I’m a freelance photo and video journalist based in Washington State, however, much of my assignment work occurs outside of the United States. In addition to being represented by Zuma Press for editorial content, I work with several NGOs and faith-based humanitarian groups in the relief, development, health care sectors and produce commercial projects for other clients.
I have used Nikon cameras for most of my career with a brief foray into the Canon system at one agency. In mid 2020 I traded my Nikon D5, D810 and Z6 cameras and a stable of lenses for a lightweight mirrorless kit with two Sony A9 bodies, three Sony prime lenses, and a Tamron zoom.
The A9 is an amazing camera and the mirrorless system allows me to work faster and travel lighter than with DSLRs. The A9’s focus, accuracy and speed, along with its high frame rate and silent shooting without banding, are huge benefits to my work.
The Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G and 85mm f/1.8 lenses live most of the time on the two A9 bodies. The 20mm is my go-to lens for almost everything and the choice when a one body plus one lens solution is required. They are both beautiful wide open, compact, and balance really well on the A9.
Trying to anticipate a variety of situations in the field, I added the versatile Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di II VXD for when extra reach is needed and the Sony FE 35mm f/1.8, which is excellent for video interviews. These two lenses don’t see much time out of the bag but glad they are in my bag.
I really want to be one of the cool kids and like the 35mm field-of-view more than I do. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it for some things but the images I make at 20mm feel way more intimate.
A Leica M2 with the legendary 1960s 50mm f/2.0 Summicron often comes along for special projects, though it’s getting more difficult to travel with film. I develop my own B & W film and scan it using a light table, negative holder, and macro lens. It’s a slow process but I like the results.
In the field I wear the BlackRapid Double Breath harness to keep both A9s at the ready and a Newswear Large Fanny Pack holds extra lenses, a Godox TT350S flash, spare camera and flash batteries, sunscreen, Starbucks Vias, Rode Videomic Pro shotgun and Wireless Go lavalier mics, my press pass, and a few other accessories.
Depending on the assignment I’ll switch gear into the Domke F2 I’ve had for 20 years. Everything gets transported to location in a Pelican 1510SC case. A ballistic vest and helmet are at the ready for protest situations.
When permissible and needed, I deploy a DJI Mavic Air drone for aerial photos and video. Video and still tripods are carbon models from Benro.
Hardware and Software
I use a Macbook Air (M1) to cull and catalog photos with Photo Mechanic Plus, develop RAW files in Photoshop, and use SanDisk Extreme Portable 1TB SSDs to store backups on the road. This all synchronizes to an off-site Synology NAS RAID system when back in the office or when internet speeds allow. The NAS is also where I deposit client files for delivery.
If fast delivery is required I use my iPhone 12 Pro and Sony’s Imaging Edge Mobile app to transfer files onto the phone for light editing. I then caption, add keywords and other metadata in Sony’s Transfer & Tag app before FTPing them directly to Zuma or other clients. With built in metadata templates and FTP destinations, Transfer & Tag makes quick work of getting images out on the wire.
Of course a passport, COVID vaccine card and vaccination records, extra passport photos for visa applications, along with lots of patience and a reasonable stash of US dollars, makes international travel a little less painful. I’ve logged over 125,000 air miles since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and with various controls and testing requirements in each country, international travel has never been more complicated.
Photojournalism has taken me to dozens of countries, most recently to Sudan to document Tigrayan refugees in the east and to Darfur in the west where people are still being displaced by conflict. It is a privilege to meet so many people and to share their stories and images with others around the world.
I’d like to end with a note of encouragement – Don’t be a gatekeeper, share what you’ve learned with new photographers.
I was drawn to photojournalism in high school and mentored by a local newspaper photographer, Dave Samson (Twitter @samsonphoto), in my hometown of West Fargo, North Dakota. He taught me the value of helping people use their own voice through my images being generous, kind and encouraging, as well as critical when needed. We remain friends more than 30 years later and he continues working as a photojournalist.