Category Archives Guest Blogger

Photo by Bill Frakes

I grew up in a family of storytellers.

My grandfather, Bub, could tell a story better than Tom Brokaw.  In fact, he was Tom Brokaw’s first boss at WSB-TV in Atlanta.

My mom was a popular news anchor in Jacksonville, Fl, for 25 years.  She taught me the importance local activism and the difference it can make.

My dad is the quieter type.  He was a news reporter in his younger years but is now a small business owner and avid amateur photographer.  He gave me my first camera and taught me how to use it.

My background is what ultimately drew me to photojournalism in college.  It was the culmination of telling stories and making images.  The big question mark over my future suddenly disappeared.  Professional photography was where I was headed.

While a student at the University of Florida, I was introduced to Bill Frakes’ work when he gave a lecture to a group of photojournalism students.  A couple months later I saw him in the Atlanta airport and introduced myself.

We hit it off immediately.  We are aligned in a way neither of us expected.  Other than our obvious differences in age and gender, we come from opposite backgrounds.  He grew up in the sand hills of Western Nebraska.   I grew up on the beach in Florida.  Yet somehow we ended up in the same place, geographically and mentally.  We both have a work ethic that exhausts and exasperates almost everyone else we know, our humor is identical and our creative tendencies are shockingly similar.

I started working as his assistant about two-and-a-half years ago.  Bill was patient with me.  I didn’t know exactly what being an assistant entailed but learned quickly.

To get a job as an assistant you don’t have to know everything about photography, you just have to be open minded and willing to learn.  You have to listen to instruction and be willing to take chances.  Most of all you have to want to work and be flexible.

You need to be able to work with every camera format from 35 mm digital to 8×10 film.  We work with them all, and if we don’t  have what we need we get someone to build it for us.

Photo by Bill Frakes

I think that’s what ultimately made Bill decide to hire me.  I was very open to the education process.  Any project he wanted to tackle I was up for, whether I knew how to do it or not.  I never back down from a good challenge and I never quit until the job is done.

I’ve also been very lucky in that Bill has given me a lot of room to learn.  From day one he has sent me web sites, given me books and sat down and really worked with me through an idea or problem.  He has let me grow as a photographer and a person.  Through working with Bill I have not only learned the mechanics of photography, but the thought behind it.

Bill has taught me to take pictures with my heart, my mind and my soul.  The camera is a tool, albeit a very important one.  At the end of the day the photographer takes a photo, not the camera.

My grandmother riding in the hearse on the way to my grandfather’s funeral in March. (Photo by Laura Heald)

Bill exemplifies this belief in his coverage of the Kentucky Derby.

An average Derby for Bill means about 60 remote cameras, dozens of Manfrotto ballheads, magic arms and super clamps, and hundreds of feet of cable and connection cords.  This equals out to about 25 large cases of gear.

Photo by Bill Frakes

He puts cameras everywhere he can’t physically be during the race.  His position is head-on from the finish line.  The remotes are under the rail, around the turn, on the roof–anywhere he thinks he can make a photograph the readers will want to see.

Photo by Bill Frakes

Photo by Bill Frakes

Photo by Bill Frakes

Photo by Bill Frakes

Photo by Bill Frakes

What he does with the remotes is nothing short of genius.  A lot of photographers set remotes up at races like the Derby.  Very few can do what Bill can.

Bill calculates every possibility.  He pays close attention to what horses are competing and the jockeys riding them.  The under the rail remotes are set at different focal lengths and focus planes.  He has a camera set for every possible outcome, from a win on the rail to one 10 feet off; a jockey celebrating his win 10 feet before the finish line or 10 feet after.  That’s a lot of distance to cover with lenses ranging from a 14-24mm f/2.8 to a 600mm f/4.

That’s just the 30 remotes under the rail.  The rest are set to capture a graphic, something offbeat or beautiful.  He tries to find a different angle every year, and some how, after 20 years of covering the event, he always does.  He always finds a new angle or has a new technique.

He uses his tools, whether it be a Nikon D3, a Manfrotto support or a remote cable, and creates beautiful images year after year.  His mind and eye make the image. The camera is simply the vessel that allows him to capture it.

Being Bill’s assistant is an education no amount of money can buy.  Photography is one of those professions you just have to do.  Theory is an important background to have but real world application is how you learn, and learning from one of the world’s best photographers has been a dream experience.

