It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Stacy Pearsall!

Thank you, Scott, for the invitation to write a guest blog. I’m truly honored. I hope that I can hang with the rest of the amazing talent that have graced these pages. Also, a big thanks to Brad for helping me get my story to you.

When I was 17, I never imagined where I’d be today. I was young, naïve, energetic and optimistic about my future. I enlisted in the US Air Force as a basic still photographer. I went to basic training, also known as boot camp, and then to the Defense Information School. The brief photography course taught me how to process film of all types, black and white, C-41 and E-6. I learned to read light using a hand-held meter and make a manual exposure with my Nikon camera. After learning the basics of camera operations, I learned the concepts of composition, content and storytelling. The classes lasted six months in total, which also included a brief course on how to process U-2 reconnaissance aircraft large-format camera film. I loved the photography classes, but the film processing – not so much. As luck would have it, the Air Force sent me the Joint Intelligence Center to process thousands of feet of infrared spy plane film. If that torture wasn’t enough, I had a follow-on assignment to the Joint Analysis Center for more darkroom shenanigans. Needless to say, I spent four years tucked away in a vault, within a vault, within another vault.

I had to get out of the darkroom, so I plotted and planned my escape. During my research and scheming, I came upon one of the best-kept secrets, Combat Camera. I had not touched a camera outside of my own personal projects, since that wasn’t part of my duty description. I scrounged together some pictures that resembled a portfolio and submitted them along with my military evaluation reports and full-length photo of me in uniform. Combat Camera was made up primarily of very talented male photographers with years of experience. Furthermore, someone in that unit had to die or retire for a position to come available – they were coveted. At the time, I was 21 with moderately acceptable quality images and no technical background at all. The odds were stacked against me – or so I thought. After the tragic events of September 11th, I received word that I had been accepted into the premier Combat Camera unit.

Weeks later, as I was prepared to move from England to Charleston, S.C., I watched troops make their way into Afghanistan. My first few months at “COMCAM” were the most challenging both personally and technically. I learned how to ingest digital files from the camera and transmit them via satellite all over the world, how to take images from the open ramp of a C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft at 14,000 feet, how to fire a weapon on a target while moving, how to tactically drive armored vehicles and how to navigate terrain using only a topographical map and a compass. I felt the pressure to perform without error, because I had the critical eyes of my male peers watching me closely – ever ready for me to make a mistake. Whether that was reality or perhaps my perception of reality, it drove me to work harder and harder.

BAQUBAH, IRAQ – Images by Stacy Pearsall

By the time I was considered to be combat ready, I was aerial qualified and had attended ground survival and evasion courses, prisoner of war training, water survival school and close quarters combat training. I was hammered with photography training and techniques as well as workflow and accessioning. I was certified on multiple weapons and knew just about everything there was to know about war… without the real war experience. Before sending me off to document the real thing, I was sent to South America and Southeast Asia. I also ran re-supply missions to the combat zone with a senior photographer. Basically, I had to prove that I could not only take pictures but also perform under fire when it really mattered.

DEADLY DIYALA – Images by Stacy Pearsall

My first combat deployment was Iraq in 2003 followed by a series of combat deployments, which included Somalia, Lebanon and a couple more trips to Iraq. I spent 280 days a year away from home covering Special Forces operations and humanitarian relief missions. It was a far cry from my think-less and thankless days in the darkroom processing film. My primary goal was getting real-time combat imagery from the battlefield to the Joint Combat Camera Center in Washington DC. The President, Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff used my pictures to make informed decisions on military tactics and maneuvers in the battle space. The photos were also disseminated to news agencies such as the Associated Press and Getty Images and were picked up by several newspapers, magazines and online newsgathering sites. All of the images I took while in the military are considered public domain, so you, the taxpayer, own them. As a sidebar, I’ve seen my pictures sold as posters, mouse pads, mugs and screensavers. I had no control where they end up. Actually, I’ve seen my pictures used by anti-war and anti-military websites – go figure.

