Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: drew ()
Date: April 18, 2012 02:32AM

I'd like to hear from the road warriors among you, past and present.

Last spring seemed to be my "assembling my kit" phase. Now I'm in the "assembling my camp" phase, as I have a handful of reenactment and living history events scheduled in the next several months. (Whee!)

I've been poring over the archives here over the past several weeks--even reconstructing the broken links to photos that many of the members here have posted of their compounds and backdrop set-ups.

While a lot of the posts are descriptive, as in "here's my set-up," what I'm interested in hearing and learning more about is "here's why I chose a wall tent over a wedge" or "I rig my backdrop like this because…"

I've been studying the great variety of set-ups various members have posted; Robert Szabo, Chris Morgan, Steve Ingram, and Ken Berry come to mind.

I myself am leaning toward the more spartan end of the spectrum—partly because that's how I roll and partly because I've got to make it all fit in a Subaru Impreza.

So I'm thinking a wedge tent (perhaps a convertible, akin to THIS), and rigging up a simple support for my backdrop. A fly off the front of the tent isn't out of the question. Any poles that won't fit in the car will likely be drilled to accept u-bolts that will secure them to my roof rack crossbars. winking smiley

I know there's no one-size-fits-all approach. But for those of you that are using or have gone with similar set-ups in the past, I'd love to hear what your little aggravations are, what you love about your set-up, how it contributes to your workflow and/or sanity, and what you would do differently if you had the chance.

And how the heck do you keep a backdrop supported by a couple of sticks from turning into a sail on a windy day?

Thanks in advance for your time!

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: cmorganf64 ()
Date: April 19, 2012 07:22PM

Ive been through various stages of a compound over the last 10 years...from a 6-foot standard a-frame to a 10X12 wall tent to a 9ft a-frame and back to a wall tent.

The time I enjoyed it the most was when I had the 6 ft was cramped, but quick and easy to setup and take down. I had my work table, sleeping spot and room for all of my gear packed in there. That tent and a backdrop was a nice setup.

I originally went to a wall tent when I had too much crap I didnt need to carry with me. I scaled back to a 9 ft a-frame for a while. I am back to a wall tent because my family will be going out with me more, so I needed the space for them.

As for the backgound...I use 2X2's with large masonry nails driven into the top and bottom. The bottoms stick into the ground so the legs do not slide out from under it, and the top pins allow the top background rail and upright ropes to hook to it. I have 2 ropes on each side staked down as well as tent stakes across the bottom (each end and the middle) to hold the bottom tight. Using heavy canvas helps too. I use the canvas drop cloths from Sherwin Williams...they are heavy, tight, and seamless to 9 ft wide.

The "its a backdrop, not a flag" secret (for me) is that I use 24" long iron tent stakes for the sides of the background and 18" stakes for the bottom of the background. Ive never (knock on wood) had a backdrop go down using this method.

Ive scaled back what I take to events and that helps...especially on Sunday afternoons when you are tired from a busy weekend!

Im not a fan of those baker's reason Im not a fan is that when its open...its all open. No privacy for when you need to get away for a second to drink a mountain dew or something. I have my finishing table just inside the tent to keep dust and roaming fingers off of my unfinished plates. It allows me to varnish and such out of the wind.

I think a fly out front is important. Its a great place for shade and to draw people in when its hot. I have been putting my darkroom under the edge, keeping it somewhat cooler.

Ill try to take some photos of my setup this weekend while Im down at Fort Macon shooting.


C. Christopher Morgan
~Wet-Plate Collodion Artist~
North Carolina

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Bruce Schultz ()
Date: April 19, 2012 09:29PM

I have a baker, but it has a partition to separate the living quarters from the fly area. I put up a backdrop over the partition and it works well.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Ray Morgenweck ()
Date: April 20, 2012 11:34AM

Buy a used Chevy Astro Van. You're shooting yourself in the foot trying to do camp and gear in a little car.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Bruce Schultz ()
Date: April 20, 2012 12:50PM

Or get a small trailer.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Ty G ()
Date: April 20, 2012 07:02PM

I also started with a large wall tent and all the junk. Ended up using an A-frame with a fly draped over it and used two poles to hold up one side of the fly essentially making something that looked sort of like a baker tent. The side of the tent and the fly was used as the backdrop.

My goal got to where I could be as minimal and portable as possible. My reason is because I would sometimes get those "junk" events where no one was there and I wasn't doing anything but sitting on my butt. The organizers made a big deal about no vehicles in the area until Sunday at 2 pm. They would make sure we on sutler row knew that so we could not leave. So, to hell with those dudes, I made everything so portable, I could be gone within two trips as soon as the sun went down.

