10 Steps to Take to Be More Inclusive in Your Photography Business

Standing out from your competition can be daunting. One easy way to do this is to make sure your business shows you are inclusive and welcoming. A lot of photographers say they are inclusive, but they are not projecting that. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself to help you figure out where you can improve your business.

For decades, I have worked to help organizations, businesses, and governments, from the local level all the way up to the national level, learn how to be more inclusive. In November, I’ll be teaching on the international stage. It isn’t enough anymore to simply be diverse. You also need to be inclusive. A lot of people simply don’t know where to begin. Beginning is as easy as completing the following audit and making any necessary adjustments.

Question 1: How Do You Show if You Are Queer, Including Transgender Friendly?

When helping other businesses, this is one of the biggest areas in which they want to improve. There are multiple ways you can show and not tell that you are queer-friendly. This includes using gender-neutral language on your website and intake forms. If working in portraiture, it includes using language such as “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women” when discussing pre- and post-natal photography. It includes having a field to list pronouns on forms if the client chooses. It means putting your pronouns in your signature, on business cards, and on your website to signal to others that they can disclose theirs to you if they choose. These are just a few things you can do to show you are purposely thinking of all people in your marketing.

Question 2: Do You Have Queer Photography on Your Website and Have You Studied It?

Queer photography is its own genre. You need to be prepared to photograph queer people using both the method that people consider to be the default and the edgier angles found in queer photography. But it isn’t only camera angle and color grading, but also posing. Queer photography has its own unique posing that gets even more specialized when shooting transgender people. You need to know how to do figure study and boudoir for transgender people. You also need to be ready for all sorts of body configurations since you cannot ask people what is under their clothing. A good rule to follow: if you wouldn’t ask the question of your cisgender and straight clients, don’t ask it about your queer clients.

Question 3: If You Offer Gender-Based Photography Services, Are You Intentionally Including Transgender, Non-Binary, and Gender Non-Conforming People?

Maternity and natal photography. Breast/Chestfeeding photography. Boudoir. Figure Study. Birthing sessions. These are all examples of photography you are probably associating with cisgender women clients. But there are also transgender people who are not women who want these services. If you are happy to serve all genders for these services, then it is as simple as stating: “we provide services for all bodies and all genders.” If you only provide these services to women, does that include transgender women? If so, then state: “we provide services for all women.” And if you are not comfortable providing these services to all bodies, then research queer photographers in your area that are inclusive of all bodies and refer clients to them. You can do so by simply saying: “I am not yet trained in how to shoot transgender bodies. But I’m happy to refer you to X. They will do a great job.”

Question 4: Are You Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes in Your Posing?

This is a big issue. It happens when posing all people. I also hear it a lot when images are being critiqued, especially when the model appears to be a cisgender woman. It is time to challenge your gaze and shoot more to how the model naturally holds themselves and pose in flattering ways based on that. It is also time to shoot some personal projects to update your portfolio with imagery that reflects a wide range of gender expressions.

Question 5: Do You Have Plus-Sized People in Your Portfolio?

You are turning away a lot of potential clients before they even click on that contact page because your portfolio does not reflect all body sizes. I know a lot of people who want to shoot bigger bodies, but they don’t know-how. It is too bad that "Full Body Project" by Leonard Nimoy is no longer in print, because that book was a masterclass in how to shoot bigger bodies. Without models of all sizes in your portfolio, you are signaling that you are fat-phobic and not body positive. It may be time for another personal project.

Question 6: How Many People of Color, Especially Indigenous and Black People, Do You Feature in Your Portfolio?

Photography has been and continues to be a tool of colonization and whitewashing. Part of western society's very notion of “good” and “evil” comes from how Western photographers have processed black and brown skin to make it look darker and white skin to make it look lighter since the beginning of the art. Now, the issue is compounded by white photographers inappropriately processing black and brown skin using digital tools. If you are shooting Indigenous people, did you consult with them and get their approval before profiting off their experiences? There needs to be a disclosure saying this on your website whenever you collaborate with Indigenous people. And if your website is full of nothing but white-passing people, it's time for another personal project.

Question 7: When Shooting Non-White Western-European Places, People, Food, Events, Etc., Are You Shooting Appropriately or Is It Appropriative, and What Language Do You Use?

