Sometimes, the camera lens can save your life, but sometimes, it’s risky

Everyone thinks that being a photographer just means you need to take good photos of people. Not everyone actually thinks of the dangers of being one – especially when you work for the military.

Ryan Creel was a military man but he wielded a camera instead of a rifle. While some thought he was just taking photos of military men in bases, Creel was out there in the battlefield, trying his best to dodge bullets and grenades while taking pictures that will hopefully change mankind’s approach to disputes.

Creel is one of thousands of army combat photographers who risk their lives every day in the battlefield where violence is the main attraction.


The Many Faces of War

Creel was part of the American military during the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom during 2001 and 2003, respectively. The army combat photographer was deployed along with hundreds of military men to Afghanistan and Iraq.

His first deployment would be the first time Creel would see death and chaos up close.

“I was terrified,” Creel said. “But most of all, I was feeling extremely sad. There wasn’t a time when I took a photo of civilians trapped within the warzone that I wished I had some sort of power to transport them somewhere safe. I wish every snap of my camera brings them to a much better place where they could live peacefully.”

As of March 2015, an approximate of 210,000 civilians had already died in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Creel encountered one of his shots that he will never forget. “It was this one family with their three kids, maybe aged around 2 to 7. The parents were doing everything they can to cover their children’s ears, wrapped in a dusty blanket. When they made eye contact with me, my heart was broken. You can see the desperation and the fear.

“They are the most vulnerable face of war I’ve seen. I knew in that moment that I wanted to continue my work because it’s the only way they’ll get the attention of the world.”


Risking Lives to Take Photos

Army combat photographers don’t just take photos. They are also known for their techniques – providing the shots they take with its much needed emotion to capture the world.

To take the greatest photos, they have to get in harm’s way. The job is dangerous and has even killed some photographers after the last shots of their life. Some photos remain unreleased to this day but the work that the photographers did in capturing them shall never be forgotten.

For Ryan Creel, he would always be grateful for everyday gets to wake up alive.

“There have been close calls, it’s part of the job. But sometimes you really need to get the shot that you believe will change a lot of things. And so you put yourself in harm’s way, trying to avoid the enemy and even your country’s fires,” Creel explains.

“When you get it done, when you have the shot, you’re always thankful and that’s when you remember you might die if you don’t hide quick,” he said with a half-hearted laugh.

But why risk their lives for a photo?

Creel believes that pictures do tell a story and he hopes to bring the stories of hope and bravery and of desolation and chaos to light. He doesn’t only do that because it’s his job to document the wars he’s deployed to.


The Peace and Calm

While Creel’s career highlight was his deployment, he does enjoy the peaceful and calm ceremonies he gets to cover. Army combat photographers also get to take photos for medal awarding ceremonies or even burials of soldiers.

Military photographers might have all the time they need to take the shots they need during these ceremonies. They don’t have to watch their back every five seconds while keeping an eye to the war in front of them.

But these moments can also get hard according to Creel.

“It’s always great to witness ceremonies where our soldiers are awarded for their bravery. There’s always someone in crutches or with a broken hand. But they’re up there and smiling in relief that they were able to come home and be with their families again,” Creel said.

As photographers, they need to capture the moments at their best. They need to have a keen eye and great attention to detail and know the basics of photography.

“It’s technical as much as emotional. I want to always get the shots that tell the story rather than a simple reminder of that moment.”


Taking photos can be extremely hard. You need to have the experience and the eye of an artist. But military and army combat photographers need to step up their game – every shot can be the last or it can change the way we see the world.

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