Winning Photos and Photographers

An Interview with Buddy Secor

"Chancellorsville at Dawn" by Buddy Secor is the 2012 Civil War Trust Photography Contest Grand Prize Winner.  In this interview we asked Buddy about how he came to take this photograph and about his technique and photography secrets. See all the 2012 Photography Contest winners here »

Chancellorsville at Dawn"Chancellorsville at Dawn" by Buddy Secor - our 2012 Grand Prize winning photo

Civil War Trust: Tell us more about how you captured this magnificent photo of the Chancellorsville Battlefield.

Buddy Secor: I have been to this site [Fairview] several times. On this occasion I was shooting photos for possible use by the Fredericksburg, Virginia area National Park Service. I have volunteered my time for many other photos that they have used in their education materials. I especially love taking pictures at this site, as the sunrises coming up over the horizon are often spectacular. On this particular morning, I was actually disappointed by the cloudless sky, but when I arrived in the before dawn dark, I noticed a heavy fog laying low in the field. It was very surreal and gave an impression of a smoky battlefield. 

Civil War Trust: What sort of photo equipment do you normally bring to the battlefields?

Buddy Secor: This photo was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 24-105mm L lens set at 35mm and f20. The camera was mounted to a carbon fiber tripod and I set the camera to lock the mirror in place to minimize vibration.

I generally use a camera bag with the Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 24-105 L lens to shoot most of my photos. For extra wide angle shots, I carry a Tokina AT-X Pro 16-28mm lens. I also carry a Canon 70-300mm telephoto lens that I use on occasion to isolate images in a narrow field. I always use a tripod to stabilize the camera. In addition, I like to bring a magnetic hiking compass so that I can use azimuth information to know exactly where the sun will rise.

Civil War Trust: Have you photographed other Civil War battlefield?

Buddy Secor: I love shooting Civil War battlefields!  I live in Northern Virginia with many to visit. I enjoy taking photos in the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Manassas battlefields. I have been to many others. I very much enjoyed touring and photographing Gettysburg, especially on Little Round Top at sunset.

I began learning about the Civil War from my photography. My home was built near Aquia Landing in Stafford County, Virginia. Our home site actually had four Union cannon guarding the railroad and area in the Aquia Landing area.  I had a desire to learn about the history of my area, and started my journey to know more about the Civil War history. I initially just wanted to take pictures of cannon for the purpose of displaying them in my home, but it has grown into much more than a hobby.  In my research, I also learned that both my great-great grandfathers fought in the war for the Union. 

Civil War Trust: Share with us some of your Civil War battlefield photography secrets.

Buddy Secor: Photography is not so much about equipment and secrets, but understanding light. I try to photograph a subject in the best light with the best color that I can. I love sunrise and the golden light that comes with it. I especially love arriving in the dark before sunrise and enjoy the sun coming up while enjoying the peace and calm of the morning. Many mornings offer a very surreal atmosphere. I enjoy evening photography in the golden hour, but often the parks are crowded and the skies are marked with jet trails. 

I look for great light from sunrises, sunsets, stormy skies, and fog to help make good photos. I will return time after time to the same site to get the light and environment I want to capture. I will get up at crazy early hours in the dark to get to a site and hope the skies cooperate, and return again to do it all over again if the weather and skies don’t cooperate. I persistently keep trying to get the picture I envision. I enjoy every minute, even if I don’t get the shot I want.

I research the history of what I want to capture in camera. With an understanding of what happened 150 years ago, I can appreciate and have a better understanding of the ground I’m walking on. So many men gave up their lives for what they believed in.  

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