4 Tips to Farb-Free Photographs

Be aware of the cameras. Or should that be, “beware of the cameras”?

One of the reasons I strive for zero-farb is so that there is never an embarrassing moment caught on camera. Because lets face it, while having dedicated photographers at events is great for event & self promotion, it can be just as bad for pointing out our inaccuracies. Photographers don’t always warn us before taking our photo. Heck, some photographers even enjoy catching us at our worst. While an unflattering photo is bad, one filled with anachronisms & inaccuracies is just as bad, if not worse.

Luckily it’s not a lost cause. Here are 4 ways that you can improve the photos you end up in and ultimately end up with "farb-free photos".

1. Ditch the Spectacles.

Unless we’ve have already avoided this step by wearing contact lenses or have documented our frames with primary sources, taking off our glasses before photos is one of the fastest authenticity upgrades out there. Pop them off, tuck them into a pocket and leave them off until the camera stops clicking, the public leaves or we are doing something where they are needed for safety.

For years I used to go “blind” to 18th century events because glasses during that era are an exception not a rule. It was an eye opening experience, no pun intended. I found I was pretty good at navigating during the day, could identify people by the colors of their clothing at a distance without needing to see their faces and never minded not being able to read signs. But once nighttime rolled around, I was really lost! Taking my glasses off not only improved the accuracy of all my photos but it also gave me a lesson in just how different life was historically for someone without the luxury of perfect vision.

2. Police the Farb.

Maybe we aren’t very aware of our surroundings but once that photograph is taken, everyone will see the one plastic water bottle that was so invisible at the time. Policing the farb is something we used to encourage more but the practice seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years & can be especially lax at more modern era events.

Policing the farb is one of those habits that become easier and more natural the more regularly we do it though. For years my morning camp routine was: stoke fire, set coffee on fire, clear last nights leftover farb from camp, pour a cup of coffee & go about my day. Starting every morning by surveying our camp area & throwing out, replacing or hiding everything inaccurate sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s a blank slate of accuracy. Do the same again at lunch time. By developing regular policing habits, we will not only end up with a more accurate camp but there will be less risk of that farb being caught forever in a photograph.

3. Put away your phone.

This goes without saying, but being caught in a supposed historic setting or in historical clothing, with our nose in a modern cell phone, is pretty much the height of farb.

Does anyone else remember the days when we would laugh at someone who had their phone out at a reenactment? Why don’t we do that anymore? The only real way to guarantee that we are never caught with our phones out, is to simply never take them out. Not only does this improve our photographs but it forces us to engage with the world around us in the historic, “pre-cell phone” era we are representing. That makes for a richer reenacting experience, not just for ourselves but for everyone around us as well.

In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.

4. Don’t be a shutter hog.

This might come as a surprise to most reenactors but how “good” we are as a reenactor is not based on how many photos we are in. In fact, we can actually ask that photographers not take our picture. Shocking isn’t it! Turning down photographs is becoming more common for people doing sensitive impressions, while others choose to delete or prevent tagging of images on social media.

But just because we are in a “safe” impression doesn’t mean that we have to mug for every camera that we see. In fact, if we focus on quality over quantity for photographs, we are likely to be more happy with the results in the long run. So rather than running over for every group photo, try saying “no thank you” when someone asks if they can take your picture. We need to get away from the mindset that we “weren’t there” just because we aren’t in a bunch of photographs. Instead, focus on the experiences of the event over the static images. Afterall, which is really longer lasting, a picture that looks like we are doing something, or actually doing it?

I know, none of these are particularly earth shattering revelations. The truth is, whether we end up with farby photographs or not, is mostly dependant on the mindset that we take with us to an event. If we are focused on the experiences, the activities and willing to embrace every aspect of history while simultaneously letting go of the modern world, we will not just end up with farb-free photographs, but we will have a farb-free, “real” historical experience as well. Or as much of a historic experience possible when the camp next door is blaring Lynard Skynard & cracking open the Zima minutes after the public leaves.


Works cited
Cover Image: Joh D. Rockefeller with Photographers in London, 1929. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-08739 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5414333
Quote: “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” Alfred Stieglitz, American Photographer. 1864-1946.