Winter Hiking Essentials for Women

I’ve been want to post more non-journalism writing, pictures and meanderings — namely stuff about hiking, gear I like, adventures we go on — so this is some of that.

I am pretty big on comfort when I’m hiking. And a lot of being comfortable is having gear that works for you and investing in quality stuff that will work across seasons and last for a long time.

I never really hiked in the snow before moving out here to Seattle, but now we go out most weekends for at least a short snowshoe hike in the winter. So I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error with gear and I’ve read a lot about what other people use.

I figured it might be helpful to other ladies out there who are getting into snow hiking or snowshoeing and want to know what gear or brands could work for them and would be worth the investment. None of these products or companies have paid me or given me products to review free of charge.

So here it is: Lauren’s winter hiking essentials for women…

Clothing Essentials:

Bottoms: Halle Pants from Prana

I’m starting with the worst clothing item for hiking women: PANTS. Hiking pants are the worst. Especially if you have hips, a butt, curves of any kind. It’s like they are always cut for dudes but with the zipper just on the other side. But these pants from Prana — despite the price tag ($85 yikes) — are pretty much the best hiking pants for women.

I’ve worn them on every hike for almost two years and they show pretty much no wear at all. They also keep me warm and dry during snow hikes, even though they are not insulated and are not specifically for snow hiking. I wear them layered with Smartwool 250 weight thermal pants in the winter.

They are slim in the leg, but roomy enough for flexibility and layering thermals underneath. Unlike most hiking pants, they leave enough room for your hips without being too tight in the waist. I am a size 27 waist + 30 inch (or less) inseam and wear a size 6 regular in these.

Another option for snow hikes: Waterproof rain pants like the Torrentshell Pants from Patagonia. I have these in a size medium  and they fit overall, but are a little tighter in the butt. I usually prefer my Pranas over these for snow hikes.

Base layers: Smartwool all the way

I use three wool, base-layer style items for snow hikes:

  1. Women’s NTS Mid 250 Bottom
  2. Women’s NTS Micro 150 Tee (I wear this on pretty much all hikes, winter, summer, anytime.)
  3. Women’s NTS Mid 250 Crew (This is new for me. I usually just wear a flannel shirt)

For me, wool is the best option by far. It’s comfortable, warm, breathable, it keeps you warm even you’re damp, it dries quickly, it doesn’t retain smells like synthetic fabrics and you can wash and dry Smartwool stuff in the machine. I wouldn’t go on a winter hike without at least the bottoms. The tops are optional if you have other warm flannels or sweaters you like to hike in.

Jackets: Patagonia Down Hoody + Torrentshell rainshell

I’ve tried out a few different combinations of jackets for staying warm but also not feeling bulky. I tend to be on the cold side, and my body cools down super quick whenever we stop moving on a hike, so having jackets that are breathable and can layer well is important, but most of all they need to keep me warm.

I’ve zeroed in on a hooded down jacket from Patagonia. I have a couple other brands and types of down jackets for hiking/camping, but I’ve found a hood to be essential, especially for winter hiking and if it’s snowing.

I pair the down jacket with a rainshell from Patagonia (which you can see in the image above in the Halle pants item) which is helpful if it’s snowing, but also helps keep you insulated especially if it’s windy out. I used to have a basic, REI brand rainshell, and I really disliked it. It felt more plasticy and puffy and bulky, and just never seemed to fit right. It was wayyyyy less expensive than the Patagonia version, but it also seemed like if I did use it a lot, I’d have to replace it often.

I also really like Patagonia’s policies that promote repairing your gear and recycling gear to keep it out of landfills, and basically that they make high quality gear that you only need to buy like once in a decade. It’s important.

Gloves: Dakine Sequoia Insulated Mittens

I have really super cold hands. If we pause hiking out in the snow or I take my gloves off to make a picture with my iPhone, my hands get so cold I can’t even think straight. And then I usually have to get out a pair of Heat Factory handwarmers.

I just started using these mittens from Dakine and they are fantastic so far. They come with a nice set of fleece liner gloves with tips THAT ACTUALLY WORK ON THE IPHONE SCREEN. Like, they work as well as your own fingers, maybe even better. So that means no more exposing your bare hands to the bitter bold in order to take a picture of the winter wonderland your exploring.

I’ve also found that mittens far surpass fingered gloves in keeping my hand warm. Maybe because my hands are on the small side, so my individual fingers would get cold and cramped in the big, gloves. The mittens are super toasty and I on our more recent snowshoe hike, I didn’t even have to use handwarmers.

So if you have cold hands, I would definitely recommend insulated mittens over gloves.

Shoes: Waterproof & preferably high tops

Shoes are a really personal thing, so I won’t get too much into it. I have what they refer to as “low-volume” feet, meaning I have skinny, narrow feet and some shoes feel big and floppy on me. I’ve found Scarpa to be a great brand for feet like mine, and I use Superfeet insoles (the orange ones).

But in general for winter hiking in the snow, I’d recommend that your shoes be:

  1. Waterproof
  2. High tops (Full disclosure: I’ve been using my low-top light hiking shoes this winter and haven’t had wet or uncomfortable feet/ankles, but I would prefer to use high tops to better keep the snow out of my shoes. You could also use gaiters to keep the snow out of your shoes.)
  3. Waterproof (Just need to reiterate: your feet will be cold if they are wet).

Gear Essentials:

Snowshoes: Atlas Elektra Access 23 Snowshoes – Women’s

I’ve tried a few kinds of snowshoes (Tubbs, MSR) and here’s why I really like these snowshoes from Atlas for women:

  1. The bindings: They are SO EASY to tighten and loosen. You just pull up on the binding strap to tighten, and then there is a convenient little loop to pull on the closures to loosen again. The only drawback is the heel strap is still a bit difficult, but way easier than others I’ve used. So far I haven’t had any issues with the wrap bindings freezing or anything (which would make it difficult to loosen).
  2. They are lightweight: I’ve used the 27 and 23, but decided to buy the 23 for myself. They are both so light though, especially compared with the pair of Tubbs I’ve used a lot over the past couple years.
  3. They are fairly narrow, so I feel way less clunky trying to walk in them and can use a more normal stride (still gives a little inner-thigh workout though).

