Department of Defense Learns From NPPA

Mark Dolan, Melissa Lyttle and Brad Smith in Anchorage, Alaska (photo courtesy of Brad Smith)

By Katelyn Umholtz

Members of the NPPA took part in the Department of Defense Visual Storytelling Workshop in Anchorage, Alaska, which went from June 26 to July 2. Melissa Lyttle, Mark Dolan, Brad Smith and Mary Calvert worked as team leaders teaching young military photographers and videographers how to tell stories.

NPPA president Lyttle teamed with small market BOP photographer of the year Scott McIntyre to lead a group of five students through the steps of finding, executing and editing a story.

For the last 24 years, the Department of Defense has funded this program in order to better equip their photo and video journalists with skills needed to tell stories that are shared with the American public said Colonel Bernie Koelsch.

“The workshop is critical because it enables our photojournalists to better tell the story of the Department of Defense,” Koelsch said. “In the most exigent circumstances, the United States Military Services document their own work, so they can present the nation's service members to the American public.

NPPA board member Brad Smith talks with a team at the Department of Defense workshop. (photo courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Koelsch said military photographers and videographers submit portfolios and around 50 are selected to participate in the workshop.

The annual workshop rotates around the country and this year, participants stayed on a military base in Anchorage with their teams and discuss story ideas. Teams were divided up with four to five photographers, three to four videographers, a team leader and a mentor said Smith, a member of the NPPA Board of Directors.

“They come up with their own story ideas, and then they go out in the field and have three to four days to produce a photo or video story based on their story ideas,” Smith said. “They would work with somebody like Melissa who would help refine the idea.”

In those three to four days, each team had to work on at least five stories, which all varied in subject matter. For instance, Smith’s team worked on stories about a homeless former marine, a mother’s life raising an autistic son, and a man who is trying to popularize paddle boarding in Alaska.

“They were all interesting and challenging,” Smith said. “We learned a lot, and those students learned a great deal over the five days we were there.”

One aspect the students definitely picked up at the workshop, he said, was the concept of deadlines that come with being a visual journalist.

“They weren't used to working on those kinds of deadlines,” Smith said. “That was another thing we were teaching them. There were a lot of images to go through. But we certainly made it within a reasonable time around the deadline.”

Lyttle, who was new to the workshop, said this was one of the more rewarding workshops she’s taken part in because the students had a willingness to learn.

“They were like sponges the way they soaked up all the information we gave them,” Lyttle said. “They took our advice and constructive criticism to heart and went out each day and produced something better, pushed themselves harder and made work they should really be proud of.”

Smith said because these students are affiliated with the military in some way, their work will, of course, be different from that of a traditional visual journalist. But just because their work will be for military purposes, the same curiosity should exist in them when producing stories as it does with the same photographers and videographers that taught them.

“They are in the military, and their boundaries aren't the same as mine and yours,” Smith said. “But we're certainly hoping they are able to go and have some curiosity in the realms of what they do, so they'll be able to pursue their own stories when they get back to their base.”

All of the NPPA members, especially Lyttle, who put on a presentation about the history of the organization, made a point to let their students know there is a huge community of visual journalists out there, like the NPPA.

“If nothing else, it is something they should at least look into, whether they join or not, just to realize there's a larger photo community out there than they're aware of,” Smith said.

Team photo of the workshop participants and coaches in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense) 

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