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Guest post: A Marine with a Nikon D5000 in Afghanistan

A Marine Corps security convoy passes by Camp Dwyer in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan

A pair of weathered boots sits inside a Marines tent after a mission in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Next guest post is by Joe Blount (www.theonejoe.com) about his deployment in Afghanistan (click on images for larger view):

In October of 2009 I deployed to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan as a machine gunner in a Security Company. We provided security to Combat Engineers who were building and repairing roads and convoy security from base to base. Our missions ranged in time length from overnight to weeks at a time on average, with the longest being a month long mission.

Lance Corporal Daniel Sousa and Corporal Mitchell McCaughan wait to hear news about a Marine who was injured in an Improvised Explosive Device explosion during a convoy

During the deployment I purchased a Nikon D5000 with the 18-55mm Nikkor kit lens as well as the 55-200mm Nikkor in December of 2009 as a present to myself.  I used parachute cord to secure my small camera bag in the turret with me. In the bag I packed the camera body, the two lenses, two batteries and charger. Fortunately there was room for the manual because it was my first DSLR. The camera stayed right by my side next to where my M4 service rifle was mounted. I used the 12v power in the truck to charge my batteries.

Corporal Christopher Bradshaw receives a hair cut during downtime from Corporal Thomas Linegar

I bought the camera with the intention of documenting my own experience in Afghanistan and to photograph our life as Marines on base, the missions and the locals. Helmand Province is located in the southwest of Afghanistan and is comprised of open deserts, farmers in small villages  with lush farm land and markets in the larger cities.  The camera experienced both sides of the temperature spectrum with highs over 110 Fahrenheit to lows in the teens as well as sandstorms and what we lovingly refer to as moon dust. Imagine 3-4 inches of dust with the consistency of flour and you have moon dust. It stays in the air and sticks to everything.

Members of the Afghanistan National Army react to support their fellow soldiers that were ambushed

From December 2009 to April of 2010 I took roughly 12,000 photos without any problems during my deployment. Nikon did not design the D5000 with surviving the harsh environment of a place like Afghanistan in mind. Since it's purchase in December I have over 49,000 shutter actuation. The Nikon D5000 is said to have a shutter life of at least 100,000 and I believe it.  The best camera to have is the one you have with you and my D5000 goes everywhere with me. I know I can always count on it to produce great images."

No matter the age, the children in an Afghan family help out with whatever chores they are assigned

A father watches his son play, as his son watches me

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  • http://www.amanochocolate.com Art

    Thank you for the article — and especially for your service!

  • T.I.M

    Well, for a war would not be better to use a CANON ?
    :)

    • Nikon Shooter

      Wait a second, you mean Canon the camera company, which phonetically sounds like cannon as in weapon, which can be used for war? Wow, so clever. Why didn’t I think of that???

      • T.I.M

        @Nikon Shooter
        I know I’m weird, must be the medecines I take for my seizures.
        :)

    • Ray

      Nikons are sharper though – more effective in close combat.

  • jain

    i am an amature photographer, i really liked the pictures and the moments that u have captured while fighting for our country.u have a good photographer’s eye as we say,keep up the good work.

  • Steve

    As a D5000 user myself from June of 2009, I can say with certainty that it can take quite a beating.

  • Choid Lambers

    Wow, those are some incredible images. Curious, how has that dust shaker been working out for you on the D5000 – seems like moondust would be a good test of it’s effectiveness! I image you have to do a lot of post to clone out any remaining specs.

    Also amazed that your kit lenses have survived in those conditions.

    Can you post some pictures of your camera kit?

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thank you for the compliment. I never really had any problems with the dust on the sensor. The lenses are a slight tinge of brown still, but the elements themselves are in great shape. During one of the bigger sandstorms I got caught up in the excitement and filmed it with my 55-200mm attached. It’s dirty, but works great. Here is a photo I took today of the camera and 55-200mm. http://lightbox.com/photo/9IeCAun

      • Choid Lambers

        Thanks for posting that – looks pretty good from that shot. Yould probably sell it on eBay as “Like New!” ;)

        But I imagine you’d want to keep if for sentimental reasons!

        • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

          Yeah, I couldnt possibly sell it! :) It’s a good, reliable friend. If you want a laugh, here is the video I shot with the 55-200. Not something I can condone, but I am lucky. http://youtu.be/2OE-uO4JtpQ

          • Mr V

            Oh man that is a beach on air! :) How long these storms last? Do they just pass by or what? Amazing creepy darkness falls at the end. Crazy!

            • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

              It just depends, some roll through pretty quick, and some like to stay awhile. That one hung around for about 5 hours. It’s like the evil cousin of white out conditions I guess. Haha

  • 12

    Hey, you seem like a great person…

    watch your framing. ;)

  • http://blogg.hogbergphotography.com Danonino

    I love my trusty D5000.. such great raw-files from that little camera.. Looking to upgrade it to maybee D7000 next year… but maybee I´ll just go for the double package, D800+D5200 ;)

    • T.I.M

      I hate my not trusted D5100 camera, the image quality is fine, but it’s a PAIN to use;

      No lock on the AF points selector, to change the aperture on manual mode you need to switch back to A mode (only one wheel).

      The viewfinder is small and dark (even with fast prime lens)

      And many other annoying things.
      But, for the money you get a great image quality.

      • Shawn

        If I understand your comment “to change the aperture on manual mode you need to switch back to A mode (only one wheel)” correctly then I have a different way. Just hold down the [+/-] (exposure compensation) button to change the aperture via the wheel when you’re in manual mode.

        Easy for me because I upgraded from the D50 which also has only one wheel. I imagine it will be difficult to get used if you’re used to having two dedicated wheels.

        I’m sure that the D5100 is harder to use than the higher models, but for me, it is worlds ahead of the D50. Instead of digging through menus I get to pick everything from one screen (and my favorites for what’s not on that). Yeah, I’d love to have a dedicated button for everything, but I just can’t afford that.

        Really, really, really good camera if you use it all the time though, it’s easy to get used to the interface.

        • T.I.M

          @Shawn
          Thank you for the tip !
          I’m still cunting the days (months ?) until I receive my D800e !
          :)

          Any idea how to lock the focus points selector ?

          • iamlucky13

            If I’m understanding your question right, what you want to do is switch from auto-area AF mode, to single point AF mode. This lets you manually choose which focus point to use, by using the 4-way selector pad. You’ll see them highlight in the viewfinder as you scroll around the field.

            Dynamic area mode and 3-D tracking both are hybrid modes. You can select the initial focus point using the multi-selector, and the camera will attempt to track the subject as it moves around the frame.

            Auto-area mode often drives me crazy, so I almost exclusively use single-area mode. My D40 doesn’t have 3-D tracking, or I’d probably use that a lot of the time.

            Since you seem to have several feature-related questions about your camera, it would really be worth your time in my opinion to either sit down for an hour or two to slog through the manual to learn all your camera’s features, or spend $10-15 on a 3rd party guide book for the D5100, which should be more easily readable.

            The small viewfinder is simply a compromise of owning a $700 camera that weighs almost nothing.

            • T.I.M

              @Iamlucky13
              In fact the problem is that when I use “single spot” AF, I only use the center one, and constently it move because the selector is very sensitive,

              It would not be an issue if it had a lock as it does on the D700

          • ken

            oh look another ‘D800E’ post on a completely unrelated guest post…I think everyone can’t wait until you get your D800E and stop bragging about it….trot on..nothing to see here.

          • Shawn

            @T.I.M

            No, no way to lock the focus point. I frequently change the focus point so I’ve developed a habit. Nearly every time I put the viewfinder to my eye I press the center button on the auto-selector which returns the focus point back to the center. Sometimes if I know I’ll be doing an off-center subject I’ll hit the center button then tap the multi-way once or twice in the direction where I want the point to be.

            This is the only camera I really have so I’ve mastered it. But if you can develop this obsessive impulse you’ll solve your problem.

            Sorry there’s no better way. It’s kind of funny, but I always thought there was no point to the focus lock on the higher end models, not for my shooting style anyways. Glad it’s there for folks like you though.

            • Shawn

              I wanted to clarify that I do all this before I put the camera to my eye, I have no time to wait for anything. :)

  • http://flickr.com/inthemist InTheMist

    Inspiring. While we bitch about pixel performance on high-end cameras, you’re getting it done in some of the worst conditions imaginable with mid-level enthusiast gear.

    Thank you for that, and for what you do.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thank you for the support! I thought about going with a pro body, but was afraid of it getting ruined while I was out there!

      • http://Flickr.com/inthemist InTheMist

        I suppose it helps that marines are experts at maintaining black plastic and metal shooting implement.

  • http://www.amanochocolate.com Art

    Serving in Afghanistan is an incredible opportunity. There are experiences that will always shape your life and you are sure to meet some incredible people and see things that few others ever will see. (Have you seen them play goat football on their horses yet?) Be sure to eat lots of local food if given the opportunity. Odds are, it will taste good (in its own way) and even if looks bad and tastes nasty you will at least have had the experience.