My dude has been using the MSR Evo snowshoes (pictured on the right) which are a great value, sturdy and reliable, but even he’s been eyeing my Atlas Elektras (pictured on the left), which are way quieter, and they look way cooler.

Microspikes: Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System

We actually carry microspikes with us all year long on hikes in the Cascades, since you can encounter snow and ice in some places well into summer and very early in the season. They are small and lightweight, so it’s easy to just keep them in your daypack at all times.

They are especially great on snow hikes that are packed down (not requiring snowshoes) but have slippery or icy surfaces. Spikes are also, in my opinion, way superior to YakTrax, which add traction without the spikes. Just go for the microspikes.

In this video I recently made for The Seattle Times, you’ll see where people could definitely be making good use of microspikes.

Day Pack: Osprey Sirrus 24 Backpack

This is another year-round recommendation, what I believe to be the best day pack for women hikers: the Osprey Sirrus 24.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s simple, with enough pockets to have things you need readily accessible (sunglasses, handwarmers, tissues, snacks).
  2. It has a spot for a 2.5-liter hydration bladder (I drink a lot of water when hiking, especially in the summer).
  3. It’s compact but you can stuff a lot into it if you need to (I typically carry another puffy jacket with me at the bottom, plus rain pants, a rain jacket, food, microspikes, etc).
  4. It has a really supportive waist belt and a frame that allows for airflow and makes the pack seem weightless (almost).
  5. It has a built-in rainfly that comes out of the bottom compartment, so it’s super easy to pull out and use in a pinch.
  6. It’s easy to attach your hiking poles (or ice ax!) and even to strap your snowshoes to the outside of the pack with just a couple of carabiners.

My only gripe is that the pockets on the waist belt are no big enough to fit my iPhone 5, but really, phones now are getting too big for any pockets. But there’s not really any other protected but accessible pockets to put your phone when it’s snowing or raining.

Other things that make snow hiking lovely:

Comfort: Therm-a-Rest Z Seat pad

This is kind of a silly little comfort but I love it. My dude used to carry his Therm-a-Rest Z Lite sleeping pad with him on hikes so we’d have a dry and warm spot to sit no matter where we ended up having lunch. But with these little guys, people won’t ask us if we’re camping all the time when we’re out on day hikes. They weigh practically nothing yet ensure that your butt is dry and comfy when you stop for a break.

And! Therm-a-Rest/Cascade Designs is based in Seattle. Local!

Food: Stanley Classic Vacuum Food Jar (17 oz)

Clearly, we take our hike lunches very seriously. For winter and snow hikes, there is literally nothing better than having hot soup or hot veggie chili for lunch out in the snow. You seriously cool down when you stop for any amount of time on a snowshoe or winter hike, and drinking some hot tomato soup is just incredible. It’s worth the extra weight.

 

So there it is. I might add or edit things on this list. But as of January 2017, this is what I love to use to get outdoors and stay comfortable, dry and safe.

My favorite Washington state hikes in 2016

It’s the beginning of 2017, and I took a little time to reflect on some of the places we explored this past year, specifically where we hiked.

During the summer months here in Seattle, we try to get out for a hike pretty much every weekend — usually in Cascades — and while we didn’t get out as much as we did in 2015, we managed to hike some epic trails and even got a little more into snowshoeing.

Here’s three of my favorite hikes around Washington state that we explored in 2016:

 

1. Heather – Maple Pass Loop (North Cascades)

The first, most important thing about this hike is that it leaves from the parking lot at the Rainy Pass PICNIC AREA. Not the Rainy Pass trailhead, which is on the other side of the road and leads you onto a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. We learned this the hard way by hiking about a mile and a half along the wrong trail. I was suspicious by the the third creek crossing, since I hadn’t read anything about water crossings in the trail description. We alerted some fellow confused hikers who arrived in the parking lot as we were getting back in order to head to the correct trailhead. Lucky them.

But once you’re on the right trail for the Heather-Maple Pass Loop trail (7.2 miles, 2000 ft. elevation gain), it’s fantastic.

It starts in the forest and climbs for a bit. About 1.25 miles in, you can break off to Lake Ann, which is pretty muddy and marshy so early in the season. It was kind of cool to see from below before you climb above it, since the whole area is carved out by glaciers. But honestly, it was underwhelming compared with how amazing the views are on the way up to the pass. If you’re pressed for time or don’t want to add another couple miles, it’s okay to skip.

We hiked this on July 4th weekend, and there was still considerable snow at Maple Pass, starting just after Heather Pass. We attempted to traverse it since we had microspikes and hiking poles (better equipped than most other hikers that day), but we got a little sketched out on the steepest slopes approaching the pass. It probably would have been fine, but it was late in the season and a hot day and we didn’t want to risk falling down the mountain. We saw one person successfully make it over the pass.

I have a fairly prominent fear of heights (that I’ve really only discovered by hiking in the PNW), and the slopes, both covered in snow and not, tested my fear for sure. Just don’t look down, just don’t look down.

This hike is great even as an out-and-back, rather than a loop, and it’s definitely worth an overnight trip out to the North Cascades. We’re planning to go back this year and complete the loop for sure.

 

2. Fremont Lookout (Mount Rainier – Sunrise/White River)

We really like the Sunrise area of Mount Rainer National Park. It’s a little less crazy than Paradise and offers some really unbelievable views of the mountain and surrounding areas.

