Q+A - What it's like to be a military photographer.

Tamgerine

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Every now and then I get a few questions asking what it's like to be a photographer in the military. I'd like to write an overall article covering the aspects of what this sort of job entails, but I want to cover a broad variety of questions and not just what I've been asked in the past.

Which is where you come in! I'll answer any questions you may have, long or short, about the sort of work I do. I'll be as detailed as I can as long as it doesn't cross the lines of operational security and what I'm permitted to say.

Some background: I enlisted in 2008 into the Marine Corps as a 4671, Combat Videographer, which is my primary MOS. I'm currently 7 months into a deployment in Afghanistan, and I deployed with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2010 where we worked on ships with the Navy. The majority of my work in a deployed environment is actually photography, and a little bit of reproduction/print and graphics work.

I've done a lot of things: blown stuff up, flown in a lot of helicopters, done a lot of working parties, worked alongside many foreign militaries, got yelled at, yelled at people, slept on the ground, slept in the rain, slept in the same sleeping quarters with 74 other women, spent 16 hours straight in an MRAP, peed twice next to that MRAP in the middle of the desert, peed next to some guy's garden in the middle of the desert, been to a bunch of different countries, and a variety of other things you can probably come up with. I've taken pictures of most of it. Except the pee.

So if you've got any questions about my line of work, have children who are thinking about the military as an option, or just absolutely have to know what it's like to stand in line for ship food for two hours - here's your chance to ask.
 

raventepes

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I'm curious as to the equipment you use, and weather or not you're provided with it, or it comes out of your pocket.
 

The_Traveler

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I'm curious as to the equipment you use, and weather or not you're provided with it, or it comes out of your pocket.

For the peeing part, it's her own equipment.
For the picture-taking part, an additional potential source of information is Defense Information School (DINFOS) which is where many if not most military journalists and photographers get trained.
 

Juga

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I'm curious as to the equipment you use, and weather or not you're provided with it, or it comes out of your pocket.

I am in the Coast Guard and I know for a fact that the CG provides equipment and we have our own school for training but also send our public affairs people to a Navy school.
 
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Tamgerine

Tamgerine

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I'm curious as to the equipment you use, and weather or not you're provided with it, or it comes out of your pocket.

The_Traveler is correct that we are provided our equipment. Within our Military Occupational Specialty there are powers that be that switched us over to Canon some years ago, but for as the specific cameras and equipment it's most up to the shop who puts in the purchase requests. Our little shop of three Marines started out this deployment with three 5d MK II's, broke one within a week, and the other has a cracked display. Since purchasing new equipment we've acquired 2 EOS 1D-X's and five brand new MK III's, along with a few of the 600-RT Speedlights. We have also broken one 24-70 and I think three 16-35 lenses? This country is rough on equipment, unfortunately.

It's nice because not only do I have access to the latest equipment for free (even back in the rear we are typically able to check out equipment for our own personal off-duty use, non-commercial) but if something breaks it's kind of like, oh well, they'll just buy me a new one. There are budget retrains and limits, but in country our mission takes priority so pretty much anything gets approved.

Do you use a SheWee ?

I do not, though I've toyed with the idea of them. I'm kind of turned off by carrying around a pee-covered plastic thing all day, in addition to the fact that I'd have to take my pants mostly off to move my underwear aside. I see on the website that they sell special underwear but outside the wire we're supposed to wear ballistic underwear in case I step on something that goes boom, it'll protect my arteries more than nothing.

But hey, it might be one of those things where once I try it I'll never go back. You never know!
 
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Tamgerine

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Here is a photo of our happy family! It's probably pretty obvious which one is me.

$GroupPhoto.jpg
 

Warhorse

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Semper Fi! Thank you for your service to this great country of ours.

I'm an old leatherneck myself, I served in 1975-1979. My MOS was 1391 (bulk fuel man).

How did you get your MOS assigned to you, was it just random, or part of your contract?
 

Joeywhat

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Are you issued firearms with that MOS, and if so, do you find yourself using them in combat very often? Or is it primarily just taking pictures and related tasks and leaving the shooting to others? And on that note, do you even find yourself in combat very often, or is it mostly stuff in safer areas?

Also, if you are issued firearms, what's your standard loadout (I'd be interested in the camera gear as well as the guns).
 

Heitz

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I honestly mean no disrespect, but I'm curious to know why the military staffs combat photographers. I always thought these images were provided primarily by journalists whom exist apart from the military proper.
 

gsgary

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I'm curious as to the equipment you use, and weather or not you're provided with it, or it comes out of your pocket.

The_Traveler is correct that we are provided our equipment. Within our Military Occupational Specialty there are powers that be that switched us over to Canon some years ago, but for as the specific cameras and equipment it's most up to the shop who puts in the purchase requests. Our little shop of three Marines started out this deployment with three 5d MK II's, broke one within a week, and the other has a cracked display. Since purchasing new equipment we've acquired 2 EOS 1D-X's and five brand new MK III's, along with a few of the 600-RT Speedlights. We have also broken one 24-70 and I think three 16-35 lenses? This country is rough on equipment, unfortunately.

