I attended the Waxahachie WWII Weekend recently. I enjoy attending war reenactments because it is always exciting to see living history in action. The actors who participate in these events go to great lengths to provide a historically accurate depiction of the war. The battle reenactment is only a small part of a day long event. I like to spend the majority of my time at these events mingling about among the actors, looking to capture those surreal moments where their faces reflect thoughts of their role in the reenactment. I strive to come away with images that look like they could plausibly be from a bygone era. I call these images "war faces".
My approach to taking these images is keep at a bit of a distance by using a telephoto lens. I used my Canon 70-200mm f/4 at this event. The idea is to be in the midst of the actors without influencing their actions if I can help it. It's human nature for expressions to change or artificial looking poses to be assumed when someone is aware of a lens pointing at them. Typically, I'll take a few shots as inconspicuously as I can until I'm noticed. Since I enjoy talking to the actors at these events, I'll then chat a bit before moving on. For characters whom I find particularly interesting, I may linger about a bit longer and ask them to just carry on and be themselves while I hang out and grab a few candids. "Don't mind me!"
The last time I shot a WWII reenactment event, I processed a lot of the images in color. This time around I chose to process in black and white. I set my camera to black and white mode for the purpose of seeing images close to what I envisioned for the final post processed files. I processed my black and white images from the raw files for maximum control over the conversion. All of the images were processed entirely in Lightroom using the black and white control panel to manipulate the gray levels of the individual colors. I kept contrast at a controlled level for a more period look.
I added some grain to the images to add some resemblance to film. Some photographers who shoot such events go to great lengths to replicate the look of old images, complete with scratches and stains. I considered that but opted to keep things looking clean. I look at it as a compromise of modern and period photography.
In addition to soldiers, there were quite a few characters such as nurses and USO personnel at the event. I made sure to grab some shots of these folks as well. The variety of characters made for a great visual story.
The actors gathered around for a safety briefing and a rousing speech by "General Patton". This gave me a great opportunity to pull some faces from the crowd.
I had a great time at this event and enjoyed hanging out with the actors for the afternoon. If you have the opportunity to attend a war reenactment, I highly recommend it. Folks there will be more than happy to show you their war face.