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. 

Frontier Days

Cheyenne Frontier Days. This was clearly day one of my cowgirl adventure since the clothes appear fairly clean.

It's summer; that time of year where children run free in the streets and the only sport on TV is baseball.

For me, summer is rodeo season. Rodeo isn't something a lot of the country is familiar with. Everyone knows what one is, but few have had the pleasure of attending one. For many, rodeos are a relic of the past. They represent an agrarian lifestyle that is all but dead in much of the USA.

That's not the case for middle America. Rodeo is alive and very well in ranch states like Texas, Nebraska and Wyoming (among others).

The first rodeo I attended was the granddaddy of 'em all - Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, WY. Cheyenne is as big as it gets in the rodeo circuit; the Super Bowl for real life cowboys (not the ones who wear blue and white on Sundays in the fall).

It was 2008 and I was a year into working with Bill Frakes. By that point we were doing more and more multimedia productions and fewer and fewer pure still shoots. My first year on the job had one giant steep learning curve, but I liked the creative freedom of multimedia production. I was part of the process and that felt good.

I had one problem for Cheyenne. To photograph the rodeo, photographers have to dress in full cowboy clothing. That means a cowboy hat and a cowboy shirt tucked into blue jeans held up by a leather belt. I needed a new wardrobe. To fix the problem, we had to build in time for shopping in Cheyenne before the rodeo began.

Our assignment was to create a photo gallery and multimedia for Sports Illustrated for Kids. For each day of the rodeo, Bill and I split up with different cameras and lenses and took as many photos combined as we could. 

I walked around the grand stands at least a dozen times a day. I went back in the “locker room” area where cowboys waited for their events to start. I went in the chutes as bull and bronc riders took off, thrown side to side by large and angry animals.

If I wasn't taking pictures I was walking around with a microphone and recorder, stopping to talk to as many cowboys as possible. This was - and still is - my favorite part of the multimedia process. I've always been more interested in the story than the single photograph. Interviewing random strangers in different parts of the country (or world) gives me a glimpse into the culture and people that a photograph alone does not.

In audio mode at Cheyenne.

The folks in Cheyenne were all friendly and more than a little amused by my clear outsider status. I never did - and still haven't - bought cowboy boots. My tennis shoes gave me away as a clear foreigner.

Making friends in the middle west with a fanny pack and tennis shoes.

By the end of the event we had a multimedia for the web, a leading off for the magazine and extremely dusty clothes - I had one outfit for three days. 

I've since been to several more rodeos - all in Nebraska - and my outsider status lessens every time. I now own more than one cowboy shirt - three, to be exact - and they feel more comfortable on my skin every time I wear them. I still don't wear cowboy boots - they just don't feel right on my Florida feet - but most people are willing to look past that faux pas and answer my questions anyway.


A wall of light In Eugene, OR, July 5, 2008.

There is no off position on my visual switch.
— Bill Frakes, infinite times

I can’t count the times Bill has uttered those words either to me, during an interview or in a lecture. I am one of the few people who honestly knows how true those words are.

Over the last decade I have been more than an editor, collaborator and business partner, I have been a light test dummy. Anytime we are anywhere and Bill sees pretty light, he asks me to stand in it.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Bill: The light on that wall/tree/spot/etc is incredible.
Me: Yeah, it’s pretty.
Bill: Go stand over there.
Me: (Silent eye roll)
Bill: Please. It will only take a minute.
Me: (Quietly put down everything I’m carrying, which is usually a lot, and walk toward the desired spot.)
Bill: Don’t act like you don’t love these pictures.

Then I go stand in whatever patch of light he’s referring to. He takes a frame or two or twenty and the conversation continues:

Bill: Move half a foot to your right.
Me: (Steps six inches right.)

He takes another couple frames and looks at the back of his camera.

Bill: Now move three inches to your left.
Me: (Shuffle left.)

Another couple frames and a peak at the images later:

Bill: Now come forward a little bit.

He stares me down, focused, as I move slowly forward. When I get where he wants me, he shouts a quick, “Stop.”

Once he has me in the light, he directs me to move my body position. He tells me to turn sideways or straight on (or both, somehow), look away but at him, move my chin down and eyes up, or something along those lines. This part takes the longest (probably because I am a poor excuse for a model). A long nose shadow - which my long nose produces - can ruin perfectly good light. If I don’t bend my body in seemingly unnatural ways, my shadow can take on unrecognizable forms.

This shuffle can go on for more than a few minutes. But as a result I have hundreds of images of myself all across the world in different patches of beautiful light.

A coffee shop in Palo Alto.

Peet's Coffee in Palo Alto. Our friend Curt Bianchi is hiding somewhere in the shadows.

