Blog

  • A Lady's Search for a Better Day Bag


    We all seem to be on a never-ending hunt for the perfect day bag. One size certainly doesn’t fit all, and especially for womens bodies, it’s felt impossible to find something that fits all needs ergonomically without too much bulk or weight. Finding a well-fitted bag and having good shooting habits is critical to sustaining a long career as a photographer (read more on that here). 


    RIP, my trusty but imperfect Kata W-92

    I started my career using a Kata Waist Pack W-92 that was given to me pre-journalism. I would sling it across my chest or back, tight to my body so I could run/climb easily and avoid theft in tight crowds (seen in the photos below). It wasn’t made to be worn that way but it did the job and has been a loyal bag, despite the back pain. When I actually wore it properly on my waist, the biggest downside was what a smooshed disaster it would become when the camera wasn’t in it (seen above). The interior materials are now literally crumbling I've used it so much over the past 5 years, and he’s finally ready to rest at peace. The fibers are packed tightly with dust, sweat, blood and God knows what else - like a little vault of all the experiences, good and bad, that went into the making of my photos from Egypt.


    Shoulder bags? Not for me.

    I've seen most of my colleagues use shoulder bags. I figured there must be something to it, so briefly I tried the Lowepro Passport Sling. It’s affordable, lightweight and has good space inside for what I need. However, it just reinforced why I’ve never liked shoulder bags – the weight is unevenly distributed on my shoulders/back and killed after a few hours. Boobs get in the way. It makes me feel clunky when I need to move quickly. (To be fair, those first two also occured with wearing my Kata cross-body)

    I also often work in places where putting it down on the ground for a rest isn’t an option, which was a pain (literally). Long shooting days with a shoulder bag left me crawling into my massage place (thanks Thailand), my lower back shooting flames.


    My Solution

    I couldn't find many photojournalist-specific reviews about waist bags, so in my research for a better day-bag solution for ladybods, Think Tank Photo was kind enough to let me try out some of their options. I have to say that so far, it’s completely revamped how my body feels after a shoot, and an extra bonus - my organization:

    Full disclosure - when I'm working I usually spin it around to the front of my body so I can rest my camera on it or avoid potential theft in crowds

    1. Change Up Beltpack v2.0 - For my Canon D Mark III with 24-70mm f/2.8 attached + 20-700mm f/4 detached

    2. Lens Changer 25 v2.0 [modular] – For my 50mm f/1.8 when needed or accessories

    3. Stuff It! [modular] – Great for accessories + perfect for the Zoom H4N audio setup when I’m working with audio.

    4. DSLR Battery Holder 4 (for long days) + CF/SD + Battery Wallet (for half-days)

    5. Pixel Pocket Rocket for CF/SD cards - I received this at the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2013, and it's excellent.

    (Also pictured - the back of my half-portion of a Black Rapid Double Strap. It isn't attached to the bag, but I guess it could be for extra support. Think Tank does include a removeable strap for this)

    I was originally considering the Pro-Speed Belt modular system, however decided to go with the Change Up Beltpack since it happened to fit the exact kit that I use. What's great is that there are still small sections on each side of the pack that can accommodate the modular additons, so I have the Lens Changer 25 & Stuff It to add/remove depending on the shoot. (I plan to try the full-modular belt system in the future out of curiosity, and suggest possibly leaning in that direction if you don't have a similar kit to mine.)

    Each item has its own little rain cover, and incredibly well designed pockets and slots for intense organization, which is one of my weak points. Most importantly - it’s more comfortable than anything else I’ve tried, with the weight all securely on my hips. In the case I do want to shift it to my shoulders, or even position the pack on my chest (like while driving a motorbike or on cramped bus journeys), there are removable straps to do so. They have structured the opening of the Change Up in a way that maintains it's shape whether empty or not - unlike my old Kata's crumpling issue when empty. Think Tank has paid close attention to the small details of what makes a difference in photographers' versatile needs. 

    I’ll address quickly what you’re probably thinking – “But it’s a massive fanny pack/bum bag!”

    I’m trying to make photos, not a fashion statement. I used to be worried about the style of the bag, until I kept feeling like a human claw after long shoots. The long and short term physical benefits and comfort of taking the weight of a DSLR & lenses off your upper body are worth SO MUCH more than anything else. There’s many reasons that others might not prefer waist bags – but please don’t let it be the aesthetic, if you are tend to have back strain. Ideally, we all want to be able to take photos in 20 years, and without back-related medical bills that our freelance budgets inevitable won’t be able to cover. So consider it!

    (While we're on the topic - check out the Better Back for the hours you spend sitting in front of the computer. Don't laugh - it's amazing)


    Using my new Think Tank waist system while on assignment for the New York Times at the Wilson tennis ball factory in Thailand

  • Tips and Tools for 2016

    [Originally posted 6 Jan 2016]

    I prefer ‘goals’ to ‘resolutions’, and this year I’m aiming to beef up my freelance business game in the areas of workflow organization, time management, and health. I’m also going to start keeping a semi-regular blog for when the mood strikes, which is one of my to-do list scribbles that is far overdue.

    I’ll kick it off with a grab bag of 11 things that I’ve found beneficial to my workflow (and life-flow) that I want to share with anyone who might find them useful rolling into 2016 (links in headers):

    XpenseTracker App

    A $4.99 mobile app to take the stress out of assignment expenses. Seriously, this app is awesome. Keeping track of expenses and receipts (mostly scribbled scraps of paper from local taxis and cafes) is nobody’s favorite part of a job, but this really poofs the pain away. With endless configurations perfect for journalism assignments, you take photos of each receipt, log it in, and everything gets beautifully sorted at the end into a clean PDF to email off.  (Thanks, Jonah!)