As a general rule, combat photographers adhered to the National Press Photographers Associations (NPPA) rules, guidelines regarding the photojournalism’s code of ethics. I did my best to remain unbiased and document what unfolded in front of me without judgment or prejudice. Even though I wore a uniform, I strove to stay objective. As I gained more experience and grew more confident in combat, my outlook of photography began to grow and change. I was taking more risks and pushing myself photographically. During my basic courses, I was taught just that – the basics. I began to realize that there was so much more to understand in order to truly capture artful, colorful and memorable pictures. After losing several friends in combat, I also realized that there was more to my pictures than just news worthiness. In many cases, I was the last person to take their pictures. That was pretty heavy stuff.

BROTHERHOOD – Images by Stacy Pearsall

Once I grasped that concept, my vision as a photographer changed immensely. From the age of 21 to the age of 27, I captured over 500,000 images from over 41 different countries. I was considered the best photographer in the military and was the first woman to have won the Military Photographer of the Year twice. I was giving the boys a run for their money. I was awarded one of the military’s highest honors, the Bronze Star, for saving the life of several soldiers during an enemy ambush in Iraq. However, I was wounded in action and my combat photography career came to a screeching halt. My life had changed in an instant.

I spent around 18 months recovering from my wounds, during which time I could barely lift a camera, let alone take a picture. It was determined I could no longer wear the 80+ pounds of body armor and tactical gear, which meant that I could no longer deploy to the combat zone. The Air Force retired me from service in August 2008 – I was only 28 years old.

Simply because I was disabled did not mean I was unable. I didn’t give up. I figured if I could survive six straight years of combat, then I could survive this transition in my life. I brought my skills as a seasoned combat photographer to my photography assignments stateside. Specializing in the armed forces, I began to shoot commercial and editorial assignments related to police, fireman, soldiers, sailors, airman and marines.

DSM DYNEEMA CAMPAIGN – Images by Stacy Pearsall

I advocate on behalf of veterans and concentrate my personal projects around raising awareness for disabled veteran’s groups. During my rehabilitation, I started a portrait project, which featured veterans from South Carolina. I photographed vets from WWII all the way to Vietnam and the current conflicts. I’m continuing this project all over the U.S.

VETERANS PORTRAIT PROJECT – Images by Stacy Pearsall

My time on the battlefield has provided me an appreciation for life and an infatuation with photography. No matter what happens, I’ll continue to push myself.

You can see more from Stacy over at, keep up with her on her blog, and follow her on Twitter.

  1. First of all, thank you for your service to your country! This is probably the best guest blog I have seen in a very long time. Scott, she needs to present at Photoshop World!

  2. Stacy,
    Awesome blog entry–One of the best I’ve ever read here. Thank you for you service, for sharing your photos, and for the time you’re taking to recognize our often forgotten veterans. This was a great way to start my day.
    Thanks for letting Stacy share her story and photos.

  3. Remarkable story and remarkable photos. Thank you for your service and continued success in the future.

    PS. I think I would have traded you for the Darkroom work. That used to be my favorite passtime, but I can understand the wanting to get out into the world part too.

  4. Your pictures would already be absolutely amazing if they were staged. The fact that they aren’t and that you took them under conditions like you mentioned in the blog is just insane. Absolutely stunning work!

  5. Stacy – that is one awesome story! Thank you for what you did and what you continue to do for the USA. You are another great example of why we need to harness all of our human resources and not get hung up on the color or the gender.
    The images that you shared with us are so strong. Your heart shows.
    Thanks to Scott and Brad for another amazing guest blog.

  6. Incredible work, Stacy!! Incredible!! Fantastic guest spot. I was a Navy pilot for 10 years…always wondered what it would be like to be a military photographer…your story was inspiring to say the least!! Keep up the great work!!

    1. Scotty, first let me thank you for your service to our county. A Naval aviator, too cool. If I had known about the military photographer job I would have enlisted. Unfortunately, I discovered it when it was too late for me. – Graham

  7. Stacy,

    Thank you for your service. Please know that as I type those words, their inadequacy is painfully obvious to me. Know that your sacrifice is treasured by those that enjoy the freedoms you fought for on our behalf.

    Your images are incredible! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    – Kev

  8. Stacy:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences in the military and some of your photographs that you’ve taken over the years. Truly impressive what you accomplished in such a few short years (although I’m sure they didn’t feel short to you, especially the four years in the Darkroom vault). Moose Peterson always says to take photos that pull the heartstrings…yours certainly do!!

