A long road trip always guarantees new books, bunches of them.    

A few weeks ago in the Bay Area, I was visiting one of my favorite haunts, Keplers. A most excellent bookstore in Menlo Park.

A new book about James Brown by a man whose work I love caught my eye.

James McBride.

I bought a dozen tomes I’m anxious to dive into, but no question what I was reading first.


From his new book, Kill ’em and Leave, talking about the South he writes, “..the land that produced him is a land of masks. The people who walk that land, both black and white, wear masks and more masks, and then masks beneath those masks.”

In the Color of Water, he wrote this about his mother:

“Family love: It is firm footing, something to cling to in a frightened world, that seems to be out of control with war, turmoil, terrorism and uncertainty. It is our highest calling and greatest nobility.

So if you see a woman driving in Trenton with her blinkers on. Look out. Back off. Give her some space. She could go left, she could go right.  She could go into Heaven clear out of sight!  But no matter which way she goes, she’s not likely going your way.

And if she is, don’t bother her with any questions about it, or you’ll get an earful of God.”

And in “Family. A Celebration of Humanity”, he wrote this about mine:

“Many years ago, a young American mother named Agnes Frakes pointed out images all around her tiny Nebraska town to her four-year-old son Bill: a cat’s shadow, a pool of oil beneath a car, his own name etched in a cookie tray of caramel popcorn. The boy looked at the objects and saw nothing. ‘Look again,’ she said. ‘There is always more there than what your eye sees…’ Years later the boy became one of the most accomplished photographers in the world.”

havana kelton frakes

My mother, Agnes Frakes with my daughter, Havana.

I think of my mother often, and every Mother’s Day find time to revisit a short film I created about her and her time teaching in a one-room school house in rural Nebraska. I invite you to view, A Teacher Remembered.

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.


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.

This is home.  This is Nebraska.  This is the American west.  The last frontier.

Last fall while working on the Nebraska Project, I spent a good chunk of time in Scotts Bluff county.

Growing up here I read about everywhere else.  I was restless and ready to go.  I needed to see what was out there.

Little did I know that after seeing so much of the world this simple view would stir so many emotions deep in my heart. 


Over the last year while sharing images from the on-going Nebraska Project, many people have expressed an interest to see the state for themselves. To experience the American West firsthand.

I am excited to announce the Nebraska Sandhills photography workshop October 7-10, 2016.  During our time together in Nebraska, there will be classes on creating video with DSLR cameras, gathering audio in the field, making powerful still images and creating compelling time-lapse sequences.

Click to learn more about how you can join this exciting trip.   


It is no secret that one of my favorite sporting events to cover is the Kentucky Derby. From the pageantry to the exhilarating race, the first Saturday in May is special.

Today, Calvin Borel announced his retirement. A wonderful person and talented jockey, he was an entertainer on and off the track. Watching him ride the rail with Mine That Bird at Churchill Downs may have been one of the most exciting things I have ever witnessed in sports.


With 50-1 odds, Calvin Borel went down in the history books. In honor of his career, I invite you to take a look back to that race with a piece we did for Sports Illustrated.

Mine That Bird (8) crosses the finish line with jockey Calvin Borel aboard Horse Racing: 2009 Kentucky Derby Saturday Churchill Downs/Louisville, KY 02-MAY-2009 X82284 TK3 CREDIT: Bill Frakes

Today, we remember Jeff Lukas, the “glue” behind D. Wayne Lukas Racing Stables for many years. Jeff was instrumental in developing some of horse racing most storied stallions, including 1988 Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors.


Three years ago, Laura and I were fortunate enough to work with our dear friend Tim Layden on Jeff’s story.

Copyright © 2016 Straw Hat Visuals Blog.