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.

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

Peyton Manning. Lots of time spent covering that guy through the years.

From a teenager through a Hall of Fame career, it’s been a yearly visit.

At the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, I followed him into the scrum.

He had his young son in his arms, and after the trophy presentation he came looking for a couple of women. His mother, and his wife.

He reached for them, they reached for him. His mother caressed his cheek, he reached over the horde to touch his wife’s hand. A lovely connection in the middle of a media and fan swarm.

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Earlier those moments were less hectic to capture.  But then, we were all a lot younger.

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Education is a huge part of my life.  Both as student and teacher.

Last year, I spent close to seven weeks in Lebanon observing and working with educators. I watched the Syrian crisis from Beirut and the north.

Lebanon has a population of 3.75 million.

They are housing 1.5 million Syrian refugees, along with 500,000 Palestinians.

It’s a tough situation, financially and socially.

Imagine being uprooted, forced to leave your homeland as a child, every constant you’ve relied on changing, and being deposited in a foreign land with no idea when you can simply go home.

That’s what refugee children face.   

Their salvation is education. Finding that path when you have little control over resources is a daunting task-one that requires help from the host nation.

Tiny Lebanon has stepped up. Here is part of a conversation we had last week with Fadi Yarak at the Education World Forum in London.

He, and the people there give me hope.

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.

FAMU

Jimmy Colton reminded me of this piece in a Facebook comment yesterday.

His kind words started me thinking about a few things.

How much my personal and professional lives shifted strongly in a very short time frame.

More or less seven years ago Laura and I started producing multimedia/video pieces in earnest.   For a few reasons. We work very well together, and this format is the best way to utilize her multitude of storytelling skills. Longford storytelling was in it’s infancy and we wanted to get to it early on. It was clear the media landscape was changing and having our own production company is a good way to at least partially control what and how we approach projects — there are some serious issues that need to be talked about and we wanted to start to position ourselves in place where we could tell them. But more about that when we relaunch www.strawhatvisuals.com and www.billfrakes.com during the first week of January 2016.   

A wonderful picture editor at Sports Illustrated Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli assigned us to a do a piece on the FAMU band. I always jumped at any chance to work with her, for more than 2 decades she has been a kind, and consistently great friend first, and editor second.   

It was one of the first multimedia pieces Laura Heald and I did. Total exploration of the medium from the ground up. We had some ideas, but not much experience.

Laura did a wonderful job of both shooting and editing. We had paired one of our 300mm f2 lenses with a Nikon D90, and first time out she rocked the manual pull focus — a tough thing to do.

We were hard at work trying to finish the piece on the band.  We desperately needed a few more pieces to get it close to what we wanted—standards were different then, they have evolved massively in the past years. We had no way to put the cameras in motion then, primitive audio, and frankly very basic video files to work with. Still we had emotion, and passion for the piece and the storytelling I think carried the day.

At halftime of the game, my sister Elizabeth called to tell me our mother had passed away in faraway Nebraska. I was shaken and FAMU band director Dr. White could tell something had happened. He asked, I explained.

He brought the entire band together, said a prayer, and they sang. Incredibly generous gift.

The D90 was Nikon’s first foray into DSLR video, and thanks to William Pekala we had a couple of the units available. When he got his hands on the camera initially he called me and said you need to see this. It’s going to change your world. I don’t think either of us could have guessed how right he would be.

Steve Johnson jumped in to help us. Steve is a total band geek, and was just starting at UF. To say he was engaged, is well, a huge understatement.

Jimmy helped us figure it all out, and get it published correctly.

Lots of thoughts today mainly about what great folks I’m surrounded by.

Copyright © 2016 Straw Hat Visuals Blog.