Black women are über creative, y'all. We perform geometric equations in detailed braiding patterns, we can engineer any device with the bare minimum tools, and we basically drive the pop culture of the entire world. Art, in all aspects of creativity—from painting, sculpting, and theater, to music, dance, and photography—although not new to the black community, is newly celebrated on a larger scale than previously recognized. And with photography leading the pack, thanks to pioneers such as Deborah Willis, Lorna Simpson, and Marilyn Nance, black women are now picking up their cameras at an all-time high.
We decided to list some of the most poppin' queens making the most noise as photographers. Here's our list of 10 female photographers putting on for the culture.
Tori Lens | @tori.lens
Courtesy of Tori Lens
Location: London, England
Favorite Camera: Nikon D3200 or Samsung S9+
Signature Style: "Vibrant, active, and smokey!"
"Me owning what I love and no longer apologizing for being a flipping powerhouse—despite being a bubbly, friendly, open-minded, black female with a shaved head and big African earrings—it all means that me just being, is making an impact."
Tori Lens is a first gen British-born Nigerian based on the other side of the pond in London. She is a clicking beast best known for her vibrant smoke bomb photoshoots and commitment to getting the right shot. "I'm always moving when I'm shooting, people always say that to me. And I love when my subjects do the same and are not afraid to take my unorthodox suggestions and run with it," she says. With a creative background that ranges from graffiti, painting, and sewing, Tori always knew she would have photography in her peripheral. "I must admit no matter my journey, I believe I would have always found photography because I am a visual creative and naturally curious. [I'm] always learning and growing. It was inevitable."
Sierra Leone | @leoneandgray
Courtesy of Sierra Leone
Favorite Camera: Full Frame D750
Signature Style: "Unposed. I want to always capture my subjects as they are in motion!"
"Shortly after giving birth to my daughter, I realized I didn't want to put her in daycare. And photography allowed me the freedom to capture her fleeting moments, stay at home with her, and secure the bag."
Sierra Leone is a self-taught, well-oiled photography machine based in the DMV and Atlanta areas. Encouraged by her mother to pursue the industry, she cites the times her mom would often capture her as a child. "While growing up, and even to this day, she is always capturing moments and while she used to preserve those moments through scrapbooking," she says with a smile, "I loved looking through her captures when I was younger. She has such an artistic eye when freezing time." Sierra then studied her craft and took to the internet to self-indulge in the basics. "I attended YouTube University, and I have been capturing beautiful humans for about 7 years now. I absolutely love what I do!"
She credits Marrica Evans, Cyndi Brown, Dayo, and her beautiful daughter, Tenzin—who she often uses as her subject—as photography inspirations.
Jen Missouri | @jenmissouri
Photo Credit: Quinten Swygert
Location: Little Rock, AR
Favorite Camera: Open to any camera with a 1.2 85mm prime lens
Signature Style: "I'm a natural light shooter, so my signature style is very clean and bright, with simplicity."
"I am looking to shift mindsets on the concept of photography. Photography is not only an art, but there's a science to it."
Jen Missouri is a highly sought-after newbie in the southern region of the U.S. She is best known for her attention to detail and passion for the perfect angle. "I practice shooting what I see through my lens when it comes to natural light, [so] I try to eliminate as much post-work as possible. I love how subjects are captured in its raw state," she says. "Filters should be an enhancer not the highlight of the story you're trying to tell."
Since taking that little photography elective on a whim during her last year of undergrad, Jen found her appetite for shooting, and hasn't been able to put down the camera since. She is also owner of the creative space @TheSpot, which is where you can find her taking photos for exclusive client events.
Kesha Lambert | @keshalambert
Photo Credit: Kanayo Adibe
Location: New Rochelle, NY
Favorite Camera: I am currently obsessed with the Nikon z7
Signature Style: "Movement, light, sultry and fun, risk-taking. I have a vivid imagination and I never hesitate to try to execute the thing that pops into mind. I don't overthink, I gently push the people I work with and just go for it."
"My cultural impact will be to create generational heirlooms; to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding black marriage, black fatherhood, black motherhood and black love."
Kesha Lambert is a former lawyer turned dominant wedding photographer, hailing from New York. Her journey came about when one day, she just decided to go for it. "Circumstance and opportunity is why I pursued photography. It had been an interest since I was a little girl. I even started a small portrait business in my teens." I'm super impressed as she continues, "Adult me went on to become a lawyer, got married and start a family. Then one day, a proverbial door closed that caused a shift in my mindset and, as a result, Kesha Lambert Photography became a real thing."
Inspired by her three boys, Kesha has cemented her place in photography, as her photos may be some of your favorites on social media, without you even knowing. Keep a close eye on her journey, as she will certainly be making her mark on the game.
Taylor Hayden | @taylormhayden
Courtesy of Taylor Hayden
Location: Houston, TX
Favorite Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV
Signature Style: "Simple, natural, and authentic."
"I believe that in order to bring forth a positive impact, the first step is to work on yourself. We all are here for specific reasons and we've inherited special gifts to share."
Photography may have started as a hobby for the Prairie View A&M grad, but she quickly made it her passion. "I never considered becoming a professional and making money from it," she starts. "I applied for tons of positions in the communications field and I was rejected every single time. Eventually, I became fed up and decided that I would be my own boss."
And a boss she is. You can find her close to her roots, shooting authentic images for her archives. "I find the most inspiration through other passionate people that are living their purpose and committed to the journey. It truly inspires me to keep moving forward and to also share my experiences, because you never know who you could potentially impact for the better."
