Ramadan Kareem!
 Cairo, Egypt, 2015.

Cairo, Egypt, 2015.

The month of Ramadan just started tonight at sundown here in Amman, and since this month always triggers all kinds of nostalgic emotions, I thought I would share a few favorite photos from Ramadans past.

 The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey, 2016

The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey, 2016

 Washington, DC, 2012

Washington, DC, 2012

In the Middle East, Ramadan may be filled with hangry people jonesing for that first cigarette after sundown, but it's also a special time of the year. Life and work continue on at a slower pace. Muslims fast to remember the suffering of the less fortunate, and give thanks with their family and friends with elaborate iftar meals after sundown. Curfews are lifted for teenagers and it's not uncommon to see outdoor cafes jam-packed with people of all ages until the wee hours.

 Washington, DC, 2012

Washington, DC, 2012

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 In 2012 I attended an interfaith iftar in Washington, DC, where I met Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit priest who at the time was a peace activist in Syria; he spoke beautifully, saying, "when I think of the Bible, I think in Arabic." Sadly, he was kidnapped in Syria in 2013 and is presumed dead.

In 2012 I attended an interfaith iftar in Washington, DC, where I met Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit priest who at the time was a peace activist in Syria; he spoke beautifully, saying, "when I think of the Bible, I think in Arabic." Sadly, he was kidnapped in Syria in 2013 and is presumed dead.

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Ramadan is also magical because it's the time of year when most charitable giving takes place in the Muslim world. It's also inspiring to see churches and mosques come together in the Middle East to provide free iftars for the hungry - like the Restaurant of Mercy does in Amman.

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 Muslims attend Tawarih prayers at the Kulliyat al-Jamea mosque in Jebel al-Weibdeh in Amman, 2016.

Muslims attend Tawarih prayers at the Kulliyat al-Jamea mosque in Jebel al-Weibdeh in Amman, 2016.

 Downtown Amman, decked out with festive lights for Ramadan, 2016.

Downtown Amman, decked out with festive lights for Ramadan, 2016.

 My husband's relatives gather around to eat Mansaf, the traditional Jordanian dish, during Eid al-Fitr after Ramadan, 2016.

My husband's relatives gather around to eat Mansaf, the traditional Jordanian dish, during Eid al-Fitr after Ramadan, 2016.

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Ramadan Kareem!
رمضان كريم

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Freelance Time Management

Over the last 3.5 years, I've never really stopped freelancing, but at times have juggled it with consultancies and other large time commitments. Until recently, I was working 40 hours a week, balancing ongoing freelance projects, and trying to write papers for my master's program. So now that I'm "just" back to freelancing and grad school, it's easy for this to feel like either A) an extended vacation, or B) a depressing rut. But whether being in business for yourself is the goal, or if it's a transitional period, these are my favorite ways to not fall behind (even when you don't have immediate deadlines).
 

1. Make a schedule

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Working from home has all kinds of perks, but I am also the kind of person who, knowing I have a video project to edit, will also think, "I have to vacuum and tidy the entire house first - I can't work in this chaos." And then the entire day is gone. If I write down the things I want to take care of that day, I'm more likely to stick to it. 

But it's also worth knowing that trying to schedule out too many things can also throw you off. For example, between editing video or photo projects, writing proposals, catching up on admin work, learning new skills, and working on grad school, that could easily be a 12 hour work day. Sometimes it's better to devote yourself to one task for a day. And remember to give yourself plenty of sunshine and water.
 

2. Change your scenery

Luckily, I sometimes get to break up my routine with out-of-town field visits, but sometimes this means rotating between my desk at home and different coffee shops, which can get old when you just don't want to drink any more lattes. But you can switch it up by going to the library (at least it will likely be quiet), finding a co-working space, or making a work date with another friend who works remotely/from home - that way you don't accidentally go months without talking to people.

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3. Catch up on work you've been putting off

This might mean dedicating a couple of days to getting your finances organized. Or organizing all those files you named FINAL_FINAL_FINAL_3.mp4. In my case, it meant working with another visual professional to edit my portfolio, revamp my website, and make sure I'm marketing myself the right way. We all need a second pair of eyes to judge our work (more on this later), and little details can make a big difference. This back-end kind of work can be time consuming and not fun, but it's important to do get it done.
 

