Category Archives: Military

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady: A Tribute

I have always been a man with wide-ranging and varied interests.  Photography, woodworking, history, scuba diving, archeology, impressionist paintings, Victorian architecture, you name it…I probably love it, collect it or do it.

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

Mathew Brady Self-Portrait

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that although I truly love photographing landscapes and wildlife, I actually enjoy pointing my camera at other subjects on occasion.  For example, my love of history and photography merge when I photograph a Civil War reenactment.  I know, I know…folks hear ‘Civil War Reenactors’ and their heads will turn a bit sideways and a twisted little smile sneaks onto their faces.  But the reenactors I’ve spoken to over the years don’t strike me as odd…just impassioned.  And since I’ve been accused of being overly impassioned on occasion I’m not going to cast stones!  I attended my first reenactment about 5 years ago when the boys in my Scout Troop wanted to see the local “Battle of Townsend’s Plantation.”  The guys enjoyed it so much it became an annual event for the Troop…and being a shutterbug, I always took my camera along.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with ways to make my photos look like those created in the Civil War by one of my personal heroes, Mathew Brady.  Brady (1823-1896) was a successful portrait photographer during the early days of American photography.  When the Civil War started, he dug into his pockets (to the tune of over $100,000) and sent over 20 assistants into the field in an ambitious and inspired effort to document the war in photographs.  The results both excited and shocked the American public.  It forever tarnished the idealized concept of a ‘glorious’ war.

As The New York Times put it, Brady and his team did “something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

He would justly become known as the Father of Photojournalism.   But this recognition came at a high cost.  The project bankrupted Brady, who would eventually die alone and penniless.  But his images lived on and have become part of the American soul.

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

One of the most strickingly graphic and memorable images of the 19th Century: “The home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg” Photo taken by Timothy O’Sullivan, one of Brady’s employees.

The U.S. National Gallery has most of Brady’s original photographs.  What is even better is that they are posted online and you can easily see them:  just click on this link.

When I first started taking photos at the reenactments, I would convert them to black and white and then add a sepia wash to make them look ‘old.’  But I wasn’t happy with them…they just didn’t look ‘real.’  So I first started researching how Brady and his associates actually took their pictures in an (obsessive) effort to make my shots look realistic.

I learned that Brady used what  is called the  ‘wet plate’ or collodion process which used a large heavy camera.  This system required the people being photographed to remain still for 4-10 seconds (which is why you never see ‘action shots’ from the Civil War).  The image was actually exposed onto a large plate of glass and it had to be developed within fifteen minutes, which meant the photographer had to have a portable field darkroom with him.  The developing process was detailed, intricate and unforgiving.  To make matters really interesting it also used dangerous chemicals (like cyanide!)  The resulting photos often had sections out-of-focus, shaded edges, faded areas and sometimes even fingerprints!  The glass plates often broke after being developed, resulting in photos clearly showing fractures and chips (‘restorers’ later taped broken plates back together with clear tape…which you can see on some photos).  Brady and his assistants  scratched numbers into the plates to log where and when the photo was taken (these numbers often appear backwards on the final photo).  Once on photo paper, the images could fade,  get spotted, folded and torn.  The result is a very distinctive ‘look.

For example, here is an original Mathew Brady photo of a hospital near Washington DC taken in 1863:Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Over the years, I have learned how to process my original photos in ways that reproduce the imperfections of the wet glass system.  I then add scratches, dust and discolorations to resemble aged photo paper.  Finally, I create the effects of flawed glass plates by painstakingly reproducing the cracks and chips found on original Brady photos stored in the U.S. National Archives.  For example, here is a shot I took a few weeks ago…compare it to the original Brady photo above:

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

‘Here they come boys…’

What do you think?   Being obsessive, I’d never say anything I’ve created is ‘perfect’ but I think I’m getting pretty darn close.

It’s kinda ironic…I spend hours on my landscape and wildlife photos removing each and every imperfection…and here I do my best to do the exact opposite:)

Here are some of my other ‘Bradyesque’ efforts:

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Did this guy know how to strike a pose, or what?