People always ask me what an average day of work is like for me.  I never know how to answer.  There is no average day.  One day may be spent editing and organizing in the office, while the next day we are trekking through the outback of Australia or standing on a cliff over the Panama Canal.

Photo by Bill Frakes

In the last two years I’ve been with Bill on most of the 400,000 miles he’s flown.  We’ve worked on 5 continents and in at least 30 different US states.  We have fun.  Trust is everything.

Subject matter varies as widely as the locations.

For example, this summer Bill and I spent a month in Australia working on the ad campaign for the Nikon D3s.  Immediately after we finished that project, we had another ad campaign that has yet to be released.  The day after that finished we were on a plane to Berlin, Germany, to cover the World Athletics Championships for Sports Illustrated.  After two weeks of track and field, we rented a car and drove to Rome, Italy, to work on the documentary on Missy Koch that Bill discussed in his guest blog last week.

Photo by Laura Heald

Photo by Laura Heald

That was two months of work.  Each assignment was drastically different from the one before it.  Sports photography is what Bill is known for and it is something we do a lot of and enjoy.  But it is not everything we do.

Photo by Laura Heald

I say we because through the course of our working together, we have evolved from a mentor/student relationship to a business partnership.  Bill and I recently started our own multi media production company, Straw Hat Visuals.  I still work as his assistant on his Sports Illustrated assignments and I don’t think that will ever change.  But we have been actively moving into a broader range of subject matter.  We are currently in production on two ad campaigns, a music video and a long-term documentary project.

We never want to get stuck in one subject or one genre of visual communication.  Multi media has taken us to a new place visually and creatively.

We are constantly evolving, learning new technology and trying new techniques.  We work fast and decisively.  Bill’s mind is constantly in motion.  I not only want to keep up, I want to be ahead.

The new cameras have allowed us to do as two people what it used to take a crew of 30 to accomplish.  Everything we need is now in one camera body, one tool.  We never leave home without a D300s or D3s over our shoulders.

Our individual skills have been extremely important in this evolution.  Bill is really good at conceptualizing an idea and executing it.  I’m good at putting it together in post-production, whether we’re creating videos in Final Cut Pro or still productions in Aperture.

We have access to every imaging and editing tool you can imagine.    Bill’s Aperture library now has over 1.5 million images.   We have  91 terabytes of raided storage.  And well over a million analog images. Fortunately we have an offsite storage location–our office is comfortable but not that big.    It’s a lot to keep up with but without it our production would crash and burn.

Bill has done a significant amount of directing music videos and television spots.  Documentary film is one of the places we are headed

In this world of tight budgets we’re working hard to streamline our operation.  We are learning how to create multiple platform stories from start to finish.

All gear and technology aside, we are ultimately storytellers.  We want to push the creative envelope and create content that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, beliefs and biases across every platform, traditional and new that you can imagine.

Our latest multi media was posted on SI.COM last week.  It’s on sorority and women’s league flag football at the University of Florida.

Photo by Laura Heald

The story isn’t complicated or uncommon.  It is just a fun story that is not commonly told.  The key for us is finding an angle or something humorous in the every day.

From Gainesville, FL to Beijing, China, Bill and I have traveled near and far to cover stories across all genres and age groups.  At 23 years old, I am one of the lucky ones.

As our friend Mark Suban from Nikon Professional Services said to me recently, “Bill has had a career most photographers only dream about, but man, I want to be in Laura’s shoes.”

Thanks Scott and Brad for creating a place for photographers to visit and learn.  I’m incredibly flattered that you asked me to contribute.


There is no off position on my visual switch.  I am constantly watching, thinking, calculating, enjoying.

For me this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I want the images I make to have meaning now, and later.  I am as engaged and passionate about the work now as I was that first magical time I saw a print pop up in the developer.  And that was a few million images ago.

I fully enjoy technology.  Okay, I LOVE technology.  It’s fun to have, hold and appreciate just for itself.  But what’s important about it is that it allows me to constantly upgrade the way I work.

For me using new stuff to make my work easier is just being lazy.  I need to use it to make the storytelling better.  I carry Nikon cameras that can see in the dark.  I’m amazed at how wonderful they are.

When I started making images the cameras had exactly two controls on the body that I used.  Shutter speed dial.  Shutter release.  They allowed me to freeze split seconds in time.

My new cameras have thousands of combinations of controls—so many possibilities. So many different ways to capture decisive moments of motion and emotion which is the integral part of what I hope to accomplish.  These cameras let me do more than communicate with frozen moments.  Now I can record ambient audio, and motion.

