Period Portraiture Event

Historic reenactor works with a table top loom in an 18th century setting.

2020 will be a year to remember for all the wrong reasons. Fires, storms, the pandemic, searing reminders of inequality, the subsequent protests and riots, which only highlight the deep political divide that is tugging at the edges of the fabric of our country. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, this year has been disheartening in many ways.

For many, the pandemic has had the most personal and immediate impact. Navigating the minefield that is a Zoom conference, figuring out how to entertain (or teach) your child at home, dealing with the loss of a job, or at least the loss of income, not being able to see elderly parents – the list goes on!

Every photographic event that had been on my calendar from mid-March until today has been either cancelled or postponed. In fact, I only have two events still standing through February 2021! My event photography is mainly centered on historical reenactments. And since they are hardly “essential” activities, it looks like it will be a while before we’ll be gathering for another one.

Planning a Period Portraiture Event

As a result, I was especially happy to be able to host a small event at Historic Latta. Latta Plantation is a living history museum and farm, just north of Charlotte, NC. I think it was Kendall Kendrick of The Linen Agency who actually had the idea. It grew out of a conversation we were having a couple of months ago. The concept was simple: a low cost 30-minute photo shoot for historical reenactors and interpreters, with a portion of the proceeds going to Latta.

Reenactors love to dress, and they spend large amounts of time and/or money on their very detailed and authentic wardrobes. As a photographer, they make my work easy. They know what they are trying to highlight. They know the “character” that they are interpreting. That makes expression, and even posing in many cases, a much simpler process than is usually the case, especially when we aren’t working with experienced models.

Getting comfortable in front of the camera

That’s not to say that all of the participants were at ease in front of the camera. For the photographers in the audience, I’ll cover some suggestions for helping your subjects become more comfortable in a future post, but for the moment, let’s just keep it simple: Let your subjects be themselves. Make the early shots little more than candids. As they become more comfortable, they will be able to take more direction and still appear natural in the final images.

Photographer taking a portrait of a historic reenactor
Socially Distanced Portraiture

While many of the photos were taken in the same settings around Latta, I tried to begin with each person in a place that I thought they would be most comfortable. I tried to learn about their skills, favorite places around the site, and any specific images that they knew that wanted to create. That varied from the garden for one, the house where another frequently gives tours, to the bright outdoor sun for a soldier. Then, with time, we were able to move to other settings.

Here are some of my favorite images from the event. Click on each image to enlarge it. You may notice some differences in the both the lighting and processing of various images. This is not an attempt for a unified portfolio or gallery setting. The lighting is – to one degree or another – representative of the lighting styles of the portraits of the particular era of the dress.

I made some new friends. We collaborated on some creative images and in more than one case I helped them achieve some personal goals. In the middle of everything else that’s going on this year, I’d consider that time well spent. And it will be one positive memory that I will take away from 2020.

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