Is AYWMC just for women?

A Year With My Camera is a beginner’s photography course written by me, Emma Davies.

Over the summer, more than one person asked me if it is just for women. It was a surprisingly difficult question to answer, and this post has taken a while to put together. The short answer is, “No, but…”

 I take a  lot  of flower photos

I take a lot of flower photos

Why ask the question in the first place?

The question, “Is AYWMC just for women?”, arose because the Facebook groups that support each intake of AYWMCers are mostly women, and people in these groups have noticed that fact. The Facebook group for the September start has 2400 members and is 81% women. Previous intakes have had higher percentages - up to 85%.

But the Facebook groups are only half the story. There are more than 5,000 people enrolled on the September 2018 start, and less than half have gone on to join the Facebook group. It may be that women are more likely to be on Facebook? It may be that men are less likely to want to do the community bit of the course?

A typical AYWMCer in the Facebook groups, is a women aged 50-60 who lives in the UK. But that doesn’t mean that AYWMC is just for women who fit this profile. There are plenty of men, plenty of younger and older women, and plenty of people from places other than the UK.

To explain why the Facebook groups are currently skewed towards women, I need to give you a bit of background about why I wrote the course in the first place.

Did I write AYWMC for women?

Yes. Yes I did.

I wrote it because at the time (2015), there were no courses written for women. There were plenty written for mothers (Clickin Moms, MomTogs, Mummy Bloggers) - but none for women who might not have children, or who might not want to define themselves by the fact they have children, or who might want to take photos of something other than their kids. And these women needed a course - the only choices they had were technical, competitive courses for guys with tons of kit, or these child-centric courses aimed at mothers. My women needed a course which was:

  • non competitive

  • step by step

  • supportive

  • written in a way that started right from the beginning

  • focussed on the creative process rather than what kit they were using

  • able to be personalised to suit whatever subject they wanted to shoot

And yes, plenty of men need a course like this as well, which is why as it happens, AYWMC is not just for women. But when I initially wrote the course I had a specific woman in mind. She was one I met over and over again when I taught photography in person. She had been on workshops before and been overwhelmed with information, and felt left behind when the instructor moved on too quickly. She had tried online courses (including the Open University) but felt intimidated by the forums or Facebook groups which were dominated by aggressive, competitive photographers. She felt like a failure because when she tried to practise what she had been taught, she couldn’t remember what she was meant to do.

None of this was her fault and I just wanted a course that I could recommend that would take her from that moment when she was full of enthusiasm with her new camera, to being confidently in control of it all of the time.

 I do work with flowers and florists a lot

I do work with flowers and florists a lot

The early days of AYWMC

When I started AYWMC, before I knew I would end up with 5,000 people joining each time I ran it, I had a small group of loyal followers. Many had been on my in-person workshops, and many followed me because I was a professional flower photographer. At this time I taught photography mainly to florists. Who were mainly women. My following were almost exclusively women. They recommended AYWMC to their friends, who were … mainly women.

So when it first ran, AYWMC was almost 100% beginner women photographers.

After the first run-through, I ran Facebook ads to see if more people would be interested. Facebook lets you target by gender, amongst other things, and I had a limited budget. So I ran ads just to women. And they worked. I had an industry-beating cost per sign up - because I had an epic workshop that appealed to the people who saw it.

AYWMC in 2018

Fast-forward 3 years to today. Now I barely have to advertise at all, because I have the best form of marketing: word of mouth. People who stick with the course and see themselves making progress every week are more than happy to tell their friends about it, and it is these recommendations that are making AYWMC grow exponentially. And gradually the course is becoming less than 100% women, as people recommend the course to anyone they think might appreciate the style of learning. I think it will always appeal mostly to women, because I am a female professional photographer (a minority) and there are plenty of other options for students who prefer a male teacher.

 Emma on the left with the phone: Never underestimate the importance of having fun

Emma on the left with the phone: Never underestimate the importance of having fun

So is AYWMC just for women?

Although it was written for a particular woman, it is in fact a course for anyone who:

  • wants to learn right from the beginning

  • likes a slow, step by step approach

  • enjoys the support of a non-critical community

  • appreciates the benefit of learning whilst having fun

What do current AYWMCers say?

I asked everyone currently doing the course what they thought about the question. Nobody said, “Yes, it’s only for women”. Many said they hadn’t even noticed that the Facebook groups were mostly women. A lot of people said they noticed the age demographic rather than the gender split (we do tend to appeal to soon-to-retire, or recently retired students, who have time for the regular weekly lessons and longer term approach to learning).

I’ll let them speak for themselves. All quotes are reproduced with permission.

I don’t think it’s only for women but Emma’s approach is probably more attractive to women than a traditional course or camera club. It’s friendly, relaxed, informal and easy to fit around the rest of life
— Ann
I would say it is aimed at anyone who wants to learn how to improve their photography skills. I have recommended to both men and women equally and not given it a second thought. The style is friendly, informative and develops self belief and confidence.
— Anoushka
I feel it’s mainly for women, and I have found that refreshing and liberating! However, it’s certainly not at all ‘girly’, and I can see no reason why men would not really enjoy the course too. I do think it has made a huge difference to me being taught by a non-competitive woman, who teaches PHOTOGRAPHY not cameras, lenses, etc.
— Ailsa
I think the course is aimed at everyone seeking to enjoy learning and developing in a structured friendly format. Emma has set up a gentle supportive course accessible by all to follow.
— Paul
The attraction of AYWMC is the lack of competition and everyone is a beginner. I joined another group and was intimidated by the professionalism of the photos posted (lots of post processing) AYWMC feels a safe space, long may it continue to be so.
— Michele

emmadaviesphotography-headshot-800.jpg

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Emma Davies