In late September, we camped at the White River campground in the park and finally hiked the Fremont Lookout trail (5.6 miles, 800 ft. elevation gain) that leaves from the Sourdough Ridge Trailhead near the Sunrise Visitor Center.

We’ve hiked almost all the other trails in that area, including parts of the Glacier Basin loop and the Burroughs Mountain trails. And the Fremont Lookout is great to hike on its own for something relatively short without too much elevation gain (though 800 feet at 7,000 feet elevation is harder than at sea level) or to tack onto the network of trails in the area.

The last leg of the trail heading toward the lookout is a steep, scree slope that offers some great views of Mount Rainier, the valley below and the mountain range out ahead. While we were hiking back down, a fog rolled in and out creating a really dramatic scene for a few minutes.

And the actual lookout tower offers panoramic views of Grand Park, Redstone Peak, Skyscraper Mountain and Berkeley Park. And we saw a family of mountain goats hanging out on the slopes and cute little pikas in the boulder areas.

Here’s a little video my partner made from our weekend out there, including our hike on the Fremont Lookout trail:

 

3. Commonwealth Basin snowshoe (Snoqualmie Summit)

We recently explored this trail in December of 2016, so it just eeked into my top three for the year.

We’ve really learned to love snowshoeing as an alternative to hiking in the winter months. Because most of the trails in the Cascades are inaccessible during the snowy months, it can be difficult to find some outdoor hiking-ish activities if you aren’t an avid backcountry skier (yet).

We’ve also found that there are kind of limited choices of where to snowshoe, but the Commonwealth Basin trail area is really lovely. You can either snowshoe through the flat creek basin, out and back, for an easy winter wonderland hike, or you can head up the mountain a bit and make it a loop trail, which is what we did. You can choose your own adventure in terms of how long or how strenuous you want it to be. We had a couple of friends with us and it was a nice casual snowshoe uphill for a bit and then down and back around through the creek basin.

It started snowing pretty early this season and so by mid-December there was already several feet of snow in the Snoqualmie Summit area. You probably will have to park at or near the Summit at Snoqualmie ski lodge and walk under the I-90 overpass to get to the trailhead, because the parking area is blocked by a wall of snow.

There are also skiers on the steeper part of the trail, coming down from more backcountry ski areas you can reach from that trail, so just be contentious of that. And always be careful when going on snowshoe hikes — the risk of avalanche is real and if you don’t know what to look for, try to take an intro class form the Northwest Avalanche Center.

Also, here’s a nice little video our friend Ramon made from our hike that day:

Looking back, my goals for 2017 include getting out on more hikes this summer and learned to ski (and maybe snowboard) before the end of the winter season. As someone who relocated to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast and Southeast US, I’m still a total newbie at all things snow sports. Hoping to change that slowly but surely!

VIDEO: An easy snow hike close to Seattle – Frozen Franklin Falls

One thing I’m always impressed with is how folks around Seattle and the Pacific Northwest get outdoors with their families. Our first Christmas in Seattle — which we spent just the two of us in our little apartment before going to visit family in North Carolina — we decided to get out to Rattlesnake Ledge for a short, little 3-mile Christmas day hike. We got out there really early and there were already some folks on the trail. And on our way back down, we encountered droves of families of all kinds, like whole extended families of like 15 people. Despite the busy trail, it was really nice to see so many people choose to get outdoors for a little while on a holiday otherwise spent indoors.

Last week, Erika Schultz (my photo/video colleague at The Seattle Times) and I were able to get out to make a little feature story and short film about one of the most popular local hikes: Franklin Falls.

In the summer, this is an easy 1-mile jaunt to a pretty impressive waterfall (though it does reside under an I-90 overpass). It’s also a nice little walk to add onto an excursion along the Denny Creek trail which is close by.

But in winter months, the road to the Franklin Falls trailhead is blocked off by snow which adds almost a mile, making it more like a 4-mile roundtrip hike. But it’s a lovely little winter wonderland kind of trail that is accessible for kids and casual (i.e., not intense or overly prepared) hikers.

There are some steep inclines on the trail, so I would definitely recommend microspikes (YakTrax were insufficient), but snowshoes are not necessary because the busy trail is well packed down. As you can see in the video, a lot of people wearing inadequate footwear (i.e., running shoes) are slipping around and having to slide down the last hill on their butts, or forgo that part entirely.

It also feels about 10 degrees colder in the area around the foot of the waterfall, so make sure to have gloves, a hat, and even a waterproof outer layer to battle the icy mist (which gets even colder when the wind blows). We hung around down there for about two hours as we were filming and photographing and I got sort of dangerously cold and had to retreat up-trail a bit.

Overall, a lovely little hike, especially in winter. Great for the non-intense hikers among your family and friends and pretty good payoff for not too much work.

Enjoy!

Coaching NPPA Multimedia Immersion 2014

UPDATE!
Check out this nice article Seth Gitner wrote in the current issue of NPPA’s NewsPhotographer magazine about Al Tielemans’ experience at this year’s workshop. Al was one of my students this year and it was such a pleasure to work with him.

I was fortunate enough to be invited back to coach at the NPPA Multimedia Immersion workshop again this year, now my second time coaching the workshop, May 11-18. I really love this workshop for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of the amazing kinship and bond everyone develops by the end of the week. The workshop is all about opening yourself up to learn new skills, being vulnerable, and supporting one another. It’s also a crazy busy week full of seminars and practice and shooting and editing and staying up all night to finish on Friday night, in time for the community screening on Saturday. That lack of sleep and delirium might also contribute to the overwhelming gratefulness and positivity at the end of the week.

The interesting, and probably most challenging, part of Immersion is that everyone starts from zero. People come in with varying experience with video (from a lot to never using a camera before except for their iPhone), so we start at the very beginning. And by the end of the week, every single one of the 40 participants publishes a story. So we see some major transformations over the week. It’s incredible. And exhausting. But so worth it.

