Nikon Nordic Road Show / by Bill Frakes

It was snowing hard outside my window. It was so cold out there you could actually see the blue in the light. An ancient city. A modern mission. New friends. Old friends.

Something ventured. Something gained.

An emotional day to say the least.

A friend lost her grandfather, the tribute she posted was incrediblyintense.  

It doesn’t take much to lead me to thoughts of my mother. And to my grandfather, mom’s dad. They’re gone now physically, but are very much a part of everything I do.

Every time I talk about my life in photography, at the heart of the conversation is always a discussion of the lessons my mom taught me. Systematically, patiently, thoroughly, lovingly shaping my existence, molding me into an artist, a storyteller.

Growing up in rural Nebraska I was always awake early--chores to do, books to read, fine crisp air to enjoy. And almost always Mom was up before me. The woman just didn't sleep--as I don't now.

Laura Heald and I were in Scandinavia as part of the Nikon Nordic Roadshow. We presented in four countries, and in addition to showing examples of our work, we added a little twist: The day before each presentation, we planned to shoot an event and then produce a multimedia program that night for the next day’s audience. Part of the challenge was that we'd never seen the venues, nor were we familiar with the sports and individuals we'd be shooting. But that’s all part of the fun.

In Stockholm--the first stop on the tour--we shot a bandy match. Bandy is a team sport that resembles field hockey, played on an outdoor ice surface the size of a soccer field. The action is fast, and we wanted to put together a multi that captured the essence of attending a Bandy game. We had hoped to position remote cameras at the corners of the nets, but the venue officials evidently hadn’t seen that done before and weren’t too keen on it. So I shot with a 600mm lens from one corner of the ice, and then headed into the stands to capture ambient audio, and video and stills with a wide angle lens.  We also interviewed some of the spectators. They’re an enthusiastic bunch. They sing and stand, bobbing up and down on their feet, propelled by the rhythm of a large bass drum that keeps their spirits stocked.

The match ended in the late afternoon, and Laura Heald did her usual fantastic job of editing the piece into the wee hours of the next morning. I showed it to the Stockholm audience the next day as part of a 7 hour presentation done in conjunction with Apple on building multimedias using DSLR cameras.

That night we flew to Oslo and bussed to the town of Rjukan, arriving late in the evening. Rjukan was the site of the first commercial heavy water plant. It was controlled by Nazi Germany as part of its program to develop nuclear weapons, but the Norwegians sabotaged the plant numerous times--a feat that was dramatized in the movie The Heroes of Telemark, staring Kirk Douglas.

Now Rjukan is famous for ice climbing, and we met up with Andreas Spak, who would be the subject of our next shoot. Andreas was kind of enough to wait up for our arrival, and we planned the next day’s shoot before going to bed.

Norway is a fairy tale waiting to happen. It was freezing cold, 200AM and as soon as the pre production meeting broke up we grabbed cameras and headed outside to play in the snow.

It's great being a four year old with credit cards.

The next morning we drove up the mountain and hiked down to an overlook from which to shoot long telephotos of the Andreas from across the glacier-carved valley. Just getting from the bus to the overlook was a challenge for the less seasoned in the group. Curt Bianchi, software wizard extraordinary and all around good guy didn’t even make it off the road before landing on his rear, but he did manage to save the camera he was carrying, which impressed me given his engineer like reflexes. Then when we began the hike down to the overlook, Laura did a face plant into the three-foot deep snow--dangerous for her since she is barely 5 feet tall herself. She wasn’t the only one who took an unconventional route down the mountain and we were all laughing hard and in good spirits when we arrived at the base camp.

Now, we could have photographed a staged climb--and a lot of ice climbing photographs are made that way--but that would have been too easy. Instead, we intended to shoot the real deal, and after doing an interview with Andreas, he and an assistant made their way across the valley to begin the climb. Unfortunately, that’s where things began to go wrong.

