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11.06.2015
In Todd Brewerís Image

Championship Bull Riding is an organization dedicated to the sport and entertainment of professional bull riding. It takes an army of dedicated individuals to orchestrate the events you see live in the arena and on the Fox Sports Network broadcast. The men and women who are professionals producing this great show are primarily unnoticed as the cowboys and the animal athletes win the buckles, money, and custom prizes each and every week along the Mahindra Road to Cheyenne.

Championship Bull Riding will be profiling the staff that make CBR what it is today during the next two months. We will start with one of the longest serving staff of the CBR, Todd Brewer, who has been with CBR since 2009.

As Editor of the Short Round Magazine I have worked with many photographers and I believe all great photographers (like most professions) have an undying belief and an above average commitment to their work and what they are doing. This is an accurate description of Todd Brewer.

ďYou donít take a good photograph, you make it,Ē is a famous quote by the infamous Ansel Adams that accurately describes the official photographer of Championship Bull Riding, Todd Brewer.

Born and raised in Graham, Texas, where he currently resides, Todd escaped the Lonestar state and lived part of the year in NYC from 1996-2005 because it was about as far from small town Texas as you could get. 

ďI learned a lot and made some good friends that I still keep in contact with today. Went back for a visit earlier this year and I may never go back again. I donít know how I lived there so long!Ē

 

What were you like in High School? 

I did fine with my grades, but a lot of it seemed like a waste of time. I think education should feature more real life skills, like how credit card debt works and basic business classes. I took an agriculture class in welding and I already knew how to weld, looking back, that was a waste of my time. I was bored with high school by the end.

 

How did you get started with photography?

Iíd always had an interest in photography and have many shoeboxes full of bad images to back that up.  In high school I worked for a photo lab, mixing chemicals, taking orders, etc. After school, I went to Tarleton for a semester, because thatís what youíre supposed to do.  Again, I was bored with it, quickly.  Went back and worked for the same man that owned the photo lab I worked at in high school, he had opened a portrait studio. I learned about lighting and posing and all the facets of portrait and event photography. Shot some high school sports, mostly football, but the bulk of the work was in studio portraiture. I learn by doing and reading about techniques and then implementing those methods, not really a classroom learner although I did attend several workshops and short courses covering different aspects of portraiture and event photography. Worked at that job for about 2 years. 

 

What do you do to photos before sending to customers?

I shoot all my photos in RAW format, which means that itís simply all the data as the camera sensor saw it, no color corrections, no sharpening, contrast or any other corrections are applied in camera. That gives you the most control over the image after capture. You can use the computer in your camera to apply those corrections or you can use your more powerful, capable computer, whether laptop or desktop. You basically are doing all the correction work that the photo lab used to do in the film days. It is time intensive. 

 

How do you process photos after events?

After an event, photos must be identified, my system is as follows: Association-city-year-sequence #-rider-bull-contractor code this ensures I have no duplicate file names ever.

Then photos are cropped, all corrections made, out of focus images discarded. That is one of the most difficult things, to permanently delete an out of focus image that is great action, but thatís the way it goes, I donít want my name on an out of focus shot. On an event where I shoot 50+ outs, Iíll have about 650-700 files, edited down to 400-450. Editing on an event like that is at least a couple to three days working on them all day, sometimes longer if I had lighting issues or other complications during the event.

 

What is your favorite city for CBR events?

I like Del Rio a lot, especially when we still had the Sunday daytime perf, itís still one of my favorites, but Cheyenne gets the top spot in my book hands down, nothing close to it, especially with the last couple years, the crowds and the bulls and riders being the cream of the crop, it just doesnít get any better than that.

 

What do you do on your days off?

My father has a cattle trucking company, I help in the shop, we do oil changes, tires, brakes, we do all the basic non-diagnostic engine work on the trucks as well. Anything that requires a wrench and not a computer, we can do. I really like working with my father, heís definitely the hardest working man I know. For fun, on his days off, he works. I also like to fish and hunt, do some woodworking, read, travel, ski.

Editorís note: He is a gourmet chef and certified ďfoodieĒ. Never miss an opportunity to let Todd pick the restaurant.

 

What is your day like when you arrive at a CBR?

If itís a new venue, I like to be there the day before or at least very early the day of the perf to scout the building. Iíll figure out where the electricity is located, luckily, most of the buildings with the CBR events are fairly easy to work with, usually the building staff is very accommodating as well. Set up can take anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on whether there is a catwalk to hang lights overhead, whether I have to carry all my gear up by hand or if thereís an elevator, and how much extension cord I have to run. Tear down after the event generally takes half as long as set up. Cities and venues weíve been to multiple times, like Bossier City and El Paso are fairly easy for me now, because Iíve figured out what works, but Iím always looking to make it better or different than before. 

 

How do you create the jaw dropping photographs we are all so accustomed to seeing?