Peet's Coffee in Palo Alto. Our friend Curt Bianchi is hiding somewhere in the shadows.

A staircase in Zurich.

This was before we gave a presentation in Zurich and is more about the shadow in the floor than on me, but notice how I'm standing. I don't normally stand that way, but in the photo it is far more flattering than just standing straight on and staring at the camera.

This was before we gave a presentation in Zurich and is more about the shadow in the floor than on me, but notice how I'm standing. I don't normally stand that way, but in the photo it is far more flattering than just standing straight on and staring at the camera.

A doorway in New Orleans.

My one trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl in 2010.

A breezeway in Las Vegas.

Bill took this while we were working on our NASCAR multimedia, which is why I'm wearing a fanny pack.

An early morning in the Atlanta airport.

I'm sure I was thrilled to pose for this one in my half-sleep state.

A window in Perpignan.

Between galleries at the Festival of the Photograph in Perpignan, France.

A wall in the Middle East.

One of my favorites from this collection. Jerusalem in 2010.

An afternoon in our office in Jacksonville, FL.

You can do a lot with a well placed blind.

You can do a lot with a well placed blind.

And there are many others. Although I don’t always act like it, I do appreciate the pictures. Mostly I appreciate the lessons. He won’t move from a spot until either the light is gone, he has the photo he wants, or both. His tenacity is incredible, and something I am slowly starting to emulate.

I used to think his insistence was unnecessary. Having dozens (or hundreds) of frames of essentially the same photo seemed insane to me. But as long as it may take to edit through the images, Bill always gets his frame.

As I have started shooting more for myself, I've noticed a tendency to do the same. Not to the extent he does, but I've learned that a nano second can make a massive difference. Between frames one and six of a 10 frame burst, a shoulder can slouch, wind can blow, hair can move, eyes can close. An extra frame (or 50) costs very little when the difference between good and great lays in the balance.

Persistence is perfection’s best friend.

Lebanon, Part 1

In front of a mural in Beirut, my favorite city.

This week I have found myself thinking about a place that is frequently on my mind - Lebanon.

It’s a place few people I know have had the privilege of visiting, and even fewer understand.

Beirut from a balcony.

Beirut from a balcony.

Beirut is, without question, my favorite city. When I tell people this they give me a confused and concerned look and ask, “Isn't it dangerous?”

My answer is simple - it is the kindest, safest and most generous place I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Lebanon has long been a place of interest for me. My Godfather, Uncle Michael, is half Lebanese and half Syrian. I grew up with the tastes of the Middle East, feasting weekly on kibbeh, tabouli, hummus, dolmas and lamb served every way imaginable.

I remember reading about Lebanon as a child. TIME Kids was delivered to my 2nd grade classroom every month and I would leaf through the images, many of them of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict and the 7-day war that killed hundreds and displaced thousands in 1993. In them I saw images of war and devastation among the incredible beauty of Lebanon. I kept those magazines in a cabinet in my mother’s kitchen for years, and would frequently sit by the sliding glass door that led to the backyard and go over and over the images.

One of the first non-fiction books I read as a teenager and truly loved was Thomas Friedman’s Beirut to Jerusalem. His depiction of the conflict seemed distant, but incredibly human.

During my first semester at the University of Florida I wrote a 15-page term paper on the Lebanese Civil War for an international relations class and spent weeks pouring over the geography, history and theology of the region.

I think Lebanon was the first place - whether I was aware of it or not - that made me want to be a journalist. It was a vision, a taste and a people I was intimately familiar with and endlessly curious about.

In a restaurant in Beirut.

In a restaurant in Beirut.

I took my first trip to Lebanon in March of 2014 to work with the Khoury family who own and operate Eastwood Schools in Beirut. Bill and I had met Michel Khoury, the son of Eastwood’s founder Amine Khoury, at an education conference in Ireland the summer before. Michel was incredibly kind and charming, and we quickly fell in love with his story.

His father, Amine, had opened Eastwood’s original campus in the Kafarshima neighborhood of Beirut in 1973. Amine’s dream was to provide an equitable educational community for all learners. However, his country’s history made that dream difficult. In 1975 the Lebanese Civil War began, sending his dream into disarray. Through Eastwood’s history, Amine has had to rebuild his dream four times.

I remember that first trip very well. Bill and I had been on a long series of trips and assignments - we had just returned from our first sandhill crane migration in Grand Island, NE, and were set to go to Singapore as soon as we returned from Lebanon. On top of that, my personal life had taken more than one twist and turn that year.