4. (Re)search new opportunities

I hate the term "passion project," but it's true that most of us have some sort of project we always wanted to do, and it's also true that downtime in which to do it doesn't come very often. And sometimes, these projects can reignite your creativity if you're feeling stuck - working outside your normal format, or on a different subject matter, can make you remember why you fell in love with a place, or remind you why you wanted to be a photographer or filmmaker in the first place. 
 

5. Learn something new

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Sometimes, you manage to learn on the job, and that's great; for a while, it felt like every video shoot I did was more complicated than the last - but that also meant I was learning new ways to do things. But, when you're looking at work you want to do, you might realize - oh, I don't know After Effects. Or maybe you've always wanted to learn InDesign, or finally make your own logo in Illustrator. I pretty much learned how to use Premiere by watching teenagers' tutorials on YouTube when I couldn't figure something out, but Lynda.com is also well worth the subscription fees. If you can put in an hour a day watching a few videos and then practicing on your own - either with their practice files or on your own projects - you'll have developed a new skillset in no time.

Self-care when working in the field

For whatever reason, I have a tendency to not think of my job as physically demanding; I used to work in retail and restaurants during college, and thought of that as much more physically taxing, being on my feet, moving stuff all day. But even if you're an editor who spends most of the day at the computer, that has real physical impact, as I know only too well (migraines for days on end, back pain, wrist pain, etc.) If you work in the field, then it's a constant struggle to find ways to carry your gear that won't impede your work, but also won't result in you needing neck surgery ten years from now.

 
 
 The fanny pack in action near the Jordan-Syria border.

The fanny pack in action near the Jordan-Syria border.

1. BAGS

Last summer I picked up the Porta Brace 3-lens waist pack and have been using that on most of my shoots since then. Yes, it is a giant fanny pack, but at the end of the day, I just feel like my legs have gotten a good workout, while my back is mostly pain-free. When shooting video, I can usually manage to fit in a DSLR body with two lenses, wireless lav mic kit, shotgun mic, along with a notebook and various cables I might need. I could also add on extra compartments for lenses or an audio recorder if needed.

But obviously, that still leaves tripods, monopods, shoulder rigs, light stands, etc. that don't really fit well in any camera bag. I have a long padded light stand bag that I carry this stuff in - usually I'm at least in a place where I can set it down somewhere and don't have to have it on my person at all times - but it's still a pain. For traveling, my monopod and tripod are small enough that if I remove the heads, they can fit into a carry-on suitcase. But still, I end up having to check that stuff more often than not because airport security thinks it could be a weapon (for what it's worth, I think it'd be easier for someone to get bludgeoned by a duty free bottle of vodka, but what do I know?).

 

 

Soon, I think it's time to retire my Domke shoulder bags for good and upgrade - I'm planning to get Think Tank's rolling camera bag (for travel and when I need extra gear) and use that together with my fanny pack. I'll still have to figure out a way to attach a tripod/monopod to the side, but the hidden backpack straps appeal to me, along with being able to carry my laptop in the same bag.

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2. CLOTHES AND FOOTWEAR

Another area of obsession for me is finding comfortable shoes for various environments. For example, I have a pair of Merrell trail runner shoes, a pair of Timberland boots that have more ankle support, and I recently splurged on these more professional-looking leather sneakers from Ecco that are seriously comfortable. I'm also obsessed with my shoes having solid tread on the soles, since I live in constant fear of falling down one of Amman's steep hills. Oh, also, smartwool socks.

 
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When I'm working in the field, usually no one cares if I work in jeans or basically leggings, but the struggle is real to find shoes that aren't flats that look good with office trousers, or to find boots that serve you well in the field that can also be dressed smart.

 
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I love many things about Uniqlo, but perhaps my favorite is the fact that they've figured out how to make what are basically sweatpants look respectable when paired with a nice blouse and jacket. No, I wouldn't wear this to a gala, but for something where I have to photograph events or headshots at fancy hotels, this does just fine.

Finally, Blundstone boots have been recommended to me a few times, so that might be what I spring for next, solving my need for shoes that look relatively classy but can also traverse mud all day.

3. SELF CARE

 
 This Ayurvedic balm (which was probably less than $1 in Sri Lanka) is my new favorite thing for keeping away full-blown migraines that require heavy duty pain meds.

This Ayurvedic balm (which was probably less than $1 in Sri Lanka) is my new favorite thing for keeping away full-blown migraines that require heavy duty pain meds.

