Highly sought-after, world renowned fitness photographer David Ford has been announced as the official photographer for the Canadian Bodybuilding Federation (CBBF). The CBBF is Canada's only IFBB recognized governing body for amateur bodybuilding, fitness and body fitness (figure) competition.
Ford’s proven talent, ability, customer service and attention to detail are only a few of the many reasons that he was named to this position. No matter how big his brand gets, David Ford always remains humble and respectful. Respectful of those before him, and those who will follow him. He never hesitates to give help and advice to up and coming photographers and models alike.
David Ford’s experience in the fitness industry spans more than two decades. David is Canada’s longest practicing, regularly printed fitness cover photographer today. If you have picked up a copy of Status Fitness magazine over the past ten years you have seen David's work. Additionally, over the years his work was regularly seen in Musclemag, Oxygen, Flex, Inside Fitness, MMA Authority, Ultimate MMA, Planet Muscle, Muscle Insider, Beyond Fitness, American Curves, VEX and others. In addition to the fitness industry, he has been featured multiple times in photography magazines including Shutterbug and PhotoLife where he's shared some of his story, insights and photography techniques. David's work has been seen on Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Fight Network, Total Divas, used by the WWE, Fighter's Nation, Enemy Entertainment and requested by Fashion Television. He has made multiple TV appearances.
I sat down with my long-time friend and colleague to talk about his new appointment.
AB: What a huge honor to be named the CBBF official photographer, congratulations! It’s been 15 years since you first had your coverage of the CBBF show published – the Winnipeg show in 2002. Tell us about that.
DF: Thank you Asha. It is an honour to be given this responsibility. I had attended national shows before 2002 but that was the first year that my coverage was published in a multi-page spread in Oxygen Magazine. Denise Johnson was a writer for Oxygen at that time and we teamed up to cover the show promoted by Kary and Uche Odiatu. If I remember correctly, Kary and Uche tried something unique at this show and incorporated several fitness related activities – chin-ups, box jumps, push ups etc. to show an athletic side to female competitors. It was a fun weekend!
[Kai Greene on the Arnold stage]
AB: You’ve always had a high level of respect for your colleagues; despite being asked by many athletes to shoot you at National level shows, you stuck to the rules and did not violate the code. Now that you’re in the official position to shoot, how do you feel?
DF: I have always respected those that came before me because it was those who set the groundwork for my opportunities. I firmly believe that what goes around comes around. We are all on a similar path through life and it is important to be grateful to others and I truly believe respect plays an important part in the journey. If we do not respect those around us, how can we expect respect in return?
As a professional photographer, there is a code of ethics I follow. This is paramount for the success of photography as a living. I have respect for everyone that respects the profession of photography. I have received many congratulations from peer photographers and I appreciate each. I’m confident I will have the respect of fellow professionals while serving with the CBBF and I look to include some of those photographers when and where the opportunity arises.
Looking back, Garry Bartlett was the head photographer for the CBBF for many years and I would sit beside him and learn from him but never once did I step on his toes – this is what I call respect. Every event has an official photographer and it was always my practice to fully respect those photographers holding the position. There are shows where I leave my camera at home and simply sit and support friends - it is not a difficult concept. Garry brought journalism to the Canadian bodybuilding scene for more than thirty years and played a pivotal role in where the sport is today. Likewise, I look forward to continuing that role in moving the sport forward this year.
[Professional Photographers of Canada Code of Ethics That David Practices]
AB: What were the first fitness/bodybuilding shows you ever attended? Were you spectating? Photographing?
The first bodybuilding show I ever saw was way back in the 1980s. I was just a kid but I was fortunate enough to attend a NLABBA show at the Newfoundland Hotel in St. John’s. Today I think it is called the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland. This was when Marlo House, June Harris, and Rob Plowman were tearing up the east coast. Russ Testo was the guest poser. I was very impressed and inspired. From that day on I attended as many shows as I could. The first bodybuilding event I attended after moving to Alberta was an ABBA show at the Memorial Center in Red Deer in 1993. The first show I photographed was around 1999. I remember seeing Brian and Donna Logue and was very impressed with how well the association was run and wanted to contribute to the growth and exposure opportunities. Brian and Donna brought me in and I would like to thank them personally for allowing me to become a part of the ABBA. Several years ago I was granted an honorary lifetime membership. I am very proud of that.
