We showcase 10 Coast Mountains-based female action-sports photographers to watch. Words :: Jessy Braidwood.
Most action sports imagery is shot by dudes. And it’s time to change that. Even the most inspiring images, if produced through only one lens or one avenue of perspective, ultimately fail to represent the full spectrum of human experience.
I don’t say this in a girl-power, rah-rah-rah, strong-woman way (gag!), I mean it in a normal, human being way. The dudes are amazing, but they’re all dudes.
I know (and love/respect/am in awe of) a lot of these dudes. I’ve spent the last 12 years on the other side of the lens working as a professional action sport model/athlete. I’ve also been shooting photos for the past few years and every time—every single time—I show a photo I’m excited about to a woman, the response is some version of “Hell yes! Exactly, THIS!”
The photographic standard in adventure sport has been set by and for the male perspective. There have been outliers, but this single-perspective representation reaches far beyond athletes and photographers and up into the world of marketing agencies, team managers, brand CEOs, magazine publishers, and beyond. It’s a boys’ club—it always has been, and it still is.
And yes, they are all women, because their photographic visions are different. To me, it’s a difference in feeling, in vision, in vulnerability and connection. And this is where the beauty lies, especially when women photograph other women.
Which is understandable—it’s easy and comfortable and natural to work with people we know, or want to know, or people who know people we know. This isn’t wrong or right; it’s just how it is. So let’s change it, by doing the same thing. The following pages feature some of the incredible female photographers I want to know, because I connect to and am inspired by the way they see the mountains, the ocean, and sport—and how their friends spend time there. And yes, they are all women, because their photographic visions are different.
To me, it’s a difference in feeling, in vision, in vulnerability and connection. And this is where the beauty lies, especially when women photograph other women. For all my years in front of the camera, I only ever shot with one woman (shout out Robin O’Neill!), but I remember how it felt, and I am seeing the same thing now that I’m behind the camera—it’s about being captured and seen for who you are, not as a prop, token, or unnatural, out-of-context sexual entity.
Women add value to the outdoor world through their unique experiences. They can see the same strong action or inspiring environments and shoot them in a completely different way. This is what makes art great, is it not? The fresh look, the hot take, the new way of seeing a familiar and loved thing so that it opens our souls and breaks our perceptions of what is…and what can be.
But don’t take my word for it—see for yourself.
Shooting since 2019
“My theory is that women have had to shoot “conventionally” (clean, crisp, focusing on the action) to be taken seriously. And now we are starting to shoot however the hell we want. Which is amazing.”
Shooting since 2015
“When you’re in a male-dominated atmosphere, it can feel like swimming against the current sometimes. But growing up with Hungarian parents who weren’t connected to Canadian culture prepared me for life as an action/adventure photographer. It gave me the gift of observation, and taught me to show up prepared and ready to work hard and hustle. Being different and having to adapt is a skill that translates to shooting with weather, elements and people that are simply out of my control. Also, having a last name no one can pronounce builds character.”
Shooting since 2009
“When I first started, I felt like if I worked really hard no one would notice that I’m a woman. But as I went, I realized—oh, that’s still a thing. For years people would question my sledding skills, like I was always last picked. But I’m still here going to places that are unlike anywhere else and meeting some pretty amazing people. I like the challenge of working all day to get a single shot, or to get into a place most people in the world will never see for themselves. That’s rewarding.”
Shooting since age 8
“Rewind 15 years ago when I was young, the ‘token female’ in a far more male-dominated industry. Back then I would dream of working with all females—to ditch the cringe comments, to escape the idea of pleasing the old-boys club and to speak candidly with peers. At the same time, I’m grateful for the many incredible males I worked with who absolutely were not those dude stereotypes. Now, I’d say it’s less about gender and more about the individuals I work with. I love where we are all headed collectively, these experiences we create as a team.”
Shooting since 2009
“I started when I was 18 and had a girl posse to shoot and everyone had a blog or a Tumblr account and needed pictures. I won a big contest at age 22—$5,000—and it was like my dream upon dreams. Now, photography is my only employable skill—it’s a career and a lifestyle and a language and a creative outlet. It’s a blessing and a curse but there’s just something that needs to come out through shooting…I love it so much.”