    Silicon Power External Drives

    I’ve gone with a Lacie Rugged setup from the start, I’ve had enough nerve-wrecking issues with them that I’ve moved to Silicon Power drives. SP offers military grade ‘rugged’ drives for a fraction of the cost (I’ve heard due to their lack of advertising). A 2TB runs just over $100, and a 1TB for around $60. I’ve used two for a few years, and when one started lagging, I sent it in under their warranty and got all my data back two days later on a brand new unit. Couldn’t ask for better customer service. I have four now and swap my Lacies out with them when I have spare cash.

    IWMF’s Emergency Fund for Women

    Overall, there’s a undeniable lack of mental health support resources in the journalism industry, especially for freelancers. Last year, the wonderful organization IWMF has expanded their Emergency Fund for women who are struggling with trauma and seek financial assistance. I am very open about the mental health issues I’ve struggled with as a result of working in Egypt’s conflict scene as a woman, and this grant has been my lifeline to getting the help that I needed to heal and get back to working at my full potential. I can’t speak high enough of the IWMF’s professionalism and understanding around the issue of trauma, please share this resource with all of your lady colleagues!

    Time Out break app

    There’s been a few times this year that I’ve been editing or working for so long that I get eye strain or hand pain. The Time Out app has helped remind me to take breaks, get up and stretch, and avoid embarrassing millennial issues like laptop-induced eye and hand strain at 25...

    Google Flights & Hopper.com

    We all know that the online flight purchase experience is insanely behind the times. I’ve been surprised to find how many people haven’t heard that Google has a game-changing flight search engine now. It isn’t perfect, but when there’s a map with potential locations/prices for spontaneous adventures and a calendar of every day’s price (no more date-change-refreshing!), I’m a happy Mustard. I also use hopper.com/reports to broadly scout cheapest times of the year for different flightpaths with one click..

    Trello

    Normally my to-do lists are scribbly post-it scraps of paper that end of getting blown off of my desk and under the couch. Trello is a free, simple project management interface that can be whatever you want it to be. I use it personally for my short and long term to-do lists and story plans. You can also add multiple people, so I have separate boards to manage projects that the photo collective I’m in or other groups are working on together. It’s the first bookmarked tab on my laptop and an app on my phone, so my lists and project notes are always with me and not under the couch. (Thanks John!)

    Better Back

    Yes, I’m recommending something for back support. I’m wearing it now as I type, and every other day I’m working from home. Better Back was a mega-successful Kickstarter targeted at the fleet of people that are sitting every day for work. My posture is lacking, and it doesn’t take very long when I’m out shooting with my hunky DM3 or sitting in front of a screen before my lower back starts whining. I might look like a dingus wearing it, but it’s my house and health and I don’t care. It runs for $59, which may seem steep, but considering the amount of time I’ve worn it and the positive impact it’s had (and will have in the long run), it’s one of those ‘I’m going to use this every single day’ things that I definitely found is worth it.

    Stop, Breathe, and Think app/website

    A self-care regime is critical for journalists covering traumatic stories, but unfortunately publication support for mental health resources is lacking and most freelancers can’t afford the care they sometimes need. The Breathe app is by no means is a fix-all, but I’ve found that it’s a very helpful (and free) audio meditation tool that can be added to your self-care approach to managing anxiety and stress. 

    Blundstone Boots

    I’ve been on a continuous hunt for both the perfect camera bag and perfect all-purpose footwear until this year. I saw an Instagram post by fellow Koan Collective member Alex Potter, who mentioned her beloved Blundstones as a trusted choice. After a ton of research, I finally got a pair of Blundstone 500s in London and have worn them almost every day since. They’ve been through Scottish Highland bogs, rainy bike road trips in Vietnam, dusty hikes in Myanmar, and a significant amount of tiger feces in Thailand. They’re comfortable and appropriate for working in the field in most climates, and can be dressed smart as well.

    Gura Gear Kiboko 22L Camera Backpack

    I’ve been through 3 camera bags over the past 4 years and all left more to be desired with combo of storage space/layout and back support. This year I decided to try the Kiboko 22L, and I’m pretty happy with it. It’s a bit bulkier than I’d like, but there’s plenty of space (no more seam-busting pack jobs), so many nifty pockets, and is much easier on my back for long hauls with the comfy straps and built-in waist support. I like the front butterfly access and how all of the bag’s zippers close together at the top for when I use a cable lock. This is my travel backpack that stays in the hotel. For day use, I throw fashion out the window for the sake of my back and use a Kata waist pack.

    Stock photo

    MoonCup (or The Keeper or DivaCup or Lunette or FleurCup etc etc)

    If this makes you uncomfortable, get over it. Having a vagina is expensive and can be a pain whether you’re in the field or out. Most journo ladies have a fun story of how they’ve run out of supplies in conservative or rural environments or got caught in other awkward or dodgy monthly predicaments. I’ll say it until I die: Menstrual cups are an absolute game changer. I made the swap 5 years ago, and I’ve spent a total of $30 since then, and it’s been a hugely positive lifestyle change. Zero hassle, zero surprises, zero environmental and health impact. It takes some getting used to, but once you do you’ll never have to worry about wasting packing space, searching the shelves, or makeshift hold-overs ever again. I’ll spare you the photo. (I’m a zealot and always down to answer questions for those who are curious to switch.)