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I’m a fifth generation Nebraskan, this was my first home and will be my last.

A man in Chadron, NE, holds up a photo of his mother when she was a baby, 103 years ago. She's still with us.

A man in Chadron, NE, holds up a photo of his mother when she was a baby, 103 years ago. She's still with us.

I was born in the badlands of the western end of the state. I grew up in the cattle country of the Panhandle.
Tyler Messersmith rides across the super moon on his ranch in Lakeside, NE.

Tyler Messersmith rides across the super moon on his ranch in Lakeside, NE.

It’s an American place.  It’s big, strong, solid and reliable. There is great beauty in that. Untapped reservoirs of goodness. When you spend your entire life facing a hard wind you learn a different kind of serenity.
Drew Morrow, great kid and one of my favorite photo subjects, tosses a football in the air on his family's farm.

Drew Morrow, great kid and one of my favorite photo subjects, tosses a football in the air on his family's farm.

Nebraskans are open and friendly, always willing to extend a helping hand. They draw their power from the land. The land is open, rugged, and beautiful. So are the people.
Arch Ferguson. Cowboy.

Arch Ferguson. Cowboy.

With uncomplicated sight lines, and virtually no pollution you can truly see forever on the plains of the Cornhusker state. There is an exotic component to the simple strength of the safety that envelops you there. It’s my home; physically, spiritually and emotionally.
American Bison in the fog of a chilly sunrise at the Crane Trust.

American Bison in the fog of a chilly sunrise at the Crane Trust.

When Nikon asked me to produce the first 4K UHD video done with their new flagship camera the D5, my thoughts immediately raced to the land and the people that are always there for me. The state has a big birthday in 2017, it’s 150th. This film is part of my tribute to the place that has meant so much to my family and friends all these years. My friends in Nebraska made this happen. One degree of separation is what you have with the citizenry there. Ninety seconds of solid conversation and I can find a connection with pretty much any person I talk to. The list of kindnesses that were extended to me there warrant a blog post onto itself and that will follow shortly. A few folks merit special thanks here. Katie and Kevin Morrow. Counselors. Hosts. Great friends for life.
Kevin and Katie ride a four wheeler on their farm outside O'Neil, NE.

Kevin and Katie ride a four wheeler on their farm outside O'Neil, NE.

Brad Mellema. Nebraska’s ambassador. He knows everybody, gets along with all of them, and proves it. Ted Kirk. One of my best friends. Single greatest resource in the state. Shane Aulick. I’ve known him his whole life. It’s one of those Nebraska things. Shane is a few years younger than me and one of the first scenes I remember was his parents bringing him home from the hospital after he was born. He generously reached out and invited us to shoot ariels from his helicopter. His kindness and skill made a lot of special images possible. From the vantage point he provided, I got to see vistas I’ve known my entire life from a very different perspective.
Shane's helicopter with Roy and I inside by Chimney Rock.

Shane's helicopter with Roy and me inside by Chimney Rock.

A sliver moon setting over Scottsbluff, my childhood home. This was taken from Shane's helicopter, moving at 120mph in very low light.

A sliver moon setting over Scottsbluff, my childhood home. This was taken from Shane's helicopter, moving at 120mph in very low light.

This is my fifth flagship camera release for Nikon. Like all of the other cameras before it bearing the Nikon name, the D5 is rugged, reliable, precise, innovative. It delivers more than I could ever hope for. Shooting this piece found us traveling more than 10,000 miles crisscrossing the state. I spent a month sleeping under the stars enjoying those fine summer nights. I felt like I was 10 again—until I had to stand up in the morning.
Star trails in the badlands.

Star trails in the badlands.

For all of it Kyle Henderson and Roy Rossovich were there. Providing visual support, enthusiasm, great humor and muscle power. Roy is a terrific shooter and brought a lot to the project. Kyle is the technical one, he makes the time-lapses and motion graphics work. Tricia Coyne joined us for a bit and, as always, made things lively. She is the straw that stirs the drink—and if you don’t get that one, TLC, ask your sportswriter husband. Sara Tanner, our producer. Indispensable. Her southern roots run as deep as my midwestern ones. After almost 10 years together I can almost get her to not call me Sir. Laura Heald. This is as much hers as mine. And like every project we do, none of it would be possible without support from friends across the industry. Chimera light shapers make added light look natural. Their TECH light bank for the litepanel 1x1s were used exhaustively on this trip.
A Litepanel with a Chimera TECH lightbank is held high by a manfrotto light stand

A Litepanel with a Chimera TECH lightbank is held high by a manfrotto light stand

Cinevate’s motion control atlas slider is our go to for time-lapse and controlled horizontal movement.
The Cinevate atlas 200 slider and motion control takes the D5 for a ride.

The Cinevate atlas 200 slider and motion control takes the D5 for a ride.

Manfrotto tripods and video heads give us quality support in all kinds of weather.
A D5 held up by a Manfrotto tripod looks into the sunset

A D5 held up by a Manfrotto tripod looks into the sunset

We rely on Small HD monitors to help us see as well as the cameras do.
Bill on set with a Small HD monitor attached to the D5.

Bill on set with a Small HD monitor attached to the D5.

And no project would be complete without the vast music library at Triple Scoop Music. This is my Nebraska. I hope you enjoy it.

