Circles

A spiral staircase in a hotel in London, representing my current mood.

I’ve been running in circles all week; working on a video edit I should have been done with 10 days ago, trying to start a home renovation with no beginning in sight, making everyday plans and decisions I feel like I’ve made a thousand times.

It hasn’t been a bad week, just a repetitive one.

Over the years I've noticed I have creative cycles. Every few months or so, I hit a funk. I am currently experiencing one of those funks. 

I can't get out of my own way. I've been making technical errors I haven't made in years. I've had trouble connecting story elements that I know are right in front of me; like a word on the tip of my tongue I can't seem to find what I'm looking for.

These cyclical funks used to really get me down. I'd get depressed wondering if lightning would ever strike again; if I'd ever make another picture, write another line or shoot another video worth anything.

I now see these funks as necessary time down.

I spent many years burning myself out trying to force my way out of these fruitless periods. I now know that if I'm not feeling the magic, banging my head against a computer for hours isn't going to help. It's only going to make it worse.

This week hasn't been totally lost. I finally captioned and uploaded some images that have been at the top of my to do list for weeks. I even made some progress on the aforementioned video edit before being side-tracked by everyday issues like putting my clothes in the wash only to realize I was out of detergent (true story).

So now, instead of aimlessly listening to interviews I have now heard several hundred times, I'm going to walk to a local art festival, I'm going to drink a beer with friends and I'm going to watch the Jaguars play what I hope will be mediocre football.

Tomorrow will be a new day. The circle will continue spinning and maybe - just maybe - this funk will be over.

Work and Play

Trying a different angle for our Aperture 3 shoot in 2009.

I was a pretty serious tom boy as a kid. I played soccer at recess, wore Umbro shorts and Nike t-shirts, and had my hair in an eternal ponytail.

I didn't start wearing dresses regularly until I was about 19 and still don't remember to put on make-up everyday. I didn't know my athleticism and distaste for uncomfortable clothing was abnormal until I hit third grade. Suddenly gender became a thing and I was somehow in the middle.

Then, one day on the playground, I noticed another girl sitting on a bench in Umbro shorts and a ponytail. She was in my class, but I hadn't talked to her yet (I was also deathly shy). She was eating Goldfish - my favorite snack - so I took the opportunity to offer a trade:

“I'll give you half my Nutter Butter for half your Goldfish,” I said softly, offering my Little Debbie delight.

She agreed to the trade and a friendship was born.

Twenty-two years later, Sierra Poske is still one of my best friends.

We bonded in elementary school because we were both athletes. I played every sport fairly well. She played one exceptionally well - tennis. We once matched against each other in a tennis tournament. She beat me 6-0, 6-1. I'm still proud of the one game I won.

We survived middle school awkwardness and high school bad decisions together.

Seniors in high school. I'm on the far left, Sierra is the red-head on the right.

Seniors in high school. I'm on the far left, Sierra is the red-head on the right.

In 2005 she went off to Wake Forest on a tennis scholarship while I went to the University of Florida on an academic one.

Then, in the spring of 2009 just after we had both graduated from college, Bill called me with a potential shoot. Apple was gearing up to release Aperture 3, the third iteration of their photo archiving software. This version, unlike it's predecessors, would incorporate video and audio into the workflow, which was becoming increasingly important as DSLR cameras began to include video functions. 

Apple needed material to include in the demo and tutorial material, and for the in-box brochure. They were hoping for a couple options, and at least one that included a sport. 

Our problem was that the summer of 2009 was already pretty full - we had a month in Australia, two weeks in Germany and two weeks in Italy already blocked out. Whatever we did, we needed to do it soon and hopefully close to home. Bill was struggling to come up with affordable options.

“I know a pretty good tennis player,” I offered.

When you tell a collegiate tennis player to aim for the camera, they hit the camera.

Two weeks later we were shooting. Luckily, we live in Florida, so finding a tennis court and a partner to hit balls to her was easy.

Disclaimer: never play tennis on a court with this many loose balls. You will sprain and ankle. For this shot we spread tennis balls all around the court and had Sierra stay in the same position for each shot. Though the balls aren't a realistic representation of a tennis practice, they are graphically pleasing.

