The Best (and Worst) Lesbian Photo Shoot Scenes in Film and TV History

From "High Art" to "Carol" to Freeform's "The Bold Type," a definitive ranking.

Photography is canonically lesbian. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

Ever since realizing my attraction for women, I’ve found solace in the work of lesbians like Donna Gottschalk, Annie Leibovitz, and Joan E. Biren. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Lesbian media is saturated with characters who are obsessed with taking photos of each other. This trope is so prevalent, in fact, that if I’m watching a lesbian movie and there isn’t a scene in which one dyke lovingly says, “Don’t move!” right before tenderly pulling out her camera, I turn it off. No photography? Well, then, I guess it's not actually gay.

And really, how can we fault the predictable behavior of these onscreen lesbians? Lesbianism has long been seen through the lens of men who seek to fetishize our desires. For years, mainstream lesbian porn has been shot for the sole purpose of being viewed by straight men. Just a few months ago, a lesbian couple in the U.K. was brutally beaten after refusing a straight man’s command to make out in front of him.


That's why there’s something subversive about women in love photographing each other. If the male gaze has long controlled the narrative of how queer women are portrayed in popular media, then lesbian photography serves as a reclamation of our identities and perspectives.

There is no place where this is more obvious than in the 2015 lesbian cult favorite Carol. Young protagonist Therese (Rooney Mara), who doesn’t quite know she's queer yet, is a photographer. The film is captured through her adoring gaze of her love interest, an older woman named Carol (played by the divine Cate Blanchett). The film not only depicts Carol through Therese’s eyes, but also presents the beauty of queerness quite literally through the photographs Therese snaps of Carol throughout it.

But this is only the beginning. Below, we’ve rounded up eight more onscreen lesbian photo shoot scenes, ranking them from lukewarm to downright scorching. Comment below if we’ve left out your favorite. Then please run out and take some photos of your girlfriend so we can all subvert the male gaze together.

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987)

This movie may feature lesbian photography scenes, but it doesn’t even have a scene in which the lesbian photographer actually shoots the object of her affection! Instead, we are forced to watch the absurdly goofy protagonist played by Sheila McCarthy (and named Polly–yes, Polly!) skip around Toronto taking voyeuristic photos of everybody but her attractive middle-aged French boss with whom she’s in love. It’s a crime, as is Polly’s insanely choppy and bright orange mess of a pixie cut. Absolutely not hot. Zero out of 10.

Loving Annabelle (2006)

This movie features a disturbing May-December romance between boarding school professor Simone Bradley (Diane Gaidry) and her student Annabelle (Erin Kelly). No context is needed for its fated lesbian photography scene except for the fact that the student and professor have just run away for the weekend to Simone’s beach house.

The age difference and power discrepancies really spoil the film. The writing is cheesy, too, and the acting is so stilted that when Simone starts snapping Annabelle in the sand, one can’t help but cringe. Not hot.

She’s Gotta Have It (2019)

I love this Netflix Originals remake of the famous Spike Lee movie. Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) is beautiful, talented, and perfect—the full package, if you will. The reason the lesbian photo shoot scene in it ranks so low on this list is that it’s hardly a scene at all. During Episode 1 of Season 2, a cute but brief “It’s summertime!” montage sees Nola taking photos of her girlfriend on their cute Brooklyn stoop. It’s adorable, but there’s nothing racy about it. Heartwarming? Yes. Hot? Nope.

Lip Service (2010)

A lot happens in the first three minutes of the Season 1 premiere of this U.K. television show including (but not limited to) a sex scene, a death, and some very poorly written dialogue. The ep also features a lesbian photography scene, and it is… not great.

A lesbian photographer named Frankie (played by Ruta Gedmintas, who happens to look like a blonde version of Shane from The L Word) is taking pictures of a model in her studio. After a few seconds of shooting, they exchange minimal words in a very awkward conversation before making out and having sex. It all happens too fast, and the dialogue is weird. Definitely not hot.

High Art (1998)

In which Ally Sheedy plays an uninspired lesbian photographer named Lucy, young Patricia Clarkson plays her drug-addicted German girlfriend, and a magazine editor named Syd (Radha Mitchell) falls in love with Lucy. The amount of cocaine in this film is slightly disturbing. Oh, wait, it's heroin! (A litany of other things may leave you aghast, including the sheer number of times Lucy says the word "sexy.")

The movie has several scenes in which Lucy photographs Syd, the first one being during a classic lesbian road trip, when Syd is upset with Lucy for doing so much heroin. Instead of being a good listener (a crucial skill in the women-loving-women community!), Lucy just starts snapping photos of her. What? Not hot! The second photography scene is less awful and takes place the morning after the two have their first (really strange and superbly unsexy) sexual encounter. It’s weird but still pretty hot simply because lesbian Ally Sheedy could do literally whatever she wanted to me. There, I said it.

The Bold Type (2017)

Freeform’s The Bold Type is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. The show features one of the internet’s favorite lesbian couples, Kat (Aisha Dee) and Adena (Nikohl Boosheri). Adena is—get this!—a lesbian photographer. In one scene early on in the couple’s relationship, the two build a blanket fort (cute!), and Adena takes a few photos of Kat. This scene isn’t hot necessarily, but both Kat and Adena are. Plus, unlike the aforementioned pairing in High Art, their relationship is healthy, which is also hot.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Have y’all seen this? Charlize Theron looks breathtakingly attractive, and the movie is so sexy, it’s unreal. She plays an American spy named Lorraine Broughton in 1989 Germany, and her love interest is a French agent named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). Throughout the story, Lasalle trails Theron’s character, photographing her in a covert and voyeuristic way. It's super hot because both characters are strong, independent, and sensual as hell. Their chemistry alone has the power to crumble the Berlin Wall. Steamy AF.

Disobedience (2017)

If you are a queer woman, then you’ve definitely seen this film starring Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. It centers around Ronit (Weisz) and Esti (McAdams), who grew up together in a conservative sect of Judaism. Weisz’s character is no longer an Orthodox Jew, but McAdams is—and she’s also married to a man.

The two have sexual history and rekindle their flame in a gorgeous hotel sex scene. After they hook up, they’re dressed again and sitting in bed when Ronit, who is—surprise!—a photographer, says, in that blush-inducing English accent, “I want to take your picture.” She then takes a long drag on her cigarette. Esti feigns annoyance but poses seductively while Ronit snaps her photo. I mean—what? How?! This scene is certifiably hot.

Carol (2015)

Okay, so you saw this coming. But we wouldn't have it any other way. From the shots Therese takes of Carol in the snow to the road trip photos she snaps in that famous diner, Carol's fleeting moments take home top honors as the hottest lesbian photography scenes in cinematic history. One could argue that the Disobedience scene is hotter simply because of Weisz’s accent and that perfectly timed drag on the cigarette; however, I contest that claim. Why? Two words, baby: sexual tension.

As she shoots Carol, Therese’s desire for her is palpable. The camera functions as a tool for helping Therese discover her queerness. She doesn’t yet know how to physically or verbally express her attraction to Carol. Instead, she employs photography to channel and externalize her growing passion. And that? That’s hot AF.

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