On Location/Backstage

Triple Crown Chase - In Photos by Bill Frakes

This year was my 12th time going to the Belmont in hopes of witnessing Triple Crown history. By now, we all know how the story ended for California Chrome. But the chase made for a fun spring.

Sports Illustrated's galley of the best images from the Triple Crown races is now online: http://new-www.si.com/more-sports/photos/2014/06/19/si-best-photos-of-the-2014-triple-crown-races

On to summer adventures.

From the Platte River by SARA TANNER

From the banks of the Platte, our photo tour is underway.

We are covering the migration of the Sandhill Cranes. If you are near Grand Isle, stop by the Wild About Nebraska Weekend on Saturday, March 16 at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center. Bill will be presenting at 11 a.m.

Learn more about his presentation in the feature in The Grand Isle Independent.

As always, we are happy to be back in Nebraska.

Lessons from Friends by Bill Frakes

Joe McNally never fails to make me appreciate his wit, generosity, talent, and most of all his work ethic.

Early in my career, I did a particularly grueling portrait shoot with a recalcitrant long jumper who was willing to give us two jumps and 10 minutes of his time. My assistant and I had trucked in about a ton of sand, built a scaffold platform for a high angle, erected a 16' x 16' scrim*, set up two 10K lights balanced for tungsten so we could make the sky deep blue in the middle of the day, positioned eight remote cameras and spent two hours doing lighting tests. All told we spent a combined 30 hours in preparation for 3 seconds of actual shooting time.
SI's Director of Photography Heinz Kluetmeier looked at the take, and said "It's very good. If I had hired Joe McNally for this he would have really worked it -- for sure he would have buried a camera in the sand too."
Lesson learned.
* Erecting a 16' x 16' scrim is no easy feat in and of itself. Columbus came across the ocean with less sail power.

Kelby Training Course: "Photographing the Making of an Athlete" by SARA TANNER

Bill’s latest course, “Photographing the Making of an Athlete”, is now live on KelbyTraining.com. In the course, Bill heads to the legendary Kona Skatepark to photograph one of the best young skateboarder in the country, Cason Kirk. For more than five years, Bill has documented Cason’s progress in the sport.

The course covers how to keep a fresh look on long-term documentary projects, using new techniques and equipment to perfect your vision.

Check out the official trailer now and sign up today at KelbyTraining.com

The Moat by Bill Frakes

The best part of the Olympics for me, selfishly, is being around my friends. It's a joy and an education.

My main gig at the Games is the head on the moat at Track and Field. There's a core group of folks in the pit with me, all of whom I have know and worked alongside for years, coming from around the world.

Finish line photographers (L-R): Michael Steele/Getty Images, Lucy Nicholson/Reuters, John Mabanglo/EPA, Pascal Rondeau/L'Equipe, Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press, Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated, and Olivier Morin/AFP, Robert Deutsch/USA Today

Anja Neidringhaus, AP based in Geneva, is a Pulitzer Prize winning, Harvard educated laugh machine. Her new book WAR is brilliant -- and yes, I bought four copies of it on a recent trip to Dussledorf. If you love photojournalism, as I do, I suggest you get a copy. Sports and war. Interesting way to make a living.

Pascal Rondou, LeEquippe, requires I mention that he is very good looking every time I write about him. Another very funny, good humored person. And of course, since he is French, often the target of our barbs. We have worked together many times through the years, and it has always been a pleasure. The last night in the moat, he looked at me with a sad smile, extended his hand and said, you know "Bill this is the last finish line we will do together." Bittersweet.

Olivier Marin, AFP, is now based in Milan -- which is clear from the fashionable way he comports himself, always with the three day stubble on his face, with a cleanly shaven head -- has a home on a Finnish Island. I adore him, I wish he was my next door neighbor.

The Getty guys move in and out. They take turns doing the head on. The Brits, Michael Steele and Stu -- I don't get to see them often, once a year, but it always feels like it was just last week and the conversations pickup right where they left. We share dozens of friends around the world, and it's always great to catch up. Streeter comes straight from the American South. His calm drawl and healthy laugh took me home when I needed it. Alexander Hassenstein -- German who I have known since his first Olympics at 21 year in Barcelona. He named his daughter after mine -- Havana.

The newcomer in the pit is British, Lucy Nicholson from Reuter. Based in California, she is a bundle of energy, always with a smile, always in motion. We had fun.

EPA's John M is an American which is of course confusing because he works for the European Press Agency. He's based in LA, and we don't see him nearly enough. The US is big country and with so many talented SI photographers based in Southern California, so I don't get there much.

Bob Deutsch from USA Today is always quick to help everyone, and  he is even older than me. His sarcastic wit and generosity keep me smiling. When of course, I am not laughing at Anja and Oliver.

A typical exchange from right before the men's 100 meter final.

As you read this remember these are career defining moments for all of us. To complicate things, we are all shooting tethered -- which means your images flow straight into a computer and to the world. Plus, we are all running multiple remote cameras which are placed in tight confines to increase the angles and images we can each produce. Many things are going on, lots to concentrate on, and not much time to do it.

Anja: "Who do you think will win this race? Bolt?" Me: "Gatlin or Blake." Anja: "Why?" Me: "Because they are faster." Anja: "Okay. Makes sense."

Ten seconds later.

Anja: "You were wrong, and I really don't like Blake's hairstyle."

Big laughter. Quick glances. Great feeling of comraderie.

Meanwhile, the images are streaming to screens around the world.

During the Games, Laura and I put together a short piece on the working atmosphere from the moat. It is on SI.com now.

Eugene by Bill Frakes


Eugene is one of my favorite towns. It is easily the best place to watch Track and Field in the United States. Large, enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowds for every event. Wonderful.

