When it comes to taking great photographs it’s not the equipment,
or even the training that makes the picture, says New York Army
National Guard Sgt. Harley Jelis.
What matters most is
getting the subjects to know you, said Jelis, a photojournalist
assigned to the 138th Public Affairs Detachment who has been named
the Army’s Photographer of the Year for 2016.
March 30, 2017 - U.S. Army Sgt. Harley Jelis (right), a public
affairs specialist attached to the 138th Public Affairs Detachment,
53rd Troop Command, New York Army National Guard, and winner of the
U.S. Army Keith L. Ware Military Photographer of the Year award,
shoots photos and video during the 2017 Mew York Army National Guard
Best Warrior Competition at Camp Smith Training Site. (U.S. Army
National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Davis)
“Most of the best shots I have ever done are not the thing I took
the pictures of, the helicopters flying around or the tanks,” Jelis
“The best thing has been the times I have been able to
go out for a day and plug myself into an infantry squad; to go in
and get to know the people I am shooting and get them to trust me,
because I am willing to walk across the field or help the crew
chiefs clean up,” he added.
Jelis was one of the individual
winners in the Army’s annual Keith L. Ware Communications Awards
Named for a Vietnam War era chief of Army
Public Affairs, the awards highlight individual and team efforts
among the public affairs Soldiers in the Active Army, Army National
Guard and Army Reserve.
Jelis and other National Guard
Soldier and unit submissions were first judged at the National Guard
Bureau level. The top finishers there were submitted for the
Army-wide judging. Winners in the Army competition then compete for
a Department of Defense level award against media contest winners
from the other services.
Submissions for the Photographer of
the Year category require that the photographer exhibit skill in
taking a variety of photographs ranging from portraits to features.
The Pleasant Valley, N.Y. native who now lives in New Milford,
C.T., joined the New York Army National Guard in 2008.
was studying special effects and graphics at Mercy College in Dobbs
Ferry, N.Y., getting 4.0 grades fairly easily, and feeling a little
bored in his freshman year, Jelis explained.
“I decided I
wanted to make my life more interesting so I decided let’s talk to
the National Guard,” he said.
He served as an artillery fire
support specialist in the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade before
switching to the Public Affairs career field in 2013.
Guard allowed him to explore a military career while continuing his
education, Jelis said. And, after two years, he had changed his
educational track to documentary film making at the State University
of New York at Albany.
Because he needed to complete photo
and video assignments for his classes, Jelis said, he brought his
cameras to drill and filmed his fellow Soldiers in the field. He
learned the best ways to shoot military action that way.
the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade deployed from Latham, N.Y. to
Kuwait in 2013 Jelis was assigned to the public affairs office as a
photographer. He traveled throughout the Persian Gulf area shooting
everything from Army National Guard UH-60s landing on Navy ships, to
air assault exercises with the Marine Corps, and live-fire training
with the Royal Saudi Land Forces.
“Every single day there was the tempo of doing missions
starting in the early morning and continuing after sunset,”
Jelis recalled. “It was hours upon hours upon days upon
weeks of work.”
He honed his photography skills and
learned the value of embedding with a unit and getting to
know his subjects, Jelis said.
All that hard work
shows in his product, according to his former boss at the
42nd Combat Aviation Brigade, Capt. Jean Marie Kratzer, the
brigade public affairs officer during the deployment.
“His photography is always about capturing emotions,
actions and the beauties of life,” Kratzer said. “Each and
every shot he takes is unique.”
“He has the capability to capture the essence of a person in just
one frame,” she added.
His photographs appeared on the
Department of Defense website and were used by Army Times, Army
Magazine and GX, the Army National Guard’s official publication.
July 16, 2016 - New York Army National Guard medics, assigned to
Headquarters Co., 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, triage a Soldier
during a mass casualty exercise at the Army’s Joint Readiness
Training Center, Fort Polk, LA. More than 3,000 New York Army
National Guard Soldiers deployed for a three week exercise at the
Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center, July 9-30, 2016 in this
photo taken by New York Army National Guard Sgt. Harley Jelis, the
Army's Military Photographer of the Year 2016. (U.S. Army National
Guard photo by Sgt. Harley Jelis)
When he returned from Kuwait, Jelis officially changed
his military occupational specialty from artillery to
photojournalist and attended the Defense Information School
at Fort Meade, Maryland.
In 2015 he joined the 138th
Public Affairs Detachment where he focuses on covering units
belonging to the New York Army National Guard’s 53rd Troop
Command. He turns out for training exercises, and snowstorms
when the command’s units are on state active duty for
A traditional part-time Guard
Soldier, Jelis also holds a Master’s Degree in Integrated
Marketing Communications from Marist College in
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and now works as marketing and admissions
director for a mental health and addiction clinic in
Jelis has a tremendous work ethic as
well as a unique skill set, said Col. Richard Goldenberg,
the New York National Guard State Public Affairs Officer.
"He puts himself alongside the troops and immerses
himself in the environment, giving viewers a vantage point
of soldiering that few ever see,” Goldenberg said.
His background in video production helps him approach still
photography differently than other photographers might,
Video cameras are more technically
complex and “finicky” than still cameras, so learning how to
handle those gave him the confidence to push the
technological limits with still cameras, Jelis said.
He also thinks in terms of storyboards and telling a story
in sequence with his photographs when he is on assignment,
His advice to other photographers is “don’t
be afraid to mess up.” Photographers should try new camera
settings, and try new angles, and find out what works.
“Every single event, every single exercise, is another
practice for the next one. Never be afraid to try something
a bit different. Never let yourself get comfortable, “Jelis
By Eric Durr, New York National Guard
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