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Brian Lehmann


Brian Lehmann fits the definition of a classic risk taker.

He’s the kind of guy who wakes up thinking about Indonesia, buys a ticket later that day and is driving a scooter around the country as soon as he lands.

(Yes, that really happened.)

But Brian doesn’t just take risks or hop on a plane for the fun of it. He does it because he’s afraid of what will happen if he stops taking these kinds of risks.

After graduating from college with a degree in photojournalism, Brian got a job at the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado. It was an enviable job to have scored so young, and Brian was doing well as a staff photographer. He was learning a lot, working hard and having a blast going out on assignment.

He was set… or so he thought.

A year and a half into his job, he and his 250 coworkers got the shocking news that the newspaper was shutting down. They were all let go with little warning and no safety net. It was scary, Brian said, but even scarier for the people who had families to take care of.

It was in that moment that Brian realized he couldn’t leave his future to chance, and now was his time to take risks, big risks.

He moved back to Lincoln and relaunched his landscaping and lawn care business. He’d mowed lawns ever since he was 14 and the business had paid his way through college, but now it was sustaining him while he sorted out his next steps.

Brian started thinking long and hard about why he was a photographer.

He remembered how he’d majored in business and dabbled in flying before changing his major to journalism.

He thought about the first time he met Joel Sartore, a Lincoln native and National Geographic photographer. How he traded manual labor jobs for photography critiques and life lessons with the famed photographer who eventually became his mentor.

And he came to the conclusion that he couldn’t do lawn care forever. Sure, he liked it and he was even pretty good at it, but there was no way he could let go of photojournalism or even let it slump into the category of ‘hobby.’

Brian decided that instead of working for a newspaper or even one single magazine, he’d do his own stories, set his own schedule and find stories both locally and internationally. He discovered that he could plant flowers, mow lawns and do landscape design as a way to fund his international trips, and so far it’s worked.

He’s worked in places like Nicaragua, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and India. He laughs about the time he peed his pants while on a horribly rocky boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea with some angry turtle hunters, and the time he was arrested in India only to have the local police feed him dinner and Facebook friend him before releasing him.

These are the kinds of experiences that Brian craves when he’s back in Lincoln. His work varies from week to week. Some weeks he’s more focused on lawn care and others he’s gearing up for a trip and doing research about the next country he’s going to visit.

In May he’ll be in Uganda with a group of photojournalism students from UNL and in August he’s heading back to Nicaragua to finish shooting a story about endangered green sea turtles.

Last year his first photo story was published in National Geographic. It was about the death culture in Indonesia, a story he’d had a strong hunch about and following his hunch paid off. In the process he made friends with translators, had coffee with dozens of village leaders and was able to expose a traditional way of life for a small but beautiful group of people.

These are the stories Brian thinks about when he’s adding mulch to a client’s flower bed, walking his dog, Murphy, or sitting in his backyard. They are the stories of people and cultures that have woven themselves into Brian’s own story in ways he can’t quite describe.

Sure, he said, he’s taking a risk to fly around the world with little more than a camera and an idea, but the people he photographs are taking their own risk when they open their lives and share their stories with him. Brian has lived small parts of people’s lives with them through the lens of his camera. What he’s seen has changed the way he sees life, how he lives life and how he wants to spend his time.

But the thing Brian said he keeps coming back to is that he’s lucky.

Lucky that he can run a business that helps fund his passions. Lucky that he’s surrounded by mentors and fellow photographers who help him refine his skills. Lucky that he has the stability to hop on a plane when he needs to and lucky that at the age of 35 he’s doing something he loves.

He’s lucky that he gets to take risks, and he doesn’t want that to ever change.

Michael Forsberg


It was one of those moments that seemed worthy of a photo – the swaying prairie grasses, fresh outdoor smells and the visible breath as we chatted on that brisk Nebraska morning.

It all just fit. The hum of a distant train and nearby birds rising and falling in their own little dance.

Familiar, quiet, restful…this was his element.

Michael Forsberg spoke gently but deliberately about his work. He described how he grew up loving and exploring the outdoors, haphazardly fell into photography, trained himself to write because he needed to and somehow ended up being one of the most well-known nature and conservation photographers in the country.

But when Michael talks about his story, he seems a little surprised at how it all unfolded. A job he shouldn’t have been offered, a career he never dreamed of and a family he works to treasure.

He’s surprised, because this wasn’t in his original plan, but it somehow became his plan. His story, camera or no camera, is about appreciating and sharing his home state of Nebraska.

“A lot of folks consider this flyover country, but that’s not true,” he started. “It doesn’t knock your socks off at first glance, but it’s every bit as remarkable…You really have to linger.”

It’s about lingering. That’s what he does best.

As a nature photographer there is a lot of patient waiting that’s involved in the process. The light, setting, creatures and even the elements are all part of making each photo say something.

Michael doesn’t take pictures, he makes them. It’s like a puzzle, everything has its place. He lingers over moments, waiting for the exact one he’s been anticipating for hours or days. Then, he captures it.

Michael’s job is to witness some of Nebraska’s rawest and most striking natural moments – migrating Sandhill cranes, stunning prairie sunsets and rolling ranch lands.

But what he’s seen as he’s grown older, and experienced more as a man, husband and father, is that his lingering isn’t just for the sake of lingering.

Sure, it’s the adventure-seeking job he dreamed of, but there’s more to it than simply capturing breathtaking moments.

Michael loves Nebraska and the Great Plains because he’s spent time taking them in, making them his own and soaking up their subtle glory. Now, he said, it’s about stepping out from behind the camera to share what he knows and sees.

So, he writes books and speaks to children and adults. He teaches classes and pursues new ways to explore and learn about his home state and its surrounding natural habitats. 

It’s a terrifying new element of his work, he said. But again, when he focuses on sharing with people instead of pleasing, it taps into why he’s so immersed in this work.

It’s about sharing.

“We each have a story to tell and we’re writing that story our entire lives,” he said.

Michael loves the way he can capture powerful moments with his camera to help tell his story, but he also knows that he can’t capture every story or moment with a picture.

He rarely features people in his photos, because it’s not his focus, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t part of his work.

When thinking back to some of his favorite projects he’s surprised that no specific image comes to mind, it’s just faces, he said. He remembers the people who let him sit at their dinner table, explore their family-owned ranch and those who make up his personal story.

He’s thankful his parents encouraged him to play outdoors until it was dark. He’s thankful his family has understood and supported his work over the years. And he’s thankful for a community that sees his work as more than just pretty pictures.

It’s been about people in an understated but profound way.

People have honored him by sharing their stories, and Michael Forsberg’s work is his way of returning the favor.

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