When I was growing up, we used to go to Battlefield Park and watch the men and women of local historical re-enactment groups perform and play-out the Battle of Stoney Creek. It has been 202 years since the war began and 199 since it ended in 1815. This weekend, I returned to Battlefield Park and Museum to watch the re-enactment and capture portraits of some of the performers.
I contacted Dana Borcea, the marketing and media relations coordinator with the Planning and Economic Development Department of the City of Hamilton, and she hooked me up with a media pass. Shout outs to Dana and all the staff who made this an awesome event! Usually when you remember thing from the past, they play out in your memory much better than in reality. Being back at the re-enactment this weekend, the event has come such a long way from what I remember as a kid. It was really amazing and extremely well put together. Kudos!
I went to the first battle re-enactment on Saturday afternoon to get a lay of the land and figure out what my best angles would be for shooting the field. The equivalent to a location scouting day on a commercial shoot. Unfortunately, for photography's sake, almost everything was straight on from a sidelines like a football game. Unlike a football game, though, it was not easy to move up and down the field.
The light in the middle of the afternoon was high, direct and harsh. Most of my shots ended up looking like shitty tourist snapshots that I wouldn't dare post here. But I walked away with a process and plan of attack on how to shoot the evening battle, which was brilliantly scheduled during the golden hour, by the way. I positioned myself up front and centre at mid-field with my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and tried to keep out the spectators' line of sight.
I was shooting in high-speed burst mode, writing to a SanDisk Extreme Plus SDHC card with a nice and fast write time. Examining the test shots from the afternoon's battle informed me that I would need to shoot around 1/80s, a slight compromise in subject movement leant itself to catching a few great, cinematic shots with noticeable muzzle flare. The lighting was great, and the gunpowder smoke on the field give these shots a real cinematic appeal.
Environmental Portraits: After the Battle Was Won
After the battle, my friend and fellow photographer Marek Michalek assisted me by carrying one of my cheap studio strobes into the different re-enactor encampments to capture some environmental portraits of the men and women. Marek carried the light and held it in place as I took the shoots.
The strobe, a cheap after-market knock-off from China, was modified with a 48" Westcott Octa XXL, mounted atop the light-weight extending pole of a Manfrotto backlight stand, and powered by a Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini on loan from another good friend, photographer Marta Hewson.
My hope going into this "seat-of-my-pants" shoot -- which I had been planning for a few months -- was to get some great environmental portraits and to create a character gallery of sorts for the event. The sun dropped quickly after the battle and we had to scurry to get the shots. Within 20 minutes, the light was too low for the the camera to grab focus and Marek began using the LED on my iPhone to illuminate the faces enough for me to grab focus and compose the shot.
A few of the shots, unfortunately, didn't nail focus. However, I am extremely happy with the shots I was able to get and the images could support an advertising campaigns for a show on the History Channel. One big, soft light giving the images a soft glow and a slightly vintage/historic look. Exactly what I wanted.
I love 'em. I hope you do, too.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I will respond.