Straight 8 Photography: The Art of Firearms

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Jason Swarr is proof that Marines shoot more than just rifles.  After retiring from the USMC, the combat veteran opened Straight 8 Custom Photography and has specialized in portrait and product photography with a decidedly tactical bend.  Swarr’s photography is seen online, in catalogs and in more than a dozen gun magazines.

Recently, I swapped e-mails with Swarr who agreed to share a little information about his background and photography.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Q:  Can you give me a little of your background and how you got into photography?

Swarr:  I am a retired Marine, a combat veteran with over 20 years of service. During my twilight tour I was a Military Free Fall Instructor at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in Yuma, AZ.

I never had an interest in photography until I was assigned to the video department. There we would film and take photos of students in freefall. I started to take a liking to the craft and decided to go on a crusade to learn as much as possible. So for the next few years I went to the “school of Youtube” and soaked in every technique I could get my hands on.

I eventually retired and started contracting for JSOC. I quickly came to the realization that I couldn’t do this profession forever and just decided to take the plunge and open my own studio.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

At first I was all over the map. I really didn’t have a set genre. I was doing pinups, stock photography and basically shooting anything that would earn me a buck. Needless to say, that wasn’t a good strategy. My business was failing and I was pretty close to turning off the lights and heading back to contracting.

Then one day I was taking my kid to Gamestop to buy a new video game. I sat in the middle of all these insanely good covers (Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc.) and thought to myself, why can’t I create something like this for the tactical / firearms industry?

I immediately raced back to the studio and spent the next few weeks teaching myself how to get “the look”. That decision turned my studio around and we have been swamped ever since.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Q:  What inspires you?

Swarr:  I am inspired by my clients. Hard working patriots that are trying to provide for their families. If I can create something for them that will eventually feed their kids, then I’ve done my job. I don’t need any fame or recognition. I just want to run a successful business that betters the industry and helps people live the American dream.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Q:  It appears that much of your work, portraits and otherwise, are composite photos. What is your technique for doing this? Are you designing your own backgrounds that you then digitally add to a base photo?

Swarr:  Yes, I would say 90% of my images are composites. Composites are when I shoot a subject on a plain background and place them in an environment.

A lot of work goes into one of these images. We build the backgrounds out of a number of images and then blend in the subject with lighting and environmental effects. I usually spend about 3 days on a single image.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

In the case of the “Valhalla Bound” poster we created for, that took me over a week to build. I hand crafted a Iranian city with all the chaos of a full blown war. I really love how it turned out.

We charge a competitive rate for these types of images, but the final result brings in a return ten fold of what they spend (so I’m told).

My philosophy is when you open a gun magazine, there is a sea of advertisements. So many that the reader tends to breeze through them in anticipation of the next article. We want to stop the reader in their tracks. We want them to take in all the visuals and while leading their eye to the company’s product, then whisper the words “Man, that’s bad ass!” before they turn the page. To me, that’s a successful advertisement.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Q:  What services do you offer?

Swarr:  Our studio offers commercial photography, product photography and on-location event shoots. We shoot for Harris Publishing (over 15 different publication titles in the gun world) and Recoil Magazine.

We also offer a product placement service. Every day we are tasked by a variety of companies and magazines to take pictures of gear. Many times we need to add in other items to fill the image out. For example, Tactical Tailor is a big client – They need images of gear on models and we in turn have to outfit them with weapons, eye wear etc.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Our product placement service allows us to include manufactures gear in a variety of magazines and venues. We have placed weapons and gear from dozens of companies in hundreds of images so far. It is amazing how people can pick out specific gear in photos. It is a great way for companies to get extensive product exposure and is unique to Straight 8.

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Q:  If someone wanted to get in touch with you, what is the best way of doing it?

Swarr:  You can go to our website to check out our portfolio or stop by our Facebook page for daily updates. You can also email us direct at or contact our project manager, Fred Mastison at

©Straight 8 Custom Photography

Richard Johnson

An advocate of gun proliferation zones, Richard is a long time shooter, former cop and internet entrepreneur. Among the many places he calls home is


  • Rich Guy

    Cool beans, all the best luck, but I want that tomahawk in the last photo.

