The Photography of Mike O'Neill ABIPP

Army

SAAL Digital Photobook Offer

Browsing Facebook recently I came across a photo book offer for photographers from SAAL Digital.  I applied and they sent me a code for the value of £40, thank you I thought and set to work.

Now, I had an idea in mind to create a photo book of some of my favourite photos from Afghanistan. I did two stints in all, once on the British Combat Camera Team in 2009 and once as the Photographer for Task Force Helmand in 2012.

I built my book with the downloaded interface, which was super intuitive, and was completed in about 90 minutes.

start

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I uploaded on a Saturday night (rock and roll, I know…) and I received my photo book on the Thursday following. Fast? I think so.

What I have received I am pleased with; I went for a matt finish over gloss, as that is generally my printing preference. The pages feel quite luxurious and it handles like a thick, high quality magazine inside. The cover is padded which I feel adds to the overall look and presentation of the book.

It’s a nice addition to my display arsenal, I wont always be in the army so Ill be sure to take this to any job interviews. Also, it’s a lovely one off custom coffee-table book that Id be happy to display if I had my own studio.

In summary, it’s a cracking service overall from SAAL Digital, I am very happy with this product.

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A dabble with Cinemagraphs

I came across a cool program yesterday, Cinemagraph Pro.  I watched the introductory video and set to work to have a go.

I needed to find a subject who was for one willing, and two, would work with video.

Easy peasy, I walked outside of the exercise I am currently covering in #Lithuania and found a Chef cooking rations on a small field set up.

I primed him, got him set up and shot the photo.

Army Chefs in Vilnius, Lithuania. As the soldiers of 248 Gurkha Signal Squadron are hard at work building the set up in Vilnius, Chefs from 22 Signal Regiment now have their equipment and immediately set to work to keep the guys fed. At the moment it is simple fare, using the contents of 10 man ration boxes, but these will be supplemented by fresh food in the coming days. This deployment marks the first time HQ ARRC has conducted their annual exercise, named ARRCADE FUSION 2015 (AF 15), in the Baltics with participation and elements in all 3 nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. "From the logistic point of view it is an excellent opportunity to test the strategic deployment of our personnel and material", said Brigadier Torsten Gersdorf, commander of Enabling Command ARRC. About 350 logistics vehicles and more than 150 containers of equipment left the ship MV EDDYSTONE and departed in convoys driven by 14 Transport Squadron and elements of 27 Regiment RLC to the various exercise locations in Lithuania and Latvia. This non-tactical movement signifies the start of this yearÕs AF 15 from a support perspective. This exercise tests the headquarters' ability to control simulated troop formations within a challenging and dynamic fictional scenarios. The scenario planned for AF 15 provides exercise evaluators with the ability to merge realistic global security threats into one environment to challenge and test the ability of headquarters personnel to devise innovative and pragmatic solutions. This is made all the more challenging, as they will be deploying in the middle of a Baltic winter in tents and field conditions. In this image:  Private Zaque Edwards, 25 from Stoke-on-Trent, 22 Signal Regiment, boils pasta on a quick field set up. Please credit photographer.

In this image: Private Zaque Edwards, 25 from Stoke-on-Trent, 22 Signal Regiment, boils pasta on a quick field set up.
MoD/Crown Copyright 2015.  Please credit photographer.

I then said ‘Stay still now mate while I just shoot the video’.  10 seconds later we are done.

Now to the edit.  The photograph was lightly edited in #Lightroom and imported to CG Pro with the video.

Screen Shot of the program in use

The program was very intuitive and easy to use if you already have a background in media editing.

15 minutes later I was complete with a quick edit done.  Most of that time was spent on the import and blending the steam, as it doesn’t repeat itself, for a better overlap.

Exported as a GIF to keep the filesize down.

Exported as a GIF to keep the filesize down.

The result was pretty cool and gained some fair interaction on twitter.  New followers = Result.  I feel if you think outside of the box you can achieve something special here.  I watched a tutorial of how to do it in photoshop and the tutorial was longer than 20 minutes.

Do cinemagraphs have a practical application for your audience? I would say yes, An striking image that moves would catch the eye more than the photo would.  I have seen some great examples.