At that point I was tired, and more than a little burned out. I had gotten to a point where I dreaded travel, and that’s a dark place to be. On the flight from Jacksonville to Beirut, I wrote in my journal:

My anxiety before this trip was the worst ever. I didn’t want to go. At all…But it’s strange, as the miles between me and Beirut have dwindled over the last 14 hours, anxiety is slowly turning into excitement…This trip will change who I am, just like every trip, and that - I think - is a good thing.
— Journal, March 23, 2017

Those words seem prescient now. My life began to change the moment we landed in Beirut.

Michel and his father, whom we had heard so much about, greeted us at the airport. We were hugged, kissed, fed and welcomed.

Over the course of the next two weeks, I discovered a home I hadn't expected. When I felt lost, Lebanon found me.

During our time in Beirut, we captured life on campus at the Eastwood schools. We talked to students whose lives were changed everyday at Eastwood, teachers who loved their jobs and parents who cried when they told us of the love their children received at school.

We met the extended Khoury family. We met Michel’s sister Joelle, his mother Queen, his uncle Edmond, and his cousins Gavin and Megan. Each one of them welcomed us as family. We were taken care of with a hospitality and grace that I had never - in all my travels - encountered. They brought us into their homes, fed us amazing food and shared intimate stories. We were never treated as people hired to do a job. We were treated like dear friends; long lost family.

Michel and I are the steps of Eastwood.

There are a couple moments I remember most from that trip.

The first was our interviews with Queen and Amine. We wanted their voices to tell their history. We sat in their beautiful home, full of antiques and religious icons, as Amine told us his story.

It was clearly a story he was familiar with, but not one he was familiar with telling. The stress of that period of their lives was palpable. He said there were days where he was so depressed he could barely get out of bed. Meanwhile his wife and father went on cleaning the school grounds. Then, one day, his father pulled him aside, grabbed him by the shoulders and said, “Amine, stop it! We work in joy.”

Amine’s eyes were wet when he told the story, a broad smile across his face. His father’s words had clearly made an impact on him, and they were making one on me as well. To this day it is a line I recite to myself when the world feels heavy.

The second was the sad part. We were on campus with some students when Bill’s phone starting buzzing and ringing. Friends were writing, spreading the word that Anja Niedringhaus had been assassinated in Afghanistan. I remember Bill’s face when he read the news - a mix of anger, sadness and shock. One of his closest friends had just been brutally taken from the world.

A picture I took of Anja and Bill at the Bird's Nest during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

A picture I took of Anja and Bill at the Bird's Nest during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

In the days that followed, the words “we work in joy” kept circling in my head. Anja’s death - and life - made those words incredibly real.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from tragedy, it’s that - as hard and sad as it is - it’s also joyous. Joyous to remember the life that was lived, and joyous to realize the life you have the ability to lead.

We work in joy. Like Anja. Like the Khoury's. We work in joy because life itself is joyous.

Consistent Players

With Tim after a portrait shoot of him for the cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids college football preview cover.  

There are certain people that seem to play a consistent role in your life.

I'm not talking about friends or family - being part of your life is in their job description. I mean people that seem to always be around. People you know in passing. A name that keeps popping up. A face you recognize from days gone. 

For me, that person is - oddly enough - Tim Tebow.

I first heard the name Timmy Tebow my junior year at Nease High School in St. Augustine, FL. Our football team was consistently mediocre until that year when a state championship linebacker transferred to Nease to play quarterback. Suddenly, the Nease Panthers were making every sports headline and winning games with style.

All painted for a football game in high school.

All painted for a football game in high school.

I didn't know much about him past his seemingly super human athletic ability. He and I shared a morning gym class, and I remember watching him and the other football players lift weights and train. He seemed to have a gear that the other players simply didn't. He was bigger, faster and most certainly stronger.

At pep rallies the fresh-faced sophomore would smile widely as our football coach, Coach Howard, would list Timmy’s numerous accomplishments. He was breaking school records left and right and shining a light on a once forgotten football program.

Then I enrolled at the University of Florida and halfway through my Freshman year watched on television as Timmy Tebow announced his commitment to play football for the Florida Gators.

I ran into him on the first day of classes in January 2006. When he saw me his face lit up. I don't think he remembered my name, but he recognized my face. We talked for a moment - he asked how I was doing, I asked how he liked campus - before going to our respective classes.

I moved from fan to professional in college when I started assisting Bill Frakes at Sports Illustrated. Instead of watching the games, I was covering them. In the two years I worked and went to school I think we did 3 features on Tim (I'm not sure when he became Tim instead of Timmy). He was everyone's favorite athlete to love or hate.

In the years since we've passed each other multiple times, mostly at football games he was either playing in or broadcasting.    