    Capturing 49,000 images so far is wonderful as in the end you will have documentation of a period of your life that you will always look back on as an enormous life changing event.

    • Ray

      An incredible opportunity indeed, just make sure you get home safely to enjoy your experience.

      Keep on documenting, thank you for sharing.

    • Nikon Shooter

      Are you seriously serious? Let me help you understand how much sense what you just wrote makes from the perspective of someone who had this “incredible opportunity”. It makes as much sense as writing the following to a person who is serving time in prison:

      “Serving time prison is an incredible opportunity. There are experiences that will always shape your life and you are sure to meet some incredible people and see things that few others ever will see. Be sure to eat lots of local food if given the opportunity. Odds are, it will taste good (in its own way) and even if looks bad and tastes nasty you will at least have had the experience.”

      Sounds like a real vacation…

      • Ren Kockwell

        Umm… terrible analogy. You don’t CHOOSE to go to prison. War is hell, but not everyone comes back damaged and bitter.

        • Nikon Shooter

          You’re wrong Kock, because it is the exact analogy. Do you really think that everyone who’s served in Afghanistan “chose” to be there? Pretty much the complete opposite is true.
          What would you know about the “war being hell” in the first place? Though it doesn’t take war to make someone damaged and bitter…

          • Bob H

            I don’t think there is a draft anymore.

            • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

              Exactly! Not a vacation by any means… my two years stationed on Okinawa though? That was nice.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      I do consider myself lucky to have been able to deploy to Afghanistan. You don’t join the Marine Corps during a time of two wars with the intention of sitting back at home in the States.

      Yes, I had some bad times, fellow Marines got injured or worse. I am not bitter or damaged. I look at the world much differently now than I used to and it taught me to not take anything for granted ever.

      We had a great interpreter with us on our missions and he was always setting us up with some great food! Getting to sit around, share food and talk to Afghanistan National Army soldiers about their experiences was amazing, and just one of the memories I have that I wont forget.

      Oh, and yes, I did chose to be there. I joined the Marines. I asked for a unit I knew was going to deploy and I requested to be a gunner.

      • john lennon

        Bravo … to you and to all your fellows that chose to go there, chose to fight a pointless war that only does good for … who? … a few “big boys” that make a lot of money?, chose to be a gunner, chose to kill people, chose …

        I wonder if on any of the coffins returning from Afghanistan stands written:

        “He had a wife, kids and family … but he CHOSE to go … to die for … for money? … yes, he’s a hero”

        A hero and not a mercenary in a big business called: the Afghanistan war. A hero and not a “naive” deciding that: his life, his children having a dad or his wife having a husband, are worth risking for … money …

        a “wo(a)rking” class hero is something to be …

        the photos are very good indeed … respect for that

  • paf

    Very enjoyable post. Thank you Joe and Admin for sharing. It’s nice to see what people can do without weather sealed, supermega 40 gazzilon pixels and heavier than a tank lenses!

    My thumbs up on the idea and all that went into it.

    Like!

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thanks! I am very glad you enjoyed it. Obviously a weather sealed body would have been “better” but I think knowing how much you can push your gear is always a great thing to know.

  • Andy Breon

    Great Images and thank you for your service. Glad you are home safe. Semper Fi brother!

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Semper Fi! Thank you!

  • 120-300 os for nikon

    Well first to my US colleage Semper fi .
    Nice pictures i served 33 years in Qua Patet Orbis .latin for all over the world
    RNLMC Royal Netherlands Marine Corps.
    Retired Now and living in South America.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Semper Fi! Thanks for your support.

  • Ben

    Really great photos from your D5000! :)

  • R!

    Beautyfull images,in an Ugly war!!!!!
    You should be a Photographer you are very talented.

  • John

    Great job!

  • JACK

    What was that? oh yea, the sound of a bunch of middle-aged professionals worried if their D700 can withstand the tortures of taking pictures of their cat.

    Admin, thank you for these image-driven posts… they’re awesome!

    Joe, thank you for your service and sharing your wonderful images.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Jack, I have to admit I laughed at your comment. So true. Pushing your gear is the only way to find out it’s limits. Although, cat hair is pretty dangerous stuff! Thanks for your support.

  • Simon Haskell

    Clear , well composed , and thoughtful reportage , pushing your gear to show just what it can do. You should do a book . You’re an effective and skillful photographer.
    Thankyou , and stay safe.

  • Bridget

    Hey Joe:) I’ m not familiar with all the camera stuff but I am with your work. Just wanted to let others know how proud I am to know you and to see your work blossom into what it has so far. Looking forward to more great photos in the future.

