Change Your Approach

By Roger (23 October 2014)

When you shoot the same subject frequently, you can find many of your photos beginning to revert to a norm. Things begin to look too similar. Your photographs may not lose their quality, they just don't excite you as much. If you find this happening to you, it's time to change your approach to the subject – explore different facets of the subject; do something, anything, you haven't done recently. You don't want your photography to become boring to you. That is a sure sign it may be boring to your viewer.

One of my long-time projects, for the last couple of years, has been photographing the Civil War sesquicentennial re-enactments. The project continues until April 2015, when I will join the re-enactors at Appomattox, Va., where General Lee surrendered to General Grant, 150 years ago. As a guy who loves history and genealogy, this photo project has been lots of fun for me. However, over the last 24 months, I've shot many battlefield re-enactments, and I was beginning to become less interested in the results. I was making the photographs for my project, not for my enjoyment.

I realized I needed to do something differently. So, at this weekend's event at Cedar Creek Battlefield, near Middletown, Va., I concentrated on photographs other than the actual battle re-enactments. Not only did I get a better variety of photos, my fun meter slammed back into the green zone.

Formation on the ridgeline, Cedar Creek, Middletown, VA

Formation on the ridgeline, Cedar Creek, Middletown, VA

I arrived at the rolling hills of Middletown early, while the re-enactors were practicing their close order drill, prior to the arrival of regular visitors. With lots of clouds keeping down the light, I shot these guys up on a ridge from a much lower angle and got this nice silhouette. It isn't an extraordinary shot, but I got what I saw in my head, and that is always a kick.

Once I had my plan for the day, there were photographs everywhere I turned.

Young Re-enactor

Young Re-enactor

For many, these events are a family affair, and some of the re-enactors start a very young age. I had a chance to shoot several shots of this cute, little girl, waiting with her mother and friends. I sat on the ground to keep at her eye level and made this shot as she noticed me. She turned shy and hid behind her mother.

This was a big gathering of almost 7,000 re-enactors. Cedar Creek was an important battle, pitting Union General Philip Sheridan against Confederate General Jubal Early. The Confederates were eventually defeated, and the Union controlled the Shenandoah Valley until the end of the war.

On Saturday, before the battles, the Union boys held a mass formation and a pass in review. It was an impressive site. It took almost an hour for all of them to parade by. The reviewing general looked more like General Sherman (not possible because he was in Georgia, threatening Atlanta), but he cut quite a figure, just the same.

The General for the Review

The General for the Review

There were too many soldiers to fit in my lens, but I made many photos of parts of the formation and during the pass in review. For an old Army guy, they were just too good to pass up.

Pass in Review, Cedar Creek

Pass in Review, Cedar Creek

After the Union pass in review, it was time to head over to the Confederate camps to see what I could find there. The folks there were busy preparing for the upcoming battle. Women in the camps were mending uniforms; preparing for wounded that were soon to arrive; and discussing bits of the day's news.

In the Confederate camp

In the Confederate camp

The re-enactors live in period-correct tents and cook their meals over fires during the event. When they aren't engaged in the battles, they will happily give living history demonstrations of camp life. We discussed the facts and personalities of this battle. As always, I had no problems getting permission to make photos of them.

Confederate Infantryman

Confederate Infantryman

The camp included a photographer who was taking authentic tin-types and ferro-types, with a replica camera. He had a long line, waiting for the opportunity to pose. He developed the photos in the tent with the same type of chemicals Matthew Brady used 150 years ago. I watched several of the photo sessions.

After Mark's blog, last week, I had to make at least one toned photo to look like it was taken 150 years ago. I'm quite happy to create the effect in Lightroom, but it was impressive to watch the re-enactment photographer create the real thing.

Tin-types and Ferro-types while you wait

Tin-types and Ferro-types while you wait

North Carolina Confederate

North Carolina Confederate

The day went entirely too quickly. I wish I could have made it there for Sunday when the Confederates were going to conduct their parade. The different approach brought back my enthusiasm to see this project through to the end in April. I began this project with the idea I would photograph the battles, but it needed a more comprehensive approach. The Civil War impacted Americans far beyond the battlefields, and the re-enactors do a great job of showing us how life was lived in those times.