For one year, I used a handcart which had a darkroom built in (Bruce has it now). The back was storage and everything I had could fit into that cart. One event, there were literally four reenactors who slept over. It was a small living history event which turned out to be a lot smaller than expected. The organizers saw me packing up and made sure to tell me I could not bring my truck in. So, in ten minutes, I rolled my loaded handcart right past the main desk to the truck. Our events here in the Texas area are hit and miss.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/20/2012 07:07PM by Ty G.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: RobertSzabo ()
Date: April 21, 2012 04:13AM

I still have a 9 foot A-Frame. Its 9 foot long and 7 feet high. I can put my work table and cot in it along with other boxes. I set a fly in from of that and have a similar back drop as the one Chris described set near the tent and fly.

Ray is right about a mini van. What a pleasure to load and unload. You would be amazed at what you can put in one.

Ive gone through 2 of them though from many miles with too much stuff in it.

I now have an 18x18 hip roof tent with a skylight in the roof. Its great to have it all under one roof. No more working in the sun on a hot day. I can still shoot in the rain too if its not too heavy. I have actually shot in a fairly steady rain by closing the skylight and pulling down the sides of the tent. This set up will NOT fit in your vehicle though smiling smiley I recently got a small 5x8 trailer pulled with a full size van. My tent was 18x24 when I got it. I happy for the day it was pulled out my hands in a heavy wind while 4 other guys were helping me with it. It tore it up and I had to have it repaired. I had it cut down to 18x18 then. Its now a LOT easier to setup and I can do it by myself though I prefer to have some help with the ridge pole. I can also turn it any direction on sutler row and still have the skylight face north.

I never had a problem with the backdrop. It is a pain in the wind but good long stakes and rope will hold it down. If you get it set right in the first place and have sides on the thing about 4 feet you wont need to move it. Take a compass.

and just ONE reason why i like to do pirate events. My lovely assistant Nicole. Who is now pouring plates herself with her own setup.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/21/2012 04:18AM by RobertSzabo.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: drew ()
Date: April 21, 2012 07:29PM

Thank you, thank you, and thank you, everyone.

Your thoughts and insights are a tremendous help.

Ray, Bruce and Bob: I hear you loud and clear about a minivan and/or trailer. A dedicated, wet-plate vehicle is an eventual goal of mine, but for a variety of reasons it's completely out of the question for right now. This summer, I've got to "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." Or, as one (ahem) astute defense secretary once put it, "You go to war with the army you have—not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." For now, I'm going to be content with going small and making the most out of the tools I presently have at my disposal.

I should also note that I have a slightly larger Subaru Forester that I can also press into service, IF I'm willing to teach my wife how to drive the manual tranny Impreza while I'm away. (A whole other level of commitment…) But the Impreza hatchback also has a surprising amount of cargo space in it. I can get half a dozen square bales of hay in it. I've also had occasion to load it with six kitchen wall cabinets, including a pantry cabinet. It wasn't pretty, but it worked!

Last summer, I was using the Impreza to haul my kit to a few get togethers among friends to shot. It was tight, but at the time, my darkbox was an all-so-period U-Haul wardrobe box cut to size with a Black-and-Decker Workmate as a support. I now have a much more compact, wooden darkbox being finished by a furniture-maker friend of mine that folds down to less than half the size of the U-Haul box and holds its own legs inside. With the space savings, I should have enough room for a couple pieces of canvas, a backdrop, a small folding work table and my minimalist camping gear. Even with the head brace and pair of folding carpet chairs I recently picked up.

Bob: Thanks for the reminder to bring a compass! I'd pay to see a video of you setting up your 18x18 tent by yourself, to get an idea of how that's done. Wait, scratch that--what I'd really pay for is to watch Nicole set it up. Joking aside, I'm awestruck every time I see pictures of your skylight tent and hope to see it in person soon. Did I hear correctly that you'll be at McDowell in a couple weeks?

Bruce: I'm intrigued by the idea of a baker with a partition. That's one route I hadn't considered before. So you're basically doing your shooting under the fly area of the tent itself, correct?

Ty: Loading out in two trips? That's incredible! With your tent and fly combination, it sounds like it looked something like this: /\¯¯¯| Is that right? Was the fly draped over your a-frame's ridge pole and staked down with the other sidewall? Were you positioning sitters under the fly, with your tent's side wall as a backdrop or backdrop support, like Bruce described?

Chris: Glad to hear someone say they really enjoyed the experience of shooting in the field out of a 6-foot a-frame. I'm vacillating between that an something slightly larger, say a 9x8x7. It will be a few more years before my daughter gets over her fear of all things that go 'boom!' so I've got some time before the whole family will be saying they want to come along and the necessity of a wall tent. And your description of how to anchor down the backdrop makes complete sense to me. Thanks for the clarity on that point.