Weather conditions were not conducive to climbing--“horrible,” as Andreas put it--not to mention the fact that the ice flow upon which Andreas would start the climb was broken off, necessitating an alternate route. After several attempts, we had to give in to the elements and accept that climbing on this day just wasn’t in the cards. Nevertheless, we hung out for several hours, enjoying a truly spectacular view, spending time with the Nikon guest photographers, and being interviewed by the local media. The women from the Norwegian National Television crew took a particular interest in my hand warmers, and I spent considerable time explaining what they were and how they worked.

Shut out by the weather we decided to head back a little early, talk about process on the bus on the way to Oslo, and just enjoy our hosts and guests. I will say this, no matter what these folks have fun.

It was fabulous being back in Oslo. This is my sixth trip to Norway--the first being for the Lillehammer Olympics--and I love the place. I was up and out at the crack of dawn--fortunately dawn is at about 9 am this time of year ( Laura enjoys sleeping more than I do) --and enjoyed walking the center of the city remembering a time traversing the streets with Johan Olav Koss and knowing how the Pied Piper must have felt.

Later that afternoon in a packed auditorium along with my new friends Peter Brodin and Lars Petterson of Nikon Nordic--two terrific guys who have been the most gracious of hosts, Laura and did another long presentation sharing 8 or 10 of our multimedia presentations and short films and talked about multimedia.

Peter Brodin is a sweet guy with a hardy laugh to match his tremendous resourcefulness and impressive patience. He is a combination taskmaster, school marm, favorite uncle and aberrant frat boy. He muscled the ridiculous logistics on this trip, and that was a load.

Lars Petterson kept us laughing and informed--we wanted to bring him home with us. It's just more fun when he's around.

No sooner than we started to get comfortable Mr. Brodin, the taskmaster, ushered us onto another bus to go to yet another airport for the flight to Copenhagen.

Our first day in Denmark was a tough day at the office. We struggled mightily to build a multi on the Danish Junior National cycling team. Everything that could have gone wrong, did.

We arrived at the velodrome only to find that the “infield” had been configured to house three soccer games--dozens of eight to ten year olds, all screaming at deafening levels. Not what I had in mind. Now don’t get me wrong: I love kids, and my daughter Havana is right smack in the middle of that age group--at least in actual years--and I really enjoy hearing those sounds, except when I need to collect ambient audio of cyclists practicing.

The ceiling-to-floor nets, raised to keep errant balls from flying into the path of the cyclists, threw hundreds and hundreds of small shadows across the track. A nightmare for video.

Using a color temperature meter, and comparing the results to the back of my Nikon D3s camera, we identified six different light temperatures bouncing around. Filtering for that many different sources just wasn’t going to happen. Auto white balance is fantastic, but it has to pick one and correct for that, which made the overalls a bit of an issue.

The bottom line, though, is that tough conditions are just a complication. At the end of the day, the viewers only care about the images, not what we had to go through to produce them. That’s our problem, and one we have to handle with grace under pressure.

We decided the best way to produce this multi would be to let stills dominate the action, and light an interview using with one of the cyclists--Christian Cortvelt-- the result being a video portrait. We quickly set up two Chimera triolets and put an octaplus on one and a pancake lantern on another.

With this we were able to take advantage of the video capablitlies of the D3S, and the ease with which we can do a multicamera shoot.

We wanted motion so we quickly assembled our Atlas slider fitted with a Manfrotto 503 HDV fluid head so we could push and pull focus, and move the camera smoothly. We put a D3S with a 24-70 f2.8 Nikkor on the Atlas. We also put a Hague camera jib on Manfrotto 519 sticks which gave us quick and smooth up and down motion. We mounted a D3s with a Nikkor 50 1.2 to do float closeups and smooth transitional motion.

