Home Events Steampunk: The genre where posers are posers and photographers are loved

Steampunk: The genre where posers are posers and photographers are loved


Until a year ago, I had never heard the term ‘Steampunk’ and had absolutely no idea what it was and what was involved. By chance, I happened to see a posting on social media advertising an event which was to be held at Bressingham Steam Museum in Norfolk, England, in early July. That’s less than sixty miles from my home, so I decided it was worth a visit.

Before the event, I did check Wikipedia’s definition of Steampunk. As I learned, it is a sub-genre of science fiction that incorporates retro-futuristic technology and aesthetics inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.

Alternative history

Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the Victorian era or the American Wild West, where steam power remains in mainstream use or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk is a design style inspired by Victorian-era industrialism.

Science fiction author K.W. Jeter is credited with creating the term Steampunk in 1987 to describe a style of fantasy fiction that featured Victorian technology, especially technology powered by steam. The style first appeared in mainstream pop culture in the late 2000s and is currently used in several design genres, including fashion, literature, film, television, video games and DIY projects.


The Bressingham meeting was rather sparsely attended, but those who did attend were extremely enthusiastic about their hobby and very accommodating when asked for a photograph. I really enjoyed the day and was delighted with some of the images I captured using the SL2 and 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit SL lens. I was advised that there would be the world’s biggest Steampunk Festival in Lincoln during the last weekend of August, and so was determined to learn a little more about the genre by attending.

The Steampunk genre was originally inspired by the fictional works of Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells, who wrote popular science fiction romances in the late 1800s. Today, the genre emphasises both the use of older technologies as well as retro-looking futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have imagined them. Steampunk designs often mix digital media with traditional Victorian designs. For example, a steampunk-inspired desktop mouse might have additional mechanical parts such as brass fittings, gears, manual typewriter keys or wind-up keys.


The Lincoln Festival was a terrific experience, again with everyone being so friendly and accommodating. For this event I chose the SL2 mated with the 50mm Summicron SL lens as I didn’t want to be burdened with too much kit.

I will certainly attend some of the future events and would strongly advise anyone who is interested in character or portrait photography to do the same, particularly if, up to now, you have been hesitant to approach people for a close-up shot. As I’ve discovered, people who dress up for effect love having their photographs taken and will go to a lot of trouble to get the pose just right. The photographic opportunities are endless, and I’m sure you will enjoy the experience.

Read more from Tom Lane

More Steampunk on Macfilos

A version of this article first appeared in the magazine of The Leica Society. Visit the Society and join in order to receive your regular copy of TLS Magazine.

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  1. Hi Jonathan, good to hear from you and I trust that Emma and yourself are keeping well. It certainly would be good to get together again and I was trying to remember the last time. It was on one of the One Challenges and you were “playing” with the Leica T with a Visoflex housing. Don’t know why the faces turned out as they did, as if I remember correctly the only editing I did was to create a radial gradient around the subjects, invert that gradient and then darken the background to emphasis the subject. The photo’s were taken late morning/early afternoon in very bright light and so that may have given the faces that washed-out apperance.
    Cheers, Tom

  2. hi There Tom
    I hope that you’re well and that we bump into each other again before too long.
    What a great article, and splendid shots (although I do agree with David B about the processing, especially on the faces.
    All the best

  3. I’ve read steampunk graphic novels, but until reading your post had no idea it was ‘a thing’ — men AND women putting on festivals.

    I loved the variety of approaches you showed in your photos. And — was that a hint of British colonialism I detected?

    Thanks for a fun view of a different style!

    • Thanks for your positive comments Kathy which are greatly appreciated. Yes, both men and women are involved, probably in equal numbers and details of the many events can be found on the “Steampunk” website.
      Best regards, Tom

  4. What do you do to these photos after you’ve taken them, Tom?

    Although there’s plenty of sharpness, and colours overall look bright and cheerful, the faces look – to me, anyway – ‘washed out’, as if their colour and contrast have been diminished.

    All the regalia are interesting, but the people, and their character(s) appear to have been thinned out and washed away, somehow.

    The sky in the first one, for example, looks sombre and threatening – as if added in from somewhere else – but the man’s face looks, to me, almost featureless ..Wh-wh-what’s up, Doc? ..It’s as if everywhere else, apart from the lowering sky, the contrast’s been removed..?

    • Hi David
      I think the pictures are great – but I also think that Tom has overprocessed the faces (sorry Tom!). The new AI masking in lightroom tempts you to bring up the faces (and rescues them if they are underexposed) – and to dramatise the skies and add ‘clarity’. In essence it’s a variant on HDR.

      It’s a brilliant feature, but so easy to over-do

      all the best

    • Hi David, in the main, for these images I made a radial gradient around the people, inverted the gradient and then darkened the background to provide more emphasis on the subject. I may be wrong, but I don’t remember specifically doing any editing to the actual faces and I certainly wouldn’t have decreased the contrast. The photo’s were taken late morning/early afternoon and it was a very bright day, which could have resulted in the faces having that washed-out appearance. The edits produced results which I and others have liked, but I do appreciate your opinion and comments.
      Best regards, Tom

      • “..I made a radial gradient around the people, inverted the gradient..” ..er, sorry, Tom; you lost me at ‘radial gradient’..! ..But maybe by ‘inverting’ the gradient, that ‘softened’ the central faces, and ‘hardened’ the peripheral area.


        I don’t use PhotoShop, so I really don’t understand the lingo! ..But thanks for the response!

  5. Fascinating stuff! Another reference for you is William Burroughs and his book the “Naked Lunch” whose text inspired Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to call their band “Steely Dan”

  6. Hi Tom, thanks so much for a very entertaining read and a cracking set of photos. Your lenses really delivered the goods – incredibly sharp portraits with nicely blurred backgrounds. What a friendly, imaginative, and very helpful collection of subjects. I was aware of the Steampunk movement, but have never seen an exponent on the wild. I shall now be on the lookout for a festival within driving distance of where I live. All the best, Keith

    • Thanks for your positive comments Keith which are greatly appreciated. Yes, the SL2 and the SL lenses do produce some stunning images which are ideal for this type of photography. However, from an enjoyment point of view I still prefer the M’s.
      Best regards, Tom


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