My computers are fast—they’re Macs with as much RAM as I can buy.  I have fiber optic cabled raids.  I have portable rugged raids.  I use Apple software to keep my images right where I want them.

Part of the challenge of the marathon is having a way for the images I’ve made over the past 30 years or so to have relevance.

When I was shooting film, I realized that I would need organization for my images.  So I developed a scheme for that.  Big shiny black cabinets, with lots and lots of slide pages stuffed with processed transparencies, and even more envelopes full of black and white negatives.  Neatly arranged in a way that made sense to me, and hopefully to the others working with the material.

Then digital came along and the challenges became different.  I had to figure out how to handle all of the images I was capturing digitally, and integrate that with my analog files.

Software offered the tools I needed to archive my photographs–with metadata–that allowed the images to have relevance to this day.  Without the metadata, it would be like having a giant stack of unorganized slide sheets.  Yeah, the images are in there somewhere, but it would be so hard to find them, it’s almost as though they were dead.

I use Aperture to make sense of it all.  It allows me to make my digital archive mimic my analog one—which is slowly but surely and securely being converted to digital.

A lot of folks have made sacrifices to allow me to work freely.  I owe it to them to work every day as hard as I can to contribute what I can.  Now more than ever the world needs photojournalists working openly and honestly to bring information to every possible viewing platform.  Sharing their thoughts, experiences, feelings and vision.

My creative partner is Laura Heald.  She’s aggravatingly young and talented.  At 23 she produces work that leaves me shaking my head in admiration.

We have our own production company, Straw Hat Visuals. Terry McDonell, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated asked us to produce some visual web content and with help from a bunch of our friends—Jimmy Colton, Steve Fine, Don Henderson and Bill Pekala chief among them –we jumped into making multis on tight deadline.

Multimedia production is now my favorite form of storytelling, combining the best of HD video, still imaging, ambient audio, a well crafted script and music.  The new cameras—I use the Nikon D3s and Nikon D300s– are capable of producing technically sensational images, both still and video.

You have to use them intelligently especially when shooting video by using proper supports to eliminate shake and help with consistent composition.

You also have to add light to accent and explain what you’re shooting.

It has allowed us to expand our visual capabilities.  We can now create three different kinds of media with one tool.  Working in this new realm of media has been creatively liberating, allowing us to create content that before would have required extra equipment and people.

Backpack journalism.  That’s where it’s at for us.  We can go anywhere, cover most anything for a wide variety of viewing mediums using the tools we can carry on our backs.  And a few shipping cases.  (We have a list of the gear we take on assignments on our website.)

Which leads me to this:

25 years ago I spent many, many hours with a remarkable woman documenting what was happening to her.  Missy was an athletic university student who lost her right leg to a terrible cancer.  The Miami Herald published the story on Christmas, 1984.

This past summer Laura and I covered the World Athletics Championships in Berlin for Sports Illustrated.

When we finished with the track, we rented a car and drove to Rome.  I had a story to which I needed to add.  And Laura, as she always does, offered to help.

Missy Koch Billingsley is my dear friend. I knew Missy before she found out she had cancer. Like all of her friends I was stunned, paralyzed, when I found out. For the next year I was with Missy documenting what she was feeling, how she was coping, just being there. She promised me from the start that she would beat the cancer, that even after she lost her leg that she would walk again, and she did.

We’ve stayed in touch through the years and I’ve watched her work through the challenges surrounding being a cancer survivor.  She is right where she always said she’d be, exploring the world with her family –happy and healthy.  She lives in Rome with her composer husband Todd Billingsley and their three children—Joey, Lukas and Abbey—and is dedicated to making life better for everyone she comes in contact with.

When things get tough I only have to look to Missy for inspiration.

If you want to learn more about Missy, her husband Todd has written a book that you can find on his website

Thanks Scott and Brad for inviting to me to blog.   You’ve built a really nice place for all of the rest of us to visit and learn and I’m incredibly flattered that you asked me to contribute.

Legendary sports photographer and photojournalist Bill Frakes. I (Brad) have been a fan of Bill’s work since before I knew his name.  His images and stories have always left an impression on me as a growing photographer.  He’s a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated, and has photographed everyone from President Obama to Michael Jordan to Tim Tebow.