We captured most of the images at the tennis courts at the ATP Tour Headquarters, shot weightlifting in her parent's garage, an interview at my parent's house (complete with homemade brownies) and morning jogs on the beach.

Walking down the beach after a morning jog. Sierra jogged. I did not.

As shoots go, it was a pretty great one. It's not often I get to mix work and play so seamlessly. We literally laughed our way through the three-day shoot. Working long hours under a hot Florida sun just seemed easier with one of my oldest friends in front of the camera.

The early stages of DSLR video. A rare Nikkor 300mm f/2 on a Nikon D90 - the first DSLR to capture video - on a Manfrotto tripod with a fluid head.

Sierra has been on my mind this week (hence this blog). This weekend she's coming back to town - she's currently living in Washington, D.C. after stints in Azerbaijan with the Peace Corps and Vermont for graduate school - for her bachelorette party.

We've been together through a lot over the years. There have been a lot of tears - happy and sad ones (though more happy) - and a lot of laughs.

This weekend will be much the same, celebrating what is still to come.

The Red Center

At the Devil's Marbles, or Karlu Karlu, in the outback of the Northern Territory, Australia.

This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!
— John Ross, Australian Overland Telegraph Line expedition, 1870

The outback is a wild and magical place where I was lucky enough to spend a week in 2009.

Over the last three weeks I've been highlighting my 2009 trip to Australia for an advertising campaign I was helping Bill Frakes with for the then soon-to-be-released Nikon D3s. We began our journey in Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania, then took off for a week in Western Australia. Now is the final installment on Australia - our final week in the Northern Territory.

The name, “Northern Territory,” evokes images of the unknown. To my mind, a territory is a not-yet-settled land mass; it's a place humans don't go, or haven't yet traversed. 

The Northern Territory is different. It's been consistently occupied for more than 40,000 years by the Australian Aborigines, one of the oldest extant cultures on Earth. 

Ancient Aboriginal cave drawings somewhere outside Alice Springs.

We arrived in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, a little worse for wear after short nights in Cervantes and a long flight from Perth. The date was July 20, 2009, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

The Northern Territory radio station - there was only one station - played R.E.M's "Man on the Moon" on repeat. Driving through the scant civilization that is the Northern Territory made me feel as though we had been transported back to 1969 and that there really was a man on the moon above. 

Our first stop in the Northern Territory was Ayer's Rock, also known as Uluru to the native cultures.

Uluru was a place I had imagined one day visiting since I first started working with Bill two years earlier. One of my favorite pictures of his is a black and white silhouette of tourists climbing the side of the rock. 

Bill's image of Ayer's Rock (Uluru) that he took in 1985, which I always like to remind him was before I was born.

The rock itself is a rock. A large, red rock, but a rock none-the-less. Still, I loved the Aboriginal beliefs surrounding it. Uluru is a sacred place that is central to their creation story. It's been reported that those who take rocks from the formation are cursed and suffer misfortune. I didn't want to test the theory and left Uluru as I found it. 

After one sunset we drove back to Alice Springs on an ill-advised overnight drive. We were both tired and there is very little in terms of gas, food and help along the highway - highway being a generous term for a two lane road - between Uluru and Alice Springs. But there was no rest for the weary. We had a shoot the next day at a rodeo outside Alice Springs and had to get back.

Over the last decade I've been to some good rodeos, but none of them compete with Hart's Range.

I made some friends while searching for a high vantage point of the rodeo atop a bluff in Hart's Range.

It's a hard place to explain. It's rural to the extreme. When I say it's located “outside Alice Springs,” I really mean it's roughly four hours away. Most of our drive to Hart's Range was off road. I'm still not entirely sure how we got there. A lot of bumps, a few streams and endless desert. 

The rodeo itself was a dusty mix of cowboys descended from European settlers and Aboriginals. The sight of the sun scorching through the red dust is an image I won't quickly forget. Pictures from the day still bring back memories of the arid smell of the desert mixed with a potent sun beaming through cool air.

The rodeo ended as the sun set and we began the long trip back to Alice Springs. To break up the drive, we stopped for a drink and a bathroom in Barrow Creek. One of the small-town stops along the Stuart Highway - Australia's principal north to south highway - in the Northern Territory. We had seen it on the way in and knew we needed to stop on the way home. 