Three years ago SI Kids Director of Photography Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli asked Laura and me to do a  piece on Erin DiMeglio, a high school quarterback in Ft Lauderdale, FL. She was great to work with, just a wonderful kid and a terrific story. One of her friends and teammates, Alex "The Buddha" Collins, was a running back who was unstoppable on a competitive south Florida high school team. He ran over everyone.  We focused on Erin, but Buddha was always there--being a buddy off the field and a strong support on.

Getting ready to board my flight today to Atlanta I watched Alex on an airport tv still at it as the featured back in Arkansas' attack.  17 carries for 91 yards, in the first half. He's been a star from the time he joined the Razorbacks.  A junior, this year he has carried for 1262 yards for a 5-6 team playing a tough SEC schedule. Nice to see a familiar face with a lot of sun shining on it.

Amine Khoury, my great friend, is a man with a huge brain and an even bigger heart. I was sitting in his office at Eastwood schools in Beirut when he turned to me with tears flowing down his face, he said you must see this, and handed me an essay written by a young child at the school. One forced by circumstance to be wise well beyond her years. Her story resonated strongly with me and I asked to meet her. Fifteen seconds into our conversation I knew I needed to share her story with as many people as possible. Her voice is quiet but strong, her words measured but powerful. She had to leave her home, and her life there, behind. For a reason she can't understand. It's time for all of us to pay attention, and to help.

From the only in Nebraska department. On our way to Gibbon Sunday night we stopped for coffee. I was paying when I heard Laura exclaim. “Katie Morrow!!!” I figured she was getting a call from the lovely Katie, but when I turned – carefully so as to not spill the coffee – there in the doorway was Katie her own self. Right behind Katie was Kevin, resplendent in one of our Nebraska Project T-shirts. They were headed home to O’Neill from Seward, a distance of about 4 hours. I know it’s rural out here, and while I realize there aren’t that many coffee shops, there are a few, and so this was a very chance meeting. K&K are a force. One of them always has the answer for my esoteric Nebraska centric requests. So when I mentioned off hand last summer I needed a song about small town life in the state Kevin looked up from the delicious bbq we were consuming and said “I’ll bet Rachel could do it.” Two phone calls later a grass covered, well-tanned young woman showed up at the Morrows from cutting the lawn at a town park and well, we knew instantly Rachel Price was perfect. We soon shot a music video in a meadow outside O’Neill that Kevin arranged for us to use. That video went viral immediately.

Rachel composed and performed the song. Back to the coffee shop encounter. Katie casually mentioned Rachel was in Nebraska on part two of her current tour, only 175 miles distant. After a quick online chat with Rachel—I love technology—we secured tickets to the show, to see her perform l at the Black Cow Fat Pig in Norfolk, NE. We started at our usual time of 430 am, spent 4 hours on the Platte, photographing the crane migration. cranes2 Cranes1 I spoke at the Grand Island Rotary club, especially fun because in the crowd of 300 was my aunt Elsie who just celebrated her 70th wedding anniversary with my uncle Allen.  She waited until after the speech to ask me the tough questions, fortunately. The crowd was great, these are my people and I owe them a lot collectively. After I finished I was talking with a group of folks one of the ladies took my hand and said I remember you when you were that 8-year-old boy you mentioned in your talk. Sure enough she had been a neighbor and had taught with my mom. That was about 50 years ago, and I remembered her as taller—then again maybe that’s because when I met her I wasn’t yet five feet tall and now I’m 6’4. Funny how that works. Laura finally pulled me away, I’ll talk with Nebraskans all day long.  And we headed out. It was a very pleasant drive north, farmers prepping their fields, that annual renewal of turning the frozen earth into bountiful fields bringing food to the world.  When you grow up in a farm community there is a special symmetry to this part of the year, a resignation that things are about to get really tough physically and very rewarding spiritually, knowing the importance of how the process works. We rolled up to the BCFP—where I sadly learned there were no t-shirts available to commemorate our visit. Seriously, how can the name of the place be so awesome and…….well, I digress. So we’re sitting at Rachel Price’s most excellent concert tonight —the woman can not only sing but she is a fine writer—and halfway through Rachel’s show her father Chuck leans across the table and said “Hey Katie Morrow, did I hear you on NPR today?” She quietly said, “Yes, you did” Small town Nebraska. How can you not love it? Then yesterday we learned that the NPPA had chosen the Nebraska Project has the Second Place winner in Documentary Multimedia Package. We are honored and owe the success of the project to the people of Nebraska, and look forward to continuing the Nebraska Project this year and next.

There was a certain magic to opening a box of exposed transparencies... an almost childlike wonder of the exploration of your own work. In years long past, Sports Illustrated would return a few hundred rolls of my out takes from the Kentucky Derby, and I would diligently sort through them, cataloging and filing the best of them. Making notes on what worked and what didn't.  How much film I shot, what they kept in the magazine's files, and what I needed to do the next time.  That process usually happened a month or two after the event. Now, two days after returning home from Lousiville, I am finishing going through the more than 15,000 files I burned through with the 25 Nikon bodies I used last weekend at Churchill Downs. The images are all sorted, captioned, and stored on raids using Aperture. I can find any image through metadata tagging in less than a second. In days gone by, it would have taken me a few seconds just to get out of my chair to head to the file cabinets to start a search. I suppose it's in my German DNA, but I love the efficiency. I enjoyed the magic, but I don't miss film.

A few images of Derby fashion for this week's digital version of Sports Illustrated.

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