On years when the Olympics are held, there's a special excitement and tension at the track.

For our SI coverage this year, we wanted to give audiences a behind the scenes experience as well. Everyone wants to see the finish line photos of course, and we have those, but the stories behind the races and at the stadium are part of what make this event so special. Our coverage of this year’s events is featured in stories online, in the magazine and on the iPad edition, with galleries and in the leading offs.

When Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh tied in the 100 meter race, we created a video of Roger Jennings, head photo finish evaluator, describing what he looks for in the photos and how he makes the call.

Outside the track, the legacy and career of Steve Prefontaine continues to impact new generations of runners and track enthusiasts. With the beautiful words of our friend and SI writer Tim Layden, Laura and I created a short video "An Hour at Pre's Rock." The video was shot as stills using the iPhone and put together with the new Aperture 3.3 to show the emotional pilgrimage people make to his memorial.

Best thing about the Olympic Trials, is undoubtedly the people. We always celebrate Laura’s birthday in Eugene, and I relish the time catching up with friends like Mark Kettenhoffen, Brien Aho, Chris Pietch, Brian Davies, Thomas Boyd, and so many others.
Before leaving Portland for seven hours of flying diagonally across the USA, the last person I spoke to before taking off was SI senior writer Tim Layden.  When Laura and I landed we headed up the jet bridge, I heard Tim's voice and there on the television monitor right above the gate was Tim talking on CNN's air about the story we worked with him on the past few days. Then not 30 seconds later, we ran into a couple in the airport concourse we photographed for another story that we worked on with Tim last week. Surreal.

Days Before the Derby by Bill Frakes


Tomorrow is the big day.  The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby. Laura and I arrived in Kentucky on Tuesday to get settled in, and to start work on several multimedia pieces.

We’ve been at the track every morning by 5 a.m.  It’s my favorite part of this event.

Dawn on the backside of Churchill Downs allows me to make beautiful pictures at a slower pace.  It’s peaceful and beautiful.  Tranquil, but exciting.

But I don’t come to the Derby just for the horses.  I come for the people.

I’ve been covering this event for more than two decades, and through the years I have made some of my closest friends here.  People like Bill Luster, Dan Dry, Matt Goins and Skip Dickstein, just to name a few, are the main reason I wouldn’t miss the Kentucky Derby.

The Run for the Roses also gives a chance to catch up with colleagues, like SI senior staff writer Tim Layden.  He is a wonderful writer and great friend.  Working with him is always a pleasure.

He was the subject of our first multimedia piece, a multi-camera stand-up where he gives viewers his picks for this year’s race.

Our second multimedia is a backstage look into the making of champion race horses and the beauty of the Derby.

Stay tuned for more....

Lights, Camera, Action by Bill Frakes


Karma B Flame is a rap and hip hop artist based in our home town of Jacksonville, FL.

Her music producer, Willetta Smith, mixed the music for our piece Istanbul and its many faces. Willetta is known in close circles as Mamado, as in "Mama-do-it-all," and she does.  She's a very skilled music producer, painter, tattoo artist and video editor, among other things.
They are an incredibly talented and overlooked duo who wrote this song specifically for a music video to be made with the Nikon D4.
They like the song so much that they plan on including it for Karma's upcoming album. More on that when they publish.
Our concept for the video was simple -- she is a beautiful woman with big dreams and immense talent.  We wanted to harness her skills as a dancer and create a video where she is twirling in and out of a daydream, using the camera in various lighting situations to do that.
For the most part, we lit her with a 2k light diffused with a Chimera Medium Quartz bank, but we also did a couple sequences with Lite Panels where power and space weren't available.
We used an EZ-FX jib and Cinevate Atlas 200 linear tracking system to employ smooth motion without the rigging required for a larger production.

We wanted to use the D4 in a different way than we did in Istanbul.  That film is a multimedia project shot as a documentary.  This production is a video that was shot in a completely controlled environment.

We wanted to show the range of DSLR video and what this technology is allowing us to do.

We hope you like it.

Lights, Camera, Action from Straw Hat Visuals on Vimeo.

From the Nikon Nordic Tour... by Bill Frakes


Five cities.  Five countries. Five days. Crisscrossed Scandinavia this week talking photography to groups in Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden as part of the Nikon Nordic Tour.

It was an ambitious schedule, but the Nikon Nordic team was on top of everything.

Joe McNally‘s flight was late.  He flew from DC to NYC to Prague and into Tallinn — overnight.  He landed, sans luggage, and came immediately to the Museum of Art and gave a perfect speech to a  full house.  He never missed a beat — total respect.

Joe over Finland.

It’s a real pleasure working with Joe.  We’ve been friends for a long time . Not only is he a terrific colleague, wonderful photographer, and excellent teacher, but even better, he is flat out fun to be around.

Joe in Oslo.

We had tremendous audiences at every stop.

I can be pretty talkative. It may come from growing up in a small Nebraska town, where I was happy to find anyone to talk to... So many of our stops were exceptional. In Tallinn, I was onstage an extra hour.

Peter Brodin kept giving me the “stretch” sign, which of course I loved.  The audience was engaged and challenging me, which just solidifies how much I love teaching — thanks Mom.

Our venue in Copenhagen, the Royal Library.

Responsive, invigorated crowds were capped by a standing room only crowd in Stockholm at Fotografiska — one of my favorite galleries in the world.

I'm so thankful to everyone who came out. This tour was a great chance for me to learn from some very talented folks.

Me, Peter Brodin, and Joe McNally.

I rolled onto the plane this morning more in love with photography than ever.

Time to make some images.