 

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

“The Fallen”

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Coffee and a Cigar

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

One advantage to using a modern camera is that I can photograph moving figures (which would have appeared as blurs on a wet plate photo).  It isn’t historically accurate, but if Brady had cameras available that could freeze action, I’m pretty sure he would have used them ecstatically.   The shots below are the type I imagine he would have taken…

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

“Pickett’s Charge”

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

“Ghosts of the Past”

 

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew BradyReproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

 

Reproducing the Civil War Photography of Mathew Brady

Believe it or not, some guys, like Robert Szabo,  actually still use wet plate photography.  I admire that kind of devotion, but it’s not for me.

Anyway, thanks for letting me indulge in this little tribute to Mathew Brady.  My blog will now return to my usual subjects of (modern) landscapes and wildlife.  But we should never forget that photography can be so much more than just pretty pictures…as Brady once said, “the camera is the eye of history.”

Take care!
Jeff

 

PS:  I rarely see sharpshooters at these reenactments, here is a lucky shot I got of one at the Battle of Townsend’s Plantation last month (Ed Rosack, is that you?):

Reproducing the Civil War photography of Mathew Brady:  A Tribute

Also posted in Historical Tagged , |

Sun ‘n Fun Airshow 2014: A Photographer’s Perspective

Recently, I made my most expensive photographic purchase ever.  I broke down and bought a Nikon 200-400 f/4 zoom with a TC 14E teleconverter.  Even though I got it used, I spent a stupid amount of money.  Heck,  it’s actually worth twice as much as the ten year old vehicle that I drive now (“Please, steal my van but just leave the lens!”)  But I really needed/wanted the lens.  I’m taking a photo trip to the artic this September and I was able to justify the expense because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to photograph Polar Bears in the wild…and I simply had to have the right equipment.  At least, that argument convinced me.

And WHAT a lens!  Holy crap.  With the teleconverter, I have effectively a 560mm lens, which is nearly twice as powerful as my previous glass.  And it is sharp!  I mean like seeing individual hairs on deer at 200 feet sharp!

2014  Sun N Fun  April 04  05248

This is a 33% crop of a P-38 taking off at about 100 mph at a distance of over 500’….when I zoom in on the cockpit I can read the “NO STEP” label . Now, that’s a lens! By the way, this particular aircraft is “Glacier Girl”, which has a fascinating history. It was actually dug out of glacier in Greenland where it had been buried under 250′ of ice for 50 years! Click on the photo for a link to a detailed story

I’ve learned the hard way to get a lot of practice with new equipment before I take it out on a critical photo shoot, so this past weekend I took my new toy with me to the Sun ‘n Fun airshow in Lakeland.  Now, I suspect an airshow might be a bit out the comfort zone for many of you read this blog because of a specific interest in landscape or wildlife photography…if so, think of this as a lens review:)

The Sun ‘n Fun airshow (link) is held every April in Lakeland Florida (about halfway between Orlando and Tampa).  It is one of the larger airshows and it includes everything from ultralights to airliners.  Before the airshow begins, you are allowed to walk around and photograph the parked aircraft…which I like nearly as much as the actual flying part of the airshow.

Sun 'n Fun Airshow photography

“Bandits at 3 o’clock!” Details of stationary aircraft, like this B-17, can grab your attention despite the lack of movement

There were a couple substantial improvements to the show this year.

  1. First of all, they now have a premium photographer area that costs an additional $30 (this is in addition to the regular $35 entrance fee).  This extra fee allows you access to a private area called “the Nikon Photography Area”  (but they let folks with Canons come in too:)  It is located as close as you can to the action and it also has bleachers, which allows you enough elevation to photograph over the obstructions between you and the runway.  It made for one heck of a concentration of photographers: there was probably over a hundred grand worth of lenses on those bleachers…I even saw one guy with one of the new $18k Nikon 800mm (that made him a rock star to a gear-head like me).

    "Bandits at 3 o'clock!"

    Eighteen Inches Apart. Jeeze….

  2. The second improvement was that the Blue Angles were there this year.  Last year, they didn’t participate in Sun ‘n Fun because of the sequestering.  It had been decades since I’d seen them and I’ll tell you, I was amazed at their show.  These guys fly at 400mph with their wingtips 18″ from each other.  Now, that is one thing to read on a screen, but it is a visceral, emotion inspiring event to witness personally. Even if you are not an aviation buff, you really should treat yourself and see them fly at least once.  It isn’t something you will forget!

    Sun 'n Fun Airshow photography

    A “Heritage Flight” is the term used when old and new warbirds fly in formation. Seeing a F-22, P51 and P-38 like this is pretty darn cool!

