Taking Large Format Portraits of Marines in Afghanistan


This year I was presented with the unexpected opportunity to take a short trip to Afghanistan, and was able to take my camera gear with me. I had wanted to shoot portraits of deployed Marines being, well … themselves for quite some time now.

So with about two weeks notice I was off to the sand box. Cameras, film and the closest thing to a darkroom I could pack into my luggage in tow.

One of the cameras I brought with me was my Sinar F2 large format camera. It shoots photos that are 4×5 inches, and along with assorted types of sheet of film I brought some of Ilford’s direct positive photo paper with me.

It’s like a paper slide, so when you shoot and develop it you get a positive photo. It is also very finicky to shoot. Any slight mistake in the exposure will show up in the print. Even so I shot a slew of these little photos:























The biggest issue I faced wasn’t the harshness of Afghanistan, it was getting the Marines to trust me to take their photos. I spent a few days before I even took my first photo building a rapport with them and slowly I got them to wind down so they could be relaxed and enjoy having their photo taken.

After that I developed their photos beside their hanger, and in a few minuets I had a photo they could hold in their hands. Because of the extreme heat, and lack of running water I had to make do with what I could for developing them. While they are imperfect photos, I think they perfectly capture what it feels like to be here.

About the author: M. Patrick Kavanaugh is a Staff Sergeant in the US Marine Corps who works as an Ordnance Chief for a squadron of CH-53E helicopters. He loves to capture his military life on film, and so you’ll almost always find him with his camera in hand — most often his trusty press camera and flash bulbs.

P.S. In addition to writing this article, SSgt Kavanaugh was also kind enough to send us a few additional photos he took with his D800 during this same trip. Check those out below:







  • Jorge

    Personally I like the d800 series better

  • Scott

    Yep I also enjoy a couple of the D800 photos better.

    Overall I’m underwhelmed, an interesting technique doesn’t automatically mean interesting results…

  • greenarcher02

    Same applies to the D800 photos. Better gear doesn’t automatically mean better results. Half of them look like P&S photos. And the Sinar WAS supposed to shoot portraits. And you got that. You can’t get any more interesting with portraits, except if you try to actually make them interesting. Portraits of marines will always be portraits of marines.

  • funk

    on reddit some interesting question came up.
    “Why not shoot the locals, or did the Marines take care of that?”

  • Scott

    You can most definitely get more interesting with portraits!

    Hell compare his last D800 shot with all this others!

    Get rid of the harsh lighting and actually get the soldiers doing something besides hamming it up for the camera.

  • greenarcher02

    True, that last one is the best one of the bunch, that’s why I said if you try. But he probably couldn’t due to exposure times? Not sure. My knowledge of film cameras are not that good.. They’re ‘meh’ but I can get why…

  • Scott

    Yeah I’m not familiar with it myself. My thoughts are he could have taken some dusk shots for softer lighting or used some reflectors or even a building side to lessen the shadows.

    That and some posing would have completely changed the results.