Our main camera was a D3S with a 24-70 head on. We put the Cinevate DSLR rig on a Manfrotto 536 tripod. We wanted to bring some light from behind for separation but keep it knocked down so we wanted to use the matte box barn doors to control flare and also give us the ability to use a 4x4 .3 neutral density filter.

The interview went well. Laura molded the stills and video into a tight, cohesive package--but not without incident. Three of our brand new, right out of the box compact flash cards failed to write the avi files--and of course one of those cards was the one in the main, head on camera. Which is exactly why we always, always try to have backup and multiple options.

At each stop of the roadshow, Nikon invited guest photographers to join us for an event shoot on the first day. There were usually about 15 guests, and they get to participate in the shoot, observe how Laura and I work, and ask us questions.

In Denmark, one of the guests was Nicolai Brix, a young aspiring documentary videographer. He works a day job in order to pay the bills, but his real passion is making documentaries. That probably sounds familiar to a lot of you. Nicolai showed up with a Nikon D3s in hand, rigged with a monopod and an external microphone, and set about capturing a number of clips at the cycling event, mostly of me and Laura working. He worked hard at it all day, even doing an interview with me. Nicolai went home and produced a nice documentary short, which you can view at

The next day I saw Nicolai at the presentation, and he had brought me a book that I told him I was looking for. He went to the trouble to find it and bring it to me. That brand of kindness is something to be cherished.

The cinemax in Copenhagen held an amazing crowd. They had so many questions, were so hungry to discus the process that we flat ran out of time--after a 7 hour session.

As usual we were scrambling to get everything broken down and into the truck so we could board the bus, hurry to the airport and head to the next city--this time Helsinki.

In Finland we were up and out early. We had scouting to do, and a huge setup to install in a fairly short amount of time, plus we had to drive to the town of Turku, 3 hours outside of Helsinki.

Turku Fast Forward from Lasse Pettersson on Vimeo.

Even with a full crew helping us it was going to be tight. Music videos aren't produced in a snap.

We rigged 2 overhead cameras--one for stills, one for video at the back of the room. We installed a slider (link to cinevate atlas here) camera in front of the stage. A camera jib on the side. Three more with long lenses on the edge of the dance floor on heavy tripods. Then we lit the bands dressing room.

We were shooting a music video with the Backyard Babies for their new release Abandon. They rocked the place, literally. The connection between band and audience was crazy cool and we had to capture that.

This band has been together for 20 years and they are tight. One hardworking rock band.

Heading into the club we listened to three very inebrriated Finns who staggered along on the way inside the club struggling to read the sign in the front window of our bus--one of them looked plaintively at his friends and managed “I thought we were seeing the Backyard Babies tonight, who the F@%$ is this Nikon Roadshow?.”

The band played a strong set, and by the time they finished and we broke down it was nearly 200 am. Three hours travel time back to Helsinki.

Soon we were slip sliding through the center of Finland on a full blown bus, rigged as an edit suite , as always Laura is in control of the first edit and we’re right in the thick of it. She's laying down the audio track and organizing the video while I handle the stills and the imaging.

When we get back to the hotel, we unloaded the 25 cases of gear, prepared it for shoots later that day in Helsinki---a video portrait of the band for the video open, and another take of Abandon at tomorrow nights gig.

I managed to crash for an hour, I had to head out at first light to scout locations for the opening sequence of the band for the video.

I managed to find just the right spot .We had the band walk across the frozen Baltic the Swedes of old did when they invaded.

Later that morning we showed our first cut of the video, and a number of our other multimedia and film productions to a live audience in Helsinki. Laura didn’t go to bed , she worked straight through on the edit--arriving for the second half of our presentation. You have no idea how happy I was to see her.

It was tough saying goodbye to Peter and Lasse. They tried to ease the parting with a few dozen Long Island Ice Teas.

One more day before heading Stateside. Some sleep might have been nice, but Tallin Estonia is just a short trip--a few hours across the frozen sea--and old town there is fantastic………..

It's tough to rest when there are images to be made.