In his blog for tomorrow, he discusses the transition from film to digital, his love of technology, and his passion for storytelling.  He also includes a heart wrenching, yet inspiring multimedia piece on the story of his friend who lost her leg to cancer early in life, but has gone on to live her dream.

Bill was also one of the first people to get his hands on a D3s and created the video below for Nikon.

So come back tomorrow and enjoy what Bill has in store for us.  In the meantime, feel free to check out his website, as well as his media website, Straw Hat Visuals.  (And while you’re there, go ahead and familiarize yourself with Laura, who is next week’s guest blogger!)

Being an artist sucks. Being an artist is awesome.

Trey’s new book “A World in HDR” has just been released. Besides a practical tutorial on HDR, there is ample discussion on new ways to look at art and the internet. This experiment started a number of years ago when he first got started sharing his HDR Tutorial. Below is an extended exposition on some of these thoughts. Send him your thoughts on Twitter at @TreyRatcliff .

How have we all gotten ourselves into this situation? What is going on with being an artist on the Internet anyway?

Let’s face it. There are multiple people that live inside of us. One of us cares what other people think. One of us could care less what other people think. One of us really wants to make money. One of us really does it for the art.

I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, when having “multiple personalities” was seen as something horrible and possibly dangerous. We all know one of Sybil’s personalities was a bloodthirsty murderer, and if we couldn’t control them, what could we possibly do when we have the occasional dire thought?

I’m here to talk about all these personalities and why the cacophony can be an incredible source of inspiration and drive.

Just Find Some Beauty

I’ll start this article by telling you the important conclusion: root out the beauty from the chaos. Throughout this treatise, I’ll sprinkle in pretty images I’ve taken over the years. Despite all the psychological delving herein, it’s nice to be reminded that beauty exists. Some of you may know that I am heavily influenced by the Impressionists of the late 19th century, and in particular by Auguste Renoir, who said, “To my mind a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful and pretty. Yes, pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.”

Farewell India - The Taj Mahal
Farewell India – The Taj Mahal

Why do we care what other people think?

Aren’t we independent thinkers? Do we really care if (more…)

[Ed. Note – Some of the imagery within this post contains artistic nudity. If you prefer not to view these images, don’t click the “Read the rest of this entry” link.]

There never is a dull moment, because every moment is meaningful.


Howard Schatz: Photographer, Retinal Specialist M.D.

Howard Schatz is a man not easily described. His interests and passions run deep and broad. His choice of photographic subjects is wide ranging, from pregnancy, to newborns, to athletes and dancers and people with rare talents. He studies and photographs the human body and the way it moves, as well as light, water and fauna. Howard photographs stunning models flaunting their freakish beauty in extraordinary settings one day, and rare flowers exhibiting pure grace the next. Prima ballerinas underwater at his custom designed pool in a dream of weightlessness, and breakdancers on the stage of his versatile New York studio.

He photographs actors famous the world over as well as those not yet known anywhere. He directs them for his lens from no more than two feet away. Prisoners at Sing Sing, the homeless on the streets of San Francisco, club goers in New York, Cirque Du Soleil in the ring, and boxers, both retired and still fighting, the world over all make appearances in his camera. He paints fonts with light and creates other fonts out of nimble and acrobatic dancers. He shoots campaigns for Sprite, Showtime, Ralph Lauren, Epson, Neil LaBute and Macdonalds. He shoots editorials for Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and Time to name just a few. He does all of this with an exactitude fitting a surgeon. His photographs are exhibited at museums and galleries in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Canada, Argentina, New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, Tokyo, Edinburgh, Brussels, Stockholm, Paris, Cannes, Florence, Antwerp, Milan, Lausanne, Lisbon, Kiev and on and on…


Myself: Bart Babinski, Howard’s assistant; Aspiring Photographer

Born in Poland, grown up in Libya, Italy, Germany and northern New Jersey; BFA in photography NJCU; Cinematography student at The New School and the Kieslowski Film Dept. of Silesia University; Passionate about looking, seeing, and making images, plus life, people and the world, in all its color.

We all know what it is, but what is it really? (more…)

…the next person in our Assistant Guest Blog series, Bart Babinski!  Bart has been working with Howard Schatz for the past few years.  After reading his blog, I (Brad) can tell you that he’s learned quite a lot about many different types of photography from Howard.  It’s interesting to hear him talk about finding ways to make the impossible possible, because Howard does some crazy experiments!

So check back tomorrow to get some insight into the world of a very innovative photographer and what it’s like to help him break down the walls of impossibility!