I’m not sure I can ever express the utter rage I feel when I see chopsticks in Asian food imagery when they don’t belong. Asian cuisine and Asian culture are not a monolith. When shooting food, places, events, etc. that are not native to you, it is really important that you take some time to do some research first, especially if you want to work with clients who are not from white Western European backgrounds. It is also imperative that you drop the word “ethnic” and “exotic” from your vocabulary if working with diverse, racialized clients is important to you. A Sikh or Muslim wedding is just as North American as a white Christian wedding. If you wouldn’t use the word to describe your own culture, don’t use it to describe the culture of another.

Question 8: Do the Images on Your Website Include Alt Text for the Blind and Visually Impaired?

Too many photographers still do not do this. Blind and visually impaired people buy photography services. It isn’t enough to simply say what is in the images. The alt text also needs to reflect the sensory experiences conveyed in the image. It is really easy with food because you can describe things like the “warm aroma” of whatever spice is used in a dish, as one example. Do the same in other genres. What does the clothing feel like? What texture can describe the fabric? Is there a smell in the breeze? Is the sun warm or cool? Is the river trickling or roaring? Are the birds chirping or squawking?

Question 9: Is Your Studio Wheelchair Accessible and Is This Information Stated on Your Website?

Legislation on accessibility varies wildly around the world. Even in countries that have accessibility legislation, a lot of businesses do not comply. I’m a wheelchair user. If I must ask a business if their place is wheelchair accessible because it isn’t listed clearly on their site, I won’t bother contacting them or giving them my business.

Question 10: Do You Ask Your Clients if They Need Any Accommodations, Including for Sensory Issues?

When I give talks about how to be inclusive, I can see the facepalm as it flashes across people’s brains when I talk about this, because it is something often on their minds as they have neurodivergent people close to them, and yet, they forget to make this one simple change in their own business. If you deal with families, be willing to accommodate the child who will need to wear noise-cancellation headphones throughout the session. It won’t ruin the images. You are capturing the truth of that person’s identity. If a person says they are sensitive to lights, dim them and only bring them up as the shoot starts, taking frequent breaks so the person doesn’t experience sensory overload. Most of the time, if you ask this question, you won’t need to figure out how to accommodate the need. The person will let you know how it can be done.

There are many more things you can do to show your business is an inclusive business. But these 10 things are things you can do now with little effort on your part but with a big reward.

Lead image by Prostock-studio, used under Envato commercial license.

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35 Comments

J.d. Davis's picture

Getting popcorn now and a beer for later...let the fun begin!

Chris Rogers's picture

I think I'll join yuh if you don't mind lol

Tom Reichner's picture

This entire article seems to be written for only one type of photography business - that in which the photographer takes photos of the people who hire him/her to take photos of themselves. What about all of the other types of photography businesses - what are all of the things that they can do to be more inclusive?

For example, if manufacturing corporations hire you to take photos of the products they make, for use on their website and/or print catalog, or in advertisements, how could that type photography business show that they are inclusive?

Or if a major hospital hires you full time as a contractor to take headshots of their doctors and administrative staff, and there is so much of that that it is the only contract you need to make a good living, then how do you show people that your business is inclusive, if you are only ever taking individual headshots of the people you are told to photograph?

Another example would be of a photographer such as myself, who has a business taking wildlife photos on spec, and then submitting them to stock agencies and publishers for licensing fees. How can they be more inclusive?

There are far more types of photography businesses than just taking photos of people. How can all of these other types of businesses show their clients that they are inclusive? Do you have any tips or insights for that?

Jules Sherred's picture

Yup! This is where language in your marketing materials, including your website, comes in. Things like using singular they/them pronouns, asking clients about needed accommodations, having space for pronouns on contact forms, you putting your pronouns in you bio and email sig, etc. These things that may seem small do a lot to signal that you are someone to be hired to photograph a diverse group of businesses.

Tom Reichner's picture

Those are things I would not have thought of.

Thanks!

Jules Sherred's picture

You're welcome!

