Ed note:   This interview was conducted via e-mail. Jeremy wrote all his answers while serving in Iraq's war zone. He also agreed to handle any follow-up questions in the comment section of this post.
What general advice do you have for young photojournalists?
1. Find a mentor or mentors. Someone you can bring your work back to and get further guidance. The mentor should be someone you can look up to and aspire to be. 2. Be able to take constructive criticism. If someone doesn’t like your work, ask why and how to make it better? If they do not give you a reason, find a different mentor. 3. Your name means EVERYTHING in this business. We can all go out and take a good picture, but are you dependable, constantly meeting deadlines, promising and delivering, etc. 4. Don’t talk about it, shoot it!
Is military photography a specific Military Occupational Skill, or a duty assignment?
It is a Military Occupational Skill. You are trained in the job after basic training, then head to your duty assignment to perform your job.
Is a degree required for military photographers?
No, but It definitely doesn’t hurt and could help when you get out. I am about a semester away from my degree.
How would a young adult civilian become a military photographer?
I am not exactly sure about all the Air Force (AF) requirements. If you talk with a recruiter don’t sign anything until you are guaranteed the job you want, and get it in writing! I was lucky; I just wanted to join the AF for four years as an x-ray technician. I went in open general and was given a job as an imagery processor, where I worked in a darkroom processing and printing for about six years of my service. Then, the two jobs merged (imagery processing and photography), and I picked up a camera started teaching myself and found a great mentor. Fourteen years later I couldn’t be happier with my AF career.
For young adults with degrees, is it possible to become a military photographer and officer?
Yes you can become a military photographer with a degree, just don’t sign up as an officer. Officers don’t shoot in this career field, they manage.
Understanding everything is different during war time, but what would a military photographer do on a typical day at their normal duty station?
It really depends on their duty station and mission, but you can shoot everything from ceremonies, official portraits, crime scenes, aerial photography and stories for the base newspaper. Each base is a small community, so you would be covering it like a newspaper would cover a small city or community.
Who owns the images you make for the military?
I guess the military owns them, but if the images are released they are for the public to use them. It kind of hurts the photographer to see some Joe Shmo making money off our photography. But then again it is nice to see your work appreciated. If the images are FOUO (For Official Use Only) or Not Released the military definitely owns them.
What happens to the images you make for the military? Please describe the flow of information including any content screenings and how/if it is released to the public (via wire, print, online).
We will either be tasked with a job or we find our own. Shoot the job, then come back edit and caption our images. Next we will take the images to Public Affairs for the releasing authority.
Then we either give them to the requestor or, like over here in the war, they go to the Pentagon where the released ones get put on a server for public use where they can end up online, in magazines, books, newspapers, etc.
Do you deal with access issues like civilian PJs?
Yes we do. In this job you need to be outgoing and sell yourself. You also need to be able to be a part of the team and not a liability - especially in time of war.
Is all your equipment provided by the military?
All of the gear I use on military assignments is provided by the military. On occasion I use some of my own gear.
What's in a typical issue rig?
At Combat Camera, where I am stationed now, we have a big budget due to our mission.
A typical issued camera bag has two digital bodies. (1 D1X and 1 D2X, soon to be 2 D2X replacing the D1X) pretty much any lens you want ranging from 12mm to 400mm. Bigger lenses can be checked out. Two flash units come with the camera. Light kits can be checked out. One monopod, a tripod, batteries and film cards. Most of the time, we have to travel light so the photographer will customize his kit to meet his and the missions needs. At other bases, it is pretty similar.
Do all military PJs get the same rig?
In the AF we are all not labeled PJ’s. Photographers yes, but to be labeled a PJ one has to be selected to attend Syracuse University for a year of studying photojournalism. Each year all the services send five photographers that show promise and skill to attend.
But to answer your question, yes, for the most part we all get the same gear. But those who work harder get it quicker.
What specialized equipment is supplied to you?
It all depends on the mission you are shooting. At Combat Camera we have access to underwater camera bags and night vision.
What uniforms do you wear to most assignments?
Again the mission dictates the uniform.
Most of the time it is battle dress.
Aerial jobs—flight suits
Ceremonies—class A and B
Civilian clothes—yes if the mission dictates it or maybe it is a downtown job. Or overseas you need to blend in with the local community.
How has being a PJ affected your life?
It has been amazing; I am not only living my life but get the chance to get a feel for the lives of others I photograph.
Is there a personal toll?
Yes there is. You are constantly chasing down jobs, working at all hours and meeting deadlines - not to mention the stress of war. Family life is hard to balance. I am divorced with two boys.
How important are writing skills to military photographers?
Writing skills are very important in or out of the military. I believe you are more marketable outside the military if you can write. They don’t have to send a writer with you on your assignment. Most of the job is shooting and then writing captions. I am not a great writer, so I leave the stories to the writers.
