Havana in Japan by Bill Frakes

Yesterday was Boxing Day. Havana and I were on the bullet train bound for Osaka. We blasted past Mount Fuji.

It seems like just yesterday when she was born. One of my favorite and most important of the more than 10 million images I've made in my career happened right after she appeared.


Now her 14th birthday is right around the corner.

We're traveling through one of the places I love most, and a land she's asked to see for more than a third of her relatively short life. It's a pleasure share with her.


She's learning again how important friends are. Our first day here two friends, Karou and Rie, took time led us through Harajuku and Roppingi Hills, giving generously of their time and consideration.

Two days ago, Christmas day, Gen broke away from work and took us through the city on an itinerary he created for Havana. He's my favorite creative director and one I've worked with on four continents over the years. Talking with him always makes me quite reflective and introspective. The twinkle in his eyes always brings a slow smile.

Watching Havana navigate a foreign land is fun. When she took her first step, I was in the room.

Her first day of school I delivered her, wide eyed and excited. John Hiatt's "Circle Back" playing premonitionly on the sound system in the car. I remember thinking that the things he referenced would all happen, I just thought it would happen slower.

Which circles back to this trip.  I'm on the road, a lot by anyone's standards. When I'm home, we go for long walks and talk about our worlds.

One of the people I turn to regularly for advice counsels me that my world is vast — as is her’s — and that changes perspective, and that I especially need to pay attention to that while I am working and teaching.

I've always been on the road — I was 14 the first time I visited Europe and the Middle East. Pretty exotic for a kid from rural Nebraska.  I was hooked immediately.

Havana got a much earlier start, and I think she'll be on the move for a long time too. She was on planes regularly hopscotching the country before she started preschool. She's spent time in Paris, Zurich, Istanbul and Tokyo. She speaks regularly with friends living in Europe.  I envy her future.


I learn a lot about communicating from her.

It helps me refine my message — something that's fairly critical to a storyteller.

Directly and indirectly we talk about what's important information and what's not.  How delivery is key.  Fast is crucial. Directness is extremely important. Subtly not so much.

She's an analog girl connected digitally to the world. She reads 1,000's of pages a week of properly printed materials, makes her own greeting and holiday cards with ink and paper, and yet she lives attached to her electronic umbilical cord — her iPhone is never far from her grasp.


It's that combination of near and far, new and old, fast and slow that I'm reaching for.

Strolls in Estonia by Bill Frakes


A long, slow afternoon walk through this ancient Nordic capitol. It is midsummer here, but it feels like Florida in early winter.

Delicious, soft and chill.

Wonderful smells, heavenly coffee.

Watching, wandering, dreaming -- intermingled with concentration, consternation and construction.

A day of rest and reflection. And progress.

Just read a perfect script for our next short film. Crafted with lightning speed for me by a woman I have known her entire adult life, and who I adore for her brilliance, soul and constant struggle with conflict.

It's her story applied with subtle genius to a current event, linking what was, what became of things and where it's headed.

Her words run deep and pure, chilling and exhilarating. From the moment I found a path for the work, I knew she should write it, and that her feelings would provide the backbone.

She's a mother, a photographer, a traveller and a writer. English is her fourth or fifth language… and more are in line after that. I know three languages, but we really only overlap in my native tongue. I can only imagine how she sounds in hers. Someday, perhaps, I'll find a way to get there. It would be a dream.

Northern Europe. Another place I feel home.

This week, we are creating multiple pieces in Estonia covering the Song and Dance Celebration. Check in on Twitter (@billfrakes), Instagram (@billfrakes) and the blog for updates and sneak looks at the final projects.

Throwback Thursday: The Kentucky Derby by Bill Frakes

Come Saturday I'll be on the track at Churchill Downs. Head on to the finish line, cradling a 800 f5.6 on a Nikon D4s.  Exactly like my first Derby in 1981 except then it was a 400 f3.5 on an Nikon F2.

I have to pinch myself to be sure I am awake. Being at the Derby, or the finish line at the Olympics, on the sideline at The Super Bowl, covering the President, covering a war, or walking in ancient cities... these are my life now, but I never take it for granted.  Thinking about Mom, my childhood and home, keeps my feet on the floor.

When they play "My Old Kentucky Home" and the horses come on to the track my heart pounds with excitement. It's showtime, and the old stadium plays host to the greatest two minutes in sports.

The Derby is my favorite annual event.  It's part sports, part culture.  The crux of my exploration of athletic competition is the intersection of motion and emotion, the sometimes chance, but more often calculated inclusion of art, commerce and athleticism into sport which so heavily influences the functioning of society through participation and observation.  And no place better than Churchill Downs during the annual running of the Kentucky Derby.

Dan Dry, one of the finest newspaper photographers ever, invited me to my first Derby more than 30 years ago.  It was a defining moment in my career.

We had a great time that year, 1981.  Gary Bogdon was with us then.  I'll see Dan and Larry shortly, it’s a yearly pilgrimage that we are all dedicated to making -- it just gets in your blood and you don't want to shake it.  It's too glorious.