[Tanji Johnson performing on the Arnold stage]
AB: What is it that sparked your interest in fitness photography?
DF: I was always the skinny kid growing up and when I turned 16 I asked my parents if I could buy a weight set. I was working hard - newspaper routes, landscaping, siding - since I was 12, so I had a little money saved up. The weights I bought were the vinyl and concrete filled plates – the Joe Weider set from Sears. The set came with diagrams of exercises and one day when I was at a book store, I saw FLEX magazine with Bob Paris on the cover. He was my inspiration. Every issue had fit models and I would cut them out and put them all on my wall. At university, my wall was covered with fitness models and in the center, was a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger poster. This is where my interest first began.
I attended many bodybuilding events over the years but never brought a camera to a show until about 1999. Tom Prince was guest posing. I couldn’t believe no one was photographing the hard work put in by the competitors. I would bring about 100 rolls of film to a show and go through most of them. It cost me a fortune to buy my seats, the 100 rolls of film, and then the processing. I would get everything sorted and I would give the photos to the competitors the next time I saw them. To put photos online, I would use a flat-bed scanner to scan the 4x6 prints. Talk about a lot of work!! I did this for years. Eventually I was bestowed the title of Official ABBA photographer where I now have a lifetime exclusive contract to shoot all their shows. The appreciation shown to me by the ABBA executive over the years has been heartwarming. It definitely feels like a family and I appreciate everyone so much for their continued support.
In 2004 I began attending and photographing shows in BC. I remember meeting the BC photographers for the first time - David Aboody, Larry Niven and JP Erickson. When they recognized who I was they all did the "bowing hands" towards me. They welcomed me into BC immediately. I have been to dozens of bodybuilding shows over the years and have worked hard to earn the title of Official Photographer of the Bristish Columbia Body Building Association (BCABBA).
[The legend himself - Arnold Schwarzenegger - pointing at David Ford]
AB: Who inspired you or helped you in the early days?
There are several people I credit for inspiring and helping me when I started out in fitness photography. Terry Goodlad, who now lives in Vegas, was very helpful in aiding me with my first magazine submissions. He shared with me the many ins-and-outs in the industry and even how to prep my first slides in the archival storage pages to send them into the Robert Kennedy Publishing. Michael Palmer from the UK was also helpful as was Scott Appleby from Toronto. If I remember correctly Scott (or Michael) had a forum where a few fitness photographers would "hang" out and share ideas and photos. These three gentlemen helped me open the door and I will always be grateful to them. It is difficult to find real people who actually care about other's success. I always hope I am able to help someone else.
After my first submission to RKP, I was working on the computer when I received a phone call from Robert Kennedy himself. This was 2003. I was almost too nervous to pick up the phone but I did and we talked for about forty minutes. He asked me about my lighting, my film choice, my experience in the industry and then offered industry advice. He would send me hand drawn sketches of poses he would like to see from me in my photo submissions. I had the chance to talk with him on numerous occasions but one of the highlights was sitting beside him photographing a show together. That was special. I appreciated him tremendously and after his passing, I wrote a special thank you blog to Bob. Musclemag saw my writing and used a portion of it as the lead in the memorial issue of Musclemag dedicated to Bob. I was very flattered.
[Clip from Musclemag - special Robert Kennedy tribute issue with David's quote at the top]
AB: You’ve always taken your profession of photography seriously. Not only have you been printed in Oxygen, Musclemag, FLEX, Inside Fitness and other magazines over the years but today you hold the prestigious position as head photographer for Status Fitness Magazine. You stay at the forefront of the industry by continuously bettering yourself through education and peer reviewed acknowledgment. Why is this so important?
DF: Thank you Asha. As in any profession if you are not moving forward, you are slowly going in reverse. It is important for me to continue my education in photography. I have always wanted to learn as much as possible and have opened myself to critique so I could consequently grow. I am proud to be a member of two professional photography organizations – the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) and the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). I am accredited in six styles of photography in both countries primarily related to my work in the fitness industry. What that involves is - I presented ten images in a specific style to be critiqued and judged by peer professionals – when all ten photos are approved, you get an accreditation. The lighting, poses, composition all must be on point. There can be no hot spots, no distractions etc. They are very particular and rightfully so. I have all six accreditations framed and hanging in my office.
