For many, the decision to concentrate on a profession takes years. For Staff Sgt. Aaron Belford, it came in a flash. Photography that is.
“Photography has always been in my life,” said Belford, the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron substance abuse control officer and a native of Minneapolis, Minn. “My mom was a commercial artist, and she use to do ad campaigns. So, she would work with a ton of photographers. I would go to work with her, because she was a single mom who couldn’t afford a babysitter. This is where I first saw a bunch of styles of photography.”
Now, Marines don’t lie, cheat or steal, but Belford wasn’t a Marine when he “found” his first camera.
“It really came to fruition when I stole my mom’s 1973 Canon camera out of the closet,” said Belford with a grin. “From then on I just went around and took photos of everything.”
“Actually, I still have that camera I stole from her behind me,” he added, pointing to the camera on his wall.
Belford’s decision to join the Corps came mostly due the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
“A tradition of my family is when your country needs you, you serve in the military,” said Belford, who joined the Marines in 2004. “This is why I joined.”
Once Belford joined the Marine Corps he didn’t stop with this hobby. Instead, he used his service as a way to broaden his photography skills.
“The Marines was a great choice,” said Belford. “It gave me opportunities to shoot new, interesting things.”
When he deployed to Iraq in 2006, he did just that.
“We didn’t have combat camera out there,” said Belford. “I did all the camera work there with military operations. I was basically a mini-combat camera.”
Coming back from deployment, he turned his hobby of photography into a profitable profession. He also began a family, and balancing the Corps, his hobby and his loved ones is a challenge he rises up to every day.
“It’s hard to have a family, the Marine Corps and my photos,” explained Belford, a father of a 2-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. “It takes balance to handle them all and is really challenging. That’s where the principal of adapt and overcome comes to play.”
He credits the Marine Corps with teaching him such a valuable skill, one of many he integrated into his photography.
“I have learned something as simple as project managing,” said Belford. “I can see an end product and know how to reverse engineer to get to that end result. It also taught me how to lead and tell people, ‘hey you’re on lights, you’re on video and you’re equipment.’ I can focus on my task but still watch everyone else. Before the Marine Corps, I would never have been able to do that.”
One piece of advice Belford said helped him become successful and he follows is, “Try to find the craziest dream you have and do it. Look at why you can do it and not why you can’t.”
Ready to overcome any challenge thrown at him, armed with years of experience, ambition and instilled with Marine Corps values, Belford is slated to leave the Marine Corps Oct. 1. After leaving the service, he has only one thought on his mind: opening a photography business based on action photography.
“I want to be hanging out of a helicopter upside down going 300 mph shooting photos of an All-Terrain Vehicle,” said Belford. “That is the kind of photography I want to do.”