Chris and Ty: Thank you both for the tips and observations on working in the field in general with an A-frame. This really seems to be where I'll be going, at least at this point in my wet-plate ventures. Thanks for sharing the reasons you had for going that route and why it worked for your particular situations.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Ty G ()
Date: April 22, 2012 02:39AM

Drew, your representation is exactly as I did it. The fly did drape over the ridge pole only about half way down the other side. I staked it out away from the tent a little to help with rain. Also, at night or in rain, I would undo the fly poles and tie the fly angled down and store stuff under it. With it angled down, rain flows off pretty good.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Ray Morgenweck ()
Date: April 26, 2012 01:01PM

The decade I was active in the field it was sometimes 20 events a year and I tried to bring all the comforts I could, backup supplies and plenty of food. My pack up on Sunday was legendary. Many times I felt as risk for a heart attack or stroke. Considering the prep work during the week, packing the van, the Looooong drive (no CW stuff in south jersey)... The setup, work, teardown and looooong ride home, the events swallowed up WAY too much time. The ONLY thing I really enjoyed was the third beer Saturday night sitting at my tent all alone

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Bruce Schultz ()
Date: April 26, 2012 02:55PM

I agree Ray. People have no idea how much prep time is involved, baking plates, mixing chemicals, repairing broken stuff, cleaning and cutting glass, etc.
I even underestimate how much time it takes to get ready, although I'm getting better, and often find myself up til midnight before leaving the next day to make sure I have everything ready.
That's why it galls me when people scoff at the price for an image. I don't even try to explain the cost when they act like it's more than they are willing to pay.
Then there are those who ask the dumbest question: "Are you really making picture?" No, I dragged all this stuff 200 miles, worked my butt off setting it up, just to look like a photographer. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
This past weekend I was at an event at Fort Jackson, south of New Orleans. It was wonderful that I didn't have to put up a stitch of canvas. Shot everything in the brick casemates, even though I had south light, and they looked fantastic. Some folks even wanted to pose in full sun so the brickwork would show up better.
The wind was horrible, 30-40 mph, but it was only breezy inside the fort so I didn't have a problem. One piece of advice: DON"T BUY SHORT TENT STAKES (10-12 inches). Go for 18 inch stakes so you'll be able to keep your setup secure in any kind of wind. I got away with short stakes down here where there's plenty of clay soil, but in the sandy soil around Shiloh my stakes didn't hold worth a crap.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: drew ()
Date: September 28, 2012 03:41PM

Well, It's been a good while since I first posed this question, and I'm grateful for all of your responses, advice, warnings, etc. A special thanks to Ty for helping me think through some of this over the phone back in the spring. I shamelessly stole some of his ideas in terms of set-up, and it has worked wonderfully.

Some things I might change/add:
    [*]A teal backdrop. As noted elsewhere, plain canvas is simply too light for rebs and those in white shirts. I might even try to figure out how to rig it to the tent/fly configuration so I can continue to keep everything compact.
    [*]A rug - a nice 4x6 or 5x8 wool rug would be a nice touch for wider shots.
    [*]A small table. I have all the parts; it's just a matter of assembly.
    [*]Period bucket and/or barrel on stand.
    [*]A better looking sign! Mine is hideous.

These images are from my most recent event at Camp Nelson, near Nicholasville, Kentucky. I started small, with a handful of events this season. Looking forward to expanding the calendar in 2013.

The set-up:

Packed up and ready for the road. Camera and folding chairs riding shotgun. Cooler with food and drink on floorboard behind driver's seat. Headbrace disassembled and rolled up in the grey towel in the foreground. The darkbox legs (right) normally ride in the darkbox. In this case, the darkbox is holding some extra, uncut glass. Tent canvas, bedroll and clothes are in the rooftop carrier outside of this shot.

And some shots from the field:

Thanks again, everyone.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Bruce Schultz ()
Date: September 29, 2012 12:16AM

Nice images. Stay simple and light.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Bruce Schultz ()
Date: September 29, 2012 03:13AM

I traded a tintype for a blue enameled cookpot to hold about 3 gal water. A keg would b nice but costly.
Ive made lotsa wood boxes outta scrap to hide modern stuff.
Your sign looks no worse than mine. Put too much thought or money into this and you lose the itinerant look. But u definitely need a table. I have 3. A small one and 2 larger taller ones for work and display.

Re: Seeking advice on camp/compound
Posted by: Ty G ()
Date: October 01, 2012 01:49PM

Nice, nice, nice.

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