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.