Outside of the Barrow Creek Pub earlier in the day.

Barrow Creek is a town with a pub / hotel and a population of 11. The night we were there, 3 of the 11 inhabitants were at the bar - the owners of the pub / hotel and a local ranch hand. The pub was built in 1926 and still has the original tin ceilings and bar, along with a collection of eclectic memorabilia and signed bills from around the world given by various pub visitors over the years. 

I sat and talked with the ranch hand - whose name I no longer remember - over a beer for a while that night. He was on a quest to collect all 50 of the state quarters from the USA. I fished into my pocket and offered Wisconsin and South Dakota. I've never seen 50 cents make anyone so happy before or since. 

It was in Barrow Creek that we recorded the closing shots to our "All Over Down Under" multimedia piece - a dog yawning in front of a fire on a black and white checkered floor, and Bill wearing an Akubra and lit by a dim, red light. It was the final chapter in one of our first major multimedias

One of our last night's in the mythical land of my childhood dreams, and one of my fondest memories of the last decade. 

Western Australia

Flashing myself (pun intended) in the Nambung National Park at dusk in Western Australia.  

Flashing myself (pun intended) in the Nambung National Park at dusk in Western Australia.  

Australia is too big of a country/continent to be limited to one blog post.

As I mentioned last week, Bill Frakes and I spent 3 weeks down under working on an advertising campaign for the then soon-to-be-released Nikon D3s.

Three weeks seems like a long time, but when you consider the size and breadth of Australia it wasn't very long at all.

We raced from shoot to shoot. From Tasmania we went to Melbourne.

Sam, an Australian swimmer we met in a very cold pool on a very cold morning.  

Sam, an Australian swimmer we met in a very cold pool on a very cold morning.  

We spent a cold morning in a cold pool with an Olympic swimmer, an afternoon with a basketball player and a sunrise floating above the Yarra Valley in hot air balloons.

Testing the SB-900s for the basketball shot with Mr. Blue, one of our Japanese art directors.

Testing the SB-900s for the basketball shot with Mr. Blue, one of our Japanese art directors.

A picture Bill took of the hot air balloon I was in with Gen, Mr. Blue and an Australian balloon pilot.  

A picture Bill took of the hot air balloon I was in with Gen, Mr. Blue and an Australian balloon pilot.  

To complete our task - 52 camera functions in 20 days - we had to make multiple images a day. There was no rest, but I was 23 and in Australia. I couldn't have been more excited.

After Melbourne we spent another couple nights in Sydney - one with a boxer and one with an opera singer - and then took off for Western Australia.

Sydney opera singer in front of the Sydney Opera House.  

Sydney opera singer in front of the Sydney Opera House.  

Before we left Sydney we asked some locals how long the flight was and what the time difference would be. No one seemed to know.  Answers ranged from 2 to 4 hours - for the flight and the time change (it's a two hour time change and a 5 hour flight, for the record). It seemed so odd to me that no one knew how far away a city in their country was. It made where we were going seem incredibly far away.

In fairness, where we were going was incredibly far away. We flew into Perth - one of Australia's major cities - but got in a rental car and drove another four hours north through the Swan Valley wine country to Cervantes, Western Australia.

Cervantes isn't much. From what I could tell it had a Best Western Motel, and restaurant (inside the Best Western Motel which was surprisingly good) and a gas station. We were set to be in Cervantes for three nights, one of our longest stays of the three week trip.

Our reason for being in the town had little to do with the town itself, it had to do with its proximity to the Nambung National Park. Inside the national park are the Pinnacles, a series of cone-like limestone formations in the desert. There's no consensus as to how the Pinnacles came to be, but everyone agrees they are amazing to see.

We got in just before sunset and quickly checked in to our motel (the only motel) before heading into the desert to scout. We had three dancers from the Perth Ballet meeting us there the next day and wanted to see where the best spots to have them dance would be.

I remember driving into the park as the sun began to sink behind the Indian Ocean. The Pinnacles aren't visible at first. For the first 10 minutes in the park all you see is low brush and dust. Then - just as when you drive into the mountains - formations slowly begin to appear above the horizon.