J.d. Davis's picture

I'm glad you asked # 7 because I have a question for you: I kenw an American woman who was an incredible cook. Her dishes were celebrated worldwide, she won awards and even had her own television show. Her husband was her photographer early on, I was fascinated by his Hasselblad and knowing him and seeing his work made me want to buy one when I was older.

Since her cooking involved so-called 'refining' of some recipes, it could be said that she 'appropriated' another culture, and by your standards, she should not have been allowed to do that.

Her name was Julia Child and her cooking was FRENCH!

Jules Sherred's picture

I'm glad you brought this up because this is a huge stumbling spot for people as they are learning. French cuisine is Western European cuisine i.e. the cuisine of the colonizers. A great example of this is pho. A lot of people think it is ancient Vietnamese dish but it is actually the result of French colonization and the French colonizers demanding beef in their soups along with certain flavor profiles. A good example of something recent in the food industry was Gordon Ramsey going to another country and "improving" their cuisine to make it more palatable to white people instead of learning to appreciate the flavor profiles of that country.

Jeff Bennion's picture

I read question 7 several times and didn't see where it involved the issue of whether white people can "Taco Bell" other cultures' recipes. I read it to be about photographing and adding props and descriptions that show ignorance. That's cool that you knew Julia Child though.

J.d. Davis's picture

Thank you -

#7 speaks to 'appropriation' of cultural dishes - My catalog work is shot to a layout, so I have little say in what props are used...if the art director wants to use a fork with ice cream I won't argue - he OK's the shot and I get paid.

Jules Sherred's picture

Yeah, when it comes to catalog work, then things get a bit tricky. That said, for the work where you do have control over such things, then it will serve you well to remember these things. You will attract a wide range of clients from both nearby and far away. So if you do shoot more than catalog stuff, then perhaps feature that aspect in your portfolio more than the catalog stuff. Curate your portfolio to attract the type of clients you want and don't be afraid to say "no, thanks".

Jeff Bennion's picture

Here are a few examples:
Manufacturing corporations: note on your website that your office is ADA-accessible in case clients would like to come visit you at your offce. You are selling to people, even if you are taking pictures of non-people.

Headshots: (and this is just good advice for all portraits) you don't have to put the hospital staff in your portfolio. Show diversity on your website for skin tones and body types. Something I struggle with myself in my own marketing. You can do this by reaching out to people in order to get diversity.

Wildlife: I have no suggestions.

Not every aspect of everything you do has to broadcast your feelings or philosophies, and that's okay. But I think the point here, at least, what I take away, is that as human beings, we have a tendency to view things with blinders and not notice the people around us with differences and view things from their perspective. Showing in your portfolio that you only provide services to one demographic, while not intentionally discriminatory, makes demographics that are not represented in your portfolio feel excluded and that perhaps another photographer who has inclusion in their portfolio would be a better choice. Further, it is often the case that these acts of excluding demographics or not signaling to marginalized groups that you are inclusive can be a frustrating factor, especially for groups such as the disabled, who since the 90s have been struggling in the United States for business to adopt and conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and are faced with obstacles every day that, under the law, should have been removed 30 years ago. So, it's a reminder to be inclusive where ever you can, but obviously, you can't take a picture of a deer and have it represent all of your business philosophies, but you do what you can when you can, and remind yourself often that our nature is to ignore others who are not like us, and check yourself periodically to find ways to show the portions of the market, who individually do not make up a large percentage of the population, but collectively all do, that you are open to work with them.

Jules Sherred's picture

Your takeaway is spot on!

Tom Reichner's picture

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful response.

I was just thinking about how "non-inclusive" much of my wildlife subject matter is.

As a wildlife photographer, one of the things I specialize in is big game species. And within that genre, I even more specifically specialize in Whitetail Deer.

Now when I go to the Whitetail Deer photos that I select for my portfolio, and at those I submit to stock agencies and publishers, the vast, vast, vast majority of those deer photos are of fully mature male deer. Those mature bucks, the largest within the population, are also the most dominant, and rule over the herd at the top of the social hierarchy. And yet they only represent about 5 percent of the deer population.

So I am specifically looking for and photographing only the most powerful, most dominant males. And I mostly ignore the does and the young, immature males.

So I am extremely non-inclusive when it comes to which individual deer I choose to photograph. I only want to photograph those individuals that are most magnificent, from a physical standpoint.

