Frequently Asked Questions to the Royal Naval Photgraphers

Here are a selection of questions that are frequently asked to the Royal Navy photographers.

How do you become a Royal Navy Photographer?

We are a sideways entry branch, which means you already need to be in the RN or RM to be able to transfer to the Photographic Specialisation. Please check out RNTM026/16 and BR3 Ch92. For further advice please contact your nearest photographic section. The RNR Media Operations Specialist branch take photographer direct as long as they hold a minimum of NVQ level 3 in photography.

Do you have any combat or other responsibilities alongside your photography role?

We are Sailors first, which means whilst photography is our primary role we still undertake whole ship roles like firefighting and damage control. If you are with a Royal Marine unit you carry the same equipment plus camera equipment. This includes the weapons systems and if the need arises then you are another gun on the ground.

What cameras do you use or recommend?

We currently us Canon, and every RN Photographer has a Canon 1DX MkII, 5DS plus lens. We also capture and edit video, so along with the DSLR's we also us the Canon XF205 and GoPro's.

What qualifications/skills do you need or recommend for this line of work?

NVQ is a good starting area as it will provide you with the foundation knowledge required. The misconception is that because you have expensive equipment you must be a good photographer. Camera's are just a tool. It's the creativity and back ground knowledge that makes a good photographer. Camera clubs are very useful for progressing your abilities.

Have you had to take images in combat situations? What was it like?

I've served in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq photographing troops on the frontline. A large percentage of the branch has been involved in combat operations over the last 10 years. Everyday on the ground is different, but telling the story of our troops is important and very worthwhile. Keeping your kit serviceable is one of the hardest part especially with the amount of dirt and dust. When you've had a Chinnock sand shower a few times a day it becomes a challenge to protecting your kit.

Can you be an RN Photographer and stay in your original branch?

No, on completion of the 28 week Defence Photographers course you branch transfer to the photographic specialisation as a Leading Photographer. Royal Marines wishing to become professional photographers transfer to the Royal Navy on completion of the course.

What is the most rewarding part of you job? Out of ten how much fun is it?

Like any job it has it's good day's and bad day's. After 20 year's in the branch it has been the best decision I made. We are the only specialisation that gets to meet and experience all 4 fighting arms, the RFA and their associated branches and trades. Plus there are RN Photographers working with tri-service organisations. getting your images in the national press or video footage on the news gives you a sense of pride in your work, it's a great buzz. This job can be fun as you experience so much and get to do great things with our amazing people.

What made you think of combining a career in photography with the Royal Navy?

I'd always been interested in photography as an amateur, when I found out the RN had a branch it was a great way to take a hobby into a career so applied to transfer branches.

Do you go through the Royal Navy training course for this role or do you get specific training?

The course is a tri-service course at the Defence School of Photography. If you did the course in college it would take two years. Our course is 28 weeks for the stills side and a further 5 weeks video.

What is it like being a photographer in the Navy?

It can be long hours, especially on deployment as you're out all day capturing images or video then have to edit it all to get it out to the press or the RN's social media channels. But it's very rewarding especially when you see the effect and your products in the media. It's more than a job, it's a lifestyle

What got you into photography?

Started as a keen amateur and progressed from there into passing photographic selection and the Defence Photographers course. 

What lenses do you tend to use and what addons?

All our photographers are issued with a 24-70 and 70-200 mm lens as standard, but they can draw longer or shorter lens as required. 

How do you manage to take a picture of a moving ship? How close can you get?

This depends whether it's from rigid inflatable boat or from a helicopter. The principles are the same, it's about controlling the boat or helicopter and moving it into the right position. Using fast shutter speeds helps illuminate movement and freezes the action

How hard is it to get the right shot? Does it take long?

Combined with how many photos do you need to take to get the right shot. This depends on what the task is. A presentation tends to be two to three images as you always want to make sure you have a safety shot. Action type photography can be a 1 in 10 or you might get the shot within a couple of images.

Photographers tend to operate as singletons, unless it is a large event or video and stills are required on the same job. When HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Portsmouth for the first time we had 16 photographers dotted around the area, in the air and on the water.

Do you have Royal Naval Reserve photographers?

Yes, the photographers are part of the Media Operations Specialisation. It takes former RN photographers and photographers from civvy street who have at least an NVQ level 3 in photography.

What did you do before you became a Royal Navy Photographer?

I was a Stores accountant, but the branch has photographers from all branches in the RN and RM.

What benefits do you have out of your job?

We get to travel the world doing a hobby as a job. Capturing great images and video or the Naval Service at work.

Does it take a lot of time and focus to edit the photos or are they not edited?

Depending on the task it can take a while to capture and edit. We are only allowed to edit out images in accordance with Reuters and PA's guidelines. 

How much experience in this field do you have?

I have 20 years as a professional photographer

What's the one Royal Navy related photo you haven't taken yet but wish you had?

I always wanted to be the photographer on a Harrier Squadron so I could capture Air to Air photography or on HMS Protector capturing imagery in Antarctica.

Do you have any female photographers?


How many cameras have you broken?

Myself none.

Do you need your own equipment?

No, all our equipment is provided by the service to ensure that we are all operating the same.

What is more exciting to photograph? Ceremonial duty or operational?

Operational, as it makes you think and you have to work out what's happening before it happens whilst remaining situationally aware.

What was the first camera you had?

A Pentax K1000

Do you offer apprenticeships?

New photographers completing the Defence Photographers course now complete an apprenticeship.

Do you have to live on board the vessel?


Are your cameras waterproof?

No, but we do have waterproof covers to protect them from spray.

Do you guys plan on doing more film type stuff like on the RN You Tube channel? It made me join!

Video tasking is on the increase and we have some great photographers who are brilliant at video

Are you told what pictures to take or do you choose?

Whilst most of the time we have a task sheet with the basic requirements, it's down to the photographers creativity to produce the images and capture what is required to meet to overall brief. Photographers are also encouraged to generate images and video off their own backs.

What do your photos get used for?

Our images and video get used in many things from news to documentaries. They are used as a historic record of what the Navy has done as well as informing the public of what the Navy is up to around the globe.

How do you judge a photo?

We look at composition, focus, exposure and does it tell the story.

Can you do photography in the Royal Marines?

Royal Marines who want to become professional service photographers transfer to the Royal navy on completion of the Defence Photographers Course.

Do you take photos of the Royal Marines?

Yes, we have 7 photographers working with the Royal Marines constantly.

What is the golden rule for military photography?

Look after your kit.

Are photographers also used in reconnaissance efforts?


Do you only work with the Royal Navy or do you work with other military branches too?

No, we have Royal Navy Photographers working with other services and alongside our Army and RAF counterparts

Do you use drones or helicopters to take some images?

We use both depending on the task, weather and availability.

Is it similar to being a war reporter? Do you qualify as press under the laws of war?

No we are military photographers and therefore come under the laws and regulations like any service person.