The sight is otherworldly. You feel as if you've been suddenly transported to Mars.

The dancers arrived the next day. I don't remember their names but I remember how lovely they each were to work with. It was shockingly cold in the desert and they danced barefoot in dresses and tutus across the rocky terrain. They were excited to be there and never once complained, though I know they must have been cold. I was cold and I had on jeans, boots and a jacket.

Standing in as a human light stand on a sand dune with the Pinnacles in the background.  

Standing in as a human light stand on a sand dune with the Pinnacles in the background.  

On our first night in the park with the dancers, we worked past sun down.

Dancers in the desert.  

Dancers in the desert.  

Sunsets in the desert seem to last longer. I don't know why. I just know that light seemed to hang on the horizon longer than it does in a city, on a beach or above a mountain range.

After the sun set we took advantage of the dusk ombré. We had a generator, a dedo light and hundreds of Pinnacles silhouetted on the horizon. We put the dancers three across - each on a pinnacle - and when the light hit them they "came alive," moving their arms and legs fluidly in the warm light for a video clip.

A still frame of the dancers at dusk, light from a dedo sstreamingg past them.  

A still frame of the dancers at dusk, light from a dedo sstreamingg past them.  

Bill sat about 50 feet away from us with a 70-200mm f/2.8 and D3s on a Manfrotto tripod. I stood parallel to the dancers with the light. In between takes the dancers would all run to me to absorb some warmth from the generator and light as Bill tried to yell instructions to us. After one take we couldn't hear what he was saying and he was clearly tired of yelling, so - much to the dancers' chagrin - I turned the generator off. When I looked up I saw two massive forms behind him that weren't there before.

The sight caught me off guard, sending a quick shock of fear down my spine. Then, I realized that our commotion had attracted two curious kangaroos. I told Bill to be quiet and turn around. The five of us watched as the kangaroos checked us out for a few moments before hopping off into the dusk. I felt as though we were witnessing time begin.

It was the first time I saw a kangaroo in the wild - I soon discovered they were all over the national park - and a moment I will never forget  

Check back next week for the third and final Australia installment.

Finding Down Under

A test portrait in front of the Sydney Opera House in July of 2009.

This month started well for me - on vacation.

I have spent a lot of summer months over the last decade a lot of places doing everything but vacationing.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying myself. Much of what I do for “work” I also consider to be pleasure. My vocation and avocation are frequently in alignment.

One of my favorite non-vacation summer trips was in July 2009 when Bill and I went to the mythical surfing paradise of my childhood dreams - Australia. We were set to be there for three weeks, traveling north, south, east and west - all over down under - for an advertising campaign for the soon-to-be-released Nikon D3s.

We had 20 days to portray 52 camera functions, including video function, which - at the time - was still new to flagship DSLR cameras.

Australia was a place I had always wanted to visit but never imagined I actually would. It’s hard to get to a place so far away. Still, I grew up watching the Tasmanian Devil on Cartoon Network, Crocodile Dundee in the theater and countless Australian surfing videos on the couch with my brother. Everything about Australia seemed cooler than it did at home. It was a place where summer was winter and north was south; like a bizzaro world with big waves and warm sun.

I remember flying over Sydney Harbor the first time. It is a truly beautiful city from the sky. White boats and blue water; green trees and yellow beaches. Sydney itself, however, was not the Australia I imagined.

Sydney is a big city. A very nice city, but similar to many other big cities around the world. Even though sunrise at Bondi Beach was everything I hoped it would be - cold and beautiful - it wasn’t the Australia of my childhood dreams.

The pre-dawn glow at Bondi Beach.

We had a day and half in Sydney to meet with our Japanese counterparts from the advertising agency, Gen and Toshiaki (who went by Mr. Blue), and learn the camera we would spend the next several weeks demonstrating.

The first frame I took with the Nikon D3s is still one of my favorites. It’s a simple image, but most of my favorites are - the Sydney Opera House framed by three seagulls and a ferry boat.

My first frame with the Nikon D3s of Sydney Harbor.