  • Al

    Great work on your site Joe !!!!

    Awesome work documenting your tour.

    I especially liked the one of the young afghan boy, with blonde hair. Lot of emotion there.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thank you! That is one of my favorite photos actually. It says a lot about him. He would just sit and stare at us. Because of his age, war and conflict is all he has known.

  • Sue Fuller Blount

    As your Mom speaking…I love the images, and am grateful YOU and your camera made it home safely. I think they should give you new equipment to document how awesome it really is! You could be their spokesperson! Great job Joe.

    • SDiggity

      We got the comment from Mom too?! Very heartwarming.

      Thanks for your service Joe!

  • Derrik Trace

    Good to see you getting some recognition brother! Glad all the photos you took paid off man! Keep up the good work and you better enlist again if we go to some other Country and have fun doing what we do!!

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thanks Derrik! I dunno about enlisting, but I’m hoping to be able to get out there again. How crazy would it be if I got embedded as a reporter with your unit? ;)

  • atif peshimam

    First of all i would like to thank you for this amazing post. The best camera is he camera you have with you, the pictures post in this article is a testimony to this quote.

    All the images which are captured for documentary articles are shot with the high end DSLRs. Here is the first time we seeing an entry level camera is put to test in real war situation for which its not built! Through the harsh war conditions the Nikon has been able to deliver its exquisite quality.

    Incredible effort and brilliant images captured Joe, you have done an amazing job. Very artistic work there.

    Being a D5000 user myself i personally feel very proud.

    I wish the pictures of the gear are posted too. it would be great to see the camera and those lenses.

    Kudos Joe.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thank you very much. I went and took a photo of the camera and lenses as they are today. You’ll see the lenses have a little bit of a brown stain to them, but they still function as they did when new, they just have character now! The photo can be found here – http://lightbox.com/photo/9IeCAun

  • http://www.gilchristgalo Gilchrist Alo

    Joe, I’ve only known you for about a year now. In all honesty man, you really are a photographer that doesn’t get enough credit for what you do. I’ll catch up to you someday man. Thanks for sharing the amazing images you’ve made while deployed in a country that is foreign to most of us.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thanks, Chris. You gotta just keep pushing man. Push yourself, push your gear and good things will happen!

  • http://belvederebiaise.wordpress.com/ Dalila

    Great story and photos! Thanks for sharing these.

  • d400

    But go to the US, the land of the free and the brave, and try to take photos wherever and whenever you feel like, and see how far you get!!!!!

  • Arkasai

    Great shots! I hope you and your friends get home safely if you’re still overseas! I also hope you continue to take pictures, the ones you chose show a lot of character in your subjects – this is something that takes talent and experience, not pro equipment to produce. Not saying you shouldn’t put that overseas and hazard pay toward your new hobby though :) keep shooting, and thank you for serving.

  • peteee363

    great pics, glad to see you are safe over there. i think when you get out of the marines, you seem to have a good eye for taking photos. keep up the good work, and stay safe. thank you for your service, you are a great american!

  • http://500px.com/ScottBarlow Scott B

    Awesome work and thank you for your service!

  • cepwin

    Thank you so much for your service! Loved the images! Thank you for sharing them. It was interesting seeing all aspects…the Marines and their life, the Afghan people and the country. Stay safe!

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thank you for your support!

  • ken

    thanks for the article and images, excellent.

  • Zach

    Somebody ought to send this guy a used D300 or D3. Looks like he could use something a bit tougher.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      I like this comment very much! ;)

      My next camera body will be a Nikon. My experiences with the equipment they make has been nothing but great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

  • http://galleries.gorji.com Gorji

    Joe: Awesome awesome pictures; you have done a magnificent job. And thank you for your service to our country.

  • EBHawley

    Thank you for sharing your images, and most especially, thank you for serving. While you were in Afghanistan and taking the pictures, how did you save them? Looking forward to your reply and to your future posts.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      I had a little Dell Netbook that I kept in my day pack and a USB card reader. The battery life was decent enough for moving the files to the laptop itself and then I also backed them up on an external hard drive as well. Not really the most fool proof plan, but it worked ok.

  • Todd

    Joe,
    Thank you so much for your service to our country.

    Will you be posting any additional images somewhere?

    Thanks again,
    Todd

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Todd,

      Thank you for your support. I have more images on my website @ http://www.theonejoe.com and I am currently working on posting more. I’ve got a lot of photos, it’s hard to choose sometimes!

