2015 DC Shoot Off Visual Media Workshop


Over the weekend, (March 20-22) I participated in the DC Shoot Off, hosted by Visual Media Workshop.

Whats the Shoot Off??

Shoot Off Visual Media Workshops is a not for profit program for our military and civil service photographers.  The best speakers, mentors, editors and judges throughout the country volunteer for this prestigious event that aligns our service members with the national press corps, industry leaders and veteran military photographers. These workshops are for all levels and provide professional development in helping to fill training gaps for our service dedicated photographers throughout the year.

Who supports the workshop? 

We have Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award winning presenters to nationally endowed speakers, visual creatives, book authors and lifetime educators who support the program.  We have legacy military photographers ensure students receive the knowledge of their own history and provide mentorship they will carry throughout their

Whats the future?

The medium is in constant rapid change and to provide the best in visual communication requires the sharing of knowledge through networking.  It involves many hours of production and resource to make these events happen and the program is open to financial support in helping staff and to offset the cost of travel and lodging expenses for key volunteers.  We have expanded the shoot off program to include an online category for forward deployed personnel in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere called Shoot Off Online, so they too can participate during the competition portion of the program online and judged separately.

Photographers are challenged to shoot or produce a still or video photo story or essay assignment within a 24-36 hour time frame.  Edit teams are on hand to help critique and mentor the students in a challenging and engaging environment.

My Perspective

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, but I was able to participate in the online submission. This was my third time attending the workshop and I loved every minute of it! Friday is broken down to a variety of guest speakers that range from photojournalist, an ethics committee, portrait photographers, and veteran military photographers. This years speakers were amazing and I had such a great time listening. I have to say, my favorite this year was Preston Keres. Preston Keres served in the Navy for twelve years and made his foray into journalism in 1996, spending the last five years writing and photographing for the Navy. “I fell in love with photography,” remembers the native Iowan. “I found people would talk more about the photos I took than the stories I wrote.” The experience encouraged him to enroll in the Military Photojournalism Course at Syracuse University. After graduation in 2000, he started working for the Navy’s flagship publication “All Hands” in D.C. In his first two years, he won the Department of Defense’s Military Photographer of the Year for his coverage of Navy operations in Guatemala, Ground Zero rescues after the September 11th attacks, and the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake for DoD athletes. He joined the Post in 2003. ( taken from the Washington Post Website)  You can hear his presentation here:

His words were so informative and most importantly, inspirational. ” Think like a writer” when you are photographing, ” Navy Pick up the slack,” “Just as in writing, don’t be redundant.” These were some words that struck the hardest. I feel as photographers in the Navy, we continue to lack the emotion in our photos. We have gotten into this notion that we  just shoot to get the job done, but not much feeling nor creativity goes into our work these days. (personal opinion) I don’t speak for all Navy photographers, because there are certainly some great ones out there, but over the years, I have seen such a decline and it breaks my heart. Keres words made such a difference for me and it made me realize how I need to take this information from these informative workshops and keep moving forward with my own work and improve daily.

After the presentations, the theme of the Shoot off is selected and all shooters, both in-house at the workshop and online submitter’s have 24 hours to shoot the theme as a photo story, selecting in 3 to 5 photos.

This years theme was:“Juxtaposition.”


1. the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect. “juxtaposition of these two images”
My co-worker from the active duty side of Fleet Combat Camera Pacific, Antonio Coffield, an amazing videographer, was able to accompany as my partner in crime during this amazing competition. ( Check out his work: Flash Me Photography ) We set out to Hillcrest, Calif. around 11pm for a story on the double life style of two Drag Queens, Kevi Kev and Grotesqua Belladonna. We shot until about 4 am, slept and then were back at it in the morning at Oceanside, Calif. Pier. In Oceanside we concentrated on the Oceanside hostel with the lifestyle of hippies and homeless society roaming around. We had a great time and were so motivated! I loved every minute of it.
Sunday morning, we were able to stream live online for the judges and voting. The judges this year were Sharon Farmer, Stephen Brown & Larry Levin. An amazing and experienced panel.

This is where I began to draw questions about how the workshop was run. The last three times that I have participated in the workshop, the focus has always been storytelling, with a photojournalist style photography. THIS WAS NOT THE CASE this year. Most of the shots were set up, arranged and completely contradicting to the rules in the past. I was very disappointed how the judging went and their justification for the winners. I feel I completely over thought my subject and should have gone a more simpler route, so I understand why I wasn’t a winner. Overall, I was impressed by each shooters creativity and showcasing, but this went against everything I had been taught. One comment was “a photograph is a photograph, doesn’t matter what category it’s in.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? As an adjunct professor for CSUSM, there is no way I would ever teach my civilian students this! I also was extremely disappointed by the biased opinions of the judges favoring certain graduating students ( I won’t mention the school, but it’s always praised- none the less a great school ). When you are on a panel, all your emotions, connections and relationships need to be set aside. Period. You are on a judging panel to be bring your experience as a professional. BUT congratulations to all the winners, again, I was very very very impressed by everyone’s creativity and structure of their shoots. I love seeing more and more work and I am always, so glad that a group of photographers came together for this wonderful event.