    Thanks for sharing your story today and most of all for defending our country. You know, I always cringe when I hear sports announcers say that a player is a “warrior” on the playing field, just because they take a hard hit and make the shot. They have no real concept of the term. Your pictures really show what it is to be a true warrior, and its safe to say that you are one, too.


  9. Stacy

    Great blog post it ranks right up there in my top 5 fav of Scott’s guest bloggers. I had no idea you were in Orlando for PSW now I am kind of bummed I didnt have a chance to meet you. As someone who is a street shooter photojournalists are my inspiration and you are now on the list of people that inspire me. With the recent loss of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya this post couldnt have come at a better time to keep it fresh in peoples minds the sacrifice that you who was wounded and the ones that didn’t make it put themselves through in order to bring light to conflicts all around the world. I also thank you for trying to document the conflicts in an unbiased way while being an active member of our military that shows true courage and dedication. There are too many shooters out there today with pompous egos and they could all stand to learn a thing or two from someone like you.

    Scott and Brad thanks for letting her tell her story here on the blog and get her to Vegas for PSW in the fall!!!!


  10. Stacey,
    Truly amazing….thank you for your service, and especially for the Veterans Portrait Project, far too many have been forgotten……

  11. Stacy, simply put, you rock! I will think of you the next time I’m about to complain about the weight of my photography gear and hopefully I’ll think better of it.

    A stone falls in the water. Concentric ripples sweep out affecting the water far beyond where the stone fell. Your photography and your service are no different. Thank you! Truly and inspiration.


  12. Stacy, you rock! Great blog post, awesome photos…very inspiring. I’m an Air Force veteran (1990-94), and I also spent time in Iraq (2004-05) as a contractor. I wasn’t a photographer in those days, and regret that I wasn’t because of all the great shots I could have gotten (not that they would have come anywhere close to yours). Anyway, serving your country goes way beyond getting good shots, and your story of service is one that should make us all proud. At the same time it also reminds everyone of the sacrifices made by heroes such as yourself and those you were assigned to photograph. I hope I get the chance to meet you someday. Thanks for what you have done, and for what you continue to do.

  13. Stacy, outstanding blog! Thank you for sharing your pictures and especially your service to our wonderful country! We need more outstanding people as yourself to step up and tell their story. Your photographs are beautiful and touching! Thank you for working on your Veterans Portrait Project! As a Veteran (USMC), it is GREATLY appreciated! Again, thank you for your service to our country and for sharing your amazing life and photographs! GOD Bless you!!

    Scott, Brad, thank you for honoring us with Stacy’s story and photographs. Just an outstanding young lady!!


  14. As an Air Force and Vietnam vet…I want to thank you for sharing your photos. I know I’m echoing many in thanking you for your service, your patriotism and your devotion to your craft. I read Scott’s blog daily but have not been moved to respond…you changed that today and I thank Scott for inviting you to share your remarkable ride!

  15. What an absolutely incredible blog Stacy! We are the ones who are honored with your writing and photographs. In Veterans Photo Project photos you can see the pride and honor in the faces of those who served. They are forgotten heros and should never ever be forgotten. Thank you for bringing them and all your other photos to life. I thank you for your service. You may be out, but your work lives on. Thank you for choosing this path and allowing us to travel with you. Keep up the incredible work.

    Brad, Scott, thank you for sharing Stacy’s blog to us. We are all better people for viewing. It’s going to be tough to top this one, but I know you will keep looking and share with us these incredible individuals. Wednesday would not be Wednesday without visiting your blog Scott! Thank you!

  16. Gloriously fierce imagery of some of the most noble subjects on Earth Stacy. I was actually surprised by how deeply your post combat work moved me. It’s been a while since a photographer I was unfamiliar with swept me off of my feet like that. Thank you for bringing so much honor to those who truly deserve it through your well honed craft. You are one of the greats!

  17. Stacy:

    I was absolutely THRILLED to see that you were the guest blogger today. I’m a big admirer of your work and very grateful for what you’ve done – both for photography, and for us citizens. Not only does this blog kick the @*&@*&@ out of the post in terms of amazing images, it gives you that “Get Up” message. Persevere… A profound respect over here..


  18. Stacy,

    Fantastic entry and from one vet to another thank you for your service to our great nation. I actually think we’re neighbors of sorts. Don’t you live in B####H##e? My wife met you and your husband while walking one night a year or so ago.