After walking off the jet-lag that a 24 hour travel day brings, we boarded a 5am flight to Hobart, Tasmania, where our Australian adventure began. If there is one thing I've learned in my travels, it's that if you want to see a country, go to the country.

I knew very little about Tasmania before getting on the flight. I knew it was an island; I knew it was the southern most point in the eastern hemisphere; I knew it was the home of the Tasmanian Devil (though not the one I was thinking of).

If I thought flying into Sydney was beautiful, I was in for a treat. We began our descent into Hobart just as the sun began to rise. I woke up as the plane began to shake, moving from one dream to another. Outside my window was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Thick fog hovered over an arctic blue water. Green mountaintops peeked above the clouds, kissing golden rays of sun. I felt like Peter Pan flying into Neverland.

When we landed we were met by David Callow, an old friend of Bill’s who was helping with production.

We quickly loaded up a couple vans and hit the road. Our destination was Queenstown, a small mining town four hours northwest of Hobart, with an Australian Rules football team we were set to photograph.

It didn’t take long to get out of Hobart. It’s the biggest city in Tasmania but has a population of less than 50,000 people. From there it was all forest and country. We passed through various small towns, but mostly it was just us and the landscape.

As the sun set, a dark figure darted in front of our van.

“Did you see that,” Callow asked excitedly? “That was a Tasmanian Devil!”

Turns out the Tasmanian Devil is a real creature. Unfortunately the real animal looks nothing like a walking dog who runs in tornado form - as the cartoon would have you believe. The true-to-life Tasmanian Devil instead looks like a cross between a miniature black lab and an opossum (which felt anticlimactic).

We got to Queenstown in time to photograph their evening practice. The timing worked well since capturing low-light situations was one of our top priorities for the shoot.

Me at evening practice. Intellectually I knew that July in Australia would be winter, but below freezing temperatures were still a shock.

The Nikon D3s was one of the first cameras to truly break the barriers of low light image capture. It could reproduce sharp, color accurate images at 12,800 ISO. Cameras today - like the Nikon D5 - can do that and more, but in 2009 that number was mind blowing in the photography world.

I still remember Bill’s laugh when he took his first few frames, then looked at the back of the camera to see well-rendered, sharp images. The camera could almost see better in the dark than we could.

Evening practice with the team and our first test of the 12,800 ISO on the Nikon D3s.

We spent several days in Queenstown. We shot practice and the surrounding area. But our true purpose was their Saturday game against another small-town team.

Part of what made Queenstown appealing to us was the fact that they played Aussie Rules Football - a game with no helmets or pads - on a gravel pitch. No grass; not even dirt. Gravel.

We interviewed a few of the players during warmups, asking what it felt like to get tackled on rocks.

“It softens the other team up nicely,” one told me with a wink.

“That’s a bloody oath,” another yelled in emphatic agreement!

The game was hard to follow at first. If you’re used to watching American football - or gridiron, as they call it in Australia - Aussie Rules seems incredibly chaotic and disjointed. There will be bodies smashing into each other, followed by high kicks and a spurt of action, then more bodies smashing into each other. It’s a brutal game to watch on grass, much more so on gravel.

As seems to be my modus operandi in most of the places we visit, I was quickly befriended by a few of the town children. As I was shooting video, trying desperately to follow a game I didn’t understand, three blonde-haired boys walked up to me, each with a different colored lolli pop.

My Australian buddies, trying (poorly) to pose for a photo.

“What are you doing,” the oldest asked, in an adorable Australian accent?

“I’m trying to make a video of your football team,” I answered.

The boys sat next to me, on me, and leaned over my shoulder to look at the camera, giggling all the while, drooling sticky saliva on my shoulder.

“Would you like a lolli,” the youngest asked from my side, handing up his half eaten lolli pop.

“Maybe later,” I told him.

Just then there was an audible hit on the pitch in front of us. One of the Queenstown players had collided with an opposing player, skidding several feet across the pitch. The Queenstown player came up quickly with the ball, kicking it on to loud cheers from the crowd. The opposing player got up slowly, half of his face raw with blood and dirt, clearly dazed.

“You’re just a bunch of [insert highly inappropriate expletive],” yelled the third boy who was maybe 5 years old.