My second concern, was how disappointing the lack of communication for the online-submitters. In the past years, my mentor would notify me ASAP the theme and a phone number or email where they could be reached. This was not the case this year. I didn’t hear about the theme until I logged onto Facebook, and was contacted by my mentor until a few hours later. Then I was told I had to submit my images to two completely different people, that was frustrating. I was also given word, that I had a later time line and could submit at a later time. Even though we met the east coast timeline, the lack of communication as to when my images were due was frustrating. I also found a little defeat when I received a phone call at 6am west coast time, stating that I had submitted too many photos. Oops! NOW, grant it, I completely understand how difficult it is with the online submitter and the time difference. I also know that most of the mentors are volunteers and in no way am I bashing on them. I just feel in the past, I had great communication and this year not so much. It’s hard for me to sell this workshop to my peers if the workshop isn’t what it used to be. DONT get me wrong, I still think this is a great workshop and tons of wonderful mentors and speakers. I just believe that it needs to go back to the fundamentals, purpose and background of where the workshop came from. CHECK OUT THE WINNERS HERE:

Moving forward, I would love to help out in any way and will continue to stress the importance of the workshop to my peers. I hope to provide my knowledge and any assistance that the workshop needs.

ASIDE, from positive and negative review of the workshop, here is the images I submitted. With the help and brainstorming of Antonio Coffield, I decided that my photo story of juxtaposition would be the double life of two Drag Queens living in Hillcrest, Calif. Enjoy!!! Opinions and critiques are always welcome!!!!!! Not my best shooting, but such a wonderful time getting back into this type of photography!!!

I had a great time following these two around the nightlife of Hillcrest. Check there show out if you are even in town.

Aside from the photographs I submitted for the competition, here are the additional ones from the night. Again, I had a great time challenging myself and trying to show true emotions in my photographs along with having a written a paragraph in each pictures. Enjoy and see you at the next shoot off!!


US Navy QuickShot/TFTT Training

U.S. military combat cameramen train in combat tactics

I often get asked, what I do for the U.S. Navy Reserves… I just reply with ” I take pictures.” However, after going through this training for the second time, I realize that there is more to my job. I initially started off as an active duty member training as a Naval Aircrewman and Search and Rescue swimmer. That training was cut short when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Savannah. I wasn’t allowed to finish SAR school, but still became an Aircrewman. This left me to rethink what I really wanted out of Navy career. I had initially joined to become a photographer, but was picked up for Aircrew at bootcamp. Now, pregnant, I had the opportunity to really focus on that skill. I started taking Advance Photography during my pregnancy at the local community college. I really began having an interest in documentary photography and it was then I decided that I wanted to be a combat photographer for the Navy. My journey getting there is a whole different story, but the short version was that, I started my OJT (on the job training) with Fleet Combat Camera Pacific. I took a year off after I had my daughter and went back as a reserve as a Mass Communication Specialist. I felt at home. Going back to my initial statement, “I take pictures,” I realize that yes, I take pictures, but I am a trained Combat cameraman, trained by the best of the best photographers I know.

The last two weeks I was able to experience for the second time around, this amazing training. I was able to build on my skills as a Mass Communication Specialist (Video and Photography) and my tactical firearms training. I had an amazing team leader and part of the best team anyone could ask for. Fleet Combat Camera Pacific’s Winter Quick Shot 2015 is a joint field training exercise in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa, Calif. Quick Shot is a semi-annual exercise that improves combat camera Service members’ abilities to operate in a tactical environment. West Coast COMCAM hosts two Quick Shot exercises a year. Combat photographers come from all over the military to learn small arms combat tactics from Max Joseph and his Tactical Firearms Training Team.  with my grumpy, bitchy and lack of sleep, I was able to build on team skills and amazing training. I was blessed with new friends, build on old friendships and most importantly walk away with some battlescars! Below I have included some photographs that I took over the last two weeks.

Here is a video from Brett Cote, a very talented and amazing videographer. Check out his blog, he has great tutorials on video editing as well as some amazing videos. You can check out the link below to see some great photographs from the training from all of the Photographers.

Thanks again everyone for all your help and the great learning experience. I even had a few images released and it was all because of the best team I had. Go team bravo!

#teamfour #teambravo aka #teambrown #tftt #quickshot #comcam #fccp #winterquickshot #nancycdibenedetto #dibenedettophotography