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  • Tips and Tools for 2017


    For the second year, I've put together a mixed list of things that have helped me beef up my freelance game in the areas of workflow organization, time management, health, and whatever else.
    (All 2016 recommendations like Blundstones and Mooncups are still solid!)
    Links are in the headers. Feedback and further recommendations are always welcome:


    Thinktank Custom Modular Belt System 

    I've been using the Thinktank Change-Up 2.0 and modular belt pouches for about 9 months now, and still love it - my back is grateful. Check out my review here. I find myself switching often from the shoulder-strap format during travel to the waist format when actually working, which I didn't expect to appreciate so much. 

    Transferwise

    Awesome money exchange site for accepting payments in non-USD currencies without getting slammed with $50+ wire transfer fees. Simply set up a request, and the sender only needs to enter the outgoing bank details. No guarantees that you can convince your finance departments to agree to use it, unfortunately - but worth the shot! 

    Flux 

    Free Phone & Laptop app to protect your eyes from being burned out slowly over time by screens. Not really, but it'll supposedly help the effect that binge-staring has on your sleep pattern. Just make sure to remember to turn it off when you're editing images (please learn from my mistakes).

    Pixsy 

    It's an online service that will scan the internet for infringements, and fights for settlements with partnering legal outlets in a handful of countries (unfortunately not big infringement hubs like Vietnam, China, and Russia). It can take some time to initially comb through their matches and file the cases, but considering they have affordable account levels (there is a free tier) and only take 50% of any successful settlements, you don't have much to lose. It took about 7 months for my first successful case to come through, but the result made the wait worth it. It won't pay your bills but is nice extra cash here and there - just be prepared to be very patient.

    Unroll.me

    Free service that allows you to view all of your email subscriptions and batch unsubscribe. I do this about twice a year to purge anything new I've unknowingly been added to.

    Personal First Aid Kit

    After attending a full Hostile Environment and First Aid Training (HEFAT) course by Blue Mountain Group this year, I had the opportunity to refresh my emergency first aid skills since I last attended RISC Training in 2013. One of the important takeaways was having your own items to treat yourself at any given time, rather than solely focusing on carrying materials to treat others. In addition to my robust RISC-sponsored pack of items for working in conflict, I customized an additional smaller kit to travel with + keep in the seat of my motorbike in Bangkok. Includes a SAM Splint, RAT tourniquet, gloves, and various gauzes/bandages. And make sure you know your blood type!

    (Also, if you haven't been HEFAT trained, make it a priority! Frontline Freelance Register members can email or check the membership group for upcoming affordable/free training opportunities)



    CPJ Emergency Response Team For Journalists

    The Committee to Protect Journalists recently expanded their crisis support team and resources in a huge way. If you're a freelancer working in conflict, it's critical not only to have paperwork such as risk assessments, proof of life, and a comms plan in place, but also that you know who is and isn't able to support in case of crisis such as detention, kidnap, sexual violence, or death. Resource awareness is essential not only for yourself, but also for being able to be a good colleague as well. The regional contact list for this CPJ initiative is here - read up on make note! Other great freelance journalist emergency support funds is through the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and Rory Peck Trust (RPT). Also, please consider donating to these initiatives!

    fotoQuote & Better Business Practices for Photographers Book

    I'm ashamed it's taken me this long, but this year I made a serious effort to up my confidence on copyright and contract fluency. After a real doozy of a bad experience earlier this year, I vowed to never again let myself get swindled by predatory contracts. Trust me - the amount of money that the fotoQuote program license ($149) and this highly-recommended Better Business Practices for Photographers ($25) costs is nothing compared to amount I've probably been losing by getting duped by bad contracts and under-quoting certain types of jobs. We owe it to both ourselves and our colleagues to work sustainably - this means to fully understand and be able to negotiate the contracts we are agreeing to, and knowing the industry-standard rates that match those terms.

    The Perfect Pants

    My years of holey H&M leggings are over - I've discovered Uniqlo's Dry Stretch Jogger Pants, and they are the perfect photographer's pants. Comfy, fitted, and breathable pants that are 10/10 for keeping covered, looking professional, and not suffering (too much) in tropical humidity. Also amazing for long flights.

    Instax Mini 90

    I always try to return prints to those I photograph, but it isn't always an option when it's a remote place. This is a great instant camera to carry around to give ethical 'thank you' tokens of appreciation. Also has a neat double-exposure feature. Batch order film by the 100 count on eBay to keep it around $.70 a print.

    Making a Private Instagram Account

    When Facebook became the Freelance Journalist's Newsroom, I had to taper off the personal nature of posts and shift towards a more professional feed. I shifted my personal need for a diary-like space, free of the pressure to be curated, over to Instagram - until that bloated into a business tool as well. Social media is an anxiety-inducing thing for me, pure obligation if I'm honest. I'm very aware of the benefits of being active on social media, but I'm increasingly seeking the space to just be a human past being ALL PHOTOGRAPHER ALL THE TIME. Last year, I finally gifted myself a private personal account, and it's really taken the edge off.

    Digital Security Measures

    I can't stress how important it is that every single journalist makes their digital security an absolute priority. If you've had this on the backburner like so many folks do, take it off ASAP. It's not just your data that needs to be secure, but you're also responsible for the contacts and data of your sources that you may be carrying. There's tons of online resources and easy apps to utilize quickly. A few helpful sites to get you started:

    Electronic Frontier Foundations Starter Tutorial 
    Electronic Frontier Foundation's HTTPS Everywhere Chrome Extension
    Dashlane Password Manager
    VPNs - Tunnelbear or Private Internet Access
    Adblock Chrome Extension
    More resources and suggestions here

    Western Digital 4 TB Drives

    While I await for the market to drop portable solid state drives down to a more civil price, standard drives seem to plumet in price late last year. Until I can afford a RAID system, I loaded up on a few of these 4 TB Western Digital drives for $120 a pop to eliminate the chaos of juggling a dozen smaller drives.

    Moo Cards

    You probably already use Moo, but if you don't: I've used these for a few years, and they just keep getting better and better. Also, their customer service is amazing. I've ordered both business cards and stickers, and anything I do through Moo is 10/10 for process, price, and quality. Use this link to save $15 on your first order.

  • The 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