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Civil War Trust

Winning Photos and Photographers

An Interview with Vernon Bettencourt

"Framed by the Future..." by Vernon Bettencourt was selected as one of the winning photos in the Preservation Threats Category within the 2012 Civil War Trust Photography Contest. In this interview we asked Vernon about this winning photograph and his photographic interests. See all of the 2012 Civil War Trust Photography Contest Winners »

framed by the future
"Framed by the Future" by Vernon Bettencourt

Civil War Trust: Tell us more about how you captured this remarkable photo "Framed by the Future."

Vernon Bettencourt: The Reenactment of the 2d Battle of Manassas was held at Cedar Creek Battlefield, which is only about 30 miles from our home in Winchester. Having recently purchased a Canon f4 L 500mm lens, I was anxious to see what it could do. During the reenactment, the uncanny resemblance of Stonewall Jackson's reenactor caught my eye. As he rode in front of the machinery in the background, the juxtaposition was undeniable. Time had certainly passed and with it great advancements (the very equipment I was using to capture the shot), but how much history has been lost and with no record?

Civil War Trust: Have you had the chance to photograph many Civil War battlefields? What are some of your favorite to shoot at?  

Vernon Bettencourt: I had the opportunity to participate in Dr Charles Poland's (now retired) Advanced History of the Civil War class at Northern Virginia Community College. For eight years, we spent 4 summer weekends visiting most of the obscure and famous battlefields in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. As part of my class project, I documented all of these through photography, though admittedly pure amateur at the time! But this past Father's day, my daughter who lives in Virginia said her present to me was a trip to Antietam, but only if I entered any resulting photos in the Trust's contest. We have both walked foreign fields in defense of this country, and walking Antietam together, were overwhelmed again at what had been lost on our own shores so that this Nation shall never perish. 

Civil War Trust: What sort of photographic gear do you like to bring to the battlefield?

Vernon Bettencourt: My new favorite is the Canon 500mm.  With this lens I use a tripod with a Wimberly Head.  As an Old Soldier myself, I believe nothing brings the battlefields to life more than reenactors.  The Big Glass lets you get close to capture their emotions, equipment, uniforms, and interactions.  To capture the expanse of the battlefield, I use a Tokina f2.8 11-16mm wide angle.  My go to lens is the Canon f2.8L 24-70mm due to its sharpness and versatility.  For these lenses I use a tripod with a Really Right Stuff head and L bracket, and a circular polarizing filter to pop skies, clouds and foliage.  Where appropriate, I like to use HDR post-processing to highlight terrain features and sky backgrounds, particularly during the golden hours.

Civil War Trust: What sort of secrets can you share about taking great photos at Civil War battlefields?

Vernon Bettencourt: As a veteran, the reality of war is always present when I shoot photos on a battlefield. The reality is, no matter the policy or strategy, there on the field, it is about those who fought. War is horribly personal and devastatingly lethal. Greater decisions may result, but there on the ground, it is about the people -- those who sweat, bled and cried for something bigger than themselves. In my mind, the greatest photos are close ups of the reenactors -- the closest we will ever be to the emotions, expressions, fears and hopes of those who stood on a battlefield believing they stood for what was right.

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