  19. First of all, we thank you for your service and your sacrifice. Secondly, this was the most engrossing and informative guest blog post I’ve read on here. I didn’t understand all the training a combat photographer must go through and how much their photos mean to the country (plus, we own them. Weird.).

  20. Again, thank you for your service, story, and images. A WW2/Life/Look combat photographer in today’s military – who would have thunk? Come the day and you need help filtering the life story requests for the movie let us know. Please remember that what you are doing now is just the next step and just as, if not more, important as before. Never put down the camera as you can tell more stories for the future.

  21. Hey Y’all,

    I’m simply humbled by the generous comments. Thank you. I was so worried that my blog was too long. I appreciate y’all reading it from start to finish, plus adding such supportive comments. Hugs to all of you!

    I currently live in Charleston, South Carolina. I own a studio and grassroots education establishment called the Charleston Center for Photography ( My big passion is taking pictures and educating!! As you already know, I’m a big advocate for veterans.

    If you’d like, feel free to friend me on Facebook (SLPearsall) too! I’d love to chat and stay in touch. My e-mail is I look forward to hearing from you.

    Stacy Pearsall

  22. Amazing “Guest Blog”, Stacy! Coming from a family with some military background, I have a profound and deep respect for anyone in the service. Your photography is spectacular, and we all thank you for sharing it! As Ken said, it was “CAKB”!


  23. Stacy,

    I join with the fellow commentators and say Thank You for your service, God Bless. Having heard your name on several occasions, I was happy to see you here on Kelbys blog. May your work get the recognition is deserves.

  24. Wow. Those are the most artful, beautiful emotional photos I have seen of the war zone. I was moved. I was inspired on multiple levels. I am impressed.
    Thank you.
    Maybe they will have you speak /give a slide show on the main agenda at PSW Vegas. I would attend.

  25. Stacy, as another old Vietnam Vet (Navy, ’72) I thank you (and all who wore the uniform) for your service. I admire your courage and drive and appreciate the respect you show for Veterans.

    Thanks for the inspiration!


  26. Stacy,

    Thank you for sharing your story, for your service to our country, and God Bless you for all that you saw and captured for eternity. Your work with veterans, firefighters, police, and the like is also to be highly commended as these people also protect us and our freedoms on a daily basis and deserve the representation. Keep up the great work and hopefully I can thank you in person someday.


    Thank you for allowing Stacy the opprotunity to share her story via your blog, you are a true asset to the photography community and deserve the recogonition that you receive as well.


  27. Stacy, You really need to write a book. I know it would be a best seller. Your story here leaves me wanting to know more about what you’ve seen.

    Thanks for the guest blog!

  28. Stacy,

    Very provocative photos causing one to think about the reality of combat our soldiers face everyday. I am especially impressed with the Veterans project and wondering if their is anyway a fellow photographer can help or become involved?

  29. We are so grateful that you and Andy have made August and the Maui Photo Festival & Workshops as part of annual schedule. Each time you present, your story is compelling. The blog post is no exception. It should be a book.

    A hui hou.

  30. Stacy – first and foremost: thank you for your service and your sacrifice! It’s because of folks like you that I have the freedoms I enjoy every day. You have an amazing story and body of work. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I am one of the founding photographers of a group called “Smiles Across the Miles” ( ) that was started to provide pro bono professional portraiture for families of those who serve. We make the high res images available on our site for families to download for print or email to their deployed loved ones. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to give a little something back.

    Thank you again. Keep safe…


  31. WOW! What an amazing story! I love that fact that you were able to transition your military skills into a civilian career. Stacy, your veterans’ project is inspired. Keep up the good work!

  32. great blog and great story. Glad you are getting more notice. I did some work at vet clinic here in Charlotte and you were the one that got me started. Thanks again and good shooting (camera of course).

  33. Hi Stacy,

    No matter how many times I hear your story it will always move me. Your photography is inspiring, but it’s your spirit that makes us all want to be better people.