Each year the professional photographers have seminars and week long conferences and expos. It is fun to get together with pros from other fields and share and learn from each other. This continual education is important to stay at the leading edge of my industry. I want to provide my clients with the very best images possible and treat each person equally regardless if they are a magazine editor, company art director, someone requesting a Platinum package or a Bronze package. Professionalism is treating everyone equally and following up with the highest level of service possible. I am proud of the brand I have built – one of integrity and professionalism. I look forward to bringing this work ethic and professionalism to my position with the CBBF this year.
[Cedric McMillan on the Arnold Classic stage]
AB: You have photographed some of the world’s biggest names: Monica Brant, Mike O’Hearn, Georges St. Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Tito Ortiz what was that like?
DF: It is an honour to spend time with some of the greatest fitness and UFC stars of all time. Icons like Mike O’Hearn or Monica Brant are fun to photograph. Both have been on more fitness covers in their careers than any other male or female model. I have had the opportunity to spend a fair bit of time with both. I have photographed GSP on five separate occasions. I had the chance to be cage side at the first UFC event in Canada – April 19, 2008 – at the Bell Centre in Montreal – that was incredible. Friends would play “spot the hawk” and would text me when they would see my mohawk on PPV. Montreal is an incredible host city. I had the chance to spend part of two days with Cain Velasquez. He demands attention but as tough as he is, when his little girl was around, I saw a complete different side to him. Tito was very professional and friendly. The moment he walks in a room you feel his presence. I was able to spend a good part of a day with him photographing training and portrait photos. I feel blessed to do what I do.
AB: Share some of your best memories from your 20+ years of covering shows.
DF: Some of my favorite memories from shows are when trophies are accidently broken. I remember Mark Mitchell last year picking up his trophy and it slipped out of his hands – the look on his face was priceless. Of course I caught it on camera. Another moment was at Nationals, back in 2007 I believe, or around there. Big Ron Partlow took center stage in Edmonton and was battling hard against Ben Pakulski. They were both competitive and going elbow to elbow through the day. When the dust settled, Big Ron edged Ben out by a single point and after receiving his trophy stepped back and accidently kicked Ben’s trophy over, breaking it in the process. The auditorium erupted. I think it broke the ice between the two as they finally smiled at each other.
I have really enjoyed watching some of the big battles between top pros. I have sick photos of Jay Cutler going head to head with Ronnie Coleman. Kai Green neck and neck with Cedric McMillan. Arnold Schwarzenegger pointing directly at me from the Arnold podium as he said his thank yous.
I have seen countless people break down crying when receiving their trophies. The truth is everyone has a story. Everyone has triumphed over something. Learning the stories behind the scenes is pretty special. Some people are inspiring beyond belief. I appreciate that Status Fitness gives the industry a platform to share some of these stories. I hope everyone takes time to peruse the website here and learn more about what goes on behind some people’s journey to the stage.
[Jay Cutler alongside Ronnie Coleman on the Mr. Olympia stage]
AB: Your time is valuable. How do you decide where to spend your time? I noticed you are not on social media very often.
DF: My workload consists of between 50 hours of work during a slow winter week to about 100 hours per week during the ten busy months. It takes a lot of energy to stay on top of everything so time with people around me is the most important and that must start at home. The people I am in contact with daily get my focused time. When I have extra time outside of family, friends and work, then I will look at sharing through my social media outlets. That might constitute five or ten minutes a week – never much more. That said, I am continuously told I should incorporate 5-10 minutes a day as part of my work regimen so we’ll see. You may start to see more of me online – but not much more. If you are on IG, be sure to send me a follow request: @davidfordfoto. I don't share too often but when I do, I try to make sure it is something worth looking at and more importantly - reading. I couldn't care less about volume - quality always trumps quantity.
[MMA Superstar Georges St. Pierre celebrating after winning the Welterweight belt in Montreal]
AB: You mention quality always trumps quantity. Does that apply to your photography as well?
DF: For sure it does. The moment someone asks how many photos they get, it tells me a lot about a person. I have walked away from some decent paying job opportuntities because I didn't care for a potential clients attitude. I will always take strong photos at my shoots. For new models, I will ease into more difficult poses, however, even the most basic shots will be great for promotional material, business cards, websites, posters etc. My aim is to ease newbies into a comfort zone where we can get strong, magazine worthy shots so although the first set might be quite basic, be ready to work hard to help me capture the strongest shots possible. I'm often complimented on my ability to capture something more than just a pretty face or good body and I strive to continue this. That is my goal. Whether we get 40 strong photos or less, this is more important than getting 200 or more that are never really seen. In all my years shooting, I'm thrilled to say every client has been ecstatic with the results.
