You get it right away.
Watch any episode of Nikon Ambassador Tamara Lackey's PBS series, Chasing Frames, and there it is: the feeling that you and Tamara are chasing down this story together.
And it will be a story well worth sharing. "We established a basic premise," Tamara says, "that the episodes would be about people who are protecting the planet, people who are rescuing those in need and people who are transforming lives."
The subtext of the series is its focus on using photography as a powerful tool to explore, inform and inspire. "This is not a project where we wait for things to happen. We go along with people who are making good things happen, and the idea included learning from the people we met."
In fact, on-the-job learning was a deliberate decision. "I don't want to over-learn anything until I get there," Tamara says. "I want to have a general idea of what's going on so I can learn as I go and ask the same questions that the typical person might ask. That way I can have a genuine response while we're filming, and that's worked quite well."
On the Move
Chasing Frames is a particularly apt title. Things tend to move quickly: the narrative, the activity, Tamara's reactions, the pace of the edit.
"Once we got the idea down, we went out and found subjects that met a couple of considerations," Tamara says. "One, it had to be a compelling subject and storyline. Two, we had to be able to get striking, storytelling visuals, both video and stills. And three, we had to learn something along the way—about the subjects, and about how to tell the stories."
Broadcast by UNC TV in North Carolina, and reaching five states, the dozen episodes of the first season included stories on swift water rescue, K9 search and rescue, exploring light and animal rescue and care.
"The whole thing started because, generally speaking, I've been photographing a lot of these types of lifestyle subjects for years," Tamara says. "One of the videographers on my shoots was also freelancing for PBS, and he said he thought they might be interested in doing a show."
Before long Tamara was in talks with the station. "We put together the idea of these six-minute, 44-second programs." Along the way, Nikon signed on as a co-sponsor, and the idea turned to reality.
"For each of these episodes I'm finding something fascinating, figuring out the best way to showcase it and always learning more as I go along," Tamara says. "We did an episode with Carolina Air Care—an urgent life-flight group—and I knew, of course, that helicopters will fly people to hospitals, but I had no idea that they're an absolute lifeline for a lot of people in rural communities who have no other way to get to a hospital. The flight medics work on 24-hour shifts and go out on any call. They're flying ten-million-dollar helicopters, fully fitted to be ERs. So for me, for every one of the episodes, there are these moments of learning, and of appreciation of the skill and commitment it takes to do this work."
This is not a project where we wait for things to happen. We go along with people who are making good things happen.
The Storytelling Tools
When you're chasing frames, you've got to be ready for anything, and Tamara brings a full kit of Nikon gear to every story.
"You've got to have the freedom to follow the documentary style that PBS wants," she says of the always-be-prepared attitude it takes to make this kind of storytelling work. The cameras for stills and video included the Z 6, Z 7, D5 and D850. "The Z 6 and Z 7 were the main video cameras," she says, "and we also got to use 180- and 360-degree KeyMission cameras on helmets, on the dogs for the search-and-rescue episode, on a bike, in the back of a helicopter and sometimes just on a stick to cover where we were to see if we could pull a couple of seconds. Those cameras allowed us to pepper in some really cool looks. For the helicopter rescue episode I think we had seven cameras on one interior segment. It was like, Let's just throw this all on and see what we get."
And you get that, too: this is real. You can't rehearse it, script it, practice it or fake it. Most of it is one take and done.
Looking back on the show's first season—it's been renewed for a second—Tamara says, "it was such a heartening experience, spending time with people doing so many good things."
You're invited to share that experience.
Tamara Lackey is a portrait photographer whose work has been described as "expressive, soulful, funny, beautiful" and has appeared in such publications as O Magazine, Men's Journal and Parenting Magazine. Her imagery has also been showcased on ABC's The Martha Stewart Show, ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and NBC's The Today Show. When not shooting, Tamara is writing about and teaching photography, business and work/life balance at workshops and conferences around the world.More articles by this contributor