By Buddy Blouin
The military offers a wide range of ways Americans can serve the United States. One of the most apparent examples of this occupational range would be that of the combat photographer. The invention of photography has allowed governments and warring factions to use this form of media in a variety of ways. For the many branches of the American Armed Forces, this can be to document, conduct recon, and also provide evidence of operations and war crimes.

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How To Be a Combat Photographer

If you find yourself wondering how to become a military photographer, there are some critical steps to take. You’ll have to learn skills that are typical to serving in the military, but you’ll also need to be able to capture the right shots and video as needed. Some combat photographers can work on base, while others will be deployed into combat zones. If you’re looking to serve in this manner, here are some helpful tips to get you started:
  • Practice your photography skills. You’re going to need to be a good photographer, of course.
  • Studying public relations can also be helpful, as military photographers will often work with the press who are covering military operations.
  • You’ll need to perform well on your Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). For Marine combat photographers, you’ll need to score at least 100 on the general technical (GT) segment, with the Army requiring at least a 93 on the electronics (EL) segment.
  • Photojournalists in the Air Force are required to have at least a 44 on the general aptitude area of the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).
Once you’ve enlisted and achieved the necessary scores to qualify for combat photographer positions, you’ll have to hone your skills as a troop during basic training and your skills as a photographer, among other things, during specialized training.

War Photography and the Vietnam War

Being a combat photographer continues to be an important part of the American military, and while photographing war can technically be found as far back as the Mexican-American War, combat photography was really brought into the mainstream during the Vietnam War. The photos from war that were sent back to the American public during this time are often credited with a leading reason for the public turning sour on the idea of fighting in Vietnam. The graphic pictures mixed with the rawness of the media created outrage and iconic imagery for all of the worst reasons. Today, the war in Vietnam continues to set the standard for the prime example of war photography. Archived as a part of military history, these documents would change the perception of the Vietnam War but also showcase the importance of documenting these events as they happen.

Civilian Combat Photographer Jobs

The various branches of the military have enlisted troops that serve through combat photography. You can serve as an Air Force combat photographer, Army combat photographer, Marine combat photographer… you get the idea. But civilians in journalism can also take on a role. This isn’t for the faint of heart. Civilian combat photographers are put directly into hostile environments and unstable situations, and you won’t be carrying a weapon. The outbreak of terrorism has also enhanced the seriousness of this already-dangerous occupation. Many terrorist leaders and organizations have begun to ignore traditional rules of engagement, kidnapping and killing journalists on numerous occasions. Journalism is a complex field, especially for photographers. It’s part analytical, part artistic, and if you’re going into war, part thrill-seeking. You need to wear many hats and keep up with ever-changing trends. But the path of a combat photographer can provide you with a unique work experience, the opportunity to travel, and new skills birthed through unique trials.

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