How to shoot re-enactment photography
There were quite a few spectators wandering around and not much space, so I used a 24mm lens on a full-frame DSLR (around 16mm on a crop-sensor camera), which I thought would make a nice environmental portrait.
Since this is effectively a group shot, it’s better to concentrate on the people and not be hidden behind a camera, so I used a tripod.
Because my camera was firmly mounted, I chose ISO 100 and raw format for maximum quality. Manual exposure mode, single shot and Daylight white balance were also selected.
Focus and expose
A large depth of field is needed for a group shot like this because it’s important to get all the soldiers in focus. I set up the shot without making my subjects wait in place, then asked them to assume their positions.
To maximise depth of field, I focused about one third into the group. I used Live View to manually focus on the bottle on the ground. An aperture of f/11 gave enough depth of field, so I then captured a test image and fine-tuned it using the histogram so that the white clouds were not quite burning out.
How to compose
To capture an image of people from standing height is not the best choice, especially if they are shorter or in this case sitting down. A low angle is more intimate and looks as if you’re part of the group.
I spent some time making sure the angle of view kept modern-day objects out of view as much as possible. With permission, I removed the rope barrier from in front of the scene and arranged their authentic props just a little for a better photo composition.
It’s a good idea to introduce yourself and ask people whether they mind posing for you. It’s often hard for re-enactment performers to carry and conceal a modern camera, so they’ll appreciate a good photograph. Offer to send them an image in return for their help – you’ll be surprised how far some people will go to help you get a great shot if you’re polite and ask nicely.
The major challenge you may have with these events is crowds. Although lots of people equates to lots of potential subjects, having so many milling about means it can be very hard to have clean or authentic backgrounds.
Early or late in the day provide the best opportunities, because there’s more space and people are more relaxed and have time to work with you. Also, light can be an issue at midday with bright sunlight causing excessive contrast – using shady locations or a small fill reflector could help here.
As you’ll see in the processing steps, we exposed a raw file as brightly as possible, which meant that we could use lots of fill light without losing much quality.
The Dunkirk Tommies
This group put on a display depicting the Royal Norfolks in France in the days leading up to Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation.
Here you see them in a rare off-duty moment sharing a bottle of beer and catching up on news from home. Their aim is to accurately portray the uniforms and equipment used by the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in the early months of the Second World War.
They are a group of like-minded people who enjoy displaying and interacting with the public to enable history to be seen in a way that’s a refreshing change from dusty, glass-fronted museum displays.