly 70 countries. She told Wired, “We need to make a better effort to find female photographers and photographers of color. Because they exist. They’re there.”

With so much happening in the world of women in photography, now might be one of the best times for women to launch photography careers. Helen offers this advice to future photographers: “I would say that you should work hard and not allow any stereotypes to be imposed on you. Understand that your potential is limitless.”

Picturing women without the clichés.

For both women and men in photography, there’s a huge opportunity to fill out the stock catalogs with more realistic, inclusive images. We asked some of the Adobe Stock contributors to tell us their approach to capturing cliché-free images:

“I always think of roles for strong women and cast them accordingly,” says Helen. “I think of a theme and ignore what popular media would do. Age restrictions have gone and so have class boundaries. I stay away from women washing up, staying at home with kids, and coffee mornings with the girls. I shoot female leaders and often in roles where they may have seemed out of place some years ago. Oil rigs, farmers, and robotics engineers. Smart, tough, and at ease with themselves in any role.”

Eve Saint-Ramon, an Adobe Stock Premium contributor known for her vintage style, adds: “I try to highlight the personality of every woman I photograph. My models are not always professional. I work with women with very different physicalities who have their own defined and intellectualized universes to which I bring chic, glamorous, subtle poses…I intend to capture an aspect of the real, whether icons of fashion or anonymous models, by extension of their humanity, their wonderful zest for life.”

Filling the empathy gap.

The evolution of women in photography is about building diversity — both in who’s behind the camera and who’s in front of it. It means giving us all access to perspectives we might not know about from our own everyday lives. As Daniella told Wired, “There’s a growing empathy gap. Looking at America specifically, I think we’re having a harder and harder time understanding people who are different from us and who have had different experiences.” Photographers, by sharing their visions on the world, can help fill the gender gap, and boost mutual understanding.

“Artists express [themselves] in diverse ways from one culture, from one country, to another,” says Eve. “Their perspectives are infinite.”

In celebration of women in creativity, we’ve put together a feature video spotlighting Adobe Stock contributors Helen and Eve, as well as Adobe Stock customers and digital artists Jing Zhang and Tina Touli.

For more inspiration, browse our dedicated Adobe Stock gallery featuring work by female creators.