Google and have a look for yourself 🙂


End of an Era

The British base at Lashkar Gah has been handed over to Afghan control. I spent a good deal of time at the base myself during my two tours of Afghanistan. Although I think the British Public do not realise that Lashkar Gah is a large City. Its name translated means ‘Soldier’s Place’ and it dates back to the time of Alexander the Great.

It has a hustle and bustle with thousands coming and going. Glimpses of modern technology mix with the traditions of old. It is a beautiful place and is target rich for any budding street photographer.

HELMAND SECURITY SHURA

TWENTY20 CRICKET

HELMAND SECURITY SHURA

HELMAND SECURITY SHURA

TWENTY20 CRICKET

TWENTY20 CRICKET

TWENTY20 CRICKET

TWENTY20 CRICKET

TWENTY20 CRICKET

It is certainly a place that I would one day like to go back to as a civilian.

VISIT OF PERMANENT UNDER SECRETARY TO SOLDIERS AND CIVIL SERVANTS IN AFGHANISTAN


Video

Aerial Imagery

Most Army Photographers will at some point get tasked with Aerial Photography. Its usually getting shots of a site or Barracks but it may even be a group shot from the air.

Aerial 1

The mode of transport may differ too whether it is a Chinook, Lynx or Sea king. Each have their own niche way of shooting. For example, on the Chinook you will either be shooting from the ramp or from the seats, depending on the Loadmaster.

I enjoy Aerial Work, its quite the buzz and usually the person who requests the images will be very happy with the results as they don’t normally get to see that kind of imagery delivered quickly and to a high standard.

The image of the Exercise set up was Exercise ARRCADE FUSION 2013 which took place at RAF St Mawgan near Cornwall. The shot has been published and printed at 43 inches on the shortest edge. It looks great! Customer happy, job done.


A return to normality…

I write this post as I fly by RAF Voyager A330, speeding towards British Airspace with an excitement I haven’t felt in a while. I long to see my family and to enjoy home comforts such as television and sitting on the couch.

The months ahead will be busy, but I will enjoy them nonetheless. It will be a chance to see faces from the tour of those people I spent time with in their FOBs and PBs as I took their photos and tried to capture the history of the men and women of The Black Rats.

I look forward to seeing the Units parade in their home towns as they are waved and cheered by their family, friends and well-wishers. The soldiers marching with their heads held high.

A new horizon approaches which I have visited before. Sometimes change, even back to that you know can be a good thing. I have big plans for the rest of the year and I hope you will continue to join me in my travels.

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Stalking The Ghurkhas

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Just before last Christmas I found myself facing a gargantuan road trip of epic proportions.  I was to travel to Lairg in Scotland to photograph a team of Nepalise Snipers from 1 Royal Ghurka Rifles who had been invited Deerstalking with a veiw to a published article in Shooting Times.

What an assignment! I thought to myself as I tried to get transport sorted and checked the routemap.  It would take around six hours to get to Lairg, however I could not reach the group by Telephone and no one had any further details as to where these guys were staying.  It shouldt be too hard to find Ghurkas in the Highlands surely?

In addition to this the new reports were full of woe to anyone contemplating driving:  “Dont go unless absolutley!” neccessary they said.  I was not deterred from my task, the mental picture of Ghurkhas in white ghillie suits with sniper rifles was driving me, it will be a great shot.  I just have to get there….

When I set off at 6pm I had no idea what was in front of me.  The journey was fine albeit for a couple of overturned lorries although I did get caught in a blizzard as I came down off the Cairngorms.  I arrived in Lairg after 2am, I parked in a car park by the Spar shop on the shore of Loch Shin.  I got my sleeping bag out and got my head down.

Waking up at first light my first stop was the Spar.  “Seen any Ghurkas?” I asked the bewildered staff, obviously not used to a uniformed soldier in these parts.  No was the answer so I carried on.  A postal sorting office in mid flow provided me with an answer to try the Duke of Edinburgh’s Ranger Lodge and they gave me directions.

An hour later I was there with the rangers and a hotel telephone number in my hand.  I tried repeatedly throughout my broken communications to reach the Ghurka team but it was all in vain.  The hotel proprieter informed “They left this morning!”.

Gutted.  A word that can only describe my dissappointment at the failed task, however as I looked around the stunning scenery I realised I probably would never have come were it not for the tasking.  It truly is a beautiful place, maybe Ill go back.

