Sometimes you just get lucky / by David Jones

Most of the time on documentary style shoots working with available light is the default, especially when travelling overseas to a remote location with a tiny kit and negligible luggage allowance. Making use of what you find at the scene, positioning talent to work with the direction of the sun (or lack of) and then modifying what you have with reflectors or bounce cards is the quickest and sometimes the only way to work in these situations, when the only light you have in the bag is a battery powered LED the size of a pack of cards.

When it works, natural light can be the most beautiful to work with, but sometimes you need a bit of luck for everything to align at the right time.

For this shoot at Almaty airport in Kazakhstan, we were originally due to arrive and clear security late morning in time to film this uniquely painted Embraer E-Jet as it landed. The plane's arrival had been brought forward however and we ended up with a much earlier call time than originally planned. Even so, getting the required permissions and clearing security to film on the tarmac is a slow process, and by the time we had made it through, the plane had already landed and it felt like we had missed a key shot of the day.

Tricky lighting conditions on the runway

Tricky lighting conditions on the runway

Looking at the environment it was clear that the runway probably wouldn't have provided the best backdrop for this impressive looking aircraft. Overhead sun, a featureless sky, light grey tarmac as far as the eye could see, and a white airplane did not make for the most dynamic of shots.

So with a rejigged schedule, we asked for the plane to be towed to the hangar and placed facing out so we could shoot some b-roll and some interviews next to it.

Having had little time to orient ourselves when we arrived airside we hadn't realised until the plane started to make it's slow way across the tarmac that the direction it was going to end up in was pretty much due east, so the sun would be setting behind it as we worked. Not only that, the final position of the plane was such that the shadow from the hangar didn't come into play until much later, and could be used to control flare as required.

The hangar provided

The final shots from the day were all filmed from a similar position at the front of the plane, showing off the impressive snow leopard, Kazakhstan's national animal, painted on the nose.

This feature formed the basis of the story of the film, and with these shots we had some beautiful images and a really happy client. If the hangar had faced the other way, or the plane had been put into it face in, or indeed if the weather had been overcast, we wouldn't have been able to get the same shots.