I saw him this past January after not seeing him for a few years. We passed each other on the field of the Georgia Dome before the Peach Bowl. We were both there for ESPN but for very different reasons. He was walking across to the Gameday set, I was taking pictures of Alabama's band practice. Still, after all these years, he stopped to say hello, to ask how I was doing, to tell me it was good to see me.

Then, just last month, Sports Illustrated called again. Bill and I packed some cameras and lights and drove to Columbia, SC. Our subject was a familiar one - a consistent player. Tim Tebow greeted us for his portrait before his team, the Columbia Fireflies, took the field. His face a little less fresh but no less friendly than when I first encountered it nearly 15 years ago.

He smiled, asked how I was doing and gave me a hug before dressing for his game.

For me, he's someone I feel like I've grown up with. We met before we became adults and our lives took the shapes they've taken. Maybe for him it's the same - I'm a face from his past, from his home town. Our stories intersected before he was a household name. 

Sports Illustrated is running a story this week - another in a seemingly endless trove - on his transition from football to baseball.

Tim Rohan wrote a story on Tim Tebow for this week's edition of Sports Illustrated. Check it out for more.

Tim Rohan wrote a story on Tim Tebow for this week's edition of Sports Illustrated. Check it out for more.

I wish him well in his baseball career. And if our past in any indication of the future, I'm sure I'll see him again down the road.

The First Saturday of May

It's that time of year again - the Kentucky Derby. This is from the roof of Churchill Downs at some point before some Derby in the last 10 years.

Today I am on my way to Louisville and the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby; the run for the roses; America's most famous (horse) race.

The Derby, in all honesty, is not my favorite event.

For me, it’s several days of early mornings, late nights and crawling in the mud.

It’s an incredible amount of work for one of sport’s fastest events. Two minutes of drama, then it’s all over.

I've been told I look very serious when I'm working. This picture is proof. In my defense I'm carrying a Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens on a Red Dragon here, so my expression seems appropriate to me - that setup is no joke.

When I tell people that I’m going to the Kentucky Derby, their reactions revolve around mint juleps, hats and dresses.

I can see disappointment on their faces when I tell them I’m going for work and I will be wearing the oldest, most beat-up clothes in my wardrobe, that I won’t be drinking any mint-juleps, and probably won’t even be wearing make-up.

The Derby for me means old jeans, torn shirts, rain pants (it always rains) and dirty boots.

On Derby day I’ll be up at the crack of dawn, crawling in the mud - there’s a 70% chance for rain Saturday, so the dirt track will almost certainly be mud - setting cameras and wiring remotes.

This actually isn't from the Derby. This is from the 2007 Breeder's Cup, but the idea is the same - mud, rail, cameras, me.

Oddly enough, this is my favorite part of the weekend. The tomboy inside me still loves getting dirty (my mom used to get so mad when my younger self would immediately destroy brand new shoes) and my technical side enjoys the methodical work of setting cameras up; of running wire, balancing polarity and setting shutter speeds. There is a mild thrill to pressing a button and hearing 20+ Nikon cameras fire.

The setup, however, is quite literally a race. We aren’t allowed on the track Saturday morning until every horse is off after their morning workouts. No photographers are allowed to be under the rail - where a majority of the remote cameras are located - while there are horses on the track. Where that becomes tricky is at 10:30am - the first call to post of the day.

Contrary to what you see on TV, the Derby is not the only race at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. In fact, it’s race 12 of 14.

That gives me - and every other photographer - a short window to place, wire and set every remote camera. It’s a sprint, and to finish in time and you have to know what you’re doing.

Luckily, I had a pretty great teacher. Bill Frakes revolutionized the use of remote cameras long before I started following him around, and he’s taught me everything I know.

A few years back our good friend Andy Hancock got this of Frakes and I on the backside of Churchill Downs one brisk morning before the Derby.

This year will be different from my Derby’s past. In all my previous pilgrimages to Churchill Downs, I have always worked alongside Bill either as his assistant, a second shooter, a video editor or all of the above. This year, though, I will be covering the race for Sports Illustrated while Bill covers it for ESPN. For the first time in my career we will be in competition, though I’m confident it will be a friendly one.

Wonder as I Wander

Sunset in Nebraska with my FM2 and a D810. March, 2017.

I meant to write a blog last week. It just didn’t happen.

I moved from my old apartment to my new house, edited four videos, made arrangements for shoots in Nebraska and Kentucky, planned ahead for trips to Sri Lanka and Spain, and - in general - felt pretty overwhelmed.

I don’t get overwhelmed often. Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at balancing work and life (though it wasn’t always a healthy one), but sometimes the scale tips to one end or another and things get left undone. The thing that got left undone last week, was this blog.