Perhaps I should change my m.o., and start to photograph more does and fawns and even the immature bucks. Instead of always wanting to capture the most majestic, or most magnificent, I could sometimes photograph the most graceful (does), or the most cute (fawns). Or even the most awkward and uncertain (the young bucks).

Alexander Petrenko's picture

This sounds too racist…

David Pavlich's picture

Tom....I'm a wildlife photographer and love to capture whitetail deer. We've discussed this. I sense a bit of sarcasm in your above reply and I am in sync with it. I KNOW that you don't go out with discrimination in mind. You are interested in your business and you do what's best for your business. You can't water down what you do and expect to thrive. These are deer we're talking about. Majestic sells. People that are looking for deer stock photos are going to look for that 10 pointer or maybe if you get one, a Royal Elk. I understand the discussion in this article. I don't intend to follow any of the suggestions because I'm not shooting humans for any sort of sale. A whitetail or a blue heron don't have the mental capacity to be offended like so many humans do now.

Tom Reichner's picture

Hey, David!

I really didn't mean any sarcasm in my comment, but I was afraid that it would come across as sarcastic anyway. I spent several minutes trying to re-word what I wrote, just so that it would come across as sincere and not sarcastic. But I know that others would probably still think that sarcasm laid behind my words, even though it didn't. That happens to me somewhat regularly here on Fstoppers. I am always trying to write exactly what I really think, and to not be sarcastic or facetious ... and yet any time my comments lie far outside of anything that anybody else would ever say or think, they are taken as facetious or sarcastic.

I really don't have much interest in photographing female deer or young not-yet-dominant male deer. What I am interested in is getting photos of the most magnificent and majestic deer I can find, and those are the old dominant males who rule the roost. But yet I can see how this mindset and my objectives align themselves with the very problem that the author is trying to help us solve.

David Pavlich's picture

I can understand the author's thought process. After all, it fits with today's fear of offending someone. But, I can't equate wildlife photography with this discussion. If we're going to compromise our way of presenting our work to please everybody, then we may as well dump our equipment and find something else to do. I can't imagine spending the day in the wild, sometimes under adverse conditions, spending hours staring at a monitor to get those hard earned shots just so, then have to sit and ponder what pronoun or adjective to use in order to ensure that someone isn't offended.

Jeff Bennion's picture

Why would you sit and ponder that? "What are your preferred pronouns? Oh okay, thanks."

David Pavlich's picture

That's just it....I wouldn't sit and ponder it. I write what I write. Perhaps my grammar, spelling, and punctuation isn't the best, but I'm not going to change my writing habits that I learned from the time I was 5 years old (I'll be 70 in a month).

Jeff Bennion's picture

Thank you for bringing attention to these issues. Showing inclusiveness is something that I personally am not the best at. And for those who are going to come to the comments with complaints about how this article is an attack on you and you don't care about no pronouns, just know that at the very least, it's good business sense to show inclusiveness. A lot of these things here have never crossed my mind and I didn't even know they were a thing, so I'm glad you mentioned them. For example, I don't know how I would shoot a transgender person differently or why I would need to ask what is under their clothing. That occasionally comes up. For example, I shot a woman who had breast implants and during our pre-shoot discussions, she mentioned she wants poses/angles that don't show her scars. I had no idea what queer photography is. I had only first heard the term chestfeeding a few weeks ago. I don't know how I would shoot a transgender body differently and wouldn't even know how I would show on my site that some of the people I shoot are transgender. Things for me to think about. Thanks again.

Jules Sherred's picture

If you do a Google search for transgender photography/photographers, you'll see a lot of great examples! Especially the photographers Elliot Page has been hiring to shoot him for different media outlets. And if you look at Elliot's posing, you will see there is a bit of softness to them not typically seen when shooting men. But also explore trans feminine and non-binary photography. And as for making sure you take steps to make the client feel safe and comfortable, this is where intake interview comes into play and the accommodation question. If you begin with, "I ask all my clients the following because I don't want to misgender them. What are you pronouns, if you are comfortable sharing them?" Then, when you get to the "Do you need any accommodations", this is where they would let you know about things that would affect the shoot and posing, similar to the scar example. It is important to be prepared for all body configurations because many trans people do not want any type of medical gender affirming care. You can't judge someone's gender based on presentation.

