ST. JOSEPH, Mo. --
Every year military journalists have the chance to enter contests to be recognized for their work of the past year. Writers, photographers, videographers and graphic artists submit their work to the annual media contest awards in hopes to bring credit upon themselves and their respective units.
This year I’m excited to say that I won Military Photographer of the Year for the Air National Guard while representing the 139th Airlift Wing here in Missouri. I also placed first in the Pictorial Category for a separate submission.
In the media contest there were a number of categories to submit to: news, feature, pictorial, operational documentation, training documentation, portrait and photo story. There was a separate award submission for the photographer of the year, which includes 20 photos max, from several of the categories mentioned. It’s a summary of a photographer’s ability.
I’m going to briefly review each of the photos, giving a compositional analysis of each. As a photographer, I always search out information on how to better tell stories and what techniques make better photographs. I hope this can provide similar good information to other aspiring storytellers.
Out of the 17 photos that won me the photographer of the year, this was one of two that wasn’t taken in St. Joseph. What immediately caught my eye as I walked into the maintenance bay were the two massive flags hanging. The story I was in England to capture was the joint partnership of both nations. On trips like this, that’s always the story. If I could show that these Airmen were in a maintenance bay at RAF Mildenhall vs. some random bay in the U.S. that would be even better. I would cover all of that in the caption of course, but having two massive flags hanging from the ceiling, filling the frame, just makes the story unfold visually instead of me writing it. I would have surely taken a knee to shoot the photo no matter what, but to get the flags as the background for my subject it was a necessity.
The story I needed to capture here was service members of new honoring those of old. Although I was farther away than I would have liked, I still was able to capture the emotion on the face of our veteran. That’s what I needed. The whole scene is framed by the out of focus Airmen in formation which add more context to the scene.
This is one of those photos that anyone with a camera had some sort of version of while attending the Speed of Sound Air Show. My thought was how I could photograph a common moment and execute it the best I could. I didn’t want a dot in the big blue sky, rather I wanted the flag, the Navy parachute, and the Leap Frog. For that I had to wait for the flag to be facing me, spread out, and low enough to see that their was a human profile under the canopy.
What kid doesn’t like climbing on and in an actual attack helicopter? I’m not even a kid and I would dig it. This photo is about the moment. It’s about the moment shared between a father and son as the boy is lifted into the helicopter.
This aircraft was cramped. There was very little elbow space or even places I could point the camera inside this Douglas A-26 "Lady Liberty". I had to work with what I had. I quickly attached a wide-angle lens, and waited for the moment where something of context was in the huge overhead window. I was waiting for downtown St. Joseph honestly, but with the position of the sun, the shot would be blown out and unusable. A nice alternative option was the Missouri river, and with the way the sun was hitting Gary’s face, it made a nice highlight of him looking out the window. Photo complete.
Floods happen a lot in Missouri. Some place in Missouri is always flooding it seems. Cue the National Guard. I love volunteering for things. That’s kind of the name of the game when joining the Guard, however I always dread getting those text messages from my command notifying me of the need to mobilize. It’s easy for me being single with no family and freelancing as a job. The great majority of citizen soldiers and airman can’t say the same. They leave their family, careers and civilian lives to respond to state emergencies. Yes, that is what they signed up for, but it doesn’t make it any less inconvenient. It needs to be done and they are always willing and ready to rush to the aid. One day they are drinking a café latte at their job as a doctor, office assistant or college student – the next they are on the opposite side of the state standing at the new bank of a flooded river which a week prior was a road. Photojournalism should be as much about the people and what I just described as it is about what is happening.
As with most of these photos I've discussed so far, I always try to both fill the frame with information and get my camera in a position for a compelling angle. The reason I usually take a knee is because everyone is used to seeing the world from a standing level. That's not unique or interesting - it's everyday life. Not only does having the camera as close to the ground as I can give the moment a grandiose feel, but also it makes the ground as much a point of the image as the action being done. The ground gives the image location context and completes the framing that nature gives around our subjects.
This photo of the Missouri National Guard's birthday ball, is one of my favorite photos in this collection. I’m drawn to the tenderness of this couples close embrace and kiss while dancing. The lighting from my off-camera speedlite adds the perfect light and shadow that makes them pop from the multiple other couples that fill the room. In this photo, the affection that these two share with one another is all that matters in the ballroom.
The last piece of my portfolio submission for the military photographer of the year award was a photo essay. I choose the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training to submit because it was the best collection of photos that told the story beginning to end. SERE training is required for all aircrew to equip them with survival techniques necessary in the event of an emergency. As can be seen in the photos I hope, it takes the aircrew members through the scenario of landing via parachute, planning a route back to safety, evading enemy detection and capture, and signaling the concluding extraction. That's a very general description of what the training includes, but I pretty good description of the journey the photo story takes you on.
This photo won first place in the Pictorial category. There isn't much to be said for this image. People like sunsets and people like air shows. Put them together and you get a great photo.
I might just be a Guardsman two days a month and two weeks a year, but I’m glad my passion and enjoyment of photography has an outlet in the military.