Linn Washington | @goldbarlinn
Photo Credit: Shani Perez
Favorite Camera: Canon 5d Mark IV / Canon EF f 2.8L 70 to 200mm. A killer combination.
Signature Style: "Urban, bold, and clean. There is beauty in simplicity."
"It is important that we control a positive narrative of our images for future generations."
Linn is a retired law enforcement officer and prominent street photographer in the city that never sleeps. "I realized that I could do more for my community behind the lens by capturing joyful moments and crafting positive content, in lieu of using handcuffs to make an arrest."
Since then, Linn has tapped into her purpose by shooting the streets, versus shooting the streets. She credits Jeanne Moutoussamy and Lindey Adler as inspirations and, in her mission to show the beauty of melanin, she plans to be around for a long time. Currently, Linn is working on a documentary and photo book to support her friend who is battling stage 4 cancer. "I will master multiple genres of photography so that I may preserve history utilizing my artful eyes, and telling the stories of all the wonderful individuals I meet in an authentic way. I will then teach others how to do the same."
Lola Akinmade Åkerström | @lolaakinmade
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Favorite Camera: Currently Nikon D750 FX
Signature Style: "I love vivid color and I love heavy dark contrast. Growing up in Nigeria, I was always surrounded by vibrant colors and lots of high contrast (dark skin against bright sky) so that is my style."
"For me, the perfect shot has nothing to do with technical settings, but everything to do with how many questions it can answer - where, why, what, when - and whether it can convey those emotions in a single shot."
Lola Akinmade is a pretty big deal; a highly decorated, award-winning, living legend and traveling photographer with published works in National Geographic and her own books—her latest being Due North: A Collection of Travel Observations, Reflections, and Snapshots Across Color, Cultures, and Continents. But even through her many accolades and accomplishments, she still feels that she has a long way to go.
"Goal lines keep getting moved because I am shooting within an industry that doesn't expect me—and someone that looks like me—to be working in it," she says. "These are some of the unspoken rules. It's why a white, male, rugged photographer who shoots the exact same scene I did, is celebrated, while this curvy black woman is met with a questioning of 'you took that?' instead. I want to normalize black women as professional travel photographers, and travel writers, on the mainstream level. I want to inspire those who shoot and write on the highest platforms."
Nikia Paden | @iridescentphotography.htx
Courtesy of Nikia Paden
Location: Houston, TX
Favorite Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV
Signature Style: "My work is filled with vibrant colors and the nonsense correlated with candid childhood. It is meant to cause major reminiscing and extract all the smiles."
"Simply taking pictures transformed the way I observed my environment. My eyes were continuously taking mental snapshots on how environments would look photographed."
Color and youth-capture is the essence of Nikia Paden. Her super creative spirit and eye is how she has managed to be one of the top child photographers in the country. "When someone sees my work, I want them to know that it all usually begins with a crazy idea that turns into a wild creative adventure that's usually full of imagination," she says with a laugh. "I have been told that my work is a breath of fresh air, and that it captures the whimsical and innocent nature of childhood, especially for our black children. So, I want to capture our melanated minis and showcase the joy that they exude. And maybe one day, all will see the magic and the undeniable necessity that is them."
Kahran Bethencourt | @creativesoulphoto
Courtesy of Creative Soul Photography
Location: Atlanta, GA
Favorite Camera: Canon 5D Mark III; 85MM 1.4 Lens
Signature Style: "I always define my signature style as 'extra'. To me, descendants of the African diaspora have always been (and always will be) trendsetters when it comes to fashion, music, and style so I want our work to reflect that - even if our subjects are kids."
"We want to empower kids of color around the world to be proud of their culture and embrace everything that makes them unique."
You have seen Kahran's photos a hundred times over, and you have no clue. She is ½ of the awesomely innovative husband/wife duo, Creative Soul Photography. And their impact on photography, is revolutionary. "My husband, Reg actually attended school for photography and I learned along with him while he was in college. We knew we wanted to start a business together, so it was the perfect opportunity for us to learn a new skill together."
And, man, have they learned.
Creative Soul's photos have been featured in Essence, Munaluchi Bride, MochaKid, on The Real, the OWN network, and more. "A perfect shot tells a story. Even if it's a studio portrait, I love when all of the elements (fashion, hairstyle, accessories, model, etc.) come together to form the story we're trying to tell."
Deanna G | @deannaxnicole
Courtesy of Deanna G
Location: Atlanta, GA
Favorite Camera: Canon 80D/50mm 1.8 Lens
Signature Style: "My signature style is not just one thing; I see it as very versatile. It fits the moment I would say. It is always pretty vibrant, even when it is intended to be 'dark'."
"When I first decided I wanted to take a creative career choice, there were not many women figures to look up to in my field. This is, or was, a male-dominated industry, and it is changing more every day. We are making our mark in this world, and shaking it up along the way."
A photographer since high school, Deanna always knew some sort of camera would be in her hands. "I have always intended to have a career in the film industry, whether that be as an editor, or director of photography," she says. "[But] photography helped me learn more about how I see things visually and opened doors that were not previously opened before."
Her recent "A Black Man's Mental Health" series has been making noise amongst other creatives. But whether a photographer, or a film director, Deanna is sure about one thing: "I want to be an inspiration to young women around the world. I want them to be able to know that they will make it in whatever creative pathway they choose, without the constant mental panic of 'how is this going to play out?'."