Napoleon Bonaparte photo shoot | Darrin Henry
A photo shoot with Napoleon Bonaparte! Now there’s one I didn’t see coming.
Earlier this year the St Helena Tourist Office purchased their very own replica Napoleon uniform, made to measure for Tourism Projects Manager, Merrill Joshua. After learning the uniform was here we enquired whether it was possible to do a shoot with Merrill. Initially we planned to shoot at Longwood House, the emperor’s residence during his exile from 1815-1821. After another day or two considering the shots, we realised the location might compete with the uniform, so perhaps it wasn’t a good idea.
From experience we knew High Knoll was a great afternoon shoot location. It was generally always bathed in late afternoon sunshine, but at the same time heavy clouds tended to hang over the island’s central peaks, just a few miles away. If conditions were right, it would provide a natural, moody backdrop for our shoot. At the same time the distinctive skyline of the three peaks would supply the St Helena identity. That was the plan, but as always with location shoots, you are at the mercy of the weather.
Thankfully, everything fell in to place perfectly on the day. We assembled near the foot of the historic fort walls, scouted a few spots and then Merrill proceeded to strip off and begin the transformation to become Napoleon.
I said the weather was perfect; actually, it was extremely windy. This wasn’t too much of a problem except making it impossible to use the reflector which just collapsed as soon as we held it up.
There are obvious physical differences between our model and the French emperor, which we joked about at the start. However, Merrill did such a super job getting into character that before long it was easy to become totally caught up without making comparisons. Mind you, the uniform itself was stunning in its detail and quality, which brought an authentic feel to the whole shoot.
Technical details: most of the shoot was done using the natural, late afternoon sunshine. The backdrop was perfect and the balance of sunlight was just right. As the sun dipped to the horizon we reversed the camera angle, shooting Merrill against the orange sky. Strobe lighting (flash units) was now needed, triggered remotely, one unit either side of the camera on light stands. The silhouette was achieved by simply turning the strobes off.
Fifteenth October 2015 will mark 200 years since Napoleon stepped ashore on St Helena as a prisoner. The Tourist Office has an extensive programme of events planned to celebrate this momentous occasion. And Merrill ‘Bonaparte’ Joshua is soon to be in great demand – a lot of people will want to shoot Napoleon this year.