Featured Women In Photography 1

Happy Women’s History Month, everyone! We’re using this auspicious occasion as an excuse to talk about some of the most inspirational women in photography.

Spoiler alert: it’s an exceptionally talented and fascinating group of people. 

We could have happily continued writing this post forever. However, that seemed impractical. Instead, we created a list of 6 of our favorite contemporary female photographers and encourage you, the reader, to add some of your favorites in the comments below.

1. Daniella Zalcman


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Meet Daniella Zalcman, a Vietnamese-American documentary photographer. According to her website, Zalcman is a multiple grantee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation, and a National Geographic Society grantee.

She is, in a phrase, not messing around.

For a decade, Zalcman listened to countless photo editors tell her that they can’t hire more women in photography. The same editors claimed that those professionals simply do not exist. In response, Zalcman created Women Photograph, a database of 950+ independent women documentary photographers based in 100+ countries. The organization provides in-person networking opportunities, skill-building classes, and career-building advice.

As for the photographer herself, Zalcman’s long-term projects often focus on the legacies of western colonization. One such project, Signs of Your Identity, is an in-depth expose about the Canadian government’s network of residential boarding schools designed to “assimilate young indigenous students into western Canadian culture.” The resulting book explores the ongoing challenges of survivors who experienced the schools’ practices of forced assimilation, physical assault, and “intergenerational trauma as a tool of cultural genocide.”

The book is sold out but you can find more information about it here.

2. Elsa Garrison


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Elsa Garrison has spent the last 20+ years as a sports photographer for Getty Images. In this capacity, she’s covered some of the most important sporting events in the world including the Super Bowl, World Cup, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, the World Series, U.S Open Tennis and both the Summer and Winter Olympic games.

She didn’t establish her career by being “one of the boys.” Instead, she dominates the industry as the toughest photographer in the room, stadium, and/or arena. Garrison was also the first female photographer to shoot for Allsport in 1996, a title she owns but didn’t necessarily seek out.

“I was like, ‘OK. Thanks, I guess?’ I didn’t know what to say to that,” Garrison said after she was informed of her achievement. “I wasn’t thinking about that. I just wanted to shoot sports.” 

Men are still the predominant presence in sports photography (and photography at large). Intentional or not, Garrison is an inspiration to would-be photographers who love this art form and don’t fit the typical mold.

3. Laylah Amatullah Barrayn


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Historically, gatekeepers of the arts in the United States have done a terrible job highlighting and recording the day-to-day lives of black Americans. We would be missing an even larger chunk of our country’s history if not for photographers like James Van Der Zee, Carrie Mae Weems, and P.H. Polk.

Photographer Laylah Amatullah Barrayn is on a mission to remedy this negligence on a global scale. She’s photographed women in post-conflict Casamance, Senegal, Ghana’s Cape Coast, the black Muslim women of Abu Dhabi, and the diaspora currently taking place in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York. According to a 2018 Vice interview, Barrayn is particularly taken with the vibrance of Senegal where she has traveled repeatedly over the past 20 years.

Her documentation continued with two publications: her book Black: A Celebration of a Culture and MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora.

Barrayn co-founded MFON with fellow artist Adama Delphine Fawundua. Together, they formed this “commemorative publication committed to establishing and representing a collective voice of women photographers of African descent.” The first issue features over 100 contemporary artists, writers, and educators.

We would need an entire post to go through the full list of Barrayn’s accolades. Suffice to say, her work has garnered over 25 grants, fellowships, and honors. Most recently, she won the Brooklyn Arts Fund Grant and the 100 Heroines in Photography Medal. She was also a finalist for the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize.

4. Lynsey Addario


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Lynsey Addario got her start as an untrained photographer for the Buenos Aires Herald in 1996. She later freelanced for the New York Times and Associated Press before going to work full time in South Asia for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and Houston Chronicle. Then, in 2000, she began her work in Afghanistan focusing heavily on the social restrictions of the Taliban.

Addario built her career documenting human frailty and brutality in the throws of war and diaspora. She put (and continues to put) her life on the line documenting women in Afghanistan who live under Taliban law, Syrian refugees, and countless others in Iraq, Darfur, Libya, Lebanon, South Sudan, Somalia, and Congo.

Her in-depth, skillful work is internationally recognized.

In addition to securing the MacArthur Fellowship, she’s earned numerous awards for her work including a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, an Emmy nomination for her work on “The Displaced”, and an Excellence in International Reporting Award from the International Center for Journalists.

Most importantly, Addario shaped the way the world perceives war and its victims in immeasurable ways. Learn more about her work in her book It’s What I Do.

5. Lola Akinmade Åkerström


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“Travel photographer” is an often-cited dream job for kids and adults alike. People love the jet-setting lifestyle, the vibrant people and landscapes, and (of course) the food.

Lola Akinmade Åkerström is living the dream.

She started her career as a Geographic Information Systems specialist. However, her love for the earth’s intricacies combined with a passion for the visual arts drew her to travel photography.

While traveling, Åkerström finds that being a woman makes it easier to gain access to specific, personal moments. However, that doesn’t always hold true. As she said in a 2018 interview with Adventure.com, “…being granted access into male-only domains and not being taken as seriously within patriarchal structures as a male photographer can be challenging—but not impossible.”

Her skill and the joy she takes in her work is evident in every shot. The critics agree; Åkerström’s work is published in National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, Slate, Travel Channel, Lonely Planet, and many more.

Åkerström also has two book credits under her belt. The first, DUE NORTH, won the 2018 Lowell Thomas Award for best travel book. Second, we have the bestselling LAGOM: Swedish Secret of Living Well. You can find them both here.

6. Barbara Davidson


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Next on our list of women in photography is Barbara Davidson, a three-time Pulitzer Prize and Emmy award-winning photojournalist. 

Davidson spent her early career documenting war and humanitarian crises in 52 countries over the course of 20 years. During that time, she covered the end of the Bosnian War, the Second Intifada in Israel, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She is the personification of the word “fearless.”

Davidson’s work reflects a commitment to documenting subjects affected by conflict and the resilience of the human spirit. The same dedication fuels her coverage of gun-shot survivors in the United States.

In 2011, her work documenting innocent victims caught in the crossfire of Los Angeles gang violence garnered her both the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography and an Emmy. Similarly, her photographs were part of a staff entry that won the Los Angeles Times the 2016 Spot News Pulitzer for coverage of the San Bernardino mass shooting.

Currently, Davidson is a Guggenheim Fellow exploring the United States in her car. She is accompanied by her two dogs, making 8×10 portraits of gun-shot survivors using an 8×10 film camera.

Who are your favorite inspirational women in photography? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Thank you Laura Powell! Thoroughly enjoyed your article and insight. Thank you also for including Barbara Davidson whom I predict will be remembered as an icon and inspirational image maker for future photographers.

  2. Excellent article, Laura. I didn’t know their work.
    I loved the work of each one of them.
    My favorite inspirational women in photography is Annie Leivovitz.


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