Brian L's picture

If you have money, I will photograph you. Aside from that i have no specific woke rules, or do i even think about who i am and am not including. I shoot what i feel like shooting. I dont think the photography industry needs to get involved with this line of thinking

David Pavlich's picture

Hear, hear and amen, brother! The proverbial slippery slope.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thanks for a fascinating article. I've learned a lot from it.

I set out in my business and personal life with the intention of not deliberately offending to anyone, and from this article I have learned a few things to be aware of that I didn't know.

There are some who rage about the simple request that others are treated with the same consideration and respect as they expect for themselves. These are seen in the comments of any article that mentions equality. It speaks volumes about those who make the comments and negatively reflects on their reputation. I wonder whether they realize that, in time, they will be universally reviled in the same way that bigots and oppressive cultures are always are.

Warwick Cairns's picture

I think the big thing about inclusiveness is giving great and attentive service to all your customers, including people you may have little in common with, and to people you may personally disapprove of.
It may be the client in full drag. It may be the guy in the MAGA cap. The local chapter of the Nation of Islam. The man with the Confederate flag belt-buckle.
My rules would be:
- Be unfailingly polite
- Be scrupulously neutral and apolitical
- Take time to really understand your client’s brief
- Show them as they want to be seen

Warwick Cairns's picture

Jules Sherred - I notice you gave my above post a down-vote. I'm very interested to know why, and what particular part of my vision of inclusivity you disliked or disagreed with. Was it...

- the point about giving great and attentive service to everyone, from drag artists to MAGA hat wearers?
- the point about always being unfailingly polite?
- the point about not broadcasting your politics?
- the point about really understanding your client's brief?
- the point about showing all your clients as they want to be seen?

Jules Sherred's picture

You are contradicting yourself when you mention MAGA in one point and being unpolitical in other. Also, you are behaving like drag artists and MAGA hat wearers belong in the same sentence. I have no interest in any more conversation with you because you do not have real interest in having a dialogue.

Warwick Cairns's picture

You say “You are contradicting yourself when you mention MAGA in one point and being unpolitical in other.”

I would indeed have been contradicting myself if I’d expressed any view on the politics of MAGA, whether for or against. But I didn’t.

What I said was that being truly inclusive means being welcoming to all. Which means being unpolitical - or at least not letting your politics show. It means being just as welcoming to the guy in the MAGA hat as to the people from the.Nation of Islam.

You also objected to me mentioning MAGA hat wearers and drag artists in the same sentence. I’m interested in understanding why. Anthropologists would say that both are using clothing in a performative way, as a public expression of their identity and values. Tell me if you disagree with that.

I must say that for someone so interested in being inclusive, ‘I have no interest in any further discussion with you’ doesn’t seem to invite inclusion.

But if you don’t want to respond, that’s fine. So I’ll open it up to anyone else who’s still reading this thread: read my comments, read Jules’s replies and give me your honest opinion. Who’s being most inclusive in this exchange, and who’s contradicting themselves? Feel free to criticise me and say I’m wrong. I’m big and ugly enough to take it.

Rebecca B's picture

Thank you so much for this article. Im a queer and trans photographer and my client portfolio is way too straight and non-inclusive. Very useful and there is no reason anyone needs to feel threatened by being more inclusive.

Jules Sherred's picture

You're welcome :)

J.d. Davis's picture

Clarity needed: Are you Queer? Trans? or do you photograph those who are queer and/or trans?

Rebecca B's picture

I’m a transgender woman but I have very few openly queer clients and would love to attract more.

Lawrence Huber's picture

You seem very racist against "White" people like they're all monolithic colonizers.
Did it occur to you that you have been far more openly bigoted against a large majority of North Americans, in fact highly insulting to them by your bigoted comments?

Ivor Rackham's picture

Hi Lawrence, that's not what I read into this article at all. It's not against white people, but in favor of equality. Although I am not American, I am white and didn't find it insulting at all, but very enlightening.

Please would you add quotes that illustrate your accusation that the article is racist and insulting. I just cannot see it.