Although I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph Revolutionary War reenactments in a number of places, Historic Brattonsville has been my “home” for living history photography since I first took a camera there a few years ago. After the pandemic, it was good to be able to finally get back out to the site and to see some old friends and make some new ones at the year’s biggest event at Brattonsville.
“The Battle of Huck’s Defeat”, or the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation was fought in July of 1780, just yards away from where reenactors and spectators gathered for a weekend event to recreate the battle and demonstrate military life in the later years of the Revolutionary War. Like all Revolutionary War reenactments, it provided some excellent photographic opportunities.
While I would encourage you to look at the full gallery of images if you are so inclined, in this post I’ll present several of my favorites and share something of my thought process for each.
It’s rare that I can get this much room around a subject at Revolutionary War reenactment, so when I get the opportunity, I like to include as much of the environment as possible.
I almost never pose subjects at living history events. In the rare cases that I do, it is only to instruct them to look away from me. I’m not sure if I asked her to look down, or if I just happened to catch her looking down at her work. Either way, the hat forms a perfect frame for her face.
Warm layers of clothing on a hot July day left this Patriot sweating even before the sun reached its peak. Beads of sweat pour down his face as he listens to his commanding officer.
Hat bills are normally a photographer’s nemesis because they create such dark shadows across the eyes. This lighter hat actually worked to diffuse the sunlight creating a nice effect on this seamstress’s face.
I prefer real expressions over posed ones. I don’t know the subject of the conversation, but the image tells you something of its tone.
I find myself using a long lens almost constantly at Revolutionary War reenactments. Shooting at 200mm allows me to stay a long way back from my subjects. In this case, I actually shot through an opening in a small group of people, allowing me to capture him in his relaxed, pensive state.
It’s not always about battles, and soldiers, and weapons. Most historic sites offer some wonderful opportunities for landscape or pastoral images, too!
Another example of the benefits of a long lens. This soldier was waiting quietly for the battle to begin. And apparently wondering if he was going to have to fight it by himself!
A soldier with a green jacket and a brown gun against a green and brown background. The smoke from the other guns in the unit helped to create a nice bit of contrast, helping to separate him from the background. At least for a moment!
While it may appear that this Continental soldier is facing this Dragoon charge alone, there is actually a long line of patriots just a few yards away. And they were the target of the horsemen. But sometimes, we can tell our own story with the camera.
Moving just a few steps from the earlier image of the soldier by himself, we can change the composition – and the story – dramatically. Our eyes are naturally drawn to the geographic shape of the triangle here.
Shooting from the “sidelines” at a Revolutionary War reenactment means that it is often difficult – if not impossible – to shoot soldiers as they approach. This was a rare opportunity! The smoke helps to separate the Dragoons from the green background.
I generally desaturate my living history images, but this one just seemed to “feel” better with all of the original color still intact.
Not everything in a Revolutionary War reenactment is completley scripted. Horses, for instance, sometimes have a mind of their own. I had been keeping a close eye on “Captain Huck” and just happend to have him in view when this happened. The reaction of his companions add to the story.
I have elaborated on this image in my social media accounts, so I will say little, other than to point out that a long lens helps to “clean up” a scene, allowing me to focus on my subject and just a bit of the environment; leaving out the dozens of people who were standing around nearby.
Sometimes, no people are required, even when shooting a reenactment. It’s unusual to find a scene this “clean” in the middle of a crowded event, but I find that after the last battle of the day, as the guests begin to leave the site, I can find these images that tell a story without a single person required.
Dishwashing in some very good light. She was actually listening to someone speak as she worked.
Photography is always about the light. The better the light, the better the photo. Of course, having an interesting subject certainly helps. The vignette was formed by tents, people, and natural shade.
If you’re still reading, thanks for your persistence! Whether you are a photographer, have an interest in history, or just enjoy the pictures, I hope you found something that you like. My full gallery from the event can be found here.
If do take pictures, you might be interested to know that we’ll be having a living history photography workshop at Brattonsville on August 28. I’d love for you to join us. Sites like Brattonsville are worthy of your time and interest, and there are always interesting things to photograph there!