When we recently posted a Vietnam-era Bolex camera with a rifle stock attached, we thought the concept was a little nuts. Then Army Reserve Staff Sgt. and wartime photographer Jeffrey Duran set us straight.
In our original post, we speculated that using a gun stock for shooting a camera seemed like a good way for a photographer to get shot. And we wondered how common these stocks could be. Duran wrote back with a short, informed response, but I was able to twist his arm into telling us a bit more.
Pointing a long lens mounted on a stock is indeed a recipe for getting shot if you're not careful. In fact in training at Fort McCoy, Wi., I was "shot" by Soldiers on practice missions.
I was not where they expected me to be... i.e. mixed in with the opposition who happened to be shooting at them at the time. Thus, I was "shot" at with blanks during the training even though I was in uniform. They *saw* what they assumed was a rifle in an area where bad guys were shooting at them..
This, of course, is why we train. Even as military media, we need to train in realistic conditions. It was a learning event for both myself and the Soldiers in training.
At Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan, I was there to get some on the ground coverage for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Army. The Afghan National Army troops there are "spot on" as the Brits say and the dam has great strategic importance. There are lots of bad guys.
SI took my Bushhawk stock along for the ride out to Kajaki. The stock is of limited use as in remote regions such as this, the local population has never seen a DSLR so they limited trust when you're pointing a long lens at them. In operations where we were going patrols or at night with night vision I'd use it a lot. However, when going where the bad guys are, there is little worry as I was with some of the best Soldiers in the world.
SOkay, so why risk losing your life. Good question. Lemme see if I can figure it out.
Ok. It is an extremely stable platform to shoot pictures with (i.e. that's why rifles are designed that way). It is very natural and comfortable which results in good images. When using long lenses, holding the camera steady is damn important.
Plus, you can sling the camera stock while walking. This is very important when trying to keep up with Soldiers that are in *much* better shape than you (lost 20 pounds during the tour). Although I'm a Reservist, there's only one standard... so I have the keep up with Olympic-grade athletes when on Active duty.
Monopods work very well but are a pain in the ass when on the move. You have to open them, then close them when you're going to roll out. Which happens unexpectedly at times :)
Handholding with two hands is about the only way and how most of the world gets it done. I would not advise *any* media in a war zone to use a stock. In my case, I'm a member of the armed forces and I'm with the guys with the guns. We used to joke about it in that the Taliban would wonder if we bought some some secret weapon since we were the only Americans at Kajaki. Either way, the bad guys would shoot at me anyway on any patrols with little regard if I had a camera or a rifle.
My main thing was not to make the local population feel threatened...
SI have to say that there is something inherently fun about shooting a camera like a rifle. It is really more fun than I should admit. I found myself grinning every time I used the darn thing.
I guess there's just something obsessive with me and rifle stocks for cameras. I actually designed one in drafting class in high-school but it wasn't until this last tour that I ponied up the cheese to buy one. It's just a lot of fun.
- Jeff Duran
or Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Duran one weekend a month, two weeks a year (unless called to go to far away places and meet new people... and take their picture).