I don't do it often enough, but I'm lucky to live somewhere I can get an hour long massage and acupuncture treatment for about $30 - not super cheap, but enough that I could justify going on a regular basis to help with back/shoulder pain, migraines, etc. Doing yoga semi-regularly also seriously helps me - physically and emotionally - and you can do this with Youtube videos in your living room - no need to go to class if you can't deal with people by the end of the day. I also plan on picking up this BetterBack contraption one of these days - as we've already seen from the fanny pack, I don't mind looking like a dork. There are meditation apps out there, but I also started using a bullet journal recently, and each month I create a page to track things - like how many days I had migraines, how many days I drank enough water, how many days I fell asleep watching TV, etc. You can also make a space to jot down something you're thankful for each day - sometimes just thinking about that can give you a little boost.

Whether you're covering traumatic stories or just concerned about the daily wear-and-tear on your body, these physical and emotional health needs often go unmet. I really believe the body and mind are intimately connected when it comes to stress, and if you're dealing with the emotional impact of your work, sometimes taking care of your body and working through the physical pain of it helps to prevent the stress from piling on over time. It might seem silly to spend a lot of time thinking about comfortable clothes and ways to carry gear, but if I can complete a challenging shoot, go home without my chest and back being so tight I can barely breathe, that means I can relax, cook something healthy for myself, and spend a little time reflecting and processing the day. These tips are by no means end-all solutions, but if practiced regularly, they might help keep you from having serious health scares due to your work. (Or, if you can escape to an island for a week to relax on the beach, go for it).

Happy 2018!

This is the third New Year I've rung in from Amman, and I'm happy and thankful that this is the most optimistic, and - dare I say it - stress-free start to the year I've had as a freelancer. 2017 was full of ups and downs, but I'm grateful that those down times were actually experiences that led me to something new and better. I spent a lot of time working on personal video and photography projects, got into grad school, and finished off the year working with some great new clients.

I won't make you read about my personal goals and ambitions for the coming year (hint: I may or may not exercise more/eat healthier), but here's a look back at some favorite images from 2017.

 Tensions between Jordan and Israel culminated in ongoing protests after President Trump announced that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital in the process. Thousands marched, waving Palestinian flags in downtown Amman on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017.

Tensions between Jordan and Israel culminated in ongoing protests after President Trump announced that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital in the process. Thousands marched, waving Palestinian flags in downtown Amman on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017.

 First signs of fall and a view of a minaret from Rainbow Street in Amman.

First signs of fall and a view of a minaret from Rainbow Street in Amman.

 Indian actress and UNICEF ambassador Priyanka Chopra visits UNICEF's Makani center in Amman, where Syrian children participate in after school activities, including art therapy.

Indian actress and UNICEF ambassador Priyanka Chopra visits UNICEF's Makani center in Amman, where Syrian children participate in after school activities, including art therapy.

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 A Syrian man who suffered a spinal injury undergoes physiotherapy treatment at the Find a Better Way center in Amman.

A Syrian man who suffered a spinal injury undergoes physiotherapy treatment at the Find a Better Way center in Amman.

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 Protesters march in the funeral of 17-year-old Mohammed al-Jawawdeh, who was shot and killed at the Israeli embassy in Amman.

Protesters march in the funeral of 17-year-old Mohammed al-Jawawdeh, who was shot and killed at the Israeli embassy in Amman.

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 Children practice yoga at the Collateral Repair Project community center in Amman.

Children practice yoga at the Collateral Repair Project community center in Amman.

 Sudanese women wait with their children outside a supermarket for their turn to purchase groceries through Collateral Repair Project's food voucher program for refugees in Amman.

Sudanese women wait with their children outside a supermarket for their turn to purchase groceries through Collateral Repair Project's food voucher program for refugees in Amman.

 Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia

 Malaysians take part in celebrations ahead of their independence day in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysians take part in celebrations ahead of their independence day in Kuala Lumpur.

 Roman ruins in Jerash, Jordan.

Roman ruins in Jerash, Jordan.

 Traveling for my master's program in Germany also took me briefly to Amsterdam in November.

Traveling for my master's program in Germany also took me briefly to Amsterdam in November.

Covering Funerals Turned Protests

Late last month I covered the funeral of Mohammad al-Jawawneh for the AP. He was a 17-year-old Jordanian kid who was shot dead (along with another Jordanian man) by a security guard at the Israeli embassy after allegedly attacking him with a screwdriver. 