I’m not going to recap a bunch of tips of how to take great airshow photos.  Frankly, this isn’t my specialty and I don’t feel qualified to give you the best advice, but there are some great recaps on the web, like this one from the well-know aviation photographer, Moose Peterson.

I love the variety you can see at an airshow, everything from graceful gliders,Sun 'n Fun Airshow photography to  state of the art warplanes.

Sun 'n Fun Airshow photography

Check out the vapor trails over the wings after this F-22 cut in afterburners!

sun 'n Fun Airshow photgraphy

If it looks like this guy is flying sideways, well, that’s because he IS! Some of the pilots are simply amazing!

If I’ve prompted your interest, put a note in your calendar for April next year!

I normally write much more detailed (long-winded) blogs, but I’ve got to cut this short today.  I’m packing for a trip to Yosemite.  I hope to photograph something I’ve never seen before:  a Moonbow!  What’s a moonbow?  Well, it is just like a rainbow, but you see it at night.  They aren’t common, but they are predictable and Yosemite has one early next week (if the sky is clear).  Wish me luck and I’ll share my photos with you when I return!
Jeff

 

Sun ‘n Fun Airshow photography

 

 

Also posted in Aerial Photography, Central Florida Photo Locations

Sun ‘n Fun Airshow Photo Tips & Guide

Okay, I know most of you read this site because of your interest in landscape and/or wildlife photography.  So, why is this blog about an airshow?  Well, I’ve had a passion about aviation since I was a kid and the Sun N Fun Airshow is a world class event that is located only about an hour from my home…so I just had to go!  And to be honest, a number of my readers are interested in ANY interesting photo location in Central Florida….and this one big Photo Op!  If this interests you, read on and I’ll share with you my Sun ‘n Fun Airshow photo tips & guide.

Sun 'n Fun Airshow Photo Vultee Vibrator

This beautifully polished and photogenic Vultee “Vibrator” was proudly displayed in the ‘Warbirds’ area.

If you have never been to an airshow, it’s kinda like Woodstock…for airplane nuts.  First of all, there is the airshow itself, in which aerobatic planes, wing-walkers and precision flying teams perform (like the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds).  Second, there are a lot of vintage and high performance aircraft parked on the flight-line that you can walk right up to and photograph (but be careful not to touch…a careless scrape of a camera could ruin a very expensive paint job).  Finally, there are exhibits where aviation vendors try to sell their goods.   Not only that, but you will find flight simulators, video games, food stations and lots of things to keep non-photographers happy.

photo tips & guide for Sun 'n Fun Airshow

B-25 Nose Art

Logistics:

  1. First of all, the show runs thru this Sunday, April 14, so if you want to go this year, you have to make some quick plans!
  2. Tickets are $37 for regular 1 day admission.  There is also a preferred ticket available for an additional $20.  I bought one of these but it really wasn’t worth it (you get a plastic chair, free water and nice bathrooms located at the center of the runway).
  3. The airshow is located at the Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland.  Link with directions: http://www.sun-n-fun.org/FlyIn/GettingHere/driving/directionsDrive.aspx
  4. The gates open at 8am.  The airshow runs from 3-6pm.
  5. There are a lot of affordable food and drinks vendors.
  6. Here is a link to the Sun ‘n Fun site for additional details: http://www.sun-n-fun.org/getdoc/4d0ac40c-4330-4be2-a5e3-6266d5feb194/Admission-Rates.aspx
  7. They also have an Iphone and Android Ap you can download that provided schedules, maps and other helpful info.

Sun ‘n Fun Airshow photo tips & guide for my fellow photographers:

Self-Portrait in reflection of prop spinner on a Beechcraft Staggerwing

  1. Get there at 8am!  This will allow you to get some great low sun angle shots of the parked aircraft. Also, clouds tend to form as the day progresses, so if you want some of those beautiful deep blue skies in the background of your shots, get there early.
  2. Wear comfortable sneakers.  You will be walking much of the day.  You don’t need hiking boots.
  3. Bring a hat, refillable water bottle and sunscreen..obviously there isn’t much shade:)
  4. Check out the weather report.  If you are lucky there will be a forecast of clear skies.  Not that you can’t get good shots if it is overcast, but it isn’t ideal.
  5. Unlike a lot of airshows, Sun ‘n Fun does allow you to bring backpacks and tripods.
  6. Bring a lightweight tripod.  If you aren’t blessed with clear skies or if you want to maximize your depth of field for your shots of static aircraft, it will come in handy.  It can get crowded so yes, a tripod can be awkward, but if you going to the show, why not ensure that you don’t miss that one great shot because you didn’t bring it with you?
  7. Sun 'n Fun Airshow Photo Tips

    I had a ball photographing reflections on this Lockheed Electra!