Dan was on staff at The Courier Journal.  They were an incredible group. Luster.  Dry.  Farlow.  Mather.  Harris.  Montgomery. Spaulding.  Van Hook. Tom Hardin ran the place.  Their Sunday paper after the Derby was a tour de force of visual storytelling.

I made images I love to this day.  I used a remote camera for the first time ever -- boy did that start a dangerous addiction to gear!

Times change, technology evolves.  There have been years when I've used more than 60 cameras to cover the action. This year I will use about 20.

SI legends Heinz Kluetmeier, Johnny Iaacono and Jerry Cooke were there, too, in force.  The best sports photographers working at the time, I couldn't believe how sophisticated their coverage was, or just how cool they were.  I had zero idea I'd be their colleague a few short years later.

The next time I went to the Derby it was on assignment for SI.  Courtesy of Heinz.

For the next 29 years, I've known exactly where I would spend the first weekend in May.  Always with Kluet or working for him during one of his two stints as SI's Director of Photography.

Heinz is the best teacher.  He pushes me to think.  To innovate and create. To outwork everyone else.  And I always hope to bring his intensity and style.

I'm missing him here.  I expect my phone to ring a few dozen times in the next days reminding of what I need to do.

I'll do what I can so when I hear from him next week he'll be quietly smiling.

For more on the Derby, visit these videos and articles:

Anja by Bill Frakes

That laugh. Those eyes. The best.

Anja was a force. Intellectually, visually, journalistically and personally.

The body of work she put together in far too little time is as good as anything we have ever seen. A wonderful blend of action, reaction, motion and emotion.

She died senselessly. Her life stolen by a coward hiding beyond an automatic weapon and a uniform.

I adore her. Her humor, her passion, her vision, her goodness.

She just can't be gone. With all of us she will be forever here.

Links to a small portion of her work:

Update: The International Women’s Media Foundation created an award in Anja's honor. The Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award will be given annually. Learn more at

    Sportsman of the Year by Bill Frakes

    The Sportsman of the Year issue of Sports Illustrated features a photograph of Peyton Manning by SI staff photographer John McDonough.

    Peyton is having an incredible year. One more brilliant season in an amazing career. Thirty seven years old. Fifty-five regular season touchdowns.

    I shot Peyton's first SI cover. In New Orleans, on a racquetball court I converted into studio. We were in and out quickly. He was perfect.

    But that wasn't the first time Peyton was in front of my camera.  I've been lucky to photograph him - and the rest of the Manning family - many times.  My first shoot with Peyton was years before, but he wasn't the main subject of that story.  His dad, Archie, was.

    It wasn't the second time he was in front of my camera either. That happened when when I went to New Orleans to do a piece on Peyton, the most sought after recruit in the country.  I went to one of his football games, had breakfast with he and his mom, and watched as he sorted through seemingly endless boxes of recruitment letters.

    I was in Oxford years later doing a story on Eli, the youngest Manning brother. Peyton was in town, and we agreed to meet in the Grove -- the legendary center of the Ole Miss campus. A place special to all of us. Walking through the beautiful cluster of trees, Peyton turned to me and said "You're the professional Bill, just remember that I am taller." Eli smirked and I laughed. It was never in doubt.  As usual, Peyton came prepared, wearing cowboy boots with heels, and Eli was in running shoes. Classic.

    Through the years, Peyton has always been friendly and gracious. He always says hello and extends his hand, unprompted. A gentleman through and through. The grace comes naturally. The Mannings are a unique blend of sports royalty and the folks next door. Once, when I was staying at the Windsor Court hotel, the concierge called my room excitedly and announced, "Mr. Bill, come quick! Archie Manning - his own self - is here to pick you up!"

    McDonough I have known much longer. Since I was 17 actually, and that wasn't yesterday. I was a freshman at Arizona State, where John was getting a second undergraduate degree.  Separated by a continent, we've stayed close with constant conversations about photography, music -- storytelling. When we were kids, he would spend hours making a single print for reproduction -- most photographers would be satisfied with a try or two. Not John, just like now everything he shot, it had to be perfect. I value his friendship and respect his immense talent and drive.

    Just like Peyton's.

    Wishes and Friends by Bill Frakes


    It's New Year's Eve day, 2013. The first firework photograph I saw today came from, where else? Sydney, Australia.

    In 2000 at the end of the Games of the XXVII Olympiad, I was frankly whipped.

    Along with Dave Callow, my great Australian brother who selflessly devoted his time in Sydney to helping me make the best images I could possibly make, I had put in 25 straight 20 hour days. Exhausted from the stress, strain, physical and mental exertion, and last but not least the heat, we just wanted to get through the Closing Ceremony.

