Brodie Ledford says it was a Christmas gift he’d bought for his wife that led to his career in photography.
The 41-year-old Frederick native always loved video cameras and taking photos, but it wasn’t until he purchased a camera for his wife, Dara, a fine arts major in college with a focus on photography, that he became enamored with the art form.
For their Christmas together after she graduated college, Ledford “went out and bought her a brand new DSLR [digital] camera,” he said.
“The funny thing is, the second she opened it, I started playing with it,” he said during a phone interview. “And that camera then became mine. The rest, as they say, is history. That was nearly 17 years ago.”
Today, Ledford owns Brodie Ledford Studios in Frederick and was recently featured in a photography competition called Creator Series. Ledford was one of 10 photographers selected to be part of the 11-episode series, available to stream online.
In each episode, the photographers were challenged in various aspects of photography, from lighting to composition to posing — and they were given only 10 minutes to get the shot.
The web series, which can be viewed on YouTube, was judged by Canon Explorers of Light photographers: Sal Cincotta, an award-winning wedding and portrait photographer; Laretta Houston, who is known for shooting the Tyra Banks Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition; and Vanessa Joy, a renowned wedding photographer. The series was based in St. Louis, where Cincotta, the show’s producer and host, owns his studio.
Ledford entered the contest after seeing a promo for Creator Series at ShutterFest, a large photography conference. He admits he had reservations about entering a competition that would be broadcast worldwide. He considers himself a private person. But he decided to apply anyway.
After applying, Ledford was then interviewed. His portfolio and online presence also were reviewed before he got to the next round. Then he had a submit a 90-second video that explained “why us.” But after sending in the video, several weeks went by, and Ledford assumed he hadn’t been chosen.
“Then when I finally had lost all hope, I got an email saying ‘congratulations, you’re in,’” he recalled. “I was completely shocked, and I was excited and terrified all at the same time.”
He spent July shooting the series in St. Louis. It premiered online in August.
His biggest adjustment was learning how to use the Canon gear that was required for the series because, of course, it was sponsored by Canon.
Cincotta was each photographer’s assistant throughout the series.
“It’s a little bit intimidating because he’s absolutely fantastic,” Ledford said. “He’s one of those guys who expects the best because he is there as the best, and he’s known to be amazing.”
The photographers being allowed only 10 minutes to shoot their assignments for the day made it all the more challenging. Normally, setting up a studio shot can take up to an hour, Ledford said. “We basically had 10 minutes to pick the gear we wanted, set the shot up, talk to the model about what we were looking for, coach the model and then shoot it.”
Then, the photographers were asked to immediately hand over their memory cards.
It wasn’t until every photographer finished their shoot that the contestants could see the photos they’d shot and work on them further. They got 30 minutes to select and edit the images. But, Ledford said, realistically, by the time he would select his images, he would only have 15 minutes, on average, to edit.
“The images that were created are mind-blowing to me — that it was done in such a short period of time,” Ledford said. “That’s where the challenge was.”
The cards were given to the judges who then selected the best and the worst. Every week someone was sent home.
“My favorite competition was probably the reflections competition,” where a model was reflected in a mirror or window, for example, he said. “Because it was something that was outside of what I would normally do.”
The entire competition, he said, was challenging because it forced the photographers to try a type of photography they normally don’t do every day.
He said the series really showed that there’s more to photography than people realize.
“I think the biggest thing that is difficult for photographers is that people think that the cameras have a magic button because they don’t see the behind-the-scenes stuff,” he said. “People don’t see the editing process. They don’t see all the lighting. They don’t understand setting [the camera] on manual mode, not on auto mode.”
Ledford credits his wife for getting him into photography as a profession, and he dabbled in it while he held a full-time job as a store manager for Best Buy.
“My wife would take my photos, and she would make photo books for me and just keep, you know, pushing me and say, ‘Hey, look, it’s great stuff,’” he said.
He and his wife, who is also a photographer, cofounded Brodie Ledford Studios, and when someone asked if he did weddings, it became his first professional gig. After a while, his wife again encouraged him to take the leap full-time into his new passion.
“I walked away from that life, and I was able to do what I want to do now,” he said. “And it’s unbelievable.”
Ledford’s business is considered a luxury, service-based company, where he focuses on client relationships.
“There are a lot of people out there that take pictures, and there’s a huge difference between a picture taker and a professional photographer,” he said. “I really pride myself on the fact that we focus on the experience for the client, and our clients truly do become like friends and family.”