  8. Take a wide angle lens for your upclose shots of the parked planes.  A fisheye would be fun to bring as well.
  9. You will need a fast telephoto (300mm MINIMUM) for the airshow.  Set it on Shutter Priority at 1/400 second (this will be fast enough to freeze the aircraft but slow enough to give you that nice ‘blur’ on the propeller).  If jets are performing, you might need to increase to 1/000 to account for their greater speed.
  10. If you don’t splurge for the Preferred Seating, bring a lightweight folding chair.  By the time the airshow starts at 3 your legs should be getting tired and standing for all 180 minutes of the airshow wouldn’t be a lot of fun!
  11. Bring your Polarizer!  You will use this filter all day long and it will ensure that you get those rich blue skies..it will also help you manage reflections off of polished aluminum.
  12. For the actual airshow, find a location near the Announcer’s Booth (this is the center of the action).  Nearly all the action is overhead, so it isn’t critical that you get right up front.  It wasn’t terribly crowded on Tuesday when I went, so it wasn’t necessary to find a seat well in advance of the 3pm start for the airshow.  However, the weekend will be busier.

Even if you don’t have a passion for aviation, I’d encourage you to expand your photographic horizons and attend Sun ‘n Fun.  Some of the aircraft are just absolutely beautiful…bright colors, polished metal, framed by blue skies…lots of possibilities!Sun 'n Fun Airshow photo tips & guide

 

Sun n fun photo

PS:

One last thought, if you’ve never photographed the iconic Airstream Ranch, it is only about 20 minutes from the airfield.  Even better, if you are planning to be at the airshow at 8, why not get a daybreak shot of the Ranch (sunrise is just a bit after 7am now).

Photo of Airstream Ranch

Daybreak at Airstream Ranch

For details about how to get to the Airstream Ranch, you should check out the great blog by my fellow Central Florida Photographer Ed Rosack .http://edrosack.com/wordpress/2013/03/08/airstream-ranch/

Have fun!
Jeff

This photo is dedicated to the memory of Jane Wicker and her pilot, Charlie Schwenker (shown here performing at the Sun 'n Fun airshow in Lakeland Florida in April of 2013s year).

Jane and Charlie

PS:  This article is dedicated to the memory of Jane Wicker and her pilot, Charlie Schwenker (shown above & below performing at the 2013 Sun ‘n Fun airshow).
Jane and Charlie were killed on June 22, 2013 when their Stearman biplane crashed at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.
I met and briefly spoke with Jane and Charlie at Sun ‘n Fun…they clearly loved what they did and performed with passion and enthusiasm.
Rest in Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

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Can you do the Charleston? (Charleston Photo Tips)

As a photographer, it is often a challenge when you shoot a new location.  Time is always short and you don’t want to miss any cool photo ops, especially those that might be right around the corner but you just don’t know about them. If you are like me, you research the web looking for photo tips about the site and if you are really lucky, you find a recap by a photographer who helps you shoot like a pro.

Well guess what?  You are lucky because this is the recap of Charleston photo tips and locations that I wish I could have seen before I went there!  Below I’ve listed my top 6 tips for the photographer who has a day or two to spend in Charleston.

1)   Spend most of your time in Old Town

Old town is just what you would think it is, the older, historical section of the city.  It is located on the southeastern part of the peninsula that Charleston occupies and is roughly bordered by Meeting Street, Broad Street and Charleston Harbor.  It is crammed with old homes, parks and buildings that could easily consume a full day of photography.   In fact, it can be a bit overwhelming and without a guide you could spend a couple days wandering around and still miss a lot of the good stuff.  If you can, get a hotel actually in Old Town..all the photo ops are within walking distance and when you are done shooting, there are tons of restaurants and boutique shops to keep you entertained.  We stayed at the Doubletree on Church Street, which was very convenient.  http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/south-carolina/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-and-suites-charleston-historic-district-CHSCSDT/maps-directions/index.html

2)  Go on a Walking Tour

A good tour guide will help you find those locations that you might otherwise miss and ensure that you optimize your time.  Hands down, the best tour for photographers is Charleston History Tours  http://www.charlestonhistorytours.com/Tours.html This tour is targeted specifically for photographers and your guide (Joyce) will spend over two hours showing you the locations you might otherwise have missed.  Not only that, but she knows her Charleston history.  To make this a no-brainer, she only charges $23.50 for the tour.

