Archive for 'Behind the Scenes'

One of our tents under the Milky Way in Moose's Pasture.

I watched the Great American Eclipse from one of the most American places on Earth - a cattle ranch in Sheridan County, Nebraska. The eclipse has been a future event for an eternity now; something we have been thinking about and planning for a long time. When it finally got here, it ended far too quickly. The Nebraska Project has been the air I breath for the last three years. I’ve spent more time in America’s sandhills than I ever imagined I would. In fairness, until a few years ago, I didn’t know the sandhills even existed. I thought - like most people - that Nebraska was a flat land of corn and cows. What I have found instead - the rolling hills, the endless sky, the rugged badlands - is some of the most surprisingly beautiful country on Earth. There is no place I would rather watch day become night than a cow pasture in Western Nebraska. This particular pasture is one of my favorites. I’ve probably spent a total of a month in this particular spot over the last three years. The closest “city” (city being a town of about 8,000 people) is over 40 miles away, so the night sky screams with cosmic beauty. You don’t just see the Milky Way, but galaxies beyond.

Setting up an overnight, motion-controlled time-lapse at sunset.

The field is called Moose’s Pasture, named after a horse called Moose. I never knew the origin of the name until this trip, when we found the bony remains of Moose himself (Moose even made a cameo in the time-lapse video - see below).

This trip was work, but it was also play. We had friends join us in Moose’s Pasture from New York, Colorado and Texas. When Bill and I camp out, it’s rustic. With all the camera equipment we travel with, we pretty much only have space for our tents and sleeping bags. But our friends brought the works -  stoves, generators, tables, chairs, a fire pit, food, a camper and a side-by-side. We quickly turned Moose’s Pasture into a temporary town.

Our temporary city in Moose's Pasture.

Each night we sat under the stars and talked about life and photography. The pasture itself is a technological purgatory - the only cell service available was atop a very steep sandhill - forcing us to enjoy the company provided. We spent a total of four nights in Moose’s Pasture - two before and two after. We wanted to arrive enough ahead of time to map out exactly where the sun would be at the moment of first contact, through totality, until fourth contact. We knew eclipse day - August 21 - would fly by and wanted to be prepared well in advance.

Planning notes for the eclipse

We used a total of 30 cameras and lenses for the eclipse - everything from a 14-24mm f/2.8 to an 800mm f/5.6 on D5, D500 and D810 bodies.

Cameras, lenses and tripods, built and ready for totality.

Not one of us had ever personally witnessed a total solar eclipse before. We had each spent hours researching the different stages, different filters and different settings, but wouldn’t know for sure what would work best until the moment the moon covered the sun. To make sure we got the shots we wanted, we had several duplicate setups with slightly different settings and filters.

Setting up at D810 with a 14-24mm f/2.8 with a 10-stop filter behind some wildflowers.

The lead up to the eclipse was intense. We had every camera checked and double checked and placed in the pasture at least an our before first contact. Once first contact began, we didn’t want to be scrambling for cards, batteries or different lenses. We had cameras pointing directly at the sky, cameras behind a windmill, cameras behind wildflowers, cameras overlooking the valley, cameras on top of sandhillls, motion-controlled cameras.

Our favorite piece of timel-apase equipment - the Cinevate motion-control sytem on their Atlas 200 slider. It's the most solid motion-control equipment available.

We wanted to see the eclipse from every angle. We weren’t just concerned with what happened to the sun, but what happened to the land. What we experienced was not in the literature I read. In honesty, I thought the eclipse was going to be overhyped. It’s the only thing I have heard about - outside general news - for months. And, frankly, for the first 80 minutes, I felt it was. Then, when the sun was about 90% covered, the light took on a silver hue - a color temperature I have never seen - the air temperature dropped about 20 degrees, the wind - which had been blowing ceaselessly - picked up, and the crickets began singing. As the moon finally enveloped the sun a ring of orange appeared on the horizon, the clouds surrounding the moon and sun glowed an eery blue, and a star appeared to the west.

Just before totality I pointed my unfiltered 600mm f/4 toward the sun and captured this image through thick clouds.

Still, the night sky we had been promised never happened. While it got significantly darker, it was nowhere near the darkness we had read about. All the cameras we had setup to capture that darkness had to be quickly changed. I yelled some unsavory remarks and ran to each camera, trying and failing to change them all; all the while being sure to look around myself for at least a moment to take in the scene. Totality seemed to last for a split second. Looking back at the time stamps in each camera, it lasted for two minutes and thirty one seconds, but in the moment it felt much shorter. Once totality was over I cursed myself for missing so badly on the dark exposures - most of the frames were pure white. Completely unusable. Everyone told me not to worry about it, that it was impossible to predict something I had never experienced. Still, when you spend so much time and energy to get something right, getting it wrong stings. That sting was relieved a bit the next day when I opened up a file from a 35mm on a D810 I had directly under the windmill and found the picture I had been hoping for. The one wide angle frame I got of totality. A picture that would not have worked if it had gotten as dark as I had planned on it getting.

My one wide-angle frame from the midday moon.