    But then SI's picture editor Jimmy Colton asked me where I thought I would like to work that last night, and I knew I needed to do something special. Most of my colleagues wanted to be inside the Olympic Stadium, but after 10 days of track and field -- shooting every single heat of every race at every distance, I desperately needed a change. Not only that, I was more interested in the overall spectacle showing the closing of the Games in that magnificent city that had welcomed us so wonderfully.

    There was no other place possible, we had to be looking on from Mrs. Macquaries Chair. A spectacular vantage point overlooking Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Legend has it, if you sit there at just the right time and make a wish, it will be granted.

    I had brought 25 cases of gear to Australia. So many single lens reflex cameras. All kinds of lenses. And a trunk containing some very unique and special medium format cameras. Three of which were modified by Dave to give a different look. A look that no one else would produce at these Olympics.

    Sports Illustrated ran the image above across a three page gatefold in the front of the magazine and maybe best of all the reverse side of the gatefold was an image by Heinz Kluetmeier. A former Director of Photography at the magazine, and the man who brought me to SI initially, Kluet is the best there's ever been at sports action photography. Starting with the first time I covered the Olympics for the magazine in 1992 in Barcelona, he had encouraged me to own the finish line at track, and that included figuring out ways to take Kluet's trademark images and make them even better -- something I couldn't have done without his brilliance and generous teaching.

    Standing in the finish pit three days before Closing Ceremonies, Dave and I were suddenly struck with the realization that we had 60 Nikons, a slew of lenses, all kinds of specialty gear for finish line images and underwater shots... everything, but a panorama camera. We started frantically calling every resource we could think of from our position trackside. Nobody had anything available. Every big format and panoramic camera was already rented. And then from five feet to my left came the distinctive voice of Joe McNally.

    "I have a couple with me. You can use them."

    Stunned. Really Joe? "Of course, just pack them up when you're finished and leave them at the front desk of the hotel, I'll collect them when I get back from my assignment in the Outback."

    Friends. My wish for great ones has been granted many times.

    About 150,000 folks were on the hillside with us that night and when the fireworks erupted they broke into a mass a cappella version of the de facto Australian national anthem, Waltzing Matilda. I will never forget the moment. Just magic.

    Goodbye to an Old Friend by Bill Frakes

    It's that time. Finishing projects. Culling through the million or two images produced through the year.

    Our office is tech heavy.  Raids and computers. Printers. Devices of all stripes everywhere.

    Last night an old friend moved out. Replaced by innovation and technology.

    When I arrived in Florida, fresh out of the University of Kansas School of Journalism, things worked a little different in the photo world.  I shot film, actual strips of celluloid. I processed it in wet chemicals, examined it with a loupe, and made prints.

    One of the great presents of my life showed up just before Christmas my first winter in Miami.  A giant blue industrial light table with a three foot by three viewing surface. Magnificent.

    The elf that left it on my porch didn't try to get it through the front door.  I'm still not entirely sure how we managed to get it inside unscathed, but where there's a will there's a way.

    Millions of images crossed that viewing platform, carrying with them my vision, my life's work.  Tri-X and Kodachrome, those stalwart staples of photojournalism.

    Images bound for the front pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines -- ah yes print, that ancient medium which served so many for so well for so long, and which contrary to apparent popular belief is going strong all over the planet.

    No piece of furniture, save the ancient family rocking chair, held my attention for so long or for so well.

    A decade ago digital photography took over completely in my office. Scanners, card readers and computer screens replaced the old loupes and light boxes.

    I still have millions of negatives and transparencies stored neatly in huge black filing cabinets, but as I have transferred the most important of them digitally, I have pulled open those creaking drawers less and less often.

    Finally this year, I decided painfully I needed the space for yet another bank of hard drives. Even though I seldom hunched over the piles of film evaluating for the first cogent time their value, and by fiat my success or failure at communicating the moment or story through them, it was still very tough to say goodbye. So much emotion and work tied to that surface.

    Editing then was different.  It was more solitary.  I looked at the film.  Thinking strictly about what it said or didn't.  It was a tactile process. And the light box didn't talk, not like my computer screen does, always beckoning and seducing with sounds, and lights, and distractions.

    But it's gone, those who work with me celebrating the freed up space.

    Silly as it sounds, I'm glad it's found a new home with young artists, working in an older medium who will enjoy the virtues of a slower pace of visualization and a sturdy place to support their creations.

    Time to get back to the computers and the edit.  Now, where to put my coffee cup?

    Joel Sartore by Bill Frakes

    This is one of the smartest, nicest, kindest people I know, posing with her husband Joel.

    One of the pleasures of my professional world is the wonderful colleagues I get to spend time with.

    Many of them I have known for decades, and I'm never disappointed in their generosity and friendship. Whenever I reach out one of them is always there providing support, counsel and guidance.

    My buddy Joel Sartore, grinning here because as always I bought lunch, is a brilliant and committed photographer and environmentalist. In addition to being one of the best and brightest photographers working today, he is an incredibly funny man.

    His massive ongoing project, The Photo Ark, is a display not only of his genius, but also his dedication.