Tuesday 2 December 2008

The Death of Nelson- 200 years on

Some time ago I was commissioned to shoot a series of images to portray the life and death of Admiral Nelson, the Royal Navy hero who died at the 'Battle of Trafalgar' in 1805.
A  dream job, but a tall order as it was for an editorial client, so our budget was not enormous.
The centre piece of the series was to recreate the moment when Nelson falls on the deck of 'HMS Victory'
With the co-operation of the Royal Navy, we came up with a plan which my Producer Clare worked on for many months to put together a team of cast, crew,historical advisers, make up,props and assistants (x 5).

A date was set and we were on!

Now we were faced with a problem, we could only go onto the ship when it was closed to the public, meaning we had to wait for the last visitor to leave at the end of the day, we had to leave HMS Victory by 11pm (I think?)

To compound this problem the client was coming up with more and more shots, we had more than a dozen different shots to execute in an evening. All seemingly possible when you see them written down but in practice-Madness!

It meant that for the two key shots you see on this page we had a little more than 90 mins, yes you read that right.

We over ran on the first shot on the Poop deck, which portrays the famous moment when Nelson instructed the flags to be raised declaring 'England expects every man to do his duty'

We were working from a contemporary (ish) illustration of the moment

We wanted to get it pretty damn close and this is what we came up with.....

I found that by changing angle (getting lower) it gave a pacier look, but more to the point it covered up a multitude of historical and budget issues (ie modern buildings all around the harbour and a lack of sailors....)

Flags in the foreground lend a dash of colour (check out how many directors use flags in their movies, cheap colourful animated space fillers...)

Nelson and the officers (who had been cast to be as close as possible in looks and height as the historical characters) are lit with a large Chimera softbox on an Elinchrom Ranger to bring them away from the background.

The sailors on the rigging were added in post as we were not allowed to climb the rigging for safety purposes.

Now as photographers we can all be guilty of spending too much time before moving on to the next shot, I certainly was on this occasion, but I wanted it to be RIGHT.

This left me short of time for the next setup, which is where Nelson falls mortally wounded, from a single bullet of a sniper on the French ship 'Redoubtable' which had locked masts with 'Victory' while trying to board and seize it.

We were working from another contemporary painting 'The Death of Nelson at Trafalgar' by Dieghton

Now as you can see, from this image there are a LOT of sailors and action shown in this picture, which we simply did not have the budget for, so I decided to focus on the action on the right side of the painting, showing Nelson falling

Here is my plan from the day....

The plan was not just for me and my immediate crew, it was for all of the actors and extras so they knew which pose and position they would be in.

One thing which I decided not to compromise on this time was the position and angle of the camera on the poop deck

Even though this meant the retouching job from hell by Paul to remove the quayside buildings and skyline of Portsmouth and replace it all with another ship the 'HMS Trincomalee'  which played the role of the French ship 'Redoubtable'.

I wanted a subtle and 'painted' look to the image, so there is one main light(once again a medium Chimera Softbox on an Elinchrom Ranger) on Nelson (played by the amazing Alex Naylor) and the officers coming to his aid 

While the rest of the deck was lit with a large Chimera Softbox on a Elinchrom Ranger mounted to a Redwing cantilevered boom (my assistant Felicity calls it 'Vintage' but it rocks!) which was then mounted onto a Manfrotto Avenger 'wind up' stand to light the centre of the deck around 1 stop under the 'Nelson' light.

To top it off we then unleashed the smoke machine (operated by the brilliant and long suffering Paul Hughes from behind the large wooden chest)

Now there are many ,many things I would change about the shot.

But overall it stands

Quite an education for me, and taught me the art of the possible.

Both shots are on the Canon 1ds with a Canon 24-70mm 2.8L lens


Kevin Halliburton said...

Excellent work! Pesky budgets - Always getting in the way.

Unknown said...

Yeah but we did it! But I think if I had more budget we could have taken more time...

Thank you



Laur said...

I must say, the photos are amazing. The only two (really small) problems I have with them is the lack of water spray on the deck of the ship - which could have been easily achieved by the judicious use of a bucket - and respectively the lack of wear and tear of the sailors' clothes. It's hard to imagine them being so pristine in the middle of a naval battle. Granted, they weren't present in the original paintings either, and I can't imagine the Royal Navy agreeing with the liberal spraying of water on the decks of a National Museum...

I think I like the second shot best, your cast really went for it :)

Unknown said...

Thanks Laur

As I said I would have changed many, many things



Unknown said...

Thanks Laur

As I said I would have changed many, many things



Giles said...

Nice work, Drew.

Shame about the budget restrictions, but isn't that often the case in our industry?!

Added to this, of course, is the fact that a great majority of us, being creative types, like to see our 'vision' through - and any form of compromise will always rest somewhat uneasily.

Unknown said...

I am just curious; is one of the things you would change the shirtless guy in the second photo that looks to be having his way with one of the crew members? Or does he stay?... for flavor.

Kidding aside, great shots. Its amazing how much work goes into a production of that size even when the finished product looks straightforward to the casual viewer.

Again, great work.

Vincent said...

Great shots Drew, I love to do these staged photos.
I think it´s pretty brillantly executed and of course there´s always room for more and more. I live in Spain about 2 hours away from Cape Trafalgar and photographed the area many times. 2 years ago they re-enacted the bicentennial of the battle. All dressed up and ready to go at sea as well as on land. I did a great editorial for the magazine I used to staff for. Hope to be able to see the originals one day!

Cheers Vincent

Unknown said...

Hi Vincent

Thank you for your comments.

Yes, you are right, one can keep adding to these scenes, and never stop!

One day I would love to show the originals



Unknown said...

Hi Chadhuard

I must admit I had not noticed the guy without his shirt!




Unknown said...

I love the whole project. I think you captured the images well and remained faithful to the original art. Well done!

Unknown said...

Thanks PhotoJ

I just want to do more of it....



tjeerd said...

Wow, great job. And the lower angle really works here. (good thinking to save a lot of retouching).
There's one thing I was curious about. Is the motion blur in the second image intentional. To be honest, it kind of bothers me. Frozen would have made the painting.

Unknown said...

Hi Tjeerd

Thank you for your kind comments, I appreciate them

'One mans meat is another mans poison'

The blur is intentional.It DOES split opinions.I just wanted a sense of urgency and movement.
It really is a photo that I could change again and again...



Unknown said...

Great series of images from a difficult concept; The historical accuracy, the number of people involved and the sheer scale of the project - i'm in admiration of your work. I put hours into developing very small-scale projects by comparison and on every occasion something doesnt go to plan; being able to think on your feet and make the best out of a situation is a great asset. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing! I especially love how the lighting works to focus on the main characters, as it would in a painting. Though clearly staged, it does not feel like a gathering of modern men in costume, but a glimpse of the past.
The only issue I have is your man on the left climbing a running line in the first photo...:P Bad idea. If you ever recomposite, I would suggest putting him in the shrouds where he belongs, or at the least burning a stay on his way down to the deck. But otherwise, wow. I just spent five months on the Bounty's replica and would have loved the chance to set something like this up. Unfortunately a working ship is a working ship, and there is little time for such shenanigans as staged photography. Ah, I will have to try and convince them next time that it is worth the effort...

Agustín Herrera said...

gigantic job excelent and inspiring, congratulations

bmillios said...

Awesome! Really nice.

Unknown said...

Dear All

Thank you for your kind comments, good to be busted by Rodia too!

'Live and learn' is my motto!(well one of them anyway!)

Happy New Year