How To Release Visual Information Properly

How To 4 min
Follow this workflow to quickly release VI with the proper approval authority and classification.

An essential part of your role as a visual communicator (photographer, videographer, etc.) is to capture visual information (VI) that is specific to the needs, themes and messages of the command and/or the mission. VI products support multiple DoD and U.S. Government missions as strategic information resources, and historic evidentiary records of the actions and activities of the department (see the DoD VI Style Guide).

Remember that VI can support ALL lines of operation in a command and may not be for public release. VI can be used for evidentiary and documentation purposes, such as investigations. Photographers and videographers should not be prevented from documenting an event or scene. Once the photographer captures the image, the command’s releasing authority determines if the VI will be released and handles the content accordingly.

Check with your unit to ensure there are no further local policies or guidelines for this task.

After capturing the imagery, your work is just beginning. There are additional key steps to do before the assignment is complete. Reference the workflow below for the specific steps to take your image from capture to release.

Follow this workflow to ensure your images track smoothly and expeditiously from your camera to the intended audience. Photo by PAVILION
This workflow graph depicts the steps images will follow in order to be released.
Follow this workflow to ensure your images track smoothly and expeditiously from your camera to the intended audience.
Photo by: PAVILION
VIRIN: 210311-D-PA656-0001

Usually, the PAO will assign a photographer/videographer to cover and document an event, or a command will request coverage of an exercise or operation.

Once the VI is acquired, the PAO should verify that the VI aligns with required themes and messages and meets all other VI requirements.

After acquisition, you will have to triage your imagery. This includes identifying your selects and b-roll footage.

Once you have made your VI selects, make sure you add the complete required caption, VISION ID, photographer credit and keywords (see the DoD VI Style Guide and DoDI 5040.02 for specific guidance).

Well-written, informative and useful captions begin with the submitter and their unit. All DoD VI must have a caption. Captions are contained in the metadata of every VI asset. Accurate and complete DoD VI metadata increases the value and discoverability of DoD VI as strategic information assets (DoD VI Style Guide, Chapter 3).

A review process is normally established in advance to ensure timely release of VI. Reviewing and clearing VI at the lowest possible level will help expedite the release to customers who have an immediate need for “cleared” VI.

The commander's designated representative or releasing authority (usually the PAO) will review all unclassified VI for accurate metadata/captioning and possible public release unless otherwise directed by public affairs guidance or higher authority.

  • Public Affairs Officer (PAO)
  • Information Operations (IO)
  • G3/S3
  • Judge Advocate General (JAG)
  • DoD Operations Security (OPSEC)
  • G2/S2
  • Commander

VI may be specifically identified as “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) at any level in the review process to prevent inadvertent release of sensitive VI to the public. All VI designated as FOUO must have a justification and a review date within one year of the date the image was shot.

VI will be identified as "Released" or "For Official Use Only" for unclassified imagery and classified imagery should be labeled with the appropriate classification level. Also include the name, duty position, phone number and/or email address of the releasing authority.

The VI is reviewed and classified by the releasing authority. This classification will determine how the image is transmitted.

DVIDS (Released only)

Per DoDI 5040.02, unclassified imagery, with associated captions and metadata, must be submitted to DMA via DVIDS (DoD Style Guide, Chapter 6).

Submitting to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) is by far the most common and most expedient way of submitting unclassified, released imagery. DVIDS forwards a copy of all received images directly to the Defense VI Archive (DVIA) 180 days after receiving it; the original version remains in DVIDS.

DoD imagery used on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, etc.) is considered a permanent, released DoD record. The original, hi-res version of the images and video used on social media must also be sent to DVIDS for archiving.

DVIDS accepts only officially released public domain imagery. Do not send unreleased, copyrighted or For Official Use Only (FOUO) files (DoD Style Guide, Chapter 6).

FOUO/CUI imagery to DMA

DoD VI products designated as "For Official Use Only" or "Controlled Unclassified Information" with no established public release clearance should not be sent to DVIDS. DoD VI not forwarded to DMA is handled by the originating command in accordance with the DoD VI Records Schedule and DoDD 8000.01 in coordination with the service or DoD Records Manager.

Classified VI imagery

Classified DoD VI products will not be sent to DVIDS and shall be handled by the originating command in accordance with the DoD VI Records Schedule and DoDD 8000.01 in coordination with the service or DoD Records Manager (DoD Style Guide, Chapter 6, pg 42).

All publicly released VI imagery must be transmitted expeditiously to the Defense Media Activity (DMA) Joint Mission Center (JMC) via DVIDS unless restricted by the on-scene commander. The JMC serves as the DoD central reception and distribution point for joint-interest VI. The JMC has a primary mission of distributing operational VI to the Joint Staff for briefings.

  • Unclassified VI cleared for public release by the appropriate authority is provided to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs (OSD) for potential release to internal and external media.
  • VI may be provided to service headquarters staff and other government agencies.

The DMA JMC will release images based on their classification:

  • Released - VI is sent to DMA and is cleared for public release.
  • For Official Use Only (FOUO) - The VI has been sent to DMA (not DVIDS) but is for official use by DoD or other governmental agencies. The VI is not cleared for public release.
  • Classified - DMA can only accept VI classified up to level secret submitted via the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). Coordinate with DMA before transmitting any classified VI. Classified VI is held by the originating command.