This year, I was paired up to coach with Jeff Bradbury from SUNY-Oswego in upstate New York. We had four students: a commercial photographer who specializes in hospitality and food, a former magazine director of photography who recently launched his own production business, a web editor for the Newhouse School website, and a longtime shooter for Sports Illustrated. It was a group with varying skill sets and experience. And yes, I did stay up until 4am again helping the last of them finish.

While we typically don’t come out with award-winning masterpieces from this workshop, I can say that the skills and experience the participants gain and the amazing network of new colleagues and friends we all build — coaches and participants alike — throughout the week is really worth it.

Here are their stories as they premiered at the end of the workshop:

Open Society: Voices from Europe’s Working Class

Western Europe has undergone significant transformation over the past 40 years. Major manufacturing has given way to service industries, while the provisions of the welfare state have been rolled back. Debates about marginalization or inequality in Europe tend to center on its minority populations. But research by Open Society found that the majority in an economically deprived community could also be marginalized and victims of inequality -— in different ways, but with many of the same results.

ROLE:

  • Producer, story development, pre-production
  • Video editor for a total of 12 videos including an explainer on the issue

This multimedia project aimed to capture the voices of those in marginalized native or white working class communities in Manchester and Amsterdam who grapple with inequality, disenfranchisement and stereotypes in their daily lives.

Because of the sensitive nature of the project and the often negative portrayal of these communities in local media, access to the subjects was tough and limited. To solve this, we aimed to capture “video portraits” — short videos under two minutes that captured a sense of the person and focused on only one or two issues, rather than telling the subject’s entire story. The video portraits were filmed by Adam Patterson of Panos Pictures based out of Belfast, Ireland. Adam worked hard to find subjects in the communities, interview and make portraits of each participant. Below is a selection from the series.

Higher Blackley, Manchester: Hayley Courtney

Blauwe Zand, Amsterdam: Hennier Brouwer

Higher Blackley, Manchester: Jo Courtney

OVERVIEW EXPLAINER

See the rest of the Manchester portraits here
See the rest of the Amsterdam portraits here.

At Open Society: An Interview Series

“At Open Society” is a video series highlighting the people and ideas that are inspiring Open Society’s work and changing the world. Seeking to make the most of the myriad leaders, influencers, researchers and advocates who come through our building in New York, I worked with my colleagues in the Communications office to develop an interview series with a look and feel of its own. In it, we aimed to explore new ideas and perspectives in a highly shareable package. It provides a platform for a diversity of voices and topics as well as a constant flow of video content for Open Society Voices posts. For each video in the series, we work through how to package, write headlines and provide content for optimal shareability on social media platforms.

ROLE:
Series development, interviewer, videographer, sound recordist, and editor.
I also work with our lead copywriter to write accompanying blog posts for most of the videos in the series.


Why Do People Stereotype Black Men? Ask Your Brain. – Alexis McGill Johnson At Open Society


Torture: It Can Happen Anywhere – Juan Mendez At Open Society


A Young Filmmaker Shares His Past to Overcome It – Richard Memminger At Open Society


A Freedom You Can’t Take for Granted – Novelist A.M. Homes At Open Society


For Roma Families, a Racist Myth Returns with a Vengeance – Jim Goldston At Open Society

MORE:
A Modern-Day Robin Hood Takes Aim at Poverty – David Hillman At Open Society
The Tool for Success Every Student Should Have – Jake Hayman At Open Society

Getting memed, upworthied, buzzfed, going viral… two years later…

The year 2013 was a definite reminder that stories published on the internet never die. It’s a new era in how news stories are seen and shared. Social capital is everything. Sometimes stories make the moderate, immediate splash within their newscycle. Sometimes the internet only catches on months, or even years, after it was originally published — typically because of new socially-amped sites like Upworthy and ViralNova. Sometimes, because of an update and real-time sharing tools, they resurge two years later to the open arms of the inspiration-hungry Twitter masses and a whole new audience is born.

The latter happened in the case of a story I worked on with reporter Billy Baker for The Boston Globe in December 2011 called Bus 19: The Way Up. It documents the experience of two teenaged brothers. Born to Vietnamese refugees, they were not only surviving in deep poverty and in a dangerous neighborhood, but also thriving in the top high school in Boston. They were steadfast on a path to success because of their own willpower and the help of some dedicated friends and mentors.

A few weeks ago on December 16, I got a text message from Billy: “George just got accepted into Yale. I can’t stop crying.” Tears. Lots of them.

On Twitter, he started rehashing his experience with the story and where it went once he published it. It was an open, genuine and moving account of just selfless human interest. Billy had a lot of followers then (he is known for finding the most interesting, bizarre, extreme and fringe stories in the newsroom), and he gained a lot more as his series of tweets was retweeted, favorited and Storified by thousands of people.

He linked to the story and the video. It was incredible how much it spread over the course of one evening.

The original story, when it was published two years ago, was met with an outpouring of support and donations to the boys and the youth center from the community in Boston. If I remember correctly, it only ran in its entirety on the subscription-based BostonGlobe.com, rather than the freely accessible Boston.com, so the audience was local and small. We thought it made a huge splash. The video had about 500-600 views, which was good in terms of our typical numbers.

By the middle of that week — December 18 or so — two years after the story was originally published on YouTube, the video had more than 80,000 views.

It’s really exciting. Their update and an interview, along with pieces from my video story, ran on the NBC Nightly News. People around the world learned their story, congratulated them, felt inspired and wanted to help them even more. It was amazing and humbling and I’m glad I was able to make a cameo in their lives so I could share in the joy of this moment with them.

