A Day in the Life of a Military Photographer

One of the most important jobs in the military is that of the photographer. Here, a USAF photographer takes through a typical day for them.

In this video, USAF First Lieutenant Sam Eckholm takes us behind the scenes to show us what a day in the life of an Air Force photographer is like. Even as a USAF prior service member myself and someone who grew up in a big USAF base town, it took me an embarrassingly long time to learn that there was such a profession as military photographer. Since the time I was introduced to my first USAF photographer, I have been learning more and more about how photographers have been a linchpin in the military, often connecting those in combat to those at home and creating iconic moments in history. 

There is a saying in medicine: "the only winner in war is medicine." I would think that this sentiment could be extended into photography. Most notably, Kodak Aerochrome, an iconic film, was made for reconnaissance missions, to help identify enemies who were easily able to blend into lush forests of green. 

Prior to my return to film photography, my uncle was a photographer for the US Navy, and he left me his Mamiya RB67 — the same camera I shoot to this day. Do you know someone who served in the military, in the US or abroad, as a photographer? Do you know what gear they used?

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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"One of the most important jobs in the military is that of the photographer."

Sounds like a bit of a stretch.
I'm not saying photographers are unimportant but I'd think that the list of even more important jobs is quite long.

Haha I knew someone would get upset at this.

I'm not upset at all.
I think it's great to highlight the various roles that photographer's have and am curious to read all about them on a photography themed website.

My criticism is that there is a lack of objectivity with regards to the importance of photographers.

You can wage a full blown war without a single photographer involved.
You can't even take a single photo of an aircraft in flight without a pilot.

Yep! I'm officially envious.

After everything is said and done, the only thing left is memories and photographs. Military photographers tell a story that few know about. Yes, there are the typical "grips and grins" shots but there are also the ones of people working, military equipment, and missions. I should know, I am a former AF photographer and Vietnam vet. I am one of the few that has their negatives, slides, prints and press releases in my personal possession from my time in Vietnam. I can tell you a story of one year at Phan Rang AB in 1969. The only thing left of the former airbase, is what I hold in my possession. I was blessed to have had my images in the papers, and awards for my efforts. My only regret is that I never took enough images. Want to know more? Look up the 600th and 601st Photo Sqdn. There are some of us still around and shooting. Then there are the 10 photographers that didn't come home. I miss my job and the flying, and I would do it all over again tomorrow if I had the chance.

that's awesome! I can't wait for air shows to come back around here!
it was definitely a cool montage of his week/weekend too!

I work around f18's/15's every day and have for several years and i still love seeing them fly every chance i get!

I spent 24 years shooting photographs for the Air Force. I've shot everything from US Presidents, British Royalty, Dutch and British Prime Ministers, frontline combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Beirut Lebanon, Sarajevo Bosnia, criminal investigations, intelligence images, aircraft crashes, anything and everything the US Air Force, the US military and allied militaries are involved in. I started shooting with a Nikon FM2, F2AS, F-3HP, F-4, D1, D1x, D2s, any and all Nikor lenses, Hasselblads, Bronica, Mamiya, Sinar, Calumet, Shot aerials all over Europe, the Middle East, the US, when I look back on my career and what I shot and where I've been, it was incredible. My images have been published and used all over the world telling the story of the US military. And yes, it is one of the most important jobs in the military. We were the eyes of the National Command Authority. I've photographed the best man is capable of, and the absolute worst man is capable of.

Rifleman is one of the most important jobs in the military. Combat Medic is one of the most important jobs in the military. Forward Air Controller is one of the most important jobs in the military. Squad Leader is one of the most important jobs in the military. Casualty Notification Officer is one of the most important jobs in the military. There are a lot of duty titles that can be used in that sentence; photographer is not one of them.

I love photography, especially aviation photography, and Photographer is an important job in the military, but it is not anywhere close to being one of the most important jobs. I highly respect the LT for his duty, service and quality shooting, but I suspect he’d have the same sentiment if you asked him.

R. Shaw, Maj (Ret), USAF