I burst out laughing from the shock of such an adult word coming out of such a cherubim face, but that’s the kind of town Queenstown was. It certainly wasn’t a town full of [insert highly inappropriate expletive].

My reaction to the unexpected comment.

After the game we packed back into our vans and out of Queenstown. We were set to be in Melbourne the next morning.

Halfway back to Hobart, Callow and Bill stopped the vans. There was no moon that night, and we were driving through a national forest. The closest town was an hour in any direction. When I looked up I saw the clearest Milky Way I have still ever seen, shining bright under an impossibly dark sky.

I don’t know much about constellations. In the northern night sky I can find the Big Dipper and the Northern Star, and that’s about the extent of my knowledge. But looking up into the night sky of the southern hemisphere made me feel lost, like I was on another planet. I was directionless.

As the five of us stood shivering on a cold Tasmanian winter night, Callow pointed out the Southern Cross, the smallest but most easily visible of the southern constellations. From there, our journey continued with a little more direction than it began.

The End of June

Taking pictures of the women's 10,000m final at the 2008 USATF Olympic Trials.

The end of June always means two things for me: my birthday (June 26) and the USA Track and Field (USATF) Championships.

My first track and field event was my last warm-up before the Olympics in Beijing - the 2008 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Before leaving, Bill gave me several (repetitive) run-downs of what to expect in Eugene - who I would meet, where we would eat, everything Nike, and who the track stars were that we would photograph.

I learned about Tom Boyd and Chris Pietch, fellow photographers and friends; Cheryl Treworgy, a former world record holder in the women’s marathon turned professional photographer, and the mother of the fastest of the USA’s female distant runners; Beppe and Gianni’s and Oregon Electric Station, two restaurants we frequented; the full history of Oregon track and Hayward Field, and a long list of the track athletes we would watch compete.

By the time I arrived in Eugene I knew all the history and who the players were. All I had to do was take pictures and prove - one more time - that I could make the remotes work and work well.

I was more than a little nervous before we took off to Eugene. I knew it was my last chance to hone my skills before the Olympics and I wanted to do a good job.

Once we got to Eugene, my anxiety began to melt away. All the people I had heard about were incredibly kind, the track was beautiful and the weather was perfect.

There are few environments I have been in more lovely than Oregon in late June. Nights are crisp and a little chilly, but the days are sunny and warm - perfect weather to be in for consecutive 10 hour days.

Carrying remotes back to our staging area after the Steeplechase, hence the trash bags which are the easiest and cheapest way to keep cameras dry during tracks wettest event.

On top of that Bill right away gave me a lot of freedom to create. There are always multiple events going on during track and field competitions. There are heats on the track while a final in javelin is happening in the field and long jump is starting up along the edges. One person can’t cover everything. It was the first event where I got to really make images, and I found - to my surprise - that I wasn’t bad at it.

The first night on the track was the first time I remember taking a picture and thinking, “that’s pretty good.” It was the women’s 10,000m final under the lights of Hayward Field.

Shalane Flanagan (Cheryl Twerorgy's daughter), Kara Goucher and Amy Begley finished 1, 2, and 3 in the women's 10,000m in Eugene.

As the event wore on, my confidence grew. I wired remotes without help and without trouble, I took pictures that I actually liked and had an all-around successful event.

There is one image in particular I remember making. It’s of AG Krueger, a hammer thrower, and it was during one of the first days in Eugene.

The sun was setting, and Bill was busy with finals on the track. He called me over to where he was sitting in front of the finish line and handed me a Nikon D3 with a 14-24mm on a plate with a PocketWizard in the hot shoe.

“The hammer final is about to start,” he told me. “You need to go to the cage, set this up and fire it. I don’t have time.”

I remember walking to the hammer cage as the Oregon sun flooded the stadium with orange light. My hands were shaking just slightly as I set the camera inside the mesh protection and tried my best to line it up and focus it. I had never been solely responsible for the success of an image before, and I was nervous.

That night after we downloaded all of our images from the day, Bill sat down to edit the takes down before sending them to Sports Illustrated. I wasn't sure what he'd think of my hammer picture. The light made it so I had to silhouette the athletes, and - since I was still new at making images - I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

When he opened the folder with my images in it he quickly exclaimed, “Nice job, Laura Heald!”

