My newspaper covers an area spanning three counties. Within our coverage area is the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Fla. It is the second busiest national cemetery in the country. It also happens to be turning 30 years old this year.
For this year’s Memorial Day project, I was tasked with photographing 30 voices related to veterans or veterans services. This included cemetery care takers, families of deceased veterans who are buried in Bushnell, honor guards and so on.
This was a huge assignment with only a few weeks to plan, organize and photograph all of the subjects.
The first subject I lined up was the man who spearheads the placing of more than 100,000 flags at the headstones of veterans who are buried in the cemetery. The flags go up in the cemetery the day before Memorial Day and come down the day after. Thousands of volunteers make this happen within an hour or so.
Since we weren’t going to be able to wait to get the images live at the cemetery, I shot a portrait of the man in his backyard with a handful of the flags that they prepare by hand.
Another section of this project focused on the role of our local American Legion Post 347 – the largest post in the world. I photographed details of the honor guard members during a internment ceremony at the cemetery.
On a separate day, I spent over 16 hours on site at the cemetery, photographing the workers in the morning and family members of deceased veterans in the evening. During my time with the workers, I photographed everything from grave digging to headstone engraving.
For the family member photos, I wanted them to be tasteful, respectful and showcase how much respect they had for their veteran. I used a pair of speedlights, one with a small softbox and the other either unmodified or with a snoot, to create dramatic lighting balanced with the fading ambient light.
Another aspect of this project had me shooting portraits in our studio with a projected background. This was challenging as the shutter speed had to be extremely slow to get the full color cycle of the projector. One of my favorites was of the man who was leading the Florida effort to find photographs for every service member from Florida whose name is on the Vietnam Memorial wall.
I spent many more mornings and evenings trying to capture the serene settings of the cemetery.
It was humbling to be tasked with such a responsibility. I couldn’t have pulled this off without the help of my colleagues who helped schedule shoots, worked as grips on sets and covered all the daily shoots I couldn’t do. Without them, this would have been impossible. And while this collection of frames may seem like a lot, these images only represent some of my favorites from the project. There were many, many more.
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