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