This week I’m no less busy. Bill and I have been in northern Nebraska working on the next piece for the Nebraska Project.

It’s been hard work full of long days and short nights. We’ve been to a branding, camped in three state parks, shot time-lapses, made portraits and landscapes, and driven about 300 miles.

October 2016 in O'Neill, NE, setting up the Cinevate Motion Control Timelapse. It's not from this trip, but is an accurate representation of what life on the road looks like. The only difference being that it's colder right now, and our minivan is white.

October 2016 in O'Neill, NE, setting up the Cinevate Motion Control Timelapse. It's not from this trip, but is an accurate representation of what life on the road looks like. The only difference being that it's colder right now, and our minivan is white.

While we always work hard on the road, it never seems as stressful as it does when work piles up at home.

There is a freedom in being on the road.

I sometimes feel like I take on an alter ego when I travel for work. I don't shower or wear makeup on a regular basis. I eat peanut butter out of the jar, tuna out of the can, and more bananas and oranges than a captive monkey (they are the only fruits that come in their own, natural wrappers and don't require a fork and/or knife to eat).

I’m Laura Heald, the vagabond photographer, wondering as I wander.

On the road, work is all that exists. There are no girl friends to talk to, parents to visit or significant others to spend time with. That’s not to say I prefer being away. I don’t. But I also don’t dislike it. (Disclaimer: I would trade days on the road for time with any of the three aforementioned parties 99 times out of 100.)

Time on the road gives me nights alone in tents and hotel rooms. That’s time to think; to sit alone and sort through the weight in my brain that I never get around to lifting when there are better things to do.

My room last night - The Mari Sandoz Suite at the Olde Main Street Inn in Chadron, NE.

My room last night - The Mari Sandoz Suite at the Olde Main Street Inn in Chadron, NE.

Time on the road is time to create. Making images during the golden hour of light just before sunset or long exposures of the milky way on a clear night are pictures I always intend to take when I’m home. But at home there are dinners to cook, runs to go on, happy hours to attend or sleep to be had.

A starry night in Toadstool Geological Park in northwest Nebraska, this is print currently available in our flash sale

Those things don’t exist on the road.

Life on the road is life in a vacuum. It’s easy to forget I have a normal life waiting for me somewhere else. As the road lays out before me, so do opportunities. Getting lost in a moment - a story or a sunset - is the only reasonable thing to do when there is nothing else pulling me away.

That’s why on a cold Wednesday night in Chadron, NE, I’m sitting up in bed writing a blog. I’m doing it because I can. The only other thing to do is sleep, and I’ll do that when I get home.

(Un)Forgettable Images

On set at some baseball field in Naples for some baseball player.

On set at some baseball field in Naples for some baseball player.

Spring means one thing to many Americans - baseball season.

Back in 2010, Sports Illustrated sent Bill on a portrait series of baseball players through the many Florida Spring Training facilities.

This was a test shot in Naples for one of the images we made on that trip. I honestly don’t know who the portrait was of. I haven’t followed baseball closely since John Smoltz pitched for the Atlanta Braves, and it’s been more than a few years since that happened.

I just remember driving from Jacksonville to Tampa to Naples to Miami for the trip. A long couple days in the car down Florida’s west coast.

Florida is a long state with surprising bio-diversity. Many people who visit Florida never leave the metropolitan centers of Orlando, Tampa and Miami, but - like many places - once you get off the beaten track, the place is stunning.

It was the first time I had ever driven the Tamiami trail - a road named for the cities it connects, Tampa and Miami. For much of the Tamiami you pass strip malls and time-share high rises. But as you move south the countless convenient stores fade into the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades.

It’s an otherworldly landscape that seems detached entirely from the manufactured land of Disney World. A two-lane road surrounded by swamp and cypresses.

Bill and I drove through the wetlands quietly until we passed a small building on the west side of the road with a sign that read, “The Big Cypress Gallery.” An art gallery in the middle of a national preserve. We didn’t have time to stop, but we did anyway.

We walked in to find a collection of Clyde Butcher original photographs. If you don’t know who Clyde Butcher is, look him up. He’s Ansel Adams for the state of Florida. His pictures are big and beautiful and seem impossibly simple. They seem that way because they are. There is nothing simple about lugging an 11x14 camera around the swamp, but the images are pure - the way Florida used to be.

My Clyde Butcher print above my (messy) desktop.

I walked out of the gallery with a print from the same trail we had been driving, the Tamiami. It now hangs above my desk. A constant reminder of the simple beauty of a well done photograph, and the (sometimes) forgotten natural beauty of my home state.