I stayed up late the night of the eclipse processing time-lapses. Deadlines don’t care if you’re in a wifi-less pasture. The next morning I woke up to everyone packing their things at 6:30am. I sleepily said my goodbyes before going back to bed (bed being a small thermarest and a sleeping bag). When I emerged from my tent 2 hours later, Moose’s Pasture was empty. The cadre of friends had left. The event we had been anticipating all year was over. I walked over to my small gas burner and made coffee. Then I sat on a pelican case by myself - the chairs and table had left with the early risers. I took a deep breath of the unseasonably cool morning air. The stress and adrenaline from the day before melted away and I was left with deep sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the incredible experience, the friends that made Moose's Pasture a temporary home, and the time I have been lucky enough to spend in Nebraska's beautiful sandhills.

Most of my work is documentary in nature, whether it's daily life, portrait, sports or news. I'm working quickly and in a wide range of environments and conditions.

So for me there can be no one lighting setup. The gear, and how I use it, is as diverse as the subjects in each photo.

There is always a solution: Elinchrom.

Elinchrom flash systems have been my go-to lights for over a decade because the results are constant. I know exactly what I’m going to get out of each strobe, each light modifier, each power setting.

Over the last couple months I have taken my Elinchrom gear with me on a number of assignments and two stand out for the results and diversity of my subject matter.

The first shoot was a series, portraits and a video Laura Heald and I did on Officer Bobby White of the Gainesville Police Department and the foundation he has set up to build basketball courts for kids in the Gainesville community. 

The story started with a dashboard camera video clip that went viral. Officer White was called in to deal with a noise complaint. Kids were playing basketball in the street at 5 o’clock in the evening. Instead of telling the kids to stop, he picked up a ball and played with them.

My idea for the portrait series was to go back to the spot where this story began and make portraits of the kids in their environment. For that, the Elinchrom Quadra with an Elinchrom Rotalux mini octa was the perfect way to go. The setup is small and mobile, while still offering powerful and beautiful light.


Bill shooting portraits for the basketball cop story.


Bill shooting portraits for the basketball cop story.

Basketball Cop Pictures by Bill Frakes and Laura Heald for ESPN Dennis Darby, 16

Dennis Darby, 16

Basketball Cop Pictures by Bill Frakes and Laura Heald for ESPN Tyree Thomas, 16, sitting on the hoop that was in the street. Since the day Officer White arrived on January 15th, the Basketball Cop Foundation has built a court in his backyard so they no longer have to play in the street.

Tyree Thomas, 16

The second shoot was at the Invictus Games in Orlando. I wanted to make a series of elegant yet simple portraits of our country’s most inspiring athletes. 

I wanted the athletes to be separate from the background. It was their faces and bodies that were important, not the environment they were in. To do that, I used my Elinchrom 2400 w/s pack with a 59” Rotalux Octabox and a simple, muslin backdrop. 


Swimmer Elizabeth Marks with her medals from the games. Marks was wounded in Iraq. Her tattoo is her life story and covers many of the scars she suffered while serving.

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 11: Stefan Leroy, 25, and his service dog, Knoxville. Leroy served in the Army and is from Jupiter, Florida. He competed in track and volleyball. Bill Frakes for ESPN

Stefan Leroy and his service dog Knoxville.

One of the best parts of our job is getting random, unsolicited inquiries from future clients and fellow artists.

In May, Jaymie Jones reached out. Jaymie and her daughter Kelli are Belles & Whistles, a country singer/songwriter duo out of Omaha, NE.


Kelli and Jason paddle through the pond at Katie and Kevin’s farm in O’Neill at sunset.

They had seen the Nebraska Project and wanted to be a part of it. Jaymie offered time and music. She sent over a handful of tracks for us to choose from and we quickly settled on Luna Blue as a good place to start.

We had already made plans to be in Nebraska in early June, so we scheduled some extra days, called some friends for help, and made plans for another music video.

We’ve spent a lot of time in Nebraska over the last year and a half, but a of couple places have stuck out as favorites; places where we know we can make images no matter what. - A wilderness area near Hastings, NE. - and Kevin and Katie Morrow’s farm north of O’Neill, NE.


Katie holds up a Sunbounce to light Kelli’s face at sunrise in Liberty Cove.

We told Jaymie and Kelli that we’d bring the cameras - a couple fresh-out-of-the-box Nikon D5 bodies and a RED Dragon - if they brought the props and a model, namely a boy and a truck.

They happened to find the boy and the truck in O’Neill, NE. Jason Hahlbeck is a rising senior at O’Neill High School and happens to be good friends with Kevin and Katie’s oldest daughter Emily. Things seem to work that way in Nebraska - everybody helpful, everybody connected.  


Jason Hahlbeck on set.

This was the first time we’ve had significant time with the D5 in our hands since we shot My Nebraska last September and it felt good to be shooting 4k UHD with the same camera we use for making high quality stills.

For this video, we wanted to employ a lot of motion, so we rigged our EZFX jib and our Movi M10 with a D5, Nikkor lens and Small HD monitor. Katie Klann, the newest edition to the Straw Hat team, is fast becoming an expert at getting the Movi ready to go quickly.


