A blade of grass. That's the shot that led Brandon Todd, 27, of BRANNDANNART to know photography was the field for him. Hype off using his mom's camera at age 16, he went outside to test shoot and boom, his passion was realized. After bringing the camera back up to his face, he was amazed at his work having a depth of field that displayed what seemed to be a single blade of grass in focus. Since that moment, he's never stopped shooting and has put his energy towards manifesting his destiny. Todd is now the youngest black lead photographer in the National Football League, and continues to blaze his own path while breaking barriers.
Hailing from Long Island, NY, Brandon took full advantage of opportunities that were available in the state. During high school, he interned with the equipment department of the New York Jets who held camp at Hofstra University, approximately 10 minutes from his house. Then, while attending college at SUNY Cortland, he continued his involvement with the team working through multiple departments including operations, marketing and sponsorships, eventually becoming the team's assistant photographer.
Having been courageous enough to speak his dreams into existence, one day while an operations intern, he told his boss about his passion for photography. He shared, "I let my boss know, hey I do photography and I showed him my website, and he was like this is kind of good. Do you want to shoot a game? Just for fun. I’m like yeah, sure. Never shot a football game before. This is my first time." Brandon swiftly got prepared to put his skills to the test, and rented a lens to cover the game.
"The team photographer, at the time, was like this picture is amazing. This is great. I knew the picture was dope, but I didn’t think it was going to be renowned like that. It wasn’t like world renowned, but to have it praised like that, and it’s your first game, is really cool. So, they actually offered me a job from that game," recalled Todd. This laid the foundation for his professional photography career, and since then he's moved to Charlotte, N.C., and currently works for the Carolina Panthers as their lead photographer.
It's rare to see someone his age with approximately 10 years of NFL experience. It makes you wonder, how did he go from shooting a blade of grass to making his mark capturing time in such a fast paced industry? When asked the question, Todd responded "I don’t know." Further elaborating, "When I actually got that first opportunity to shoot football, it was kind of like a no going back situation. It’s funny enough. The music kind of has my heart in a tear as well, so it’s like I’m torn between concert photography and football photography. I truly love both and I really can’t choose. Those are my two loves and it’s kind of funny because they’re both like fast paced. When you’re shooting a guy like Lil Uzi, he’s jumping around just as much as a football player running down the field."
His work is crisp and clear with a signature editing style. When he shot Usher Raymond in concert, you could see the sweat dripping from Raymond's face. The sweat! How does he do it?
"It’s all about knowing the technical aspect of things. You have to know what your settings are on your camera and what settings call for what type of shot, because there are shots where things are blurry, but that’s what the photographer wanted," he detailed.
Brandon is leveling up in his career and established his own brand, BRANNDANNART. The name was formed by combining his first and middle names, Brandon and Daniel, pronounced "Bran-Dan-Art." His brand specializes in creative direction, portraits, live music and sports. A misconception about him is that he doesn't shoot portrait or lifestyle photography, but it's where his work originated and is another one of his loves. In the future, he hopes to find time to shoot more of that style of photography, and has a goal of shooting magazine covers, such as Billboard or The Fader.
Todd also has a passion for giving back, and encouraging youth to explore creative arts careers. He desires to establish a non-profit that allows kids to express their creative side through an out-of-school time program, that teaches photography, videography, content creation, and also promotes other forms of art such as creating paintings, drawings, and sculptures.
Brandon passionately expressed, "That’s my dream. If I could have a building where kids can just come, either afterschool or on the weekends, and they can learn from real professionals in the league for free or professionals in that specific field for free. I think that’s one of the greatest things that I could offer to the world." Though, he isn't waiting until then to make an impact on the next generation. He's already begun giving back to the community by hosting webinars with his media colleagues to encourage and connect students of color with resources and advice needed to excel in the sports and entertainment industry.
His work has been featured online through Billboard, Hypebeast, Nike, and of course the NFL. He's known for capturing the moment, but doing so in a way resonates with viewers. Brandon's work and his name are becoming unforgettable, and you are sure to see more of his portfolio as he continues to raise the bar, letting others know that it's possible to achieve the like!
Before the interview wrapped, Brandon participated in a lightning round of questions to offer advice to someone interested in photography. Here's the knowledge he dropped:
Tiffany Johnson: What’s a good starter DSLR camera?
Brandon Todd: I would say always go full frame; full frame is the professional standard. So, my first DSLR was the Canon 6d. I think it’s a perfect entry pro level type of camera. It also shoots video if you’re looking to do something like that, but for photography it’s to me still one of Canon’s best cameras.
Which two lenses are your favorite as starter lens?
If you have a 24-70 [mm] and a 70-200 [mm], you’ll never need anything else to be honest. You can do everything you want from those two lenses.
They both come in 2.8 [mm]. That’s perfect for anybody.
What’s a beginning editing software?
Adobe Lightroom is what I started off with, I use Photoshop now to edit my pictures, but think that Lightroom is pretty much easy enough for everyone to use starting off.
Which starter lighting equipment is good?
Go with an on-camera flash. You can use any of the Canon speed lights if you use Canon, or Profoto makes a cool speed light for every camera, so definitely the on-camera speed lights. They’re multi-functional, so you can take it off your camera and if you have a trigger you can use it off camera. I learned towards the latter parts of my career, now, that you always need a flash.
Photography can be expensive. What’s the max amount that folks should cap their spending if they’re new to the craft? That's a hard question and you can answer it in a different way.
I would say if you’re starting and you really want to put yourself in a good position to where it’s like, I have this amount of money and I’ll spend this until I get more money. I would definitely say the body of the camera you want, so whether that be the Canon 6d or the Canon 5d Mark IV, and one lens, and that go-to lens is the 24-70 [mm]. You can’t go wrong with that lens. It’s perfect for pretty much every situation. If you’re trying to shoot landscape, if you’re trying to shoot portraits, music, food photography, anything you want. That’s the lens that you should always have in your kit.
What are some avoidable photography mistakes?
Shooting with the lens cap on. But, I would say definitely know your ISO’s. Your ISO’s and your f-stop’s, just know what you’re shooting at because you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re shooting on auto. I don’t think you should ever shoot on auto, even when you’re starting off you should try to go right into the fire and learn manual. Learn the technical aspects of the camera. I think that’s the most important. A lot of people just want to pick it up and go. If you want to shoot on auto, you should be on auto for like 3 weeks at most, and then ease your way into manual. It makes you a better photographer, knowing exactly what you need to do for certain situations.
Any last advice that you’d give you a novice photographer?
Just stay true to you. Don’t chase what’s cool right now. I know a lot people are shooting artists and trying to shoot music photography and things like that and if it’s your passion, it’s your passion! Definitely go after it, but don’t just enter that realm of photography because that’s what gets the most likes on Instagram.
Stay true to what you want. If you’re really into weddings, shoot weddings. If you’re into babies and you want to shoot toddler photography, it’s nothing wrong with these things, but I think that creating the art, it has to be a genuine thing. It shouldn’t be about how much likes you’re getting. It should just be strictly about the art and you creating.
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