It's the 16th Century with some comforts and conveniences of the 21st Century.

23rd Central Coast Renaissance Festival


Well, like a lot of things, it begins with the price of admission. This gets you past the gate to another century that includes various shows, musicians, and contests of knights in shining armor. You will also find people practicing their crafts and arts, many with merchandise for sale. You'll also find opportunities to participate in activities and revelry throughout the faire. Music, dancing and games prevail. Many events are scheduled and others seem to develop randomly. People seemed satisfied with the "fun is where you find it" approach, making specific plans for only one or two events. And keep your eyes open for your chance to get a free insult. I requested mine and was summarily addressed as a "beslubbering, cupshotten groundling" and "spleeny knotty-pated codpiece." Once I knew my position and station, I was then ready to explore the rest of the Faire.

Faces of the Faire

The shire was filled with many people and many personalities. There were vendors, performers, musicians, faeries, and visitors. The most important element they all had in common was an attitude of fun. The Pirate and The Ogre were big hits with the kids. The ogre was one of the performers of the Faire. Two little girls found him entertaining rather than frightening, and they delighted in pretending to torment the beast who was chained to a tree. It's hard to be scary with a big grin in your eyes. The pirate is a regular visitor to Faires, and he and his wife enjoy regaling and entertaining others.

Lady in Pearls and Rimlight and Facepaint are as much about the light as the people. Beautiful, complimentary light glows upon the Lady (Vogue Magazine, July 1522!). The two painted faces are separated by shallow depth of field (wide aperture) and rimlight on facial contours.

Most people made at least some effort to be "period dressed." This group of photographs is a sample of the diversity of styles and characters. From royalty to peasantry, they all were a pleasure to behold.


They congregated in small groups for food, drink, play and conversation. Some assemblies were part of "the show," and others were performers and visitors who inadvertantly became part of the show. The Queen, of course, had her own gathering of company and attendants who followed her everywhere. The ebb and flow of many other groups was more spontaneous. I sometimes found myself joining the play while making photographs. It usually didn't work very well, especially playing "kick the cabbage." The photos were marginal and I never gave a good boot to the cabbage. So much for multi-tasking.

The photograph of Her Majesty, and two of the photographs immediately below, benefit from fairly manageable light because the people were under shade canopies. Harsh light is mostly absent there, and the backgrounds are simple without distracting clutter.

Music and Dance

As much as any other activities, music also brought people together. I didn't happen upon any stage performances, but there were groups offstage and under canopies in what appeared to be planned performances. I also saw individual musicians throughout the Faire.

Late Saturday afternoon, near the main gate, a group of musicians came together and drew a goodly crowd of dancers. I don't know if this developed spontaneously or not, but it felt spontaneous, and it was good. Line dancing, circle dancing, folk dancing -- I don't know what they called the dances, but many participants were new at it and having a good time. Gold afternoon light on the dancers gave a warm glow consistent with the mood and feeling.


Besides plenty to see at the Faire, there was plenty to do. Most activities were available to everyone who wanted to get involved, and a few required an additional fee. All the stage shows were free, with tips accepted as well as notes of complaint or dissent submitted on twenty-dollar bills.

In many cases, photography was challenged by fast action and harsh, high contrast light. I look for compositions and light that enhance and direct attention to the main subject without distractions.

Although the background is a little busier than I would like, Pony Riding works fairly well. Some warm flash fill light brings the horse and people away from the background. The rider's dress and the background tents define the location to anyone who has been to a Renaissance Faire.

Mid-afternoon is almost always the worst time of day for outdoor photography. The angle of direct light doesn't define textures, doesn't separate foreground elements from background elements, and it puts unflattering hard shadows onto subjects. That's how it was when I photographed the joust and knights. As I recall, the photos of the knights shown here were blasted with flash to improve separation from the background. The best result is of the knight on the left, where the background was already substantially darker.

Simple games; simple pleasures. Children and adults enjoyed the block stacks, but the kids were the most expressive. Shown here are two special moments from the game.

The Trades

There were artisans, traders and craftsmen throughout the shire. Many were actively working their specialties and willing to explain the techniques and history of what they were doing. The traders set up shop in tents or temporary wooden structures and offered merchandise for sale there. Some worked solo, others as a team. Some sent emissaries to the street to lead the way to the shop. Like a street sign in green, That Way points to the Ale concession.

As usual, there were face-painting, hair-braiding, and henna tattoo artists ready to adorn the willing. I found a situation with soft light and a good environment that worked well for getting in close with the wide angle lens for Handful of Henna. I think this was the first time that I had seen henna that was green instead of brown. It works especially well for this photo because of the other greens here.

I also learned a lot about making Lace. Several of us watched and listened as she to told us about the technique and material requirements for making lace. She worked steadily the whole time. This was another opportunity to use a wide-angle lens. It's nice light on a beautiful woman doing something she loves, and no ugly stuff or distracting light in the background. It's one of my favorites of the day. Huzzah!

I suppose that these skills and arts continue and are routine in some parts of the world. But relatively few things are made by hand anymore in this country. Progress is fine and good, but some things remain better in the old ways.

I saw some of the same people whom I saw at this Faire last year. I expected to see more, though others were probably there and our paths just didn't cross this time. There were plenty of good-natured people to be found, though, and we shared generous measures of silliness, fun, and historical information.

And the photography was good. The renaissance faires always bring interesting people wearing cool clothes and doing interesting things. It is a pleasure to be able to preserve and share some of the fun.

Ever your beslubbering, cupshotten groundling,

Ed E. Powell

Images Copyright © Ed E. Powell
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