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.