Robert J O'Neill - Seal Team Six

More often than not, my editorial shoots have very little lead time from the clients phone call to the arrival time at a location we've chosen to secure the portrait.  With less than 24 hours to put our Sunday Times portrait shoot together with Navy Seal Team Six member James O'Neill, we had to get our skates on.  James was staying at a nice hotel in Laguna Beach, CA.  A nice hotel wasn't what I had in mind if we were to secure an interesting image of the guy who shot Osama Bin Laden. After a bunch of phone calls with his very helpful PR team and a few hours researching locations in Laguna Beach, I decided we'd be better off getting down to Laguna early before the shoot to seek out a location. 

I had a poured concrete wall in mind for the background to give a bunker vibe to the shot.   Upon arriving in the beach town, all we could find was fancy house walls and cinder brick built structures.  As we were returning to the hotel to discuss options, we happened upon a walkway under Pacific Coast Highway. For the time we had to set up and shoot, the location was perfectly placed, edgy, cold and low key so we didn't have any onlookers. 

I couldn't have wished for an easier person to shoot, or in this instance I should say photograph :-) It is interesting, during my career I have In fact met and photographed a selection of top chaps trained to the Navy Seal level and they're all very engaging, humble and unassuming. Without wanting to sound cliched, they tend to blend into the shadows.  There was so many questions I wanted to ask during the shoot, but I've learnt to stay off subject, keeping it more personal to life and loves.  I can tell you that James's favorite comedian in the whole world, his words, is Jim Jefferies.  


It's interesting to have seen the positive reaction the citizens of the US had when the news came through that Bin Laden had been killed.  The country for the most part was proud and thankful for all the men and women who have lost and risked their lives to secure this result. Now it seems James is under some scrutiny and judgement from the media and the military for breaking his silence about the mission.  I'm learning more each day from both sides of the fence in this dialogue. My opinion isn't important. I had a great session with a great guy have to say, I'm thankful I never had to go through  BUD's Hell Week to follow my career as a photographer.

If you're more interested in joining the Seals more than following a career in photography ;-) you can apply here 

More Below :

Robert O'Niell, SealTeam6,


Feature written by Toby Harnden for the Sunday Times News Review

I fired twice and bin Laden crumpled: The al-Qaeda leader was killed in a daring night raid on his hideout. The former Navy SEAL who pulled the trigger tells Toby Harnden how he did it and why he is glad to have avenged 9/11, even though his own life is now at risk

It was a fraction of a second, but the moment he saw Osama bin Laden is seared in Rob O’Neill’s mind. “Every time I close my eyes I can see it,” he says. “I remember looking at how tall he was, skinnier than I thought. His beard was shorter. He’d a crew cut almost and a white cap on.”

Through his night-vision goggles O’Neill could see the al-Qaeda leader’s hands on the shoulders of his youngest wife, Amal, pushing her forward. He wasn’t surrendering.

O’Neill shot him twice in the forehead, the second round hitting him as he crumpled. As bin Laden lay on the floor, the US Navy SEAL put a third bullet into his head for good measure.

The former SEAL and I are sitting at a breakfast table on the patio of a hotel overlooking Laguna Beach, California, for his first British interview. The 38-year-old, who grew up in Butte, Montana, and whose ancestors were miners from Co Cork, leans towards me. “It was this close,” he says. “Two feet, if that.”

He continues: “You want the bullet to go through the back of the brain so you cut off the spinal cord. If someone might be wearing a suicide vest, you shoot him in the face. People don’t die as fast for real as they do in the movies. Shoot someone in the chest and he’s going to have time to explode the vest.”

O’Neill pauses to apologise. “Forgive my eating habits. Every single day it’s a bacon sandwich,” he says, picking up the bacon with his hands. Having retired from the navy in 2012, O’Neill has founded a charity, Your Grateful Nation, to help veterans move from the military to civilian life and travels constantly to give motivational speeches.

In November he went public about his role in the bin Laden raid, drawing condemnation from senior officers and complaints from some SEALs that he had broken a code of silence honoured mainly in the breach in recent times.

O’Neill’s skin is so pale that it is almost translucent. His thinning red hair is tucked beneath a flat cap and his blue eyes are topped by white eyebrows. There is, moreover, an intensity that marks him out. Like other American special forces operators he carries himself in a way that few men can.

His arms are covered in elaborate tattoos, the left decorated with the words of President George W Bush on the evening after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward and freedom will be defended.”

O’Neill got the tattoo to mark the demise of bin Laden, the man who ordered those attacks. His right arm bears scars from a recent medical operation: “The tendon had been tearing over the years — fast roping or parachuting, grabbing lines — and one day it just popped.”

For the whole article go to