Shoot Like a Woman

Landscape photo with mountains and snow.  Caption is The group explored the beauty of TNC Wyoming's Tensleep Preserve during an extended weekend visit.
The group explored the beauty of TNC Wyoming’s Tensleep Preserve during an extended weekend visit.

Story & photos by Kathy Lichtendahl

One day back in late fall, 2013, I made the hour-long drive from my home at the base of Wyoming’s Beartooth Mountains to meet a friend for lunch at one of the few restaurants in the small farming community of Powell. The town is located in the middle of the Bighorn Basin, about a half-hour’s drive northeast of Cody and an hour and a half from Yellowstone National Park’s east entrance. Powell is also the home of Northwest College, a small two-year community college known, in part, for its excellent photography program, which is where my friend was teaching.

Doing the Research

During lunch we began discussing some of the challenges facing female nature photographers in the beautiful but rugged lands nearby. My friend confessed that, as a newcomer to the state, she was, understandably, reluctant to venture into the wilderness alone. Not only are there numerous, sometimes confusing, unmarked trails in the surrounding mountains but she had moved from a place where grizzly bears and wolves were the stuff of fairy tales, not creatures you might actually encounter while searching for a photograph.

That was the moment “Shoot Like a Woman” (SLaW), was born.

A snowy forest landscape with several figures on a curving path through the trees.  Caption is Two members of the group explore the beauty of an unexpected snowfall during an outing.
Two members of the group explore the beauty of an unexpected snowfall during an outing.

After lunch that day I went home and began putting together a framework for a women’s nature photography circle that would explore the lands in and around the Bighorn Basin on a regular basis. I ran my thoughts by my friend and with her enthusiastic support, we began fine tuning the structure of the group and listing the names of several other women we thought might be interested.

Including a Social Element

Our first official outing took place in January of 2014 with six women hiking to Bridal Veil Falls in the Clarks Fork Canyon. That meeting set the tone for our outings ever since, with each adventure including a physical component as well as time for social interaction at some point during the day. Since then we have tried to meet once a month, on the second Saturday, often exploring a new destination but also returning once a year or so to those places that have been the most enjoyable, such as an annual mid-winter hike near Thermopolis Hot Springs followed by a rejuvenating soak in one of the remarkable outdoor pools or a traditional opening-day trek in Yellowstone.

A recent group photo taken at Clarks Fork Canyon during the pandemic. Significant others were allowed to attend and social distancing was in place.
A recent group photo taken at Clarks Fork Canyon during the pandemic. Significant others were allowed to attend and social distancing was in place.

Limiting the Group’s Size

We decided from the beginning to limit the size of the meet-up group to ten women for reasons of safety, manageability and in consideration of environmental impacts on the locations we visited although we also have an on-line Facebook group of the same name that anyone with compatible interests can join from anywhere in the world.

Setting Expectations

There are no dues but members of the physical group are asked to commit to attending the monthly outings for a year – within reason – and members must be fit enough to undertake some fairly rigorous hikes while carrying a substantial amount of photography gear. At the end of each year we ask those who are not able to meet the requirements to consider stepping aside so others from the waiting list may join. Of the original group of six, four still attend regularly while several others have been active for most of the seven years we’ve been doing this.

A shot of a fox during a group outing in the Beartooth Mountains.
A shot of a fox during a group outing in the Beartooth Mountains.

Scheduling Regular Outings

Besides our monthly outings, we try to get together once a year or so for a weekend trip that takes us a little further afield. We have done multi-day winter excursions into Yellowstone and, just a few months ago, we spent three days exploring the jaw-dropping landscapes of TNC Wyoming’s Ten Sleep Preserve. Over the years we have staged several exhibits of members’ works and we have discussed the idea of creating a book of photographs from the outings.

With the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, we delayed our March, 2020 gathering but quickly realized that getting together as a group in nature is truly an essential activity for the physical and mental well-being of most of our members. With that in mind, we put some precautions in place – no carpooling, masks must be worn when in the group, social distancing on the trail, no sharing of food – and we relaxed the rules to allow significant others to attend if they were so inclined. We tried to arrange our day so that we did not have more than ten people in a group and we went ahead with our monthly outings which have proven to be a highlight in an otherwise difficult time for everyone. (Note: Wyoming was one of the few states that did not issue a stay-at-home order to its citizens.)

The silly version of a group shot during an outing to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
The silly version of a group shot during an outing to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

At some point during every one of our more than seventy-five Shoot Like a Woman outings to date, we have stopped along the trail to take two group photos, one serious and one silly. While the goal of each gathering is for the members to be able to capture their own unique images in wilderness settings, I treasure those mementos of our time together most of all!

Kathy Lichtendahl is a professional conservation photographer based in Northwest Wyoming. With her husband, Ken, she founded Light in the Valley LLC, a conservation photography company in 2014. Operating out of Wyoming’s Beartooth Mountains in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem gives her access to some of the most amazing wild lands and wildlife in the United States.