Local sports and photography worlds are mourning the loss of a great as Jeff Billings, known to many in the Northland for his work photographing Liberty high school teams, passed away this week.
KCSports.net, a sports photography service focused on Liberty area schools, in 2006. In 2008, Marty Williams joined Billings, and the pair began shooting everything from high school sports, air shows, nature, wildlife, pastoral scenes to experimental photography.
Williams described Billings as an inspired photographer, patient and knowledgeable instructor and a solid friend.
“Widely known for his generosity with resources, knowledge and friendship, Jeff built a life filled with art, beauty and a circle of friends that stretched from the Arctic Circle to a wildlife preserve in Kenya, from Alaska to the Dakotas, from Escalante to Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Billings’s love of photography saw him traveling around the world to get the perfect shot.
“He was a perfectionist post-production technician whose speed and agility getting images online after a shoot will not be matched, nor will his capacity for making friends,” said Williams. “He freely gave of his talent and knowledge, and reveled in the success of his acolytes as any great teacher does. He leaves behind a coterie of better photographers than he found.”
Billings, Williams and some of their colleagues have collaborated with the Courier-Tribune to provide action shots from some Liberty and Liberty North sporting events since 2011.
“Jeff was always kind and worked well with our staff at the CT. Jeff was also gracious with his knowledge, providing tips to new area photographers on how to shoot in certain local conditions and locations like dimly lit gyms. We certainly appreciated his knowledge and partnership,” said Courier-Tribune Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski.
Billings’ passing prompted many in the local high school sports world to take to Twitter to express their appreciation for the community photographer and business owner, who also once owned Billings Construction.
Eric Langhorst of Langhorst Photography sat with Billings at the William Jewell basketball tournament at the end of December.
“We hadn’t talked in person for a while so it was great to catch up. … The last email I got from him was letting me know that he thought I did a great job on a recent project. That will always be special to me because I always knew when he gave a compliment it was sincere.”
Langhorst said everything he does, from gear to software and editing, are a result of asking Billings questions and learning from him.
“I can’t believe that he won’t be a phone call away when I want to talk photography. The most important thing I hope to carry on from Jeff is to enjoy taking pictures of kids doing what they love and sharing them. He truly cared about the coaches and athletes that he took photos of over the years,” Langhorst said.
Ali Neibling, a Liberty soccer coach and English teacher, said Billings was a great teacher in his own right.
“When I first got my DSLR camera, I signed up for photo classes … and then had to cancel because of conflicts with soccer. But, Jeff Billings saw me with my camera out at all the boys soccer games, came over and gave me the best tips. I found a friend. Heart of gold, that man,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Liberty High School Girls Soccer team wrote, “When Covid-19 took our 2020 season away, Jeff Billings dug deep into his photo archives and created special photo posters for our seniors out of the kindness of his big heart. No payment involved. He was a generous man who showed us how to use his passion to bring joy to others.”
Coach Steve Person and Liberty North Eagle girls’ soccer called Billings “a local treasure.”
“Rest in peace. Prayers to those he left behind,” he and the team wrote.
Liberty High School Jays Soccer coach Thomas Rottjakob met Billings when a friend of his wanted to start photographing soccer as the class of 2011 was making their back-to-back state runs.
“Jeff then photographed both programs for years. He was a huge part of Blue Jays Athletics and will be dearly missed,” wrote the coach on Twitter.
The Liberty boys basketball team Twitter thread on Sunday, Jan. 16, stated Billings, an avid fan, “loved our program and each member of our teams.”
“He was a friend. We will miss him,” the team wrote.
Lane Green, athletic director at Liberty North, said he and everyone in the department were sad to hear of Billings’ passing.
“For many years, Jeff demonstrated his support of our student-athletes through the thousands of pictures he took at various Liberty North athletic events. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He will be dearly missed.”
While the photography world lost a beloved professional, Williams said he is mourning more than a colleague.
“There was no better friend,” he said.