I look at lighting the arena using the same techniques I learned for portraiture, just on a much larger scale. Knowing that if I hang one more light on either side, I can get a catch light on the horns and top of the riderís helmet to help add a little definition.  When people look at that photo, I hope they see itís a little different than other shots they might see. I donít think a lot of people realize what makes it different and thatís fine, as long as they like it. 

 

Do you study other photographers?

I look at other photographers work all the time and think, ďWould I have lit that differently? A lot of times youíll  see what another photographer has done really well and it will give you ideas, inspiration to be better at your efforts, keep working to make better images, because shooting the same type of events over and again it can be easy to fall into a rut. Changing things up can help keep it fresh. 

 

What do you like the most about the travel?

I like going places and seeing new things without a schedule.  I can turn an 8 hour drive into 3 days if I get sidetracked.

 

How long does it take to process a CBR event shoot?

It depends, but at least a couple to three full time days, often not consecutive.

 

What is the cost of doing business for CBR or other entities?

In the arena, Iím carrying about $8000 worth with me between camera/lens/radio transmitters for strobes/memory card/etc. In the rafters or catwalk Iíll have up to 10 strobes, all with radio receivers, clamps, cords, etc - $7,000 computers, software, web hosting, hard drives, online tools, memory, cases, light stands, cords, and all other items bring it up to a grand total of about $25,000 to $30,000.  Insurance on top of that, for the gear, not health insurance.  And equipment upgrades every couple years. And repairs. Lots of dollars to make the images look the way I want them to. Digital is not any cheaper, in a lot of ways itís more expensive. More time is spent with the digital process. Film was cheap, time is not.

 

Is there something you always ask to yourself/think just before you push the button? 

Sometimes you are just in a groove and everything clicks. The other 90% of the time I actively think about the way things are going. Sometimes Iím shooting a tick early and Iíll tell myself to slow down, wait for the action, even though that might just be ľ-Ĺ second difference. With the strobes set up like I like, I have slightly under a second for them to recycle for a follow up shot. In an eight second ride, six frames is about average for me, then the hang up or bullfighters working after. Daylight photography is way, way easier. The camera that I have will shoot 12 frames a second, so if you wanted, you could hammer on it and then pick the ďbestĒ one. Thatís not my style, I still shoot the same way as if I had lights up and have to wait for the action, plus who wants to edit 100-120 frames of every ride? To me itís a waste of my time and ironically youíll often end up missing the ďbestĒ shot. Iíll shoot more frames at a daylight perf, but itíll be because thereís no restriction on my follow up shot due to strobes recycling, Iím still not motor driving it. I try to shoot right before the peak action, because if you see it through the viewfinder, you just missed it.

 

If you could take your art in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, where would it lead?

Iíd like to do more action photography with a specific plan or image in mind beforehand.  A shoot where youíd hire riders to come get on several head, and just take the day, or maybe two to work on lighting it in a way that would never work in a dynamic situation like a rodeo or bull riding. Try some different techniques and just make some really solid images. More of a production, more control. 

 

What new career would you like to try if given the opportunity?

Iíd consider filmmaking, to fly the drones and I think it would be a challenge to transition to moving images to tell your story.

 

As an artist who and what influences your work?

I constantly look at other photographers work and Iím humbled every day. Instagram is full of photographers of all genres who are just crushing it every single day. The internet has offered exposure to so many excellent artists that are pursuing photography as a hobby or second job. 

I grew up reading a couple books about rodeo in the 70ís. A book titled ďLet ĎEr BuckĒ by Douglas Kent Hall, who was a very accomplished photographer in so many areas, he chronicled rodeo in the early 70ís and featured photos and stories of many of the men Iíd heard stories about from my father who rode bulls in the RCA during that time. Another book I read over and over from later in the same decade was ďOn Down the RoadĒ by Bob St John. Both worth looking into. Iíve recently, in the last year or so, been exposed to the work of Jerry Gustafson, possibly the worldís finest rodeo photographer. Gustafson was everywhere you could be in the rodeo world during the 70ís through the 80ís and captured some of the best images of rodeo history as it was being made. He has a book out now ďThrough the Lens of Jerry Gustafson,Ē available on Amazon that is the perfect Christmas gift for any fan of rodeo. I canít recommend it highly enough. 

The community of rodeo photographers is fairly small and Iím influenced by quite a few. As far as other influences go, none really affect my work. 

Editorís note: Todd is an avid reader and can loan you a book on just about anything from Carbohydrates to politics!

 

Photographers use their cameras as tools of exploration, passports to inner sanctums, and instruments for documenting history. Their images are proof that photography matters. For more information or a glance into the world of Todd Brewer go to toddbrewerphotography.com and follow him on Instagram @BrewerBullPhotos and Facebook "Todd Brewer". 


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