Shooting battle re-enactments
Words by Andy Myatt
The bank holiday weekend dawns and brings with it the usual weather, a combination of sun and showers. I won’t let it dampen my enthusiasm to get out and take some shots, as my wife, Hannah, has noticed a Battle of Waterloo re-enactment is taking place. A perfect family day out for my wife, our six-year old son, me and my new camera, a Canon EOS-1Ds MkIII.
Checking out the event using Google on the Internet gives me an idea of what to expect. The group doing the re-enacting have images on their website, which is really useful.
My standard kit is already packed, as it goes everywhere with me. Something I have added today, at my wife’s prompting, is my tripod. I might not need it though as with the Image Stabilization on my 70-200mm lens, I can shoot handheld down to 1/30sec and still get sharp shots. Also, I want to try shooting at higher ISOs; I usually stick at 100 or 200. My new camera has also necessitated another addition to my kit: bigger memory cards. I’m now using 8GB cards, whereas with my old camera, I could get 200 shots on a 2GB card.
When we arrive, it’s already raining, so it seems the weather forecast was right. As we approach the ‘battlefield’, we can smell the cooking and see the guns. We soon lose our son, Joshua, to the gun displays. One of the soldiers is explaining how the gun works and even lets him have a go at pulling the trigger (minus the gunpowder and shot of course), which gives me the perfect opportunity to ask if it’s okay to take pictures. I get a warm reply of ‘yes, please do’, along with a generous offer to show me around.
I head in the direction of some soldiers lining up, and I’m off! With the 70-200mm lens on my 1Ds MkIII, I proceed around the encampment, a mass of red, green and blue uniforms. I spy a guy with a great beard and bearskin, a French pioneer as it turns out, so settle myself down to try to get some candids of him. It’s also a good spot to grab some shots of the ladies cooking and demonstrating. I’m careful with the background though as it’s full of parked cars, which could ruin the shot.
Some of the uniformed soldiers turn out to be children so I attempt some more candid images, to get them looking natural. I still want the background out of focus, but want a little more detail to provide some context for the subject, so I open up to f/4 and check that the shutter speed is above the focal length of the lens, ie. 1/200sec.
When the action starts, I look for another good spot. This turns out to be a little way from the main crowd and along the safety line. There’s even a tree for support. And the sun is coming out too, so I take the opportunity to crank up the shutter speed and keep the ISO down at 200.
I’m trying to get a shot of the terrific flash of gunpowder as the flint strikes when the guns fire. Changing to ISO 400, I select continuous shooting on the motordrive and hope that five frames-per-second is fast enough. After a few attempts, I realise that there’s a delay between the trigger being pulled and the flash. So I focus on one soldier and wait until he takes aim, then I press the shutter button for a burst of seven shots. A quick glance at the monitor tells me that two of the seven look perfect. I quickly delete the ‘flash-less’ ones and continue in the same method.
Even when the torrential rain sets in, I stick with it. There’s just too much going on to miss out. I simply cover my kit, which draws a few bemused looks from the crowd, and keep shooting, knowing that the camera is protected. In fact, the rain gives a nice feel to the action shots.
With my 2x converter on, I try singling out individual soldiers and small groups. The converter means I have to keep an eye on shutter speeds, so I’m glad I paid the extra to get the IS version of the 70-200mm lens.
The rain eventually stops, dead (well, pretend dead) guys lie all over the field and it seems that Wellington is victorious again. And so are we. We’ve had a great day out, despite the weather, but that’s what bank holidays are all about – family and photography.
My kit bag is always packed ready to go, because I take it everywhere and I don’t want to miss an opportunity. In it is my Canon EOS-1Ds MkIII, a 70-200mm IS f/2.8 (possibly the best lens I own; it’s never off the camera) and a 17-40mm, which is great for landscapes and general wider stuff. I also carry 1.4x and 2x converters, in case I need that little bit extra reach. There’s also a 420EX flashgun in there.
The Spectacular Knights of Lulworth do battle twice a day throughout the weekend. If you’re feeling a bit more peaceful, check out the Fiery Jack Juggling show or shoot candids at the medieval trading village.
Llancaiach Fawr, Wales
A recreation of Charles I’s visit to the town in 1645. Winchesters Regiment will be putting on a display of pike, musket and artillery, and drills, plus there’s a living history encampment.
Bodelwyddan Castle, Denbighshire
As well as combat displays and battles, this festival offers falconry and music.
Lanark Medieval Festival
Scotland’s biggest show offers Vikings, battles and beer.
They claim this is “the closest you’ll get to history short of a time machine”!
The Victory Show
A two-day extravaganza commemorating the end of the Second World War, with 35 re-enactment groups.
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