Tips + Techniques

How Photographers Can Improve Working with LGBTQ+ Community

August 13, 2020

By Brittny Drye

© Sarma & Co.

Updated June 2022.

There’s no denying that the LGBTQ+ community has faced discrimination for ages—all you have to do is take a look at the news to see their fundamental rights are politicized and questioned by many. However, while these opposing views are loud and certainly ill-informed, much of the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ is quieter and comes in the form of subtle prejudices that often derive from ignorance. 

Although many professionals don’t intend to place judgment on anyone, it’s important for each of us to recognize our own implicit biases. We all have unconscious ideas and beliefs about other social groups—what matters is how much effort we put in educating ourselves and changing the way we think. 

For photographers, it’s easy to say that all clients are treated the same. Yet, most LGBTQ+ people can identify more than a few occasions in which they were treated differently by a service provider due to their identity, even if unintentional. That begs the question: What should you be mindful of as a photographer and how can you ensure your LGBTQ+ clients feel safe and comfortable? 

Let’s explore some of the biggest mistakes when working in the LGBTQ+ community and how you can remedy them to guarantee an inclusive experience for all. 

1. Heteronormative Marketing 

Photo © Cortiella Photography

As professionals, we tend to market based on our own experience, which can oftentimes leave certain social groups out. 

[Read: 3 Ways Photographers Can Market for a New Reality]

Jennifer Cortiella of Cortiella Photography elaborates: “One of the major mistakes vendors make is assuming that advertising that generally caters to ‘straight’ couples will also appeal to the LGBTQ+ community. Most advertising is non-inclusive. You can remedy this by making sure you utilize inclusive language and imagery, whether it is in your contact form, website, the pictures you use and any questionnaires.” 

This includes updating your terminology to swap out gendered phrases like “bridal party” or “bride and groom” to “wedding party” or “partners,” respectively.  

2. Tokenism 

Photo © Kathryn Cooper Weddings

On the flip side of heteronormative marketing, tokenism is using LGBTQ+ photos for inauthentic purposes. 

LGBTQ+ couples are just that: couples. They don’t exist to be a marketing ploy to bring in more business. Likewise, “selling goods with rainbows on them and no actual connection to the community can be seen as pandering or trendy,” explains Kathryn Cooper of Kathryn Cooper Weddings. “Actively listening and engaging with the LGBTQ+ community is vital. Just like anything, knowledge and understanding are key when it comes to working smoothly and inclusively.” 

3. Making Assumptions 

Photo © Judson Rappaport

Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge a human based on their appearance. “It’s important to approach every couple individually,” states NYC-based photographer Judson Rappaport. “We, in the LGBTQ+ community, are not a monolith. The LGBTQIA2S community includes a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations; not all LGBTQ+ couples want a rainbow-themed wedding, so leave your expectations at the door.”

This goes for pronouns, too, Rappaport says. “Make sure to ask and use your clients’ pronouns! I have this on my contact form so I know before our initial conversation.” 

4. Uncomfortable Poses 

The truth is that couples’ photography tends to be driven by gender roles— think about all of the photos of one partner picking up the other or twirling them around. A lot of photographers make the mistake of assigning gender roles to their couples, but you should never be making assumptions about the dynamics of someone else’s relationship. Instead, let them lead and photograph them being themselves!

Here are some posing tips from the experts: 

“Gender-based posing fails all your couples. When it comes to posing any couple, it is most important to look at their connection and how they interact with each other. If you direct your couple in one direction and you can tell that isn’t feeling natural to them, redirect them to something that feels more natural.” — Judson Rappaport 

“For LGBTQ+ couples, much like any couple, you should not assume rules or how the couple might want to pose. I recommend taking a cue from how the couple naturally interacts with each other and using that to encourage natural posing or movement. My only direction is asking them to show me how they would act at home or if I was not here.” — Jennifer Cortiella 

“I start by chatting with the couple and having them talk about other things while I’m setting up my frame, then I’ll have them do something simple like walk towards me and spin each other and kiss. Couples naturally fall into their own ways of holding one another and snuggling together. Once I see their patterns, we can get even more fun, adventure-driven photos.” — Kathryn Cooper 

If you want to ensure all of your clients feel safe and welcomed, it starts with doing your homework beforehand and ensuring your business is inclusive—as well as those that you work with regularly. Confirm that your venues are equality-minded spaces and will welcome all of your clients. Put your best foot forward and take action to show that you’re an ally that will continue to advocate for your LGBTQ+ clients, no matter what. 

Brittny Drye is the founder and editor-in-chief of Love Inc., a leading equality-minded wedding blog and digital publication. Her inclusive efforts have been celebrated by The New York Times, The Advocate, OUT Magazine, Refinery29, NY Daily News, Cosmopolitan, and more. She serves on the 2018-19 North American Advisory Board for the International Academy of Wedding & Events.