The image “1000 miles”, by then Corporal Jonathan van Zyl

Sergeant Jonathan van Zyl, a professional army photographer in the British Army’s Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) has won the Professional Portrait and Best Overall Image categories of the Army Photographic Competition with his black and white portrait of a soldier on exercise, entitled “1000 miles”.

Originally from Salt Rock, 35-year-old Van Zyl currently works at Andover UK-based British Army Headquarters and was recently promoted from the rank of Corporal, spokesperson for British Army Media and Comms Shane Wilkinson said. 

On learning of his win, Van Zyl said: “It’s absolutely great news. I really didn’t expect to win. I’ve seen some of the other entries and I didn’t think I stood even half a chance.”

Father-of-two Van Zyl, who lives in Andover, transferred to the photographic trade two years ago from 1st Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1PWRR) where he was an infantry soldier for 11 years, based in Germany.

“This is my first pro competition I’ve won,” he said. “In 2013 I won best portrait in the amateur category, so, it was finally that jump from amateur to pro. I realised then that I wanted to do this full time.”

Sgt Jonathan van Zyl

Van Zyl saw off stiff competition from fellow army photographers who along with civilian, cadet and public entrants submitted 780 photographs to 12 categories.

Van Zyl explained how the winning portrait came about during Exercise Northern Strike in America. “It was one of those moments; you just saw it and you took it. It wasn’t planned or anything, but it works,” he said. “I think it’s the soldier’s eyes, looking into his eyes, it draws you into it.”

Van Zyl, who completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan and three in Iraq during his time with 1PWRR got the photography bug about seven years ago following the birth of his son. “As soon as I pressed the shutter, that was me, I was hooked to it and ever since then it just grew. It’s like a bug, once it’s bitten you, you’re stuck with it,” he said.

Van Zyl left for the UK at the age of 19 on a working visa.  “One day I was sitting on the bus wondering what I could do, because I didn’t want to go back yet, and there was a big sign saying ‘join the Army’. A few years later here I am still. I’ve never looked back and I’ve got no regrets whatsoever.”

Van Zyl was presented with his prize by Chief of the General Staff General Sir Nicholas Carter at a ceremony held at the Imperial War Museum, London, today, where a display of the winning images is being hosted.