But the other half of all this — as a content creator/filmmaker/journalist — is a humbling confrontation with the fact that every bit of content you put out there will live on forever. So you better be proud of every molecule of it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should feel confident that you put everything you could into it. No regrets.

I will admit that I am slightly self-conscious about this video being so widely watched two years after I made it. Two years is a lot of time in an industry undergoing such rapid change. I was also the rookie at The Globe (I feel like I’m a rookie still now). It was a tough story that I had two weeks to work on (which was, in fact, a luxury at the time, the blessing of TWO FULL WEEKS in the world of a daily newspaper!). The reporter spent two months reporting it. There are parts I definitely could have shot better. Maybe I should have spent more time, could I have probed in the interview more, could I have dug deeper? I know I tiptoed a little through the documentation because these were high school kids, grappling with big issues, and trying desperately not to draw attention to themselves while they got through it. And there I was following them with a camera to school. About to publish their hardships and hope in a major metro newspaper.

I think I learned then, and again now, that the sacrifice of a few minutes of mutual discomfort and self-consciousness is worth it to do the thing right. Each scene you shoot builds a story, which portrays a message (intended or not), adds to a conversation or visual dialogue that affects the way people think about things and how they act toward others. And it’s not over the day it comes off the front page. So you better have worked your ass off to do it right. Because it is about real people with real lives to lead, it has your name on it, and it will live a lot longer than you.

Make it good. And then make it better.

And then let it go.

Up For Debate: Debate league steers students on a path to success

SUMMARY
Deverick knows how his life could have turned out if he hadn’t stuck with his studies: prison, drugs, or even death. Instead, he became a star on the Baltimore Urban Debate League team and went on to college. Now he coaches students like Kaela, who often come from complicated lives but are striving to be successful academically.

Many students, especially those in areas with a high degree of crime, like Baltimore, are pushed out of the classroom by “zero-tolerance” policies and into the juvenile justice system. These approaches harm all students, particularly children of color, students with disabilities and students identifying as LGBT.

Research shows that creating safe, nurturing learning environments where students can succeed helps divert the path away from negative outcomes. The Baltimore Urban Debate League helps students develop meaningful interactions with adults in their schools in addition to finding their own voice and expressing themselves.

FULL CREDITS:
Camera and sound: Errol Webber
Editing: Lauren Frohne
Music: Getty
Producers: Lauren Frohne and Maria Archuleta

– – – – – – –

This week, I declare victory on a long-fought battle. Getting this video published was among the greatest challenges so far in my time here at OSF. I won’t get into the details, but I’ll say that I’m proud of how it turned out. It’s come a long way.

Check out the post on the Open Society site : Is Harsh School Discipline Necessary? That’s Up for Debate

It was filmed by Baltimore-based cinematographer Errol Webber (www.cinnamontography.com), who did a nice job capturing moments as well as compelling scenes and well-composed interview set-ups. I edited it over the course of a couple months. The end result was a great indirect collaboration.

Unexpected stories in unlikely places

A few weeks ago, I helped out on a shoot with Talking Eyes Media. A client had asked them shoot an interview to be used in a video for their annual fundraising gala.

On the surface, that doesn’t seem like the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s always fun to get out of the routine and work with other people. Then I learned it was an NBA basketball player, which for someone who appreciates the stories within sports but does not at all follow professional sports, isn’t crazy exciting either.

It turned out to be Metta World Peace, otherwise previously known as Ron Artest. I had heard about him in the past, because he had some notorious encounters earlier in his career that you just hear about even if you don’t follow professional sports. But, I had no idea of how deeply his personal story ran or how much he’s worked to help young people who are growing up in circumstances like he did or his dedication to the issue of mental health.

That’s a really cool part of working on stuff like this, you stumble into some of the most surprising stories.

Here’s the video that the nonprofit made from the interview we filmed:

Tourist Destinations: Niagara Falls

Sometimes, it’s just really nice to indulge in a real touristy destination. We don’t do this a lot. But Jessey and I recently took a long weekend and drove the 7 hours up to Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls is a strange place. The actual waterfalls are amazing. Like you’re staring at a edge of the world. You can’t help but think of what the people who found that place thought, what it looked like before a city and attractions were built around it. Then the area around the falls is totally packed with soaring hotels, casinos and a huge version of every chain restaurant you can think of. A stark contrast with the natural beauty of the area that gives it a bit of a Las Vegas tinge. We brought our bikes (which is probably the best way to see any place in the world), so we rode around, seeking places to eat and drink off the main strip. We found dilapidated shuttered hotels and restaurants and a ghost town of a Main Street on an early Saturday night. Overall, it was a creepy combination to be housed all in one town: bustling tourism, natural wonder, abandoned and degraded town; I found it completely captivating.

It was so overwhelmingly visually, especially from certain angles, that I was compelled to film it (stills couldn’t capture it fully) and make a short film about it. It’s 3 minutes, but worth the indulgence.

See more images on my Tumblr.

Looking Past the Poverty: Life in Roma Ghettos

Before I began working for the Open Society Foundations, I had never really heard of the Roma people. Not many Americans have, from what I’ve gathered. Over the past year, in my capacity as a videographer and producer for OSF, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few Roma settlements in Europe. The experience has changed my perspective drastically. My whole idea of poverty, of modern-day discrimination, of cyclical deprivation, all of it, has been completely altered. It’s a topic I’ve become deeply interested in, in hopes of contributing to a changing narrative for these extremely marginalized people in Europe.

I was able to write an article for the OSF website about the experience of documenting in such extreme situations, based on an interview with Bjorn Steinz who has photographed these communities with me. Check it out on the OSF homepage while it’s still up. Or click on the image below to be taken to the article on the OSF site…

More images (a combination of mobile and DSLR photography) from the settlements I’ve documented…


Two dogs in the Roma settlement outside Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.


Man in the neighborhood in Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.


Children in a settlement outside of Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.