Do you work with reporters, art directors or other people?
In the military, I dont work with them unless working for a base paper. Then, I would work with writers. On my PBS shoots, I work with directors. They just might ask me to get a certain shot.
With everyone I work with, I give them what they ask for, but then I try and "wow" them with a better one to choose from.
Tips to make it managable: treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Work through the issues at hand, and give them all something better than they were expecting (but always have the shot they asked for in the bag).
What special precautions and/or equipment do you take when you're going to a combat area?
Well, lucky for me, I have a lot of military training that is required before we step foot in the war zone. And on this trip it has definitely worked. The training just kicks in which in turn helps you complete the mission. When I go out for a shoot here, I wear a Kevlar helmet, body armor, shooters vest with one lens (17-55mm) extra batteries and film cards, note pad and pen and some essential first aid supplies. I have a 9mm pistol strapped to my leg and carry 2 cameras (D1X with a 80-400mm lens and a D2X with a 12-24mm lens) At times I do interchange the lenses with different bodies depending on the effect or situation. With my photography I do not use flash unless I am in a studio. And for night missions I carry a night vision lens adapter, but don’t use it. I use all natural light. And I always pray for my safe return!
Some rules seem to have changed since I was in the Army. I have difficulty getting soldier's names and hometowns. Please address the actual rules on this and why this has changed?
When I was first over here at the very start of all of this we identified people as Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airman. I guess for their safety. But now we are required to give name, rank, and unit they work for. Unless you are working with Special Forces, everybody over here doesn’t have a problem giving the info. The ones that do, I don’t need their photos anyway.
What ethical considerations do you keep in mind while shooting in combat zones (civilians and military)?
To capture the truth!
When editing my photos I do not do anything that can not be done in a darkroom - unless I'm creating an illustration.
What are some of the ethics issues in conflict areas?
Knowing when to shoot and knowing when to put the camera down and help out with civilians or military.
I have not really had any problems in this area yet. I did have to put my camera down and help give first aid to a civilian who was shot because there was only one guy helping and he needed help.
In my experiences the people I am photographing know I am there, so act accordingly. If something did go amiss I would like to think I would stop it or shoot what’s going on and let the higher ups deal with it. Until you are put into that situation, you don't know.
How did these instances affect you, and did your emotions impact the way you approached a photo?
I have not encountered any ethical issues over here. I did, however, have one when I was working on a story in a neo natal intensive care unit very early in my career.
I was shooting a family that gave me permission to shoot them and their baby died. Although I had permission I couldn’t bring the camera to my face. Later I talked about the situation with my fellow photographers and we all agreed, as long as I wasn’t obtrusive to the family, shooting from a distance, the family probably would of loved to have the last few moments with their baby captured on film to remember. Again you just never know until you are put in to these situations. I believe if you are a good person you will do the right thing.
What keeps you motivated as a military PJ?
To be the best photojournalist in the military and world. On any given day anyone can achieve this. The guys winning Pulitzers have their good days and their bad days just like all of us. But they have achieved a name for themselves and a good name is everything.
The other thing that keeps me motivated is we have a job that lets us meet some very interesting people. The job is never the same and there is ALWAYS room to grow.
What do you see in the future for military PJs?
There is talk of Public Affairs merging with our career field. It is still new, so I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing.
Are photo stories important for military PJs?
I believe it is the most important aspect of the job and the hardest.
Every assignment I shoot I approach as a story.
What does it take to be successful as a military PJ? (skills & mentality)
It takes a lot of hard work, time, and criticism. But at the same time it should be fun and exciting. Great mentors that give good advice.
Lots of shooting and a good dependable name.
With my photography I try and make the viewer feel like they are part of the picture or show them something they would not normally see with their 50mm eye.
If you could change anything along the way, what would it be?
There is nothing I would change. To quote my buddy Preston Keres "life is good."
If I changed something, then I would not be the person I am today.
What is your finest moment?
Still waiting for it to happen!
Please feel free to add whatever information I failed to request...
If anyone would like to talk photography or need a critique they can feel free to e-mail me at my Web site:   www.jeremylockphotojournalist.com
I would just like to pass on something my mentors passed on to me. We have all started at the bottom; knowledge and experience not passed on is a waste.
To quote Chip Maury, one of my mentors, "PASS IT ON AS FREELY AS YOU RECEIVED IT."
Reader follow-up questions
Thomas Stargardter, photo editor for the national newspaper in Managua, Nicaragua asks, "Your civil war project impressed me alot. How where the images created and proccesed?"
Thanks for the kind words on my Civil War project!