    Mark Astmann
    Product Lighting Manager

  34. What can you say about Stacy? I went to the dictionary and adjectives like superb, great, wonderful – all seem too weak. I have had the privilege of spending quality time with Stacy and her husband. They are the real deal. I’ve been on stage with Stacy and can tell you she’s as good as they come and as humble as can be. In my next life – or the one after that if I am lucky, I hope to be half the human being she is. She’s not treated like a rock star by the photo community but if anyone should be – it’s her. Congrats to Stacy and to Mr. Kelby for having her on the blog. She always, always, always inspires me.

  35. WOW. Stacy you ROCK! That is one of the best guest blog Wednesdays I ever read! Thanks for your story and thanks for your service! My Son is an ROTC cadet and I sent him the story. I hope he passes it along.

  36. Stacy,

    Absolutely amazing work…I’m lost for more words to say than that. Having chewed a bunch of the same dirt (and sand)…your pictures bring back a flood of memories and emotions.

    Mr. Kelby — thanks for recognizing Stacy’s talent and sharing it with your many followers.

    Jeff Babinski (USAF)

  37. Your pictures are filled with emotion and character. In your relatively short career, you’ve managed to grow to a level of photography few others have reached. Keep up your wonderful work–and have Mr. K keep us in the loop as to what you’re doing.

    Best wishes. And more to come, I hope and pray.

  38. How ironic your post was put up this Wednesday. I started my day with a phone call from a Sgt serving with my son in Afghanistan in the early mourning hours telling me he was being flown out to a hospital after his vehicle was hit by an IED. I am told he will be fine but that is not why I write this. With three sons serving is this war I just wanted to say I understand the sacrifices you have done for this country and fellow soldiers. I appreciate the effort to photograph veterans and if there is anything in the Midwest that you need help with just ask. My hat is off to you and to all that serve.

  39. Great post!!! What an inspiration!!! & What a life for one so young.
    I think is very important that our heroes are shown what they have to live through to keep us safe here at home and you have done that splendidly.
    Like everyone else I would like to thank you for your service and your sacrifice.
    I know we will be hearing more great things about you in the future.

  40. Stacy you Rock. I first heard of you from a Vanguard magazine @ the Myrtle Beach CBOC. I next had the honor to become your team member on Team AF for the Warrior not just 2010 but again 2011. It is a true honor to have you as a “Sister who served” that is a true HERO and “Warrior Princess” (you become a “Warrior Goddess” at age 40..LOL..) Jersey..=:-}

  41. This was hands down one of the better posts I’ve read in a long time. Kudo’s. I was a shooter (photographers mate) in the Navy back in the mid 80’s and had contemplated going into photojournalism after I got out. I never did but I have always had the utmost respect for those guys, and gals, who do the job. I’m reminded of this article that I posted on my own blog some months back when a CNN camera woman passed away as a result of cancer – she was awesome as well. ( Again – kudo’s and congrats to you for everything you have accomplished to date.

  42. Here’s a little more about Stacy, we ran a profile of her career and outstanding military service for Veterans Day on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website. She is a true American hero.

    Her remarkable collection of Veteran portraits is on display at the Charleston, South Carolina VA Medical Center. If you’re in the area, please stop by and take a look!

  43. One of the most insiprational guest bloggers to date. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story and your images. As a vetran myself I love to see the awareness that people like you bring to the public. Thank you very much…

  44. Stacy – Thanks for giving us a peak into what lies below your always upbeat and outgoing character. Thanks, too, for bringing all that you and Andy have to offer to the Lowcountry. It’s a real privilege to have you and CCforP here….

  45. Scott,
    Congratulations on giving someone of Stacy’s amazing calibre the opportunity to appear on your blog.

    I am humbled by your sacrifice and courage. You do the USA and the free world proud.
    As for your photography. Stunning. I’ll look forward to seeing more of your work.


  46. Too many emotions running through my head right now to adequately express to you how thankful I am to have people like you, willing to sacrifice it all to bring the story home. You have served your country well, with honor and courage!

  47. Stacy,
    You are truly an inspiration in every aspect. How you performed your duties to the country and after retirement how you bucked up in starting a new life.

    I would love to read more from you, your war related experiences, most memorable photographs, etc. etc.

    God Bless You.

    Khwaja Naveed
    from Pakistan

  48. I had the pleasure to meet Stacy at Photoshop World. As a fellow vet I again say the one thing we vets appreciate but would never ask for: Thank you for your service to our country.

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