AG Krueger in the hammer cage in Eugene, Oregon.

It was the moment I knew I was ready for Beijing.

A Favorite Place

Me in Toadstool Geological Park in 2014. 

Me in Toadstool Geological Park in 2014. 

People always ask me if I have discovered any "favorite places" in my decade of travel.  

As I have traversed the globe, a few places stand out among the rest. One of those places is a little known park tucked into the northwest corner of Nebraska - Toadstool Geological Park in the Oglala National Grasslands.  

Toadstool is a series of otherworldly limestone formations in the badlands of America.  

I first came out to Toadstool in the summer of 2014 as part of our initial production on the Nebraska Project. Christine Casey and Dan Edwards were along to assist and to see what life on the road looked like. Our first few hours at the park were a mixed bag.

We arrived to soft clouds and blue skies and quickly set up a Cinevate motion controlled timelapse at the first formation we found. Then, for a reason I can't remember, Bill and Christine left with the minivan - likely to download a card or charge a battery at the guest ranch house we were staying at a couple miles away. 

Not long after they left the wind picked up and the sky turned from friendly to angry, throwing sand and rain at Dan and I before we could process the change in weather.

About 20 minutes later Bill and Christine returned to find Dan and me soaking wet and fuming mad. Clearly, we got past it and production continued. Toadstool was featured heavily in our “Nebraska Skies” video.

From a distance, the park looks like miniature mountains that somehow ended up in the plains of Nebraska. The short gravel path that leads from the parking lot to the formations is underwhelming; the sandstone ahead looks flat, the grass brittle. Then a corner turns, and the mushroom-like formations created over centuries of wind, rain and ice decay rise ahead.

Toadstool Park, taken this morning under a blue sky.

It's a path and a sight I am now familiar with, but three years ago I felt as though I'd stepped off a space ship and onto another planet.

This weekend the Nebraska Project crew will be camping in Toadstool, working in the surrounding area by day and capturing time-lapse by night.

My home for the next couple days.

It's a peaceful place to sleep - 50 degrees in the dead of night in the middle of June. The only sounds are a lonely coal train and distant coyotes, joined by the ever present mix of whippoorwills and prairie finches, a gentle breeze constantly blowing.

A toadstool formation lit by the half-moon light, a shooting star in the distance. One of 700 frames from last night's time-lapse.

The rest of the world feels far away.

Biggest Little Fan

Having a chat with Emorie, my biggest little fan.

Having a chat with Emorie, my biggest little fan.

Some days on the road are just fun. Yesterday was one of those days.  

I'm back in Nebraska this week working on the latest edition to the Nebraska Project (story coming soon) and have had the pleasure of meeting my newest best friend. 

Her name is Emorie Sayge Bearinger, she'll be 5 in August, and she thinks I hung the moon. I don't know what I did to deserve her adoration, but I'll take it regardless. 

She stuck to me like glue yesterday - helping me "run the camera" when we interviewed her various family members, and finding a herself next to me every time I sat down. 

The always smiling Emorie, taken on a Nikon D5 with a 300mm f/4.  

The always smiling Emorie, taken on a Nikon D5 with a 300mm f/4.  

I took a seat right before for lunch and she immediately crawled up next to me.  

"Do you know why I'm sitting next to you," she asked me? 

"No," I answered. "Why?" 

"Because I like you," she told me, her blue eyes smiling up at me.  

"That's good," I told her, "because I like you, too." 

Her mom texted me last night right before I sat down to write this week's blog to tell me that Emorie was walking around the house with her plastic stethoscope ear buds in her ears (I had head phones in all day to listen to audio levels during interviews) pretending to be asking interview questions AND answering them herself, all while lugging the family DSLR around to take pictures and video. 

Emorie' mom sent this picture of her "interviewing" her dad, Jarod, with her stethoscope and her mom's DSLR.  

Emorie' mom sent this picture of her "interviewing" her dad, Jarod, with her stethoscope and her mom's DSLR.  

It's nice to feel loved, especially by such a lovely little girl.