Photographing a large event like the Civil War Reenactment of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg can be a chance to get some terrific battlefield photo opportunities. It can also be quite challenging due to the crowds and size of the event.
I was commissioned by artist Bruce Lawes to photograph this historical Civil War reenactment over the July 4th holiday weekend. Bruce used some of my photographs as inspiration to create the Official Commemorative Poster of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg that is being sold at the event and also online. The poster is only $10 and 50% of the proceeds go to the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee to fund future events.
The 2013 Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg was a massive event with over 10,000 Civil War reenactors, 500 horses, and nearly 150 canons participating in the battle. The local news reported that over 200,000 people would be attending the event over the July 4th weekend. The size of the Gettysburg battlefield was also quite large and often the battle activity took place a good distance from the spectator and press areas.
Photographing a battlefield reenactment event of this size with 200,000+ spectators can be quite challenging. Here are a few tips if you plan on attending future Battle of Gettysburg Reenactments or additional battlefield reenactments on this 150th anniversary of the Civil War. A battlefield reenactment is held at Gettysburg every year over the July 4th weekend.
Tips of Photographing Large Battlefield Reenactments
- Arrive early. The organizers of the 150th Anniversary battle of Gettysburg were not prepared for the volume of people attending the event. On the July 4th holiday, I was stuck in traffic for over 2 hours waiting to park even though I left my hotel 45 minutes prior to the start of the event. People also set up chairs in the front rows of the battlefield as soon as they enter the gate to reserve the primo spot to observe the battle. Make sure you stake out your spot early or you may be shooting over people and will have to Photoshop heads out of your photos. The light is also less harsh if you arrive early and/or stay late.
- Go on a Weekday. Although most of the events occur on weekends, the volume of people on the holiday and the weekend were 10 times that of on the weekdays. This could be due to the holiday weekend and the 150th anniversary. However, there were still multiple battles that occurred each day on weekdays. Check the Internet for the schedule of events.
- Bring Long Lenses. The battlefield at Gettysburg was much larger than those of other Civil War reenactments that I have attended. Make sure you bring a long lens to capture the action. Much of the action at the Gettysburg reenactment took place away from the grandstands, spectator areas, and media towers. I brought a 70-200mm lens with a 2X extender and wished I would have brought my 500mm with the extender for intimate shots.
- Take Landscape Photos of the Entire Battle. While many of us like intimate battlefield photos, part of the attraction to the Gettysburg reenactment is the magnitude of the battle. Capture the entire smoke filled battlefield to get the overall effect.
- Don’t just focus on the Battles. Visit the camps. Many of the reenactors camp out at the site much like they did in civil war times. The reeactors will also practice their drills and have their morning parade formation near the camps. The Confederate camp at Gettysburg received much fewer visitors than the Union camp as it was much smaller and was located quite a distance from everything else.