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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the case of the “Valhalla Bound” poster we created for AmericanSnipers.org, 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or contact our project manager, Fred Mastison at email@example.com.