And I found some humor on the edges of the battlefield. Keep the fun in your photography.

We didn't have these kinds of rations when I was in the Army.

We didn't have these kinds of rations when I was in the Army.

Defying Gravity, but Not the nearly Purple Haze

By Mark

Last Saturday, my friend Jeff invited me to go flying with him.  I leapt at the opportunity and so we headed up, up and away into the VA and MD skies. 

I learned quite a bit about trying to shoot in a small aircraft.  The first thing that I learned is that there is not a heck of a lot of room for a big lens in a small cockpit.  I wound up taking off my lens hood and really wished I had one of the rubber ones. You will see that not being able to press my lens to the glass means that for some angles, you get to see your own reflection in the image. The second thing which I learned, or at least recognized, is that most plane windows are a little bit tinted, which helps keep the plane cool, but which does add both a tint and reduces the light a bit.  Next, it was very interesting to see the level of haziness that hangs over this region.  Here is an untouched image as we approached Baltimore. 

Baltimore?

Baltimore?

It’s that greasy smear in the left center.  Last week at Adobe Max, they showcased some new technology which may appear in future releases—it is called Dehaze and man, do I wish it was out now. http://prodesigntools.com/adobe-photoshop-defog-dehaze.html  All of these pictures required the clarity slider be pushed almost to the max. 

There are a lot of airway restrictions around this area-which is no surprise. With 3 major airports and the Nation’s Capital they control the air pretty tightly. For some reason they don’t want people flying over the White House???  It was impressive to watch Jeff communicate with all of the ATC zones and not get us shot down.  What is pleasantly surprising though is where you can fly. 

Inner Harbor

Inner Harbor

We headed east and fly right over the inner harbor of Baltimore.  We looped around so I could get shots of both Raven Stadium and Camden Yards. 

Foosebal

Foosebal

Still one of the best fields in baseball

Still one of the best fields in baseball

We then checked to see that “our banner still waved” over Ft. McHenry before heading over to the Eastern Shore of MD.  

Mid day sun, not the dawn's early light at all

Mid day sun, not the dawn's early light at all

We stopped for lunch in Cambridge, MD.  Although I didn’t get a shot-something about whacking Jeff in the head while we were on final, didn’t sound smart; we were accompanied for a little bit by a Bald Eagle.  

One other thing about flying over a city, is that your cell phone keeps looking for the towers, which are all below you.  This eats your battery.  I had been using an app-Motion-X GPS to capture our track.  That stopped at lunch time when I had no power Captain.

Half of our track.  Note the loop around B'allmer

Half of our track.  Note the loop around B'allmer

Flying back we cruised over the picturesque waterfront towns of Oxford and St. Michaels.  Sailboats and powerboats out enjoying a glorious day.  

St. Michaels, MD

St. Michaels, MD

We headed over the Naval Academy in Annapolis and then found the winner of the best house award.  

There a lot of huge, gorgeous, really, really expensive houses out along the water.

Finally we headed back to Leesburg and found the only spot of real turbulence for the day.  It was a blast and we are going to do it again—Maybe even at night.   

Lined up, with a bit of rough air

Lined up, with a bit of rough air

Final approach

Final approach

Why Are Old Photos Brown?

By Mark

Roger wrote about our very successful Photowalk in Harpers Ferry last weekend.  Since there was a huge Civil War reenactment ongoing, lots of our group have been processing our photos to look older.  I started thinking that we all know what images from then look like, but wanted to know why?   

Courtesy Library of Congress

Courtesy Library of Congress

Photography was still a relatively new art and science at the beginning of the war.  People had to sit really still for a very long time under very bright light for any kind of image to take hold.  The first “easily” replicated process was done by Daguerre in France.  A glass plate was coated with chemicals and exposed to light.  Mercury vapor then fixed the image.  It created a bright image, but only one.  There was no way to reproduce them.  Starting in the 1850’s they created the Ambrotype.  

