Justin Lister

Civil War

Most people start photography because it is a passion. If you become lucky enough to make a living at it full time, sometimes you have to do projects that aren't exactly inspiring to pay the bills. There is nothing wrong with that, just part of life. Personal projects are my way of preventing myself from burning out. They also have a few added benefits, building your portfolio so someday you get jobs in line with your style, networking by meeting like minded people, and most importantly, having fun.

I have an ongoing project on war reenactors, this time photographing the Civil War. I chose Fort Scott, Kansas as the backdrop because it is a pristine mid-nineteenth century fort. My friend, Jared is an avid living historian and active duty soldier with many Civil War era artifacts. I wanted to shoot some “day in the life of” type images and also a few dramatic portraits. I decided on a 5 foot octobox and the Broncolor Move 1200L. This is powerful enough to match or overpower the sun and it creates beautiful, soft, natural looking light. The biggest decision I always toil with is how I should balance the strobe with the natural light. Above all else, this affects the mood of the photo. I tend to under expose the natural light 1-2 stops for a dramatic look, but this time I matched the direct sun. I took a meter reading of the sun, f4.5 and matched the Move 1200L setting it at f4.5. The final exposures were f4.5 1/500sec at ISO 100. I used a medium format digital camera so I could sync the flash at any shutter speed.

It was early in the day when this photo was taken but the sky was clear with no dramatic clouds. I knew when I was photographing this, that I would composite in a different sky. I placed the sun behind Jared like an edge light, and put the 5 foot octobox high and directly to the right about 10
feet away (see illustration). For these photos I bounced the Move 1200L off a wall behind me as a fill. I wanted a painterly look similar to American painter, Edward Hopper. I also ran a haze machine which also brought up the shadows a little and created some atmosphere.

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Below is a behind the scenes shot, showing an example of a setup using cross lighting. I placed the light so it is slightly further away from Jared, leaving the shadow side of his face towards the camera. This makes the light look more motivated, almost like it is coming from the
environment he is standing in. In this shot, i used the 5 foot October with the Move 1200L to light jared. I placed it in the doorway, just out of frame, as close as I could to Jared. I feathered the light slightly away from Jared.

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It is easy to make an excuse why you can’t photograph this or that, whether it is where you live, your budget or something else. I hope this inspires young photographers to get out and experiment with light, photograph subjects that interest you and that are around you. Photograph your siblings, your sports team, your best friend, but push yourself to do it in a new and different way. Have fun!

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