  • Brent Schmidt

    Great shots/write-up… I’m reclassing/re-upping here in the next couple days and was thinking about going Combat Photographer (and possibly add the option of being attached to SF, but not actually being SF) since that just opened up. My first option though is Public Affiars though, so I can finally do a job I like (media/photography) instead of my current role… anywho, good to see you made it back from your deployment. Can’t wait to head over there someday myself.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      I wanted to go Combat Camera when I enlisted but chose Military Policeman. It’s a hard MOS to get into, but if you can get it I would totally do it!

  • Bob H

    Thank you for your service. Looking at the images you’ve posted, I’d say you have an apparent natural gift for photography.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thank you for your support and the compliment. If there is one thing I love about photography it’s being able to share my experiences and I am glad you enjoyed them.

  • Top E

    Great Photos! Great that you’d share your experience with all. Checked out your website. Would love to see more.

    Thank you for your service.

    Semper Fi,
    Top E
    USMC Retired

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thanks Top! Semper Fi!

  • Photdog

    Hi Joe,
    while many of us waste our time by complaining that a certain camera should have this but not that you simply grab your camera and do great shots!
    I find it fascinating that you have the strength to see beauty in midst of all the adversities that you sure have to encounter. Does photography help you in some way to process the ambiguity of all the impression you get over there?
    In my country all we get to see in the news are the Taliban faces full of hatred and of course a bunch of politicians who seem not to know how to solve that situation. So, if I may ask, what do you feel, approaching people with your cameras, likely never really knowing which side they are on?
    I looked up your website and I can say though I like tech, you are the living prove that the best tech is nothing without a talented man behind it. And you sure have proven your talent for all to see. Great! Carry on.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thank you for the compliments.

      Photography for me is a way to show what I see and how I see it. I also think that because of the way a large majority of the media portrays Afghanistan people are by and large misinformed. The whole country isn’t evil, it’s rather pretty and a lot of the people we met were amazing.

      I do feel a certain amount of calm behind the camera, and that in turn helped make the deployment be a little easier to deal with despite all the things that happened while I was there.

  • Keith T

    I greatly admire this. I hope you keep your M4 closer than your camera though haha. I dont have a military family but I was lucky enough to learn a lot about ww2 in my family. Grandfathers, and great uncles, and how they were decorated. Its a work in progress.

    Ralph, my mothers father was a decorated tank driver for the 12th armored division. He recently passed but I was able to get a lot out of him as well as get him to describe the pictures. I really wish there were more but the pictures really mean a lot. When you are survived by your children and so forth your family will appreciate the photos just as I have set up my grandfathers papers, maps, post cards, nazi stuff, photos…etc.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thanks for the compliments Keith. I come from a long line of military men and women. My Great Grandpa lied about his age and joined the Army at 14 during World War I, Grandpa was in the 2nd Armored during World War II, my Dad and Uncles were in Vietnam. I joined the Marines in 2005 and my sister followed in my footsteps and joined in 2006.

      You are right, putting together all the stuff from your families military service is a great way to honor them and the legacy they left behind.

      Thanks again for the compliments.

  • Rob Ellis

    Awesome photos, awesome story, awesome job dude, keep it up :)
    From a technoheads point of view, a d7000 could help out so much, what with the dusty conditions, but looking at the pic of your 5000, it appears you keep your gear in top nick ;)

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thanks!

      I think the built in sensor cleaning, being very conscious of when I was changing lenses and lots of luck helped out. I also hardly ever had the LCD flipped out (no chimping in the turret) so it is in great shape as well.

  • Jennifer

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful pictures and thank you for your service.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Jennifer,

      Thank you for your support and the compliment.

  • Jhon Macarthy

    INVADERS !

  • Sahaja

    Thanks for posting.

    I was there 40 years ago, and I hope you can visit Afghanistan one day when there is not a war going on.

    take care.

    • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

      Thanks, I hope I can too. It is a beautiful country and the people are amazing.

  • http://www.theonejoe.com Joe Blount

    The overwhelming amount of compliments I have recieved from this post have caused me to get busy and I have added a new gallery comprised of 26 images. They can be found on my website here – http://theonejoe.photoshelter.com/gallery/Afghanistan-Marjah/G000047PjUxVoU3g

    These were taken in the city of Marjah and the surrounding area. Thanks to Nikon Rumors for giving me the opportunity to get this level of exposure to my work and everyone for the comments. Negative or Positive I read them all.

  • Anjz

    What great photographs and all taken with a consumer-grade DSLR and 2 kit lenses. Very impressive talent. Really shows the importance of skill.

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