Shooting since 2018
“My intrigue with photography began when I was a little kid and found a Polaroid camera of my parents and blew through their entire cartridge of film on pictures of blades of grass. Then my grandfather got me a point-and-shoot and started taking me on photo adventures. I just love having to take a vision in my mind and put it into something tangible. I get this intense excitement shooting surfing, when I’ve battled the shore pound, swam back out, and my friend catches a perfect wave right in front of me and I just know I’ve got the shot!”
Related content from ML:
Shooting since 2016
“Photography allows me to connect with people intimately, I get to see a side of them very few others do. I‘m not sure I remember if it was difficult to break into this field, I generally tend to put my head down and muscle through things. I’ve noticed lately that occasionally clients will call to inquire about jobs and tell me, that although they are familiar with some of my work, they are mostly looking to hire me because I am a woman of colour.
I wish to be hired not because I am helping a brand look outwardly progressive, but because my experiences and quality of work have allowed me to occupy space in the industry. To follow world-class athletes into challenging environments and connect with them and create good images is not something just anyone can do. I want to get jobs because I deserve to be there, and if someone else is better suited I hope they get the job.”
Shooting since 2010
“I love the creative process, coming up with ideas and going to make them happen. For me it has always been about following my own path and stay true to what I love to shoot to give people an emotional buzz with the work. I think it’s important to tap into who you are, not what the next person is doing, and the work will show your passion. That’s what sets you apart and, I think, that is what’s the most fulfilling. And work your ass off.”
HOMEBASE: Vancouver, on the territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations
Shooting since 2004 (for fun) and 2022 (full-time professionally)
“I love play. I engage with sports and art as forms of playing, like fooling around, being silly, and making stuff up or figuring it out on the fly. I love the world-building aspect of photography and the spreading joy aspect of working with underrepresented groups. Snow sports make winters way more tolerable but are also super expensive and have a long way to go in terms of becoming more accessible to those who have been marginalized or denied access.”
Shooting since 1995
I love this. Because it feels like women photographers finally have a community to look up to, learn from, and to be inspired by. And I didn’t really have that.
My photographic journey started in the late 1990s, documenting non-profit work of women-focused, economic diversification projects in Africa and Guyana. Back then, my dream was to one day be on assignment for National Geographic. Instead, I ended up in Whistler—30 years old, living a mountain life and trying to survive by shooting mountain sports.
I didn’t know how to snowmobile so I would sled as far as I could then ski tour the rest of the way. Sometimes I’d beat the guys to the spot because they’d have to stop and dig out a buddy, or two…I was glad it wasn’t me—I didn’t want to be the one to slow down the group because as a “girl” it would mean something different.
I learned and progressed, alone. Action sport photography is still a grind for anyone—women and men. It’s a competitive field and the big brands like to hire whoever is “cool” at the time. Same with the media (whatever media is left that will actually pay for work). So many young photographers struggle to “break in” and still can’t find the space/support to make a real career out of it. I’ve known a number of young photographers over my time, but very few have been able to survive off their love for shooting photos once things like mortgages and kids come into play. It’s not just women, this industry is hard on everyone (but it sure feels hard to be a woman).
“And then the other part of me just says: let the images speak for themselves.”
So what I love most about this photo feature is the community behind it. The support, the excitement, the passion to tear down roadblocks and share perspectives, to create opportunities for each other. Humans do better when we work together, I learned this during my time in Africa and I see it every day in the mountains and in these incredible lifestyles we pursue here.
I love that it feels different than it did when I was 30. Young women are shaking it up, brands are coming on board, and new voices are getting a chance to explain themselves and share the world they see. I’m still wary though, will there be a lack of support from the old guard, from the traditional gatekeepers of who gets to go on the big trips, or work with the highest performing athletes. Who will be chosen to go on assignments with the brands and athletes that are set up to deliver the most impactful images? The ones that build a portfolio and credibility? The opportunities that lead to a career?
I love the energy these young women are bringing, I love the passion, and the talent. But I’m curious who ended up with the cover shot of this magazine you’re holding. Because I know these women have strong enough work to be there. –Robin O’Neill
You might also like:
Check the ML Podcast!