The Unique Opportunities of Being a Creative Professional for the Military

As a visual communications professional working with the U.S. Navy/Department of Defense (DoD), I’m offered a unique experience to demonstrate my video and photography skills in a way that differs from working with civilian organizations. There are several unique aspects to consider when doing this work that aren’t commonly encountered outside the military. But, if you understand them well and prepare yourself for certain challenges, you can find this line of work to be deeply rewarding and creatively fulfilling.

One of the greatest challenges when capturing imagery (such as still photos or video) for the Navy/DoD is having to consider the security aspects associated with the facilities, people, and equipment being captured. When walking onto a shoot on a military installation, the first thing I do is determine who is able to provide me with the answer to a very important question – “Are there any aspects of this facility or equipment that I should be made aware of that are not authorized for visual release?” It is important to ask this question as well as to make sure you get an answer from an authorized authority figure – one who is fully aware of the security concerns as pertains to image capture and release authority.

The second thing I do before I pick up a camera of any kind is to scrub the area for anything that may detract from the visual impact of the photo or video. I also look around for any item that could be considered a security concern. This means making sure items like Common Access Cards (CACs) or other government-issued ID badges worn by staff are hidden in clothing, and documents are removed from desks and computers screens. Beyond security concerns, I look for items with branded logos, such as beverages, as it is against DoD policy to promote any commercial products or services.

Another aspect that needs to be considered is visual creativity. In this job, you don’t always have carte blanche to when it comes to creativity, but it still requires you to have skill and artistic aptitude. I look for creative ways to shoot an image to ensure that the final product comes across as more visually dynamic than if it were shot straight-on from standing height. I always look for ways to vary the camera angle or get close-up shots. Since military photography can occur both on and off the battlefield, you have the opportunity to show the subject to an audience that would not normally be in that environment. I think about ways to make the subject appear in a different light than the average person would normally see them. For example, I might try lying on the ground and shooting up at my subject to give it a sense of dominance. This tactic can be especially impactful when taking photos of children as most people will not bother to get down to their level.

In this line of work, there is no substitute for experience, especially when it comes to filming or photographing for the Navy/DoD. Understanding your subject and the various idiosyncrasies associated with the nature of the job allows the visual communications professional to make adjustments on the fly and anticipate action to capture the best imagery possible.

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