Kelli stands in a pond for a shot in Luna Blue while the SHV team preps the EZFX jib.


Katie Klann running the Movi-M10 with a Nikon D5 and 14-24mm lens.

We wanted to shoot a majority of the video in low light, which the D5 is perfect for. We shot every day at sunrise and sunset. To make our lives a little easier, we camped every night so we were in place the moment we woke up each morning.


Our camp site outside Hastings, NE.

For this project, we utilized the newest additions to our equipment case - two light meters from Sekonic. The Litemaster Pro (L-478DR-U-EL) is key when calibrating cameras. The Nikon D5 bodies are amazingly consistent, as are the RED Weapon and Dragon bodies, but they work very differently. When we need to mix files, the Litemaster Pro is our go to meter. The Nikons are extremely accurate when it comes to color balance, zero fluctuation between bodies. The need for calibration comes in multi camera production with the light coming from different directions, and in diverse ways. And then there is post production to consider. For documentary work, we want to present the light temperature and intensity as we saw it. For music videos that's not necessarily the case, and keeping things straight is a different challenge. The Sekonic C-500R Prodigy Color Temperature helps us calculate not only what is, but what we want it to be.

Overall, we spent four days with Jaymie, Kelli and Jason and shot two music videos in that time. Luna Blue is the first of those videos. We invite you to watch it on

This week I'm at my favorite yearly event, Louisville's own -- the Kentucky Derby. It's my 34th trip to the Run for the Roses. Since my great buddy Dan Dry invited me to join him here in 1981, I've only failed to be at Churchill Downs once on the first Saturday in May. In 1994, my then boss and always mentor Heinz Kluetmeier sent me to Beijing, I think it was because he wanted the finish line to himself, but that's another story for another time. There's nothing quite like the Derby.  It's an event steeped in style and tradition. Rich in nostalgia. Drama. Intrigue. My gear list for this event is sizeable. I'm bringing 40 DSLR cameras, 44 lenses that range from 14mm to 600mm. 60 magic arms, 100 super clamps, radios, hundreds of feet of wire, connectors, tripods, and a bunch of other stuff that makes all of this work. The way I cover the race changes every year.  Which brings new challenges, new demands, lots of worry, and a whole bunch of stress. The first time I showed up to cover the race I had three cameras and three lenses. One of those lenses, a Nikkor manual focus 50mm f1.4 has been with me every single visit I've made to the Derby.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Bill Frakes for ESPN)

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Allison Hess)

I'm not superstitious. This little guy has earned a permanent spot in the rotation. Laura says I'm a softie.  Not everyone would agree with her. But I am sentimental. Most of my gear goes in cases and travels under the plane.  Only a few things get carried into the cabin with me. When I was packing and running low on space it was the one lens I refused to remove from my roller case.  Far from the most expensive, or fragile, but maybe the most precious. No idea how many images I've made with him, several hundred thousand any way, and while not all of them have worked out that's been my fault. overhead_100_W He's hung from the roof, he's been buried in the dirt under the rail, traveled through the crowds affixed to every flagship body Nikon has produced with an F mount -- at least 12 different models -- he's been left out in the rain, and under a blazing sun. Saturday, he'll be doing some heavy lifting again, attached to a D500.  And you'll see the results. Follow me on Instagram (@billfrakes) and Twitter (@billfrakes) for complete ESPN coverage of this year’s Derby.

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of working once again with the talented Rachel Price in her hometown of O'Neill, Nebraska.

We were all going to be in the state at the same time. Bill and Laura were working on a continuation of the Nebraska Project. Rachel was home for some tour dates.

We were able to assemble a great team last month for our continued work out there. Roy Rossovich came to town from Stockholm, Tricia Coyne flew in from North Carolina, and Kyle Henderson joined from Indiana.

In the middle of our various work schedules, we were able to get everyone together for an afternoon to shoot this cover of Johnny Cash's “Ain't No Grave.”

Our good friends, Katie and Kevin Morrow, chipped in with some pre-scouting help. No one knows that area better than Kevin, and he found an old graveyard between farms outside of O'Neill.

We got lucky on the weather. Overcast was exactly what we needed for the mood. We worked quickly, shooting everything on the Red Dragon using three Nikkor lenses - the 24mm PL, the 45mm PL and the new 300mm f/4.

Rachel Price on set/

Rachel Price on set.

It was windy that day and Rachel couldn't here the portable speaker, so we attached an iPhone to her back with some tape.

It was windy that day and Rachel couldn't here the portable speaker, so we attached an iPhone to her back with some tape.

DOP Roy Rossovich runs the Red.

DOP Roy Rossovich runs the Red.

Bill gives direction on a jib shot for the opening scene.

Bill gives direction on a jib shot for the opening scene.

We wanted the perspective control lenses to give the video a dreamy feel. We coupled that with some motion employed by the Cinevate Atlas 200 slider and an EZ-FX jib.

We hope you enjoy the video. You can watch it now. And Happy Halloween!

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