Photographer Randal Ford has done the whole “lions, tigers and bears” shebang, snapping pictures of animals in his signature crisp, detailed style.
So when it came time to photograph one of his smallest subjects, the horned lizard, well, let’s just say it was a whole different animal.
“They’re just tiny,” Ford said. “That presents its own challenges.”
To get the look he wanted, Ford adjusted his depth of field, setting up his lighting in a way that mimicked sunlight. Doing so put much of the horned lizard into focus, bringing out every detail of its spiny skin.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist, potentially to a fault,” Ford said. “I think that shows through in my work.”
That horned lizard, or horned “frog” as it’s known in Fort Worth, eventually became the face of TCU Football’s 2016 marketing campaign, Horned and Dangerous. But before the image graced billboards and season ticket packages, it was originally part of a 2015 Texas Monthly article about the dwindling horned lizard population, as well as Ford’s growing animal portfolio titled Kingdom: The Animal Portrait Collection.
It wasn’t long before the photos caught the attention of PAVLOV, the advertising agency that works with TCU on its football campaigns. PAVLOV approached Ford about licensing the photos to promote the 2016 season, and Ford gave his blessing.
“The uniqueness of the mascot, combined with the brilliant clarity in the photograph that Randal had taken, really spoke to us,” said Drew Martin, TCU’s associate athletics director for marketing and licensing. “So we decided to go with a very clean campaign.”
Ford, 35, said he aims for that clean, modern look with every photo. His knack for photography came while he was attending college at Texas A&M, taking pictures for the school newspaper. He wasn’t studying photography, or anything related to art for that matter, but business – a degree that would eventually pay off when he graduated and decided to start his own business as a freelance photographer.
Ford says his “big break” came when advertising agency GSD&M hired him to shoot more than 100 photos for a coffee table book, The Amazing Faith of Texas, showcasing faiths and churches around the state. From there, Ford went on to shoot portraits, magazine covers and celebrities like wrestling star John Cena (insert proverbial trumpet fanfare).
Now based in Austin, Ford has also done work for TCU’s Big 12 rival, the Texas Longhorns, photographing the team’s mascot Bevo. The funny thing is, the one animal Ford hasn’t photographed is Reveille, the mascot of his alma mater. But it’s something he hopes to do one day.
Nonetheless, Ford said he’s grateful for the career he’s had so far.
“I’ve been in the studio with a tiger and a lion and a leopard off-leash,” he said. “Being that close to animals that powerful and that beautiful is an experience that I would never forget.”