Both governments swiftly issued gag orders on the incident, Israel claimed diplomatic immunity for a security guard, Jordanian police weren't allowed to question him, and the embassy staff were evacuated. This was in the midst of already high tensions around al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which the Jordanian government was working behind the scenes to resolve. 

As a result, many different accounts and rumors swirled following the killing - some said it was a knife, others a screwdriver, others said the boy hadn't attacked anyone at all. What I think is most likely is this: Jawawneh, working his summer job as a furniture delivery man for his family's company, shows up, and it dawns on him that he's working with Israelis. Already incensed by seeing the events in Jerusalem play out on the news, he does something rash and makes a bad decision. The security guard over-reacts, not only killing a teenager (rather than, say wounding him), he also kills an innocent bystander, the landlord for the building.

 Placards are seen at the funeral of Mohammed al-Jawawdeh, a 17-year-old Jordanian, who was killed on Sunday evening by an Israeli security guard who said he was attacked by him with a screwdriver, on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Lindsey Leger)

Placards are seen at the funeral of Mohammed al-Jawawdeh, a 17-year-old Jordanian, who was killed on Sunday evening by an Israeli security guard who said he was attacked by him with a screwdriver, on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Lindsey Leger)

I'm thinking of this more now in the wake of the white supremacist riots that recently hit the quiet college town of Charlottesville, VA, and I can't help but think covering something like that would be much scarier to me. As I arrived for the funeral that morning, I was nervous, obviously not belonging there - in a crowd of hundreds of men, the only women I saw were those going in and out of the house, and watching from across the street.

But I started working, approaching people, asking questions, and it got easier. As more and more people gathered for the noon prayers, the other photographers from local media stood on the sidelines. They helped me find out when things were going to happen, where I should wait, and inevitably, wanted to chat about what kind of gear we were all shooting with.

This kind of thing happens just about weekly in the West Bank, but this is rare here in quiet Jordan, and the tension was palpable. It's something of a difficult position to be in as a journalist. Obviously, I don't think people should solve problems by attacking one another. But at the same time, I could absolutely see Jordanians' point of view - which is that two citizens were shot dead in their own country by a foreign assailant, and that person would never face a day in court, let alone jail. And of course I could feel for the family grieving the loss of their teenage son - his father entered the funeral tent absolutely in pieces, crying aloud.

After the prayers, the crowd began to march to the cemetery, some 300m away, chanting, waving flags and signs. When I was pushing my way through a crowd, inevitably someone would call out "make way, there's a girl here" and a path would be cleared. And guys helped pull me onto trucks so I could have a better vantage point.

They marched a few blocks, briefly confronting police at Middle East Circle in Wehdat. A couple of times, someone set off what sounded like fireworks, and we all ducked. And then it was over.

I sat down in a shady spot on the curb to quickly edit and file my pictures. Throughout the day, young boys had been dutifully coming over to offer me water or bring me a chair. This time, a boy, about 10 years old, approached me and asked, "Miss, can I see pictures of my brother?"
"Who's your brother?" I asked.
"The shaheed (martyr)," he answered.

That gutted me. His using the word "martyr" crushed something in me. That he had experienced this loss at that age, that something in his thinking had already, inevitably shifted as a result. I wanted to hug him, but as I apologized, he was already leaving.

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Lindsey LegerComment
Staying Organized on Long-Term Video Projects

This year was the first time I had video projects that spanned more than one or two field visits - in one case, there were several field visits, interviews in multiple languages, different locations, spread out over several months. How do you stay organized (and not have panic attacks every time you have to dive back into editing)? This is an ongoing learning process for me, but here's what's worked well so far.

1. Rename and keyword on import
I started using Prelude for this - which is mostly useful if you're then going to edit in Premiere, but even if you're working with FCP or Davinci Resolve (which I love love love for color correcting), it helps to get your files named something more useful than MVI_4658.mov - and do it ASAP after the shoot, before you have time to forget anything or confuse your notes. So, each shoot gets its own folder organized by date/location (and sometimes subfolders if I want to break up a lot of b-roll or interviews) and gets named something like closeup_sewing_mariam.mov or hadeel_interview_003.mov. You'll waste hours scrolling through hundreds of tiny thumbnails of footage if you don't do this from the start.
If you really have terabytes and terabytes on multiple hard drives to keep organized, you might try a program like NeoFinder.

