How Combat Photographer Stacy Pearsall Got One of Military’s Highest Honors

How Combat Photographer Stacy Pearsall Got One of Military’s Highest Honors

Between the ages of 21 and 27, military photographer Stacy Pearsall captured over 500,000 images across 41 different countries. She is the first woman ever to win the Military Photographer of the Year twice, “giving the boys a run for their money.”


Editorial – Images by Stacy Pearsall

Growing up with a love for photography and also born into a long line of military men and women, it was no surprise that when Stacy turned 17, she joined the United States Air Force, signing on to take photographs on the front lines of combat. She trained at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) outside of Washington, DC and then headed to Nebraska for four years working with the Joint Intelligence Center to process thousands of feet of infrared spy plane film. At only 21 years old, she was then accepted to the elite 1st Combat Camera Squadron based in Charleston, South Carolina.

“That’s when my photography career really started,” Stacy said. “My first few months in the Squadron were the most challenging, personally and technically as a photographer. 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 III 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.”

Stacy admits that as a female, the pressures to succeed were real and challenged her to deliver without fail. “As a woman, I felt the pressure to perform without error because I had the critical eyes of my peers watching me closely – always ready for me to make a mistake. I suppose it was my perception of the situation, versus actuality. No matter what, It drove me to work harder and harder.”

In 2003, Stacy was sent to her first combat mission in Iraq. In the years that followed, she traveled to the Horn of Africa, Lebanon, and back to Iraq. She spent an average of 280 days a year away from home covering a range of military operations from combat assault missions to humanitarian relief missions. But all the while, her purpose was clear:

“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.”

Stacy’s portfolio expanded to include hundreds of thousands of photos, which she put all on her hard-drive – all vulnerable to the dangers of her surroundings. As she headed off on her last deployment in 2007, she realized that if in harms way, her photos could be destroyed in an instant. That’s when she turned to PhotoShelter as a safe haven for her work. And it was a good thing she did.

“During my last combat tour in Iraq, I was awarded the Bronze Star, for actions under fire. However, I was wounded in action too and flown to a field hospital, leaving behind my camera equipment and storage units. As I lay in the hospital bed, I began to wonder what was going to happen to all of my hard-earned images and would I ever see them again. Then I thought to myself, at least I have them saved on PhotoShelter.”

Now far from combat zones, Stacy works as an editorial and commercial photographer, author, educator and consultant. She addresses influential military leaders, celebrities, former presidents, and Fortune 500 companies as a keynote speaker. She knows firsthand the importance of an effective online portfolio and website. She thanks PhotoShelter for the capabilities to present and showcase her work to people all over the world.


Commercial – Images by Stacy Pearsall

Today, her mission continues off the battlefield with the Veterans Portrait Project (VPP). Stacy began the VPP in Charleston, SC, while recovering from her combat injuries. While she sat for hours in waiting rooms, she couldn’t help but to notice the men and women around her. She reached out to hear the stories of veterans from every branch of service, generation and conflict and felt inspired to bring her camera and take their portraits, leading to the project that now fills the walls of a number of VA Hospitals across the United States. Today, Stacy continues her project and has photographed over a 1,000 veterans from coast to coast. What started as Stacy’s path to recovery and healing has now grown into her personal mission to honor and thank her brothers and sisters for their service in the best way she knows how, photography.


Vet Portraits – Images by Stacy Pearsall

“I love PhotoShelter,” Stacy said. “I started really utilizing the website features and gave my clients, and the veterans I photograph, their images in a timely, easily-downloadable way – no more cd’s, dvd’s, hard drives and shipments. My site is a simple clean white background with a few featured galleries and a nameplate at the top, which I created independently with my brand colors and design. On my business cards, I’ve showcased my PhotoShelter site so potential clients and students may see my most up-to-date images and videos.”

Stacy also takes advantage of social media platforms to market her work and uses PhotoShelter’s sharing features to post new images to Facebook, Twitter, and her blog. “Like most folks these days, I’m into social media and I find it’s a neat way to showcase my work without having to upload my work directly to those sites,” Stacy said. “This also allows my clients to share their images with a simple click of the button.”

Aside from her professional endeavors, Stacy also donated her talents and raises awareness for disabled veteran’s groups including the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and American Legion. For her philanthropic efforts, she’s been lauded a White House Champion of Change by President Obama, honored with an Honorary Doctoral Degree from The Citadel, presented the Margaret Corbin Cochran Award by the Daughters of the American Revolution and recognized as Air Force Veteran of the Year by PBS and the Air Force Band.

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