Life on the line: Army SFC Gary Castillo


I am Army SFC Gary Castillo currently assigned to the 180th Trans Bn at Ft Hood, Tx. I am currently the Battalion Photographer and one of the Public Affairs photographers aside from my actual job. With numerous deployments I have always taken, used and ruined camera equipment tying to capture life on the line. One of the first products to always go is the camera strap. Initially I have started out with the manufactures camera strap which seems to last for about two months. I know the average photographer’s equipment is well taken care of and would last forever but after hours of being sweat soaked and the fiber being embedded with sand and debris the strap quickly dry rots. After this happens I would use a standard issue rifle sling with para cord connecting it to the mounting points once again this lasts only momentarily. It seems that the material would have to be able to hold up to the harsh conditions to be a good field sling. What seemed to have worked the best for me in 2010 was to use a one point 511 tactical rifle sling attached to my Manfrotto ball head mounting plate with Para cord. Well this worked until we came under attack in Baghdad and had to enter a high rise to gain ground. At some point during the incident I had to drop the camera and pick up my weapon. It wasn’t till after the fire fight that one of my team members brought me my broken camera. The para cord, mounting plate and sling were still hanging off of my side but the mounting plate unscrewed from the battery grip. I took the loss and bought myself a new camera to finish out the deployment…most photographers do not find themselves in combat zones but there are a few who do and having a functional product like the Sun-Sniper on the front is just as important as having a good looking one out on a shoot. Now that I found the Sun Sniper, I don’t have to worry about the safety of my gear, and I can shoot in all combat conditions.

How did you become a photographer? Describe your career development?
I think that the one thing that got me interested in photography was my first deployment to Iraq. Obviously it being a war zone was something that words alone could never describe no matter how hard I tried so I figured the best thing to do was take pictures of everything. My photography has come a long way from setting it to manual mode and shooting. I attribute a lot of what I learned to simple publications like Outdoor Photographer and numerous hours on YouTube.

More specifically, was there one or more life changing moments that helped you move to the next level and become the photographer that you are now? Perhaps a big break, a perfect mentor, a movie, a mystical moment?
I discovered Night time photography. After returning from deployment number 3 I was promoted to a rank where I was able to afford upgrading my Canon Rebel T2I to a Canon 5DMKII from there my new passion was landscape and night time photography. A mystical moment was standing in Mapel Hill Historic Cemetery in Huntsville, Al taking night shots and realizing how much I loved the outcome.

How do you learn your techniques?
Read, read, and read every forum online and every book I can get my hands on.

Who are your photo heroes? Or who has inspired your career?
Lance Keimig, and Noel Kerns. Noel Kerns is an awesome night photographer from the same neighborhood I grew up in.

What is the worst part about doing what you do?
I wouldn’t say that there is a worst part, more like what frustrates me the most is the fact that there are several places I would love to go and shoot but do not have the means or funds to do so.

What is the best part?
To me the best part is the reaction I get from people when my pictures are processed and they see how I am able to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.
I really consider myself a student and nowhere near a Pro yet, however that is my goal. Once I retire from Military service in a few years I fully intend on devoting all of my time to my photography.


Gary Castillo Photography

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