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Historical Recreations Through Photography

Updated on July 12, 2014
CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Reliving history has always been a fascinating subject that has many photographic possibilities and can also prove to be an excellent opportunity to sharpen your photographic skills.

The project itself involves some traveling, use of models and costumes as well as doing some historically based research. Your main objective is to locate ancient or historically important locations, research the costumes, customs, ways of life and recreate a scene from that time period. No digital editing should be needed or the need to build sets or even props, although some props can prove useful.

To understand the scope of the project lets seek an old western town such as the few that still remain in some parts of the United States. Once you have selected the appropriate location, the next step would be to pose some characters dressed in contemporary clothing, perhaps even horses or an old salon style scene complete with saloon girls in fancy era appropriate clothing, some cowboys playing cards and drinking whiskey, then take your shot.

The traveling part is obvious as many of the best known examples of surviving architectures are found in many parts of the world and unless you plan on building a complete set up /stage, then traveling to these destinations is the only viable option. Needless to say, clothing, traveling, hiring models takes money and this project is not for everyone. The majority of work focusing on this particular theme is done by photographers who have been hired by major clients interested in pursuing these types of images and for many reasons.

There are other techniques which are very similar to this project such as photographing people dressed in era style clothing which is done at several tourist locations and attractions.

This project goes a step further by adding environment and real structures, architecture and landscapes. Imagine photographing Egyptians in their full "ancient" regalia in a location where there is no sand, camels or better yet, not a single pyramid. It's not the same. This project is closely related to the cosplay style of photography but it involves including more of a scene than just actors in costumes.

Real landscapes and structures add a sense of realism that is very difficult to recreate even by the best Hollywood set makers.

The project also has an effect of bringing history back to life as it were. By photographing these old or ancient structures and sites an audience can't help but to be transported to those times and often imagine how life must have been back them. We tend to glamorize the past.

Regardless of which time period or location you end up photographing, you must attempt to make the costumes as realistic as possible as well as the props. An alternative which is less costly yet can be just as rewarding is to only shoot the landscapes and the ancient/historical structures and its surrounding environment.

Since a project of this scope can be expensive a much cheaper alternative is to seek out modern historical recreations such as those that take place in "medieval festivals" and US Civil War recreations.

Care must be paid to how you frame the scene and the light that you use, otherwise the shot just becomes a photograph of a tourists attraction. Best times are at dusk or dawn where the supple light bathes the entire scene in a golden almost mystical light.

Approach the scene from various angles and use different perspectives and try to stay away from the typical scene found on postcards. Everyone has seen those and your goal is to present the subjects in a "new light".

Do not be too focused on photographing grandiose structures, often simple scenes will serve to elicit a sense of antiquity and romanticism just as well as photographs of the Coliseum.

The number one element of this composition is to "transport" an audience to a historical location through your photographs by clearly representing where one is in a simulated time period recreation. The most important aspect are the ruins, structures or architecture of the location without the inclusion of modern day amenities such as power lines, cars and so on.

The composition is further enhanced if people are also included while dressed in time appropriate clothing. Keep in mind that the people are not the main points of interest, they are only used to add charm and interest to the complete scene, so using too many just overwhelms the scene and distracts from the main element which is the nostalgia brought about by the structures themselves.

This in essence is the main scope of the project. If you achieve this then you have made a successful attempt at making your audience "relive history" through your photographs.


Besides recording scenes that have an semblance of authenticity, you should also strive to add an air of romanticism to each shot.

Research the best angles prior to commencing your shooting and taking some prep shots helps with digital formats coming very handy at this time. Also consider shooting in monochrome since some scenes are better represented with it such as western scenes.

Romanticism can be infused into the scene through digital editing software but better yet by capturing the scene when it is surrounded by the appropriate light, thus dusk and dawn are always the best times.

Rainy, overcast and foggy days also are useful in rendering the scene in a better more appealing composition. Off course producing images that are technically sound should be your intention every single time that you pick up a camera and take a photograph.

Submit your best shots to photographic stock houses as this theme is always popular as well as to photographic publications.

Include a short story of the history surrounding your location as this makes it more probable that an editor may be more willing to purchase a good story that is accompanied by good images.

Do not limit yourself to only ancient Greece, Egyptian or western structures and sites. There are modern day sites that were built to resemble old architectural motifs such as Vizcaya Palace & Gardens located in Coconut Grove in beautiful Miami Florida.

Although popular with photographers shooting weddings and birthdays, this site can also be used to simulate the renaissance style of old Italy. Aim for sites like this when budgeting is a concern.

"Vizcaya is a National Historic Landmark; we're also a museum owned by Miami-Dade County and accredited by the American Association of Museums. Built by agricultural industrialist James Deering in 1916, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens features a Main House, ten acres of formal gardens, and a rockland hammock (native forest)." Miami-Dade

© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • JEOrtega profile image

      JEOrtega 5 years ago from Southern California

      Hi Luis,

      ...and of course we all have the photographic history of our own families back generations.