This was my first documentary , I was fresh out of Syracuse and looking for a project to keep me busy. I had just been stationed in Charleston SC and at the time there was a lot of controversy over their state flag (confederate flag). So I decided to shoot everything that had to do with that flag (marches, rallies, ect…)
One part of my documentary was the civil war re-enactors. These guys were passionate about what they did, and that’s when my documentary took a turn. I just focused on them. It took a year to shoot the story.
Over that year I shot 3 re-enactments, each a 3day event. (Antietam, Perryville, and Gettysburg). Most of the year was going to their drills and meetings, getting to know them. When I shot the battles, the guys I was documenting were all authentic. Nothing modern could be used or shown. I had to dress like them, be one of them. Well this posed a problem with my camera. One of the wives sewed a burlap bag together with a rope strap that my camera could be concealed in. Then two holes were cut into the bag, one for my eyepiece, the other to put my lens through (then wrapped and sting tied to conceal the lens).
Each day of the re-enactment had 3 battles, I only brought one lens into each battle, switching lenses to force me to look for something different. And for one of the battles each day I sat the sidelines with the spectators and shot from their point of view.
As far as shooting, I researched and looked at various images from that time and tried to imitate them. Ex. Blurriness from slow shutter speeds, slightly out of focus, and set up portraits.
Then in post production, I turned it into a duotone print by finding two colors that gave me the effect I was looking for and fine tuned the photos with some dogging and burning.
Roadblocks I had to overcome: We are in a modern time. I had to shoot around power lines and other man made obstacles. Also there are thousand of spectators that come to these things shooting around them was also very difficult.
On another note: For my first shoot on this project I stopped and shot Antietam on my way home from the Eddie Adams workshop. While at the workshop I learned what layers in a photograph were and at the workshop I had a hard time seeing it. At Antietam I created my first real photograph (and my favorite picture) with layers in it. My shooting hasn't been the same since. The photo is of a confederate soldier in the bottom left corner looking at the camera with a soldier in front of him with his head cut off, a soldier on a horse behind them both with a pair of men behind them, lastly another man on horse in the far back.
In the comments section, Jason asked, "Mr Lock, I am studying to be a PJ but family is the most important thing to me. Did you find it hard to leave your family so often for deployments? In defining your "finest moment" what would that be? A perfect photo? Video? How is a finest moment defined in your life or career or how pick it?? Thanks I know you are busy good luck and be safe!"
Let me start with redefining my finest moment.
My two sons are by far my finest moment in my life. In the interview I was basing all my answers toward photography.
Yes it is very hard to leave my family for deployments and those being so often didn't help with my marriage at all. (My ex and I are working on sorting things out)
As you will see, in the photojournalism career you are always chasing a story, and the story, whether it is chosen by you or an editor dictates the time you work and for how long. And then you have deadlines you have to meet. It is a hard job with a family, but it can be done! I guess you have to find a balance that you and your family are happy with. This was my downfall. But I am finding the balance.
As for defining a finest moment, maybe it is a photo or an experience, or a photo that brought about a significant change to the world. To me, it's not winning some award. Contests are great and let you know how you are doing amongst your peers, but photography is so subjective and could sway either way on any given day with any number of judges.
Again great question, you really made me think. Good luck with your journey!
High school student Robby Barthelmess asks, "Thanks for sharing this really interesting interview with all of us. Your photographs have really inspired me and allowed me to learn from them.
Jeremy, your work is amazing. I can't think of words to describe it. Thanks for capturing all of those moments and sharing them with the world. Your job sounds awesome and very interesting, no two days must be the same. As a high-school-photojournalist, your comment about mentors is right on. I have found myself a really great mentor via my internship with our local newspaper. He has helped me so much.
Mark, I wrote to you before about colleges for with PJ programs and I have found RIT to be a very nice school. I will be applying there (along with a couple of others)later this year. Thanks for all of your advice and work on this website. I have learned a ton. This blog is has been a great help for me. Thanks for doing what you do."
Good luck in the future with your photography! RIT is a great school, which is where our PJ school used to be a long time ago. But being a Syracuse grad I would have to say, "Go Orangemen!" Again you are right on with the mentor, but find a couple that you can get various critiques from then mull them over and pick from. I tend to do this and then go with my gut feeling.
Again thanks for your interest, and if you every need a critique just send some photos my way.
Jon Adams stated in the comments section, "Thank you for doing this interview. In 5 weeks I will be leaving for Marine bootcamp to do photography (unless my recruiters have lied...). Many of the questions the recuiter wouldn't know Jeremy Lock answered in his interview. I really appreciate the time and effort both of you took to do this interview and give a little insight to someone like me who is about to get started as a military photographer. Thank you again."
Good luck to you! Please keep in touch, I would love to hear about your progress. And once you are at your first base, maybe I can point you in the right direction to some great people to mentor you. Also, keep in mind the Military PJ program and every year in June at DINFOS (your photography school) they hold a DOD Military Photography workshop. I highly recommend both!!!
Enough for now,