It turns out the Ghurkas have indeed been invited back to shoot again, and they have invited me to go with them…

Next time they can pick me up en route.


Soldiers of Ulster

Soldiers of Ulster

 

This summer over twenty men of Ulster met at the Regional Training Centre (RTC) in Ballykinler.  The RTC would be their home for the next three weeks whilst while they undergo Basic Territorial Army Training.  TA training usually takes place over ten weekends but once a year the RTC sets up EXERCISE SHAMROCK CHALLENGE.

The men themselves came from all over the province and were aged between 17 and 43.  Not all of them would complete the training but one thing was certain, they were all there to give it to give it their best shot.

The trainees were fortunate though as the Veterans who came to train them were seasoned men of the 1st and 2nd Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment (R IRISH) some of them fresh from Afghanistan and also an Regular Instructor from the Army Training Regiment Pirbright (ATR(P)).

The soldiers were aiming for the final goal of receiving their Caubeens marking them as Soldiers of 2 R IRISH before flying over to England to complete their Phase 2 training at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick, North Yorkshire.

During the training the Recruits were trained in a number of topics such as Basic Weapons, Field craft, First Aid, Map Reading and were also tested for their Fitness and Stamina.  The exercise also introduced the Recruits to soldiering outdoors on the expansive training area at Ballykinler with a number of overnight excursions to further practice the lessons being taught.

A large majority of those in training have a wish to deploy on operations in Afghanistan upon completion of their training.  Many of them were there for various financial reasons such as being made redundant or self-employment was not bringing in enough money so the TA is a good option to top up wages.

Recruit Jonny Wright, 22 from Portadown said of the experience “Shamrock Challenge for me was fantastic, it was the best experience I’ve ever had.  It’s a fantastic way to spend a summer time.  The friend’s that I have made have been loyal to me and they helped me out during the tasks that we had through our course.”

Recruit Dylan North who at 43 is the oldest of the group.  He has transferred from 253 (Irish) Medical Regiment based in Belfast after stating “I’m looking for a challenge like this and want to do it before I get too old”.

Following on from the Royal Irish recruits were those potential soldiers destined for other T.A units with Northern Ireland.  Many of which have provided large numbers of soldiers bound for Operational hotspots such as Afghanistan.  A full training team from ATR(P) came over to Ballykinler for the five week duration to turn the civilians into part time soldiers.

The group had a different demographic to their Infantry counterparts with an age range from 17 to 45 with a small number of females looking to make their mark.

One of the few females taking part was Recruit Toni Reid, 19 from Antrim.  Toni has dreams of one day being an Officer in the Army. “I came on Shamrock Challenge for the experience into army life as I eventually want to become an officer in the full time army.  The exercise has been challenging, you know, lack of sleep and getting up, having to do everything in the dark and organising yourself.  Also ‘buddying’ up with another person as well and trying to help them out and working together it’s been a struggle, but enjoyable at the end.  Especially the girls, because yo we were sharing a room together and doing everything together.”

The course was very much centred on Afghan based operations and even included Bayonet training which the females took part in.  Toni said afterwards “I did enjoy the bayonet training, just trying to get it into more of a realistic setting, getting the aggression going.  It was really good.”

Their final Passing Off Parade was a proud, joyous moment with families and friends coming to watch the parade held in Ballykinler, in shadow of the Mournes.  For the parade both courses came together to become soldiers together.

One of the youngest there was Recruit Stefan Mullen, 17 from Glengormley.  “The reason I came to do Shamrock Challenge was for the experience.  I wasn’t getting enough in mechanics, I’m studying mechanics in Tech but I’m not in a Mechanics Garage and I want a bit more experience so I joined 591 (TA) Royal Engineers in Bangor.

It has certainly been challenging but interesting and the friends I’ve made, most of them, they’re all good lads and I’ll keep in touch with a good lot of them.  I’d recommend it to anyone.”

For most of these men and women especially the younger ones, it was certainly a life changing experience, with many of them wishing to deploy in the next few years, they will certainly add their weight to the numbers of Ulster TA soldiers standing up to do their bit year after year alongside their full time counterparts.

I was there to capture their moments of pain, laughter and comradeship as they underwent one of the toughest tests of their lives.