AB: With the role with the CBBF, competitors across the country will have the opportunity to work with you in the host cities. This is very exciting for the CBBF community. Any tips for those wanting to reach out to you?
DF: Crazy thing is, although this was just announced, almost all spots are full already. If someone is serious about capturing their hard work with strong photos, please visit my website, www.davidfordphotography.com, have a look at sample galleries, check my photo packages and then shoot me a detailed email. I have packages for everyone and can custom make a package between any of the four main packages I have listed. If my times are fully booked, I will provide references to fellow reputable, professionals.
AB: Any tips you would like to give to competitors to maximize their chances for the best photos possible?
DF: On stage there are perfectly lit areas. These areas are usually marked off and for the most part, the front line for the top 5 or 6 comparisons provides nice even lighting. Although the shows tend to run smoothly and fairly quickly, be sure to showcase your physique on the center x - showing front, side and back. Hold each pose briefly during your solo time if the show allows. I often see competitors hit a strong pose and hold it - not a bad idea for the judges, but they too would like to see you in motion. Changing up the pose allows me to get some variety. What you do during comparisons doesn't have the same opportunity for solo photos. Additionally, always keep your eyes looking forward, towards the judges. This pertains particularly to bikini where I see many girls look down towards the floor - trying to set a mood, however, it comes across as eyes closed in photos. Girls, don't over do your eye lashes either. Long eye lashes darken the eye sockets and give a more "hollow" look to the eyes. They can appear dark and closed if the light is from high above rather than from the front. Bodybuilders, Classic Physique, Women's Physique and Fitness, be sure to use the well lit areas of the stage for your routines. Don't start in the back as typically this area is dark and under-exposed. Come towards the center of the stage for the best lighting. I have helped with posing many times, and often at my shoots I give little tips that my clients have really appreciated. Feel free to email me if you have questions on anything pertaining to stage photos. I want to capture you at your best. I'll be happy and you will be too.
AB: Anything else you would like to add? Anyone you would like to thank?
DF: Definitely. I want to take a moment to first thank my wife Angela for her continued support. She is nothing less than spectacular.
Secondly, I want to thank Rodney Jang, Editor-in-Chief of Status Fitness. He has been a wealth of knowledge over the years and the insights he continuously provides is second to none. He understands the photography business well and is always a defender of the profession. Rodney’s vision is what has made Status Fitness the magazine it is today. Being regularly printed in the publication reflects a high level of photography as their art department is very selective. Rodney has the most stringent set of guidelines in the magazine publishing business today so it means an incredible amount to be his choice for head photographer.
I would like to thank you Asha for reaching out with this special opportunity as well. Thinking through your interview brought out many hidden memories which has been a lot of fun to revisit. I have known you since 2004 and your friendship and support is always meaningful.
I want to thank the CBBF for this great opportunity to serve the national membership through my photography services. I will work hard to provide the best stage photography services as well offer quality exposure opportunities to national level competitors from across the country. It is going to be an exciting year and I can’t wait to meet everyone and see who turns pro this year. All the best with your preparation.
[Canadian Fitness Pro Myriam Capes performing her routine on the Arnold stage]
David has been published since 2002 and continues to photograph the top athletes in the country. If you are looking to shoot and have a chance of being published, be sure to book with David well ahead of your show. Check out this sample of work David did with IFBB Bikini Pro Eboney Chipman. To learn more about David, please visit his website: www.davidfordphotography.com
[Behind the Scenes & Interview with IFBB Bikini Pro Eboney Chipman]
The CBBF is Canada's only IFBB recognized governing body for amateur bodybuilding, fitness and body fitness (figure) competition. This is the only Canadian organization that qualifies competitors for competition at the three annual IFBB World Championships, and the only one that awards competitors an IFBB Pro Card. Participating in CBBF events means you are able to compete with the best athletes in Canada who qualify through stringent tiered systems in their host provinces and are judged by qualified provincial and national judges. For more information on the CBBF, please visit the website: www.cbbf.ca