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How to Photograph a Civil War Reenactment

There are several challenges to photographing a Civil War reenactment. Usually there are masses of people at these events (over 225,000 at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg).  This volume of people can make it difficult to get a good vantage point for the battle reenactment and also to get a clean shot of the reenactors. 

Civil War Reenactment, Smoke on the Battlefield

In addition, the battles usually occur in the middle of the day in the harsh light.

After photographing several of these Civil War reenactment events, here are some of my tips to photography these battle reenactments and help you get better Civil War Photos.

Tips for Photographing Civil War Reenactments

Get There Early and Stay Late

Traffic can be brutal at some of the larger events and the country roads at some events were not made to handle this volume of traffic. Getting there early and leaving late can help you avoid the bulk of the traffic.  Early in the morning and late in the day are also a good time to visit the camps in good light.  Just be respectful of the people getting ready in the morning.

Camp Out at the Battlefield Early 

The battle reenactments are the main attractions at these events.  So make sure you reserve your spot early.  Either arrive at the battlefield early and wait or some events allow you to place a chair to reserve your spot.  At the battle of Gettysburg, people were planting their chairs at the battlefield as soon as they entered the gates.

Union Troops Marching to Battle at Gettysburg

Visit the Camps

Besides the battle, there are usually some good activities happening around the camps.  Reenactors gather together to socialize, usually talking the language of the times.  The troops also have their morning parade and practice their drills near the camp area.  By photographing the practice or drills, you can get some close up images that you may not get during the battle.

Research the battlefield

It can be helpful to research the Civil War battlefield area and even visit the battlefield ahead of time.  This will give you an idea of the size of the battlefield, its shape, distance from parking, etc.  The lenses you choose to bring with you will be determined not only by the type of shots you want to take but also the size and shape of the battlefield.

Research the Battle

Researching the actual battle(s) being reenacted at the event can help to understand where the action for the battle will take place.  It will also help you to understand the type of photographs you will be taking (cavalry, artillery, infantry, etc.) and also the lenses you will want to bring.

Civil War Reenactment, Sharpshooter

Dealing with Bad Light

The battles usually take place during the day when the light is harsh.  Use polarizers, and graduated ND filters to help with the harsh light.  But, watch your shutter speed when using these filters during action scenes.

Also, keep an eye on your histogram to ensure you are not blowing out your highlights.  You’ll have to try and balance not blowing out the clouds and other white subjects while keeping the detail in the shadows.

Backgrounds, Backgrounds, Backgrounds

With so many people attending the events, keeping an eye on your backgrounds is important.  It is highly likely that you will need to remove certain objects (telephone poles, police directing traffic, traffic cones) that do not belong in the scenes using Photoshop.  However, being aware of your backgrounds can lead to better shots and save a lot of time in Photoshop.

Develop a Shot List Ahead of Time

There will be a lot of activity at these battlefield reenactments.  Research reenactment photos for the type of event you will be photographing and prepare a list of shots that you want to capture during this event.  This will help to keep you focused and help you get the photos you want to take.

Related Blog Posts
Photographing the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg
Hale Farm and Village Civil War Reenactment
Civil War Reenactment – Mock Execution

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