It's nice because not only do I have access to the latest equipment for free (even back in the rear we are typically able to check out equipment for our own personal off-duty use, non-commercial) but if something breaks it's kind of like, oh well, they'll just buy me a new one. There are budget retrains and limits, but in country our mission takes priority so pretty much anything gets approved.

Do you use a SheWee ?

I do not, though I've toyed with the idea of them. I'm kind of turned off by carrying around a pee-covered plastic thing all day, in addition to the fact that I'd have to take my pants mostly off to move my underwear aside. I see on the website that they sell special underwear but outside the wire we're supposed to wear ballistic underwear in case I step on something that goes boom, it'll protect my arteries more than nothing.

But hey, it might be one of those things where once I try it I'll never go back. You never know!

The woman that invented it was in the British army and got laughed at on a tv program, she told them when they are out on exercise and have to take a pee their bums are like a big shinny targets, she had the last laugh
 

Gavjenks

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Do you photograph things for tactical/intelligence purposes, for R&D (how well training and equipment works from an objective perspective, etc.), or for marketing the armed forces to potential recruits, or for documentary purposes, or ...?
 
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Tamgerine

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Sorry for the delay in response, my days are long out here and I tend to prioritize sleep.

How did you get your MOS assigned to you, was it just random, or part of your contract?

Semper Fi brother! My MOS was part of my contract. I had asked specifically for photographer (4641) but only received something in the 4600 field. When I found out I was assigned as a videographer (4671) I was pissed for like three days until I realized I really liked it. It all worked out anyway because the majority of my work in the field ends up being photography anyway.
Are you issued firearms with that MOS, and if so, do you find yourself using them in combat very often? Or is it primarily just taking pictures and related tasks and leaving the shooting to others? And on that note, do you even find yourself in combat very often, or is it mostly stuff in safer areas?

Also, if you are issued firearms, what's your standard loadout (I'd be interested in the camera gear as well as the guns).

I am indeed issued firearms and have to qualify every year on the rifle/pistol range just as every other Marine does.

I personally haven’t used my rifle in combat yet. Actually seeing combat depends heavily on who you’re assigned to – whether you’re attached to an infantry unit, an air wing, or a command element which is primary command personnel like generals and staff.

Because I’m assigned to the command element as well as personal photographer to the commanding general, I really don’t see much action. I do get to go out with ground units but so far all we end up doing is wandering around being miserable in the heat for hours on end. It’s also significantly calmed down here for the majority of our forces. It’s not like it used to be.

My Corporal however spent his last deployment with an infantry unit and did get to see combat and fire his weapon in it. It all comes down to luck of the draw and who you get assigned to. There are plenty of combat cameraman who have lived up to the name and plenty who never got the chance to deploy, either.

I honestly mean no disrespect, but I'm curious to know why the military staffs combat photographers. I always thought these images were provided primarily by journalists whom exist apart from the military proper.

Our MOS deals with considerable more amounts of work and responsibilities than just photographs of combat. We also provide administrative photography such as promotion photos, command board portraits, passport photos, and document military ceremonies like change of commands or transfers of authority. In addition to that we do battle damage assessments, incident assessments, and handle sensitive imagery. We also have reproduction specialists (4612) who deal with printing. We print things like flight manuals, publications, posters, any graphic designs needed, ceremony programs, and pretty much anything that needs printed.

Combat Camera shops support entire bases in the rear and any sort of administrative work, training, or historical documents they need.

When you consider the entire MOS, combat photography is actually just a very small portion of what we do. Nowadays a unit may only have two or three Combat Camera personnel assigned to them, and when you factor that into a MOS of hundreds of Marines only those few who are deployed are even going to get a chance to see combat.

So there’s a ton of work we do that just isn’t going to be given to fancy shmancy civilian journalists. Either the work is classified or just plain boring. We support photographic, video, and reproduction needs for an entire military service – that’s not feasible for just a few civilian journalists. Not to mention a civilian could technically quit whenever they wanted and just go home and abandon the unit. You can’t do that when you’re part of that unit.

There’s also the fact that we don’t have control over their imagery because they’re not in the military. The DoD actually owns the copyright to every photo I have ever taken in the military – I have no ownership over my work and everything I do is subject to approval by my releasing authority. They have complete control over my imagery, something that isn’t really possible with civilians. The photos I take never see the light of day until they have officially been approved to do so.

My question would be how you got assigned to be combat photographer. Did you choose or it was chosen for you?
Do you participate in combat?

Covered this above. I would definitely participate in combat if in that situation – if someone is shooting at me I am going to shoot back.
Do you photograph things for tactical/intelligence purposes, for R&D (how well training and equipment works from an objective perspective, etc.), or for marketing the armed forces to potential recruits, or for documentary purposes, or ...?

It’s pretty much all of the above and depends really on what kind of unit you’re assigned to. We provide photographic, video, and reproduction/printing services to units. An air wing and an infantry battalion will both have very different needs.

We don’t do a lot of marketing – our photos do appear in articles and on Marines.mil and the internet, but as for commercials or posters most of that is all civilian work because they are typically better trainer and have higher budgets.

Hope I answered everyone’s questions well enough so far. =)
 

Devinhullphoto

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If you want to be a photographer in the military, when you enlist do you get that or is it up in the air on if you get that or a general military position. It's something my wife wanted to do but she's afraid they'll make her a soldier.
 

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