It was easier to produce, but also used dangerous chemicals.  It too only could produce one image.  Finally a relatively inexpensive process which printed the image directly on to a metal plate-a tintype was introduced and soon everyone had pictures in their pockets.  These tended to be fairly dark, but were relatively stable

Tintype effect

Tintype effect

Now the great Civil-War photographers like Gardner and Brady used a different wet-plate process, which did produce negatives and could make prints. Gradually during the war, this process largely replaced the others for fine photography.  Unfortunately the prints made from these negatives had problems all their own.  The silver nitrates tended to crack and turn all black when exposed to sun.  Photographers discovered that they could use different chemicals which would replace the silver salts, and which would add new tones to the image, but preserve the relationships between the lights and the darks in a picture.

Cuttlefish ink, or sepia added to the image imparts a nice warm brown tone, while selenium adds a cooler bluish tint.  Because these colors are stable they became the standards for what we think of in old photos.   

It's fun to play with these and see the history come to life.  

From now looking back to then.  Reenactment Family at Harpers Ferry

From now looking back to then.  Reenactment Family at Harpers Ferry


2014 Worldwide Photowalk Wrap-Up

By Roger (14 October 2014)

We had a great group at Harpers Ferry for our part of the Worldwide Photowalk on Saturday. Mark and I met lots of new photographers. So, I thought I'd give you a quick overview for those who are unsure what this photowalk thing is about and didn't sign up this year.

Weather is always a common excuse, and the weather-guessers weren't passing out optimistic forecasts. The rainy weather caused a couple of people to stay home, but the vast majority of our registered walkers showed up. For their effort, they were rewarded when the rain stopped 15 minutes before our scheduled walk. The rain stayed away for the entire walk. (Yay!)

We started out from the Amtrak station. It's a small and quaint, two-track depot. Everyone got to shoot some trains as they came rumbling through. I've been very interested, lately, in trying to get a few good train shots. I don't know where this interest comes from, since I'm a people photographer, but I think I'm going to put this on my 2015 list of projects.

My favorite train photo

My favorite train photo

When we took off, we found we were in for another treat. There was a special event in town that brought in a large group of Civil War re-enactors. They became additional subjects for our photowalkers. They had several displays and demonstrations set up along Shenandoah St. and were very obliging to our 30 cameras clicking away.

Civil War drummer boy

Civil War drummer boy

We had a steep hill to climb, next, but it provided everyone a great view of the historical town, the railroad bridges, and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. I had high hopes that Mother Nature was going to put on a spectacular fall foliage show, but we were still a couple of weeks early for that.

On the hill climb, we came across two churches, one in ruins. St. Peters was open for photographs, and many went inside for stained glass photos. The ruins of St. Johns pulled in nearly every one of our walkers, trying to capture something special. I spent most of my effort on the steeple of St. Peters.

St. Peters Steeple

St. Peters Steeple

While we were heading up the hill, we stopped by Jefferson Rock. It is supposed to be the very rock where Thomas Jefferson stood in October 1783 and wrote that “this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.” I'm not sure how they know this is the exact rock, but the view is awesome.

After a trip through the old cemetery, we headed down the main drag of Washington St. to our walk endpoint, the Potomac Grill. The folks there treated us right and served up some great food. We sat around, chimping each others' photos, eating, and chatting for another hour or so. I'm pretty sure everyone had a good time.

Harpers Ferry street

Harpers Ferry street

I've set up a Flickr group for the walk, and several photographers have started to populate the gallery. If you're interested, click here.

I ran through the walk to, hopefully, entice you to join one when you get the opportunity or set one up yourself. They are fun events and opportunities to try new things with your photography. They happen all year long and most are free. You need to get out and use your camera.

Our thanks to all who came out.

Our group for the 2014 Worldwide Photowalk

Our group for the 2014 Worldwide Photowalk