    • guest

      Tomahawk?! I want the rifle!!! 😉

      • Rusty Shackleford

        You can have the P415 and I’ll take the P308.

  • Troy

    This is more like digital art than photography. But it is very well done.

  • Always been a big fan of Straight 8. I love the women in business attire photo. But having seen a lot of his work, I like how he captures women.

    • General Cornhole Jackson III

      i like to capture women

  • guest

    I find that 99% of what is called “photography” nowdays are either 100% photoshops, a photoshopped collage of several images, or a post-processed original image where every single pixel had its color corrected to look “better”.


    It always cracks me up whenever I see those painted pictures of minutemen fighting with photoshopped AR-15s in hand.

  • Fruitbat44

    Photography or digital art? Either way they are very striking images. Interesting that Mr Swarr says he was inspired by video game covers; I was thinking that a lot of the images could have come straight from the promos for ‘CoD: Modern Warfare 5.’
    Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing I will leave up to individual taste . . .
    WTH: I think they look great. Thanks for posting the article and the link to Straight 8.
    Personal favourites, hard to say, but if I had to pick one, then off of the article on TFB it would be the two female sniper team. (The fact that the sniper using the other lady’s shoulder as a rest has a silencer fitted to her rifle really did make me smile.)
    Picking my favourite off of Straight 8’s site, well, while “It takes a woman’s touch” did make me smile (and wince.) I’d pick the more positive image of female empowerment; the lady in the shopping mall.
    Okay, that’s two favourites, but anything worth picking a favourite from once is worth picking a favourite from twice. 🙂

  • Leo

    stunning shots and work! photoshop? take photoshop and do it, we will check how easy it would be.

  • TangledThorns

    My favorite gun photographer is Stickman. Just simple clean shots of the weapon itself.

  • Madcap_Magician

    I think this is pretty clearly digital art instead of photography, and you can definitely tell where the layers intersect.

    All the same, I’m in for a professionally done print of Abraham Lincoln shooting down Communists with dual-wielded MP5Ks while riding on a tyrannosaurus with Old Glory in his teeth.

  • Justin William Officer

    Defiantly digital art . While the HDR look might be appealing to the average non photo person it’s not well received by advertising agencies . Let’s face it , HDR isn’t about photography . It’s about making bad lighting palletable .

    I’ll stick to photography thanks …

  • whamprod

    There’s “photography” and there’s “post-processing”. Both are good. Both can be great if properly done. Combined, they have awesome potential. I am not real good at it, but I do both and have sold a little bit.

    Straight 8 is doing a lot of what is called HDR (for High Dynamic Range) photography with a lot of post-processing. Justin William Officer said below:

    While the HDR look might be appealing to the average non photo person it’s not well received by advertising agencies

    Tell that to Trey Ratcliff, who sells a TON of his work for very high dollars to ad agencies (Trey’s Website), and who has been a big proponent of HDR, using it in his own work a lot.

    The problem isn’t really HDR, it’s the judicious use of it……which is why ad agencies will buy Trey’s HDR work. Sugar can give you diabetes, but you don’t have to get diabetes if you use sugar in moderation. The temptation to overprocess an image is nearly overwhelming at first, especially for people who come to photography through discovering HDR, instead of the more traditional means of already being a photographer who discovers HDR as one more tool in the drawer. I hadn’t played with photography since high school (1960s) when I first discovered HDR 3-4 years ago. Like a lot of people, I went overboard with it at first………partly as someone said previously, using it to compensate for bad lighting, but also partly because it was addictive to play with all the different effects.

    But it isn’t all just HDR I’m using either. I use a number of filters from both Topaz Labs, the Niks collection, and Digimarc (to protect my work). I don’t see anything wrong with post processing, but it won’t make a bad picture better. In fact, it can make a bad picture worse. You still have to take a decent picture. It reminds me of that old joke where two guys are talking and one of them is extolling the virtues of marijuana. He tells his friend, “it emphasizes your senses, man…..if something tastes good, it makes it taste even better; if something tastes bad, it will make it even worse; if you’re a mellow person, it will make you even mellower.” His friend says, “well, what if you’re an asshole?” HDR and post-processing can be kind of like that.