Lighting the voyage | Gaffer techniques on a ferry

Alex Day
Senior Filmmaker & Gaffer

One of our favourite projects from 2023 was when we shot on the new Liberation ship from Condor for a challenging, yet creative TVC. From my experience lighting studios, virtual production and exterior locations, I knew that the lighting needed to work both practically and narratively to create an emotional connection with the viewer and allow them to “Sail Away with Condor”.  This shoot had unique challenges, from tight small spaces on a moving ferry to working with both natural and artificial light. 

The Set Up 

To ensure that the style and narrative was met, we made use of our extensive in-house equipment. We are able to do this across all our productions, which increases the efficiency of the shoot due to familiarity and meticulous organisation of the vital components. 

One of the key pre-production steps that aided this production was the recce. We were able to understand the space restrictions of the location and the ferry layout, which allowed for more detailed lighting plans which in turn meant less set up on the shoot day - saving both time and money. For our exterior shots, we assessed where the natural light would be at different times of the day on the top deck of the ferry - our hero shot! This was difficult as the orientation of the ferry needed to be taken into account, but detailed pre planning allowed us to capture great sunset shots later in the shooting day. 

Almost all scenes were lit using a strong 1200 watt Key light through full diffusion to spread across the subject and space, placed off centre. This was used as a building block to each scene, adding a backlight and negative fill to shape the light on the subject. The key to making this style of lighting work was to embrace the natural light and enhance the scene by mimicking the qualities of the natural light with artificial, wherever possible.  This meant adjusting direction, intensity, colour temperature and spread of light. The negative fill was essential in providing more shape to our subjects. When lighting people, the shape of the face can be enhanced using specific shadows, creating a more visually appealing image for the audience which they can emotionally connect with. 

One of the greatest obstacles to overcome was shooting in the shop. The environment was mostly white, reflective plastic with mirrors, lit by poor quality LED lights and strip lights that didn’t match our cinematic vision. To solve this, we adapted our set up using a 4x4 floppy and black muslin to blackout the built in lighting. We turned off the majority of the built in lights, enabling more control over the lighting and therefore allowing us to create more cinematic visuals of the shopping area and elevate the experience with a more premium feel. 

Agile Crew

Using streamlined, portable LED lights allowed us to utilise our shooting time on board the ship. We also reduced our set up time by having a recce prior to the shoot, with refined setups that worked with the environment. Working within confined spaces was a challenge but this was reduced due to our condensed kit and smart positioning of lights. This enabled us to achieve the desired cinematic effect, without the burden of moving tonnes of heavy kit, slowing things down. 

We also had to take into account the general public using the ferry during the shoot, so utilising the natural light and having a simplified lighting set up minimised the disruption to the ferry service. We worked efficiently, utilising only the space needed for the crucial parts of production and could move between areas faster. 

Our agile crew, armed with knowledge from the recce, ensured a smooth shooting process. By optimising our lighting approach, we crafted a visually compelling story that aligned with the clients narrative. 

The client feedback was extremely positive - they felt emotional and moved when watching the final edit. This is exactly what we wanted to achieve with our carefully considered lighting techniques, creating powerful and emotional visuals that exceeded the clients expectations. We successfully translated the concept of a serene and calming travel experience into a high-quality production, effectively minimising costs and optimising coverage for the client.

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