3)  Be at Waterfront Park for sunrise

Photo tips for Charleston

Charleston’s Waterfront Park at Dawn

Photo tips for Charleston's Waterfront Park

One of the fountains at Charleston’s Waterfront Park

This park has two impressive fountains and an attractive covered pier…all three are outstanding foreground subjects for sunrise photos. This means that you can get a number of very different sunrise shots all within ten minutes of each other.  Get there at least 40 minutes before sunrise since the best color sometimes hits that early.  Parking can be difficult in the Old City but I’ve never had a problem at daybreak.  Waterfront Park is located at the intersection of Concord and Vendue Range Street.

4) Get a shot of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

Although I adore landscape and wildlife photography, I have to admit that on occasion, we humans get lucky and create something truly exquisite.  I wouldn’t usually say that about a bridge, but this one is an exception.  A great location to shoot the bridge is from a park (Mt. Pleasant Pier Park) located just under the bridge on the other side of the Cooper River in Mt. Pleasant (http://ccprc.com/index.aspx?NID=1171 at 71 Harry Hallman Boulevard Mount Pleasant, SC 29464 843-762-9946 or 843-795-4386).   It is free to enter and there is a long, new concrete pier that runs right alongside the bridge that will give you a great perspective for photos.   The sun sets behind the bridge so you can get great sunset shots here as well.

5)  Hit the outskirts of the city

If you have exhausted the photo potential of Old Town, then there are a number of plantations about 40 minutes from Old Town out on Highway 61 that can yield photo ops.  Locals recommended Middleton Place Plantation https://www.middletonplace.org/as the best of the bunch.  Frankly, I didn’t get a lot of great shots there.  Keep in mind that I visited in October and I’m sure it is more interesting in the spring when everything is blooming.

I’ve already mentioned Old Sheldon Church in a previous post http://www.firefallphotography.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=567&action=edit&message=1 .  This is located about an hour from Old Town off of Highway 17.   This is absolutely worth the hour drive from Charleston.

6)  Are you a history buff?

Then you have to see Patriots Point, Ft. Sumter, Ft. Moultrie and the Confederate submarine, Hunley.

Patriot’s Point is a wonderland for anyone with an interest in aviation, warships or all things military.  Seriously, if this kind of thing interests you (I’m certainly guilty), then you could spend the better part of a day here.  Tickets are $18 for adults and it features the U.S.S. Yorktown, a WWII aircraft carrier that is packed with aircraft and exhibits of all kinds.  They also have a submarine, a destroyer and a mock-up of a Vietnam-era support base.  Patriots Point is located at 40 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464 near the Mt. Pleasant Pier Park mentioned above.  http://www.patriotspoint.org/explore_museum/?gclid=CKGZkaHMt7MCFQu0nQodDH8AKg

Ft. Sumter was a bit disappointing from a strictly photography perspective since it really isn’t that dramatic visually.  If you haven’t been there before, you might be surprised to find that it doesn’t at all resemble those pictures you saw in the history books about Civil War…  http://www.nps.gov/fosu/index.htm

Flag at Ft. Moultrie

On the other hand, Ft. Moultrie was different from the dozen or so other Civil War era forts I’ve visited since it had been restored to look like it did during it’s heyday.  It is in Mt Pleasant and is a bit of a drive, but if you have the time, you can get some interesting shots here.

As for the Hunley, well it is a fascinating story…both its wartime service as well as its recovery, but like Sumter, you will find it difficult to get exciting photos.http://www.hunley.org/.

 

So, there you have it…a quick recap of how you might want to plan your Charleston Photo Trip.  Hopefully you have found this helpful, but either way, I’d love to have your feedback so I can improve my ‘Photo Tips’ in the future.

Jeff

Sunrise from Waterfront Park

 

 

 


 

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