Focus on... Sgt Mick Howard
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Sergeant Mick Howard
My name is Sergeant Mick Howard. I am 41 years old and I was born in Jarrow, a small town in South Tyneside. I am currently serving with the Royal Logistic Corps as an Army Photographer and I have been in the army for 20 years.
At the moment I'm stationed at the Operational Training and Advisory Group in Kent. In my current role my work consists of producing video and photographic products for the training of Army personnel deploying on combat operations.
Describe your role as an Army Photographer
As an Army Photographer I am required to produce a high standard of imagery in the form of still images and video to document Army life and events for current and historical purposes. As photographers we supply images for internal military publications which could include magazines, posters, websites, leaflets or training products.
We also produce PR imagery for external media with the bulk of that work being supplied to national and international newspapers and news agencies. My role is diverse and I could find myself teaching photography or capturing images at home or abroad covering exercises, sport, adventure training and if required current Operations in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Why did you become an Army Photographer?
I have always had an interest in photography but never really had a chance to put it into practice. However, after the birth of my first daughter (Paige) in 1993, I decided to buy a Praktica professional SLR film camera in the hope of getting quality pictures of her early years. My first attempts with the camera were kind of poor as a lot of the pictures were either out of focus or incorrectly exposed.
I quickly realised I would have to start with the very basics of photography so I read every photography book and magazine I could get my hands on. After trying out different techniques and exploring different areas of photography I found my main interest was in people photography. It was later in 1998 that I would discover that within the Army there was a specific Army Photographic trade.
After arranging an interview with my then Officer Commanding I was advised that competition was fierce and I would have little if any chance of passing the selection process. Undeterred and still with a passion for photography I set about finding out more information about the trade and the selection process. Then finally, after getting the go-ahead I attend and passed the photographer selection course.
In August 2001 I began the Photography Career course at RAF Cosford passing the course with a distinction 28 weeks later. I then embarked on my first posting as an Army Photographer to Northern Ireland.
What have been the hi-lights during your time as an Army Photographer?
Probably the best time I have had was during my time as the Media Operations photographer in Headquarters London District. A large part of my photography output was of ceremonial duties, with the main event being the Queen’s Birthday Parade or sometimes referred to as Trooping the Colour. This meant photographing the Royal family on a regular basis. My images from these events were published in both regional and the national press.
Whilst in London I was lucky enough to photograph many famous faces and see a bit of the world including Belgium, Spain, Croatia, South Africa, Belize, Bosnia, Jamaica and more recently, Afghanistan. In Afghanistan I was part of a three-man Combat Camera Team (CCT) which was a huge challenge but very rewarding to see my video footage on the national news and being used by programmes such as Panorama and the Pride of Britain Awards.
What is it like taking pictures of the Royal Family?
Taking pictures of the Royal family can sometimes be very difficult if you are kept within a media pen with the Press Pack as everyone is pushing and shoving to get in a position to take the best shots.Whereas if you are the sole photographer and have more or less a free reign, the job is far easier and you can be a bit more creative with your pictures.
It is a little daunting the first time you receive a tasking to photograph a member of the Royal Family because you do not want to mess up. But with experience, I now don't feel any more pressured when photographing the Royal Family than photographing any other person. That said, it's an honour to be in a position and get the opportunity to be able to take photographs of the Royals and other famous people.
How did it feel to win Army Photographer of the year?
It feels great to have won Army Photographer of the year for a second time (2008) because as always the competition was very strong with some stunning images from very talented photographers. I have entered this competition every year since joining the photographic trade and enjoy looking at the other images on display at the competition. If I am honest the best I was hoping for was a win in The Digital Image Category as I have won that for the past four years. So to win the top prize was brilliant, I thought the judges would have chosen one of the other portfolios of operational images.
What advice can you give to people starting out in photography, or want to become Army Photographers?
I think the best advice I could give to someone starting out in photography is learn what your camera is capable of by reading the camera manual from cover to cover. Try different types of photography for example, motor racing or low-light photography which will test your camera handling skills. But probably more importantly, enjoy photography and show people your pictures; feedback be it good or bad goes a long way in helping you produce better images.
Although I believe I have got one of the best jobs in the Army it should be pointed out that it can at times by very work intense with a lot of working weekends and unsocial hours. Promotion is also very slow and I'm afraid postings are spread rather thin. It can be dangerous on Operations due to the fact that the majority of our images are taken at the sharp end.
I am also very lucky in the fact that I have a very supportive wife who accepts that on numerous occasions we have had to change family plans because of work commitments, fast balls are common place within Media Operations. But if you like to travel, have an eye for a good picture and are passionate about photography I would say, yes, it’s good to be an Army Photographer.
Do you feel you get enough credit for your work or acknowledgment from the wider Army?
I think a lot of the Army still does not know that the photography trade exists although at the minute we have been hi-lighted on the Army website. But it is down to us to keep getting our work out and published so people are aware of us and what great work we can produce. It's all about getting our message across but you still come across OCs and COs from time to time who have little or no interest in what we do.
You recently swapped a stills camera for a video camera for a deployment to Afghanistan, what was it like to film as opposed to taking stills pictures?
On a recent deployment to Afghanistan as part of the Combat Camera Team I was employed as a video cameraman which was a big challenge in terms of time spent filming and editing. Video work is a lot tougher as you are obviously holding shots for longer, thinking of shots as sequences and not as single frames. That together with monitoring audio levels and controlling harsh lighting is a lot to be thinking about when you’re out on the ground.
However if the footage gets used by the media it's a great feeling of achievement because after all I was there to capture and help tell the story of what the soldiers are doing and going through on day to day basis. I recall on one occasion whilst filming in Kajaki thinking to myself “You must be mad doing this as job”.
Capt Tom McShane and I were on foot patrol with X Company 2 PARA when a locally employed interpreter looked over to me and asked "Are your ears burning?" A bit bemused I said, "No! Why?" He smiled and replied "Because the Taliban are talking about you and can see that you are filming the area". That sent a bit of a shiver down my spine that's for sure, but like everyone else out there I had a job to do so I just tried to put it to the back of my mind and continued filming.
What is the best and worst bits about being an Army Photographer?
The best part of being an Army Photographer is meeting people and visiting different places. You cannot beat the feeling of seeing your images or video being used by the media.
The worst part of being an Army Photographer is when you arrive at a job and the Officer/Person in charge of the event (who has usually just purchased the latest digital camera) tries to tell you how to do your job.
Do you have any Regrets?
The only thing I regret really is the fact that I can only serve with the Army for a maximum of 24 years. I would have liked the opportunity and would have been more than willing to serve longer, maybe 30 years and had a longer career like the RAF provide.