Profile: Steph Vella and Sarina Jackson
As the well-known adage goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” and necessity is exactly what spurred photographers Steph Vella and Sarina Jackson to team up and co-found In Focus Women, a new online community for female landscape photographers.
Vella and Jackson met during a photography workshop, and their short discussion about the lack of female representation in the landscape photography space went on to spark a bigger conversation about what they could do to help connect and encourage other women.
Before they knew it, they had come up with the idea of In Focus Women, a community with intentions of celebrating, supporting, inspiring and encouraging women in landscape photography.
With their first photo posted to Instagram handle @in.focus.women in November 2019, they now have more than 10,000 photos tagged and have garnered in excess of 2,800 members.
The women behind the movement
Landscape photography is a particularly difficult industry to make a living from, but if you are passionate and determined, there are ways to turn it into a career. Vella is a professional landscape and portrait photographer based in Sydney. Like many landscape photographers, she has found clever ways to increase her revenue streams.
Alongside commissions to produce landscape photography and run photography workshops, Vella runs a portrait photography business, specialising in newborn, maternity and family photos. After studying film abroad, she soon realised the difficulty of breaking into the industry in Australia and was faced with a tough choice: move overseas or choose a different path at home.
Starting out retouching photos for a local wedding photographer, she didn’t pick up a camera and start shooting until a few years later. But she had a passion for photography so decided to try it as a career.
Choosing to stay in Australia and pursue photography, she began attending workshops around the world and at home in Sydney. She attended one in Narrabeen with NiSi Filters Australia and a few months later she started working for the company full-time. Vella had honed her skills so well during this period she started running her own workshops for NiSi Filters, including the same one she attended less than a year prior.
When asked about her work schedule, Vella says: “I can usually work up to six or seven days a week, including some nights. It can get a little tiring, but when you love what you do, it doesn’t really feel like work.”
Jackson is on the other side of the coin. While she shares a similarly strong interest in landscape photography and in creating a community to support women, she is also a hobbyist photographer so landscape photography is purely a labour of love. She always had a camera in her hand, but it wasn’t until she stayed with a photographer friend on the NSW Sapphire Coast that she fell in love with landscape photography.
A lawyer by day and a full-time parent, Jackson is a great role model for anyone who might be putting off their passion for photography because of their nine-to-five job or family commitments.
Vella shares what life was like for her in the industry before she met Jackson. “I was mainly shooting on my own or with a group of friends, but I was always the only female there,” she says. “I knew there was more of us out there, I just had to look for them.”
From little things, big things grow
Since its launch, In Focus Women has grown into a burgeoning international community of female landscape photographers. On Instagram, Vella and Jackson mention they wanted to create a space where they could showcase images of talented female landscape photographers, and create a community where female landscape photographers could come together and connect with others in the field.
As soon as they launched In Focus Women they noticed that many people, including male landscape photographers, started sharing the account.
Although only photos taken by women are featured, the platform is intended to be all-inclusive. “Our aim is to really just keep celebrating and showcasing amazing female photographers from around the world, and we hope both females and males wish to celebrate with us,” says Jackson. “If there are males who want to follow us – and there are plenty who do – they are more than welcome. To us, that’s a positive driver as well.”
Vella agrees: “Males are some of our biggest supporters so it is encouraging to see,” she says. “We wanted to create a community to help draw attention to the many incredible female landscape photographers out there. We have had many men support by sharing the page with other females they know, helping us grow and allowing us to connect with even more people. We have had an amazing response with so many men contacting us to let us know how great they think the initiative is. It makes us happy to see it evolve and we hope we can really start to make a difference.”
While they thought the account would primarily be Sydney-based, it soon began to get attention from all around the world. They had members joining from the US, Sweden, Canada, China, New Zealand and many more countries. Soon enough, the account gained so much traction that thousands of people started tagging the hashtag #infocuswomen in their Instagram posts in the hopes of having their photograph featured on the account. So what started out as a passion project for the pair quickly developed into something meaningful for female landscape photographers the world over.
To complement the Instagram page, the duo have also set up a private Facebook group for In Focus Women, which female landscape photographers are welcome to join. The aim is to share images, ask questions, give advice and even plan shoots to meet up with other women in the community. The page is quickly growing and already has nearly 100 members.
“Our main focus is about creating an environment where people feel comfortable to share and connect,” says Vella. “We would love to see a global online community where we can discuss topics and create new friendships. We hope members are able to organise shoots and meet-ups with others who live locally, or even organise meeting other In Focus Women in new areas that they may be travelling to.”
For Jackson, having the In Focus Women Facebook page is about “having a community to help us find answers. For example, someone can come along in the community and say, ‘I’m a 5’3” woman, what backpack would be a really good suggestion for me?’ There’s going to be someone in our community who can answer that. Or, ‘What camera would you recommend to someone with smaller hands?’”
As Jackson explains, the answers men were previously giving were not always suited to women.
“I only had men to answer those questions when I first started, and every answer they gave me was just not suitable for what I needed,” she says.
The first couple of organised meet-ups had to be done virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, however the duo is hoping for more members to join the group and be able to attend meet-ups in the future.
Looking to the future
The driving force behind the project is to keep growing the platform and encouraging more women to share their passion of landscape photography. With the aim to encourage women, Vella says: “We really want to help inspire more females to get out there, and sharing that passion with others can be just as rewarding.”
With the increased visibility in the space provided by In Focus Women, Vella and Jackson hope the gender gap in landscape photography will begin to narrow. “The best part about photography is it is completely non-discriminatory,” says Vella. “Anyone can do it, and all it takes is passion and a willingness to learn. The gap doesn’t really make sense to me, but we are hoping to continue to grow and change that.”
Future projects for the duo include a podcast and a book featuring images from women around the world, with all proceeds going to charity. ❂