Feb 28, 2019
Washington National Guard photographer hones skills at Exercise Cobra Gold
Posted by Washington National Guard
For two weeks in February, more than 4,500 soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines gather together with their counterparts from 29 countries in the Kingdom of Thailand for Exercise Cobra Gold. It is the largest multi-national exercise in the Indo-Pacific region.
If it weren’t for the photos, videos and stories coming out of the exercise on social media and other means, you’d probably never know it happened.
We rely on the photographic skills of public affairs specialists to capture compelling moments to aid in telling the story of the U.S. military and its allies. Those images, each capturing a unique moment in time, can produce a vivid impression on the viewer, giving them a sense of what it’s like to be at the scene.
For Spc. Mary Calkin, a photojournalist in the 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center, Washington National Guard, this was her first overseas training mission since reclassifying as a public affairs specialist in October 2018. She was part of an extensive public affairs team that worked directly for U.S. Army Pacific with only one mission – to tell the story of the exercise.
“The days were long and jam-packed with work,” Calkin said about the operational tempo of the exercise. “We started at 7 a.m. and worked well into the night – often till 10 or later.”
Calkin, along with two other members of the 122nd, spent her days racing around the Thai countryside from training event to training event, photographing things like jungle survival, amphibious beach landings and the military’s interactions with foreign counterparts and the Thai people.
Taking photos, however, are only part of what they do. After they got back from a training day, they would shift their focus to writing captions, editing photos and video and crafting what they saw into a clear and coherent narrative.
Calkin recognized the many years of photography experience in the journalists she was working with that she seized her opportunity to gain some knowledge.
“I was watching one of the other photographers and I tried to mimic what he was doing,” Calkin said. “I watched where he positioned himself to get his photographs.”
One of her biggest pieces of advice from her colleagues – always shoot in manual mode. As any photographer can attest, the camera is complicated.
“Once I switched to manual, I really started to understand shutter speed and aperture and how they work together,” Calkin said. “Learning the camera for me was the most fun. I feel so comfortable with my camera right now.”
Exercises like Cobra Gold offer a fast-paced chance for public affairs professionals to study and practice their craft. “If it weren’t for my experiences at Cobra Gold, I don’t think I’d be comfortable going on a deployment,” Calkin added.
The 122nd is scheduled for deployment later this year.
“I couldn’t believe how much my photographs improved from the first day,” she said.
At one point, the official Department of Defense Instagram account even featured one of her photos.