A house in a Roma village in Frumușani, Romania. May 9, 2013.


Bjorn photographs a girl at home in Frumușani, Romania. May 9, 2013.


Villagers with their horses in Frumușani, Romania. May 9, 2013.


A housing project for Roma in Stara Tehelna, Slovakia. November 15, 2012.


A housing project for Roma in Stara Tehelna, Slovakia. November 15, 2012.


The settlement in Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.

To learn more about the Roma people, check out Open Society’s explainer on the issue.

Disability Rights and Open Society

One of the best things about my job is that it challenges me to think differently about how I approach society, people and life generally. It’s easy for us to accept things the way they are or not even realize that we marginalize people. Over the past few months, I’ve produced a series of interviews about disability rights in the framework of human rights, a space in civil society that persons with disabilities are often left out of.

This is a video I produced (with still images by Andrew Testa of Panos Pictures) about Elizabeth Kamundia, a lawyer in Kenya who decided to tackle the challenge of advocating for persons with disabilities in her own country by becoming an expert on the issue through one of the Open Society Foundations scholarship programs:

See also:
Boaz Muhumuza: I Am Not a Problem to Be Solved
Lawrence Mute: A Question of Rights, Not Charity
Gerard Quinn: Disability Rights: An Important Test for Open Society

Spilling Over: July 2013 Update

My partner Jessey Dearing and I just returned from another filming trip for our ongoing documentary project Spilling Over. As often as we can, we travel down to Buras, Louisiana to spend time with the Arnesens, the central characters of the film. Check out the post on our Spilling Over blog for more details.


Kindra and little David look out into the marshes from the top of the boat as they return from offshore fishing all day with David. (Image by Lauren Frohne)

Film Synopsis:
SPILLING OVER is the story of a family losing control. The Arnesens are a commercial fishing family in Venice, Louisiana. After the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico struck their community in April 2010, their future took a drastic turn. As years pass after the disaster, we journey with the Arnesens through intimate moments and difficult changes as they struggle to redefine their future and take back control over their lives.

SPILLING OVER is not a film about the BP oil spill. It’s not about fishing or the environment. It’s not about lawsuits, claim checks, cover-ups or health impacts. SPILLING OVER is about family, and what happens when a family is pushed beyond their limits.

NPPA Multimedia Immersion Workshop 2013 Recap

Back in May, I had the opportunity to coach at the NPPA Multimedia Immersion Workshop at Syracuse University. It’s an intensive, week-long workshop during which professional coaches from all sorts of outlets and organizations come together to teach sessions and do one-on-one story production with students.

From what I’ve gathered, the workshop was historically attended by a lot of newspaper and magazine photojournalists looking to gain some skills in producing multimedia. But this year’s batch of students ranged from picture editors at USA Today and Getty, to newspaper photojournalists, freelance documentary photographers, deans of business schools, MIT media lab, college students, educators, marketing types. It was a very diverse group of people, all looking to either learn video from scratch or get better with the gear they have.

The incredible part of this workshop is the ratio of students to coaches. Each pair of coaches (one Immersion veteran paired with one newbie coach, like me) had four students they worked with all week. I had the pleasure of working with Wes Pope, an innovative educator and super creative storyteller (and all-around awesome dude). I personally learned a lot from coaching with him the whole week. And our students were Kellen Deam (a student at Ball State University), Sara Wood (a rep for Nikon), Andy Wallace (a teacher turning toward video), and Andrea Bruce (amazing documentary photographer). Everyone was familiar with video to some degree, or at least visual production in some way, and a couple of them had edited with Final Cut Pro X before. Most importantly, everyone was super motivated to make something great within the tight timeframe of the workshop.

The one thing I tried to distill down with my students was what the heart of the story is. Most of their “story ideas,” which they chose out of a hat, were really just people or places of business. That’s not a story, it’s a jumping off point. For example, Sara Wood pulled out a tattoo shop as her story idea from the hat. It’s really easy to do a profile of a tattoo shop. They are usually vibrant and visual places full of interesting looking people, with the signature audio of the buzzing needle. But she really didn’t want to make the tattoo shop profile that’s been made a hundred times before. The first day she went out, she spent a bit of time there and then called me to check in. She seemed bummed that there wasn’t anything particularly dynamic going on. I asked about clients coming in. She said that day there was a guy coming in to get a cowboy tattoo. Okay hmmm… what about tomorrow? She said there was another client coming in to get a memorial type of tattoo. Oh yeah? Of what? HIS DOG. Immediately I knew that was her story, if she could get the access. She worked really hard to produce it, and really whittled down this big theme of “TATTOO SHOP” to a small, but very moving little story. It was less about telling the whole big picture story, and more about drilling into one little facet of it. Check out “Belle’s Strawberries”…

The only real hang up we had the whole week was one of those situations where a student’s first story fell through… and then stories kept falling through. It’s the worst situation for a workshop setting. You have a limited amount of time that you are trying so hard to maximize, you’re stressed, and things aren’t working out. That’s what happened with Kellen Deam. He was first assigned the nearby Ronald McDonald House, which is a great place to find really important and compelling stories to tell. But it’s also sensitive and relies on who is around that particular day. On Kellen’s particular day, there weren’t many people, and the ones who were there wouldn’t grant the access. So we went to a backup plan: go to the local farmers/artisan market and fine someone who makes or sells something there and has a great visual story, if not more. Kellen shot a little the next morning, but came back without a story. It was Thursday night, our Friday night deadline was rapidly approaching. Seth Gitner recommended maybe going to this local diner called Nicky’s Quick Cup and seeing if the family who owns it would share their story. So the next morning Wes went out to shoot with Kellen, providing some additional support as we were on our last option. They mic’ed up the current owner and her grandmother (the original owner) as a conversational scene in which the audience would feel like they were eavesdropping on a family conversation between them. You get a great sense of place and character, and overall it turned out to be a fun, quick-turn (thanks to some tag-team, intensive edit coaching between Wes and me) little story. Here’s “A Family Business”…

I won’t go into the production timelines of the rest of our team’s films, but overall it was an amazing experience working through these stories with Andy and Andrea. They really wanted to learn and create something perfect. That’s a tall order under such extreme circumstances, but I think we all got close. I’m just glad everyone came away happy, albiet slightly exhausted after finishing the export of all the videos at 4am Friday night/Saturday morning.