 I use pen & paper because I can't type for sh*t in Arabic - and actually, I think I can write in Arabic faster than English - thank you, Semitic root system.

I use pen & paper because I can't type for sh*t in Arabic - and actually, I think I can write in Arabic faster than English - thank you, Semitic root system.

2. Transcribe & mark up interviews for subtitles
This is lots of fun to do in a language you're not fully fluent in. Obviously, this is something that might have to be subcontracted out, but if you're still going to be the one editing the footage, the interviews have to be marked in a way that you're going to be able to understand it, cut it and put together the main audio track without having an interpreter next to you all the time. For me, I break out a pen and paper - because I'm incredibly slow typing in Arabic - and alternately jot down as much as I can in Arabic, or just write down words I'm not sure about in Arabic, or jot down my rough English translation for reference. As I'm watching the video in Premiere/FCP/Resolve, I'm marking in and out points of interest that will go into my timecode sheet.
Then I open up Word (or a Google Doc) and make a timecode - a table with four columns and about a million rows. From left to right, I label my columns as "Time, File name, Arabic, English". Then each row is a ~10 second space of time in a particular file. I fill in the Arabic and what I think the subtitles should read in English. This makes it easier to copy/paste as you're filling in your subtitles. And from my experience, it makes sense to save the actual subtitling until the very last - if you make any edits to your video/audio tracks, you'll have to adjust the subtitles accordingly, and at least in Premiere, this is a lot of tedious work. At some point, I have a native speaker watch the video and read my translations and let me know if it all matches up right and makes sense to them. As with any kind of translation though, you'll have people insist that an expression should be translated a certain way that makes zero sense in English - and you'll have to find a compromise.

3. Organize by Themes & Numbers
If you have a lot of different interviews and know that you're going to have to take the good bits on certain topics and organize them into a sequence, you can make another kind of table document. So, for example, if your themes are Women's Employment (1), Agriculture technical info (2), Environment (3), you can make a chart with who said what under each category, listing the file name, what they said, and when they said it. Then all you have to do is go back and search this document for the person who said it, or the topic, or a few keywords you remember. Much easier than scrubbing back through dozens of clips if you can know the exact file and exactly when it was said.

4. Shoot and Edit for Sequences
When editing, I always like to get my main audio track (usually interviews) down before I start working on visuals. But if I know I have an interview that talks about helping kids get over trauma, and I have b-roll of kids playing or in class or with their parents, I can start putting little sequences together from that and then drop it in over the relevant audio. It helps me to break even a short video down into smaller chunks - then it's just putting together a few of these sequences, an intro, a closing, some transitions - boom, done.

5. Keep all relevant documents together
This isn't just your video files. This could be folders with still photos or logos you have to include, your transcripts and timecodes, libraries and project files, possibly even contracts, releases, and other paperwork. Assuming you have about a dozen external hard drives like me, this makes it a lot easier to share files or plug into a different computer and keep working.

When and Where I am

It's been a little over two and a half years since I moved back to the Middle East, and two years since I'd updated my portfolio in a major way. I discovered my Visura.co subscription was up this month, and with me embarking on new projects and a new job soon, I figured now was a good a time as any to change it up. Hello Squarespace! (No shade toward Visura at all - maybe I'll be back someday. Squarespace just seems like the right thing for me now).

A lot has changed since I left DC: I spent half a year in Turkey, finding my feet (personally and professionally), wound up back in Jordan, I got married, there were a couple times when I stood on three continents in one day, and there were months where I didn't unpack my suitcases.

But in more recent history, I've been taking on more and more video work for clients, and have discovered it's finally no longer something I feel like I have to force myself to do in order to stay relevant and competitive. I'm excited about finding where those "decisive moments" lay in moving pictures.

And in a few short months I'll be starting a master's program in this stuff - one that combines visual anthropology and documentary film. At some point, I'll have to shoot and produce a ~30 minute film, so I'm looking forward to being in a space with critique and mentorship again.

So anyway, this website is a leaner version of the previous one. No more old projects or repetitive galleries that don't look strong anymore. ("Killing your babies" as an old photojournalism professor would call it). So I have a few simple photo galleries, and video is front and center.

I pretty much tend to blog when I'm excited about something (which is the case right now) or when I'm bored and not doing enough work and want to feel productive. But I think I'll try to make this a place where I talk about (hopefully) useful editing/organizational techniques, talk about how projects develop over time, cultural experiences, sources of inspiration, etc.

Onward and upward.