Coming back from deployment with decent shots can be easy if you follow a few basic principles, courtesy of some professional shooters. Find which category you fit into and work on these skills:
• Your instinct when you bring the camera might be to take a step back, but make it a habit to step forward. As Robert Capa, the legendary war photographer, said, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."
• Be conscious of what's appearing in the shot, especially in the background. "Fill the frame. Put anything into it that you want the viewer to see," Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock said. "Control the background as much as possible — either a plain background so your subject pops out, or something that adds to the photo."
• Don't be afraid of snapping multiple shots of an event and then deleting some later, said Military Times photographer and former sailor Sheila Vemmer. That way you'll have a better chance of capturing the perfect moment.
• The key to a good photo is the right exposure. In daylight, try to take a shot with the sun directly behind you, Vemmer said. This will light up the subjects with minimal shadow. If it's midday, use your flash to fill in shadows.
• Instead of relying on a digital point-and-shoot's monitor, "actually looking through the view-finder can help you compose the photo," Staff Sgt. Jacob Bailey said.
• "You gotta get out there and show what you're doing in a different way," Lock said. "The human eye shows a 50mm angle and we're all standing straight up. Show me something that I wouldn't normally see just sitting there."
• Know how to use your white balance, said Military Times photographer firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Rob Curtis, who's deployed to the war zone a dozen times and has snapped cover shots for USA Today. The key is to shoot a white object and make sure it appears white on the LCD screen, he said. If it doesn't, adjust the white-balance setting until it does. He also suggests learning a post-processing program such as Photoshop so your shots are consistent and true to life.
• Don't rely on your flash in low-level light, Curtis said. Especially in the deserts of Iraq, ubiquitous dust will appear as hazy white specks. To get rid of the "ghosts," use a tripod — a real or improvised one — and set your camera to a longer exposure.
• It's better to have several smaller memory cards than one big one, Curtis said. If you shoot your entire deployment on an 8-gigabyte card and something happens to that card, you're up a creek. Instead, buy four 2-gig cards.