Probably my biggest personal challenge for the week was that we were teaching the students to edit with the new Final Cut Pro X, and I had never so much as opened the application before the first day of Immersion. I’ve been using FCP 7 (and previous iterations) for a long time now, and while some aspects of the new version are similar, just in terms of how all nonlinear editing systems work, it’s pretty much an entirely different piece of software. But by the end of the week, I was soaring through it with hot keys and shortcuts, and learning the pros and cons, mostly thanks so Joe Blum‘s amazingly thorough instructional packet. It was a really great way to buckle down and really learn something quick. The pressure always helps with that, too. Overall, I would recommend this workshop to anyone interested in learning multimedia video, or any professionals who have been thinking of taking time to coach it. It’s worth it.

So a big thank you to Seth Gitner and Will Sullivan for inviting me to be a part of the workshop.

Check out Andy Wallace’s “Release Skills” and Andrea Bruce’s “Empty Nest” below…

And see all of the NPPA Multimedia Immersion 2013 videos on the Vimeo channel.

How many times have you been stopped and searched?

When I came on board at the Open Society Foundations, there were a bunch of projects in the works that I sort of had to dive right into. One of those is a series on stop and search and its many iterations throughout Europe, which we recently published.

Stop and search is like our stop-and-frisk here in New York. It means that a police officer can basically come up to you and search your bags and your person with little cause. They are supposed to have “reasonable suspicion” that you are holding or doing something illegal, but often it comes down to racial profiling. They hassle young men of color the most.

The video interviews and portraits were shot by the great Ed Kashi last year: 10 interviews in all from the UK, about an hour long each. My job was to whittle all of this down into a quick-paced video trailer type of film to accompany the report about stop and search in England and Whales. It was a tough undertaking because it was all interviews with no b-roll except for portraits of each person, but I think it ends up painting an interesting portrait of the impact of stop and search. See the whole project on the Open Society website

Binding and sharing the memories

As many of you who follow me on various social media platforms might have noticed, Jessey and I went on vacation to California in late November. We did an epic roadtrip from San Francisco, up through Napa Valley, over to Lake Tahoe, down highway 395, over to Big Sur, and then back up to San Francisco. Altogether, ten days of beauty and majesty and largess.

And — arguably one of the neatest aspects of it — I basically took my friends and family with us through the viewfinder of Instagram. When we returned to the east coast, our friends didn’t need a digest of our adventures, they could just comment freely on the epic images we brought them over the previous week and a half. It was great. Nobody asked “Oh, how was your vacation?” Everyone already knew: IT WAS AWESOME.

Then I had this great idea: Since I had accumulated all of these easy-to-access images, already uploaded to the interwebs, and since many services exist now that connect directly to Instagram and boast their skills at printing high-quality versions of those digital artifacts, why not make a book of it?

So I did.

I highly recommend blurb.com for all of your self-publishing needs. For around $70 with shipping, I was able to design, print, give and adore this high-quality keepsake of our journey. It took me a couple of hours to figure it out and get everything just right. I received the book in under two weeks (even though it was only a couple weeks before Christmas). And it was perfect. Such good quality, the prints look so nice, and it was so easy that I actually just did it and I am not still just talking about doing it.

And you can embed your photobook or share it via social networks. Here’s mine. Feel free to vicariously enjoy our California roadtrip vacation!

Hurricane Sandy close to home

We lucked out in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Hurricane Sandy’s raucous winds and flooding barely affected us. Aside from being kind of stuck in Brooklyn for a week while the transit system was repaired, the direct impact on us was minimal. And Jessey and I definitely appreciate all the friends and family who checked in on us throughout it all.

The damage elsewhere was, and still is, debilitating. Friends in the East Village were displaced due to flooding in their buildings and an extended loss of power, water, heat and other utilities, half of the island of Manhattan was without power for days, some of our friends in New Jersey and outer areas of New York still don’t have access to transit, electricity or heat. Most of all, many of the coastal communities were all but destroyed.

This includes my Aunt Betty and Uncle Artie’s town, Broad Channel, a tiny sliver of land that connects Howard Beach and the Rockaways, with the bay on one side and the ocean on the other, both of which surged to heights never seen before.

My aunt and uncle are okay. Their house is raised above the ground and so it got about one and a half or two feet of water. They will have to gut the downstairs, but most of their possessions besides furniture and appliances are salvageable. A boat slammed into their back deck, destroying much of the backyard, but they are safe and sound, and that is all that matters.


Their backyard, post-hurricane.


The edge of their backyard, covered with debris.


Aunty Betty and Uncle Artie talk with neighbors as they pass by in front of their house, which sustained minimal damage comparatively.


Aunt Betty looks through damaged keepsakes.


My cousin’s high school diploma, damaged by floodwaters.

Some of their neighbors were not so lucky. When I arrived there on Friday afternoon with my brother and our friend Brian, people were busy throwing everything they owned onto the street. It was like a war zone in Broad Channel, boats strewn all over the road, flooded out cars piled up on the median where people thought they would be safe from the floodwaters. City trucks and earth movers collected the refuse, people picked through coats and other warm clothing that had been donated to their community, some people walked around in disbelief at the havoc that had been wrought on their small, tight-knit community, several days after the flood.


All of the boats from the yacht club piled up in someone’s front yard.


My aunt and a neighbor check out the local yacht club, whose boats piled up in the yard next door.


My aunt and her friend, who lives a few houses down the block, look out at the damage from her ruined house.


A neighbor who is helping my aunt and uncle clean out their house takes a break to eat pizza and gaze out at the damage through the back door.

It will take a long time to rebuild, both the houses and infrastructure, but also people’s whole lives. Everyone seems confident, though, that the community will eventually be back to way it was.

If you have anything clothing or supplies you would like to donate to the people in Broad Channel, let me know and I can arrange a pick-up, or connect you with people who definitely need it.

See the whole set of images on Flickr.

Haiti, New York and new things

It’s been a while since I last updated, and a lot has happened and changed in the life of Lauren.

First, I travelled to Haiti back in April/beginning of May to cover a story for The Boston Globe. We were in a little town called Kenscoff, up on a mountain, near the city of Petion-Ville. It was my first time visiting the country and it was an amazing experience. And I had the opportunity to travel with veteran Globe photographer Suzanne Kreiter to shoot this story, and while the story was difficult and emotional, I think we both learned a lot from working with each other.


A truck travels up the mountain in Petion-Ville on the way to Kenscoff

Check out the video story I produced below. These kids have been through a lot in their little lives, and they are still full of joy and excitement, although life is often punctuated with utter boredom, lack of a suitable education and not enough interaction with caring adults. But watch the story, and you’ll see what the future might hold for the kids.

I feel content with how the story turned out. Shooting it posed a lot of challenges, mostly because — as is typical with places like Haiti — the story wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be when we got there. But I think we made it work. It doesn’t have a tidy storyline, but I think it successfully sets you down into their lives and makes you see their situation in a personal way.


Country side and farm land seen from a vista off the road up to Kenscoff

Haiti is a tough place to exist in. The daily things we tend to take for granted — running water, electricity and waste management — are either nonexistent (which is the case for most people) or unreliable for those lucky few with access to such luxuries. It really offers some perspective on these constant debates we have about taxes and big government here in the U.S. Go to a place like Haiti, and you’ll better understand the impact of your tax dollars, the safety nets we have in place, and the role of government when you return home.

Okay, off my soapbox…

The other major thing that’s happened is that I left my position at The Boston Globe at the end of May for a post at the Open Society Foundations. It’s nonprofit that advocates for human rights around the globe. My job is to produce and commission multimedia projects and films that tell the story of issues we are working in and work that our programs are doing all over the world. I’m excited to take on this challenge and see what happens.

So that also means that I’ve moved from Boston to New York. I was born here, lived here for 9 months of my life, and now I’ve returned 26 years later. I love New York, I have people that I love in New York, and I’m excited to see what I can do here.


The view of Manhattan from a rooftop on Wall Street

That’s all the updates for now. I’ll be posting new work soon, hopefully, so check back!

Engaging both elephants and art students

Before this assignment, I haven’t found myself transcoding video in the backseat of my car while driving a long distance since grad school. A lesson in how a light feature can quickly turn into ‘breaking news’…

I started shooting this story a few weeks ago by visiting a class at MassArt called “Toys for Elephants.” It’s a semester-long course in which this class of about 15 students research elephant behavior, get to know the two elephants at the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, and then design, pitch and fabricate large toys for these two elephants. I visited them while they were working on their toys in the metalworking and woodworking studios at MassArt.

Fast forward to the morning of the hand-off day — the day at the end of the semester in which they bring the toys to the zoo, install them, and let the elephants have at them. The reporter and I arrive to find several other local news outlets also in attendance, unexpectedly. Of course, we had to sound the alarm to our editors and they decide that the story I thought I would have most of the next week to work on for a Sunday feature, was going to run the next day (so as to beat our competitors).

With about five interviews and a lot of footage, plus the delayed installation of the toys, time contraints of ingesting and transcoding the video, traffic, editing time, compressing and uploading, I realized that finishing this particular video story for the next day would be pretty much impossible.

I told them I would try my best not to stay up all night and still have it ready. I ended up processing the video as I drove to New York (which was previously planned weekend trip), slept when I got to New York, then woke up at 6am, edited until noon, compressed, uploaded and had it ready by 1pm for a centerpiece on BostonGlobe.com. Oh, the adventures of newspaper video!

I would say it was near-record time for producing this story. It has a couple of bumpy parts that I would have taken time to smooth out if I had more time, but I’m happy how it turned out considering the circumstances.

The 2012 Boston Marathon

After last year’s pioneering foray into iPhone video shooting, editing and filing, I was relieved this year to have the assignment of shooting a sights and sounds video the morning of the Boston Marathon at the Athletes’ Village where runners rest, eat and prepare for their 26.2-mile jaunt.

My task was to shoot b-roll of the goings-on, interview some runners and — because it was so hot — talk someone about the tips they were giving the runners for dealing with temperatures in the 80’s. Then, I had to edit and file it by around 10am. The best part was that I put my new 5D MarkIII to use for the first time on assignment! Here’s the outcome…

The audio editing is a bit rough, but I was on a mega deadline with my editor checking in every 20 minutes or so. Needless to say, perfection was not an option. The 5DMIII did really well with the audio. I was traveling light so I just had the Rode Videomic in the hot shoe and got close to my subjects. The lack of auto-gain alone made the audio infinitely better. The only major mistake I made was first plugging the mic into the headphone jack instead of the mic jack. It’s in the same place that the mic jack is on the 7D!

By the end of the day, my colleague Scott LaPierre combined my footage with video from our other staffers along the course and at the finish (shooting with lots of different kinds of cameras, including iPhones) and it turned out to be a really fun montage of the day:

No time to shoot pictures this year, unfortunately, but check out my post from (a much colder day) last year if you’re interested!