I’m a documentary television producer and cinematographer. Since 2012, I’ve traveled to Antarctica every winter to shoot a popular American television show. The ships my team and I travel on typically leave port at the beginning of December and return the following March, a timeframe that roughly matches the Antarctic summer. This year I knew we’d be leaving later in the season – and possibly staying longer – a scheduling change that would leave our team facing stronger storms, bigger waves, and cooler temperatures. Knowing that we’d be encountering some of the worst weather we’d ever faced, I decided to fundamentally alter our approach to production at sea by swapping our usual lighting gear for the most robust, waterproof, and effective fixtures we could find. One of the very first products I came across –while touring the expo floor at CineGear in 2015 – was Light & Motion’s Stella 5000, which was only a prototype at the time.
Flash forward to today: As I write this, I am on the Sea Shepherd ship the M/Y Steve Irwin and we’re steaming toward Antarctica enduring forty-knot winds that are drenching our decks in icy-cold sea water and giving everyone’s stomachs a run for their money. With us this year are the Stella 5000 and the 2000
– both impressive lights that have already proven themselves in the field – as well as the L&M Sidekick, a GoPro companion light that’s enabled us to get some great content in some of the darker crevices of the ship.
One of our most important setups on the show is our interview space, which is simply a small room that we setup as a temporary studio. In the past, we’ve used all sorts of lighting rigs to light our tiny interview spaces. Last season, I gaffed together several small LED panels and built a lightbox out of corrugated plastic packaging while at sea; it created a nice soft source but was an inelegant monstrosity that had been lovingly dubbed the “Ice Box” because every time we needed to adjust it, it went to pieces. The challenge for us has always been to generate large, soft sources that don’t spill onto the background (which is often only a meter or so behind our talent), have a small and lightweight footprint, have low power consumption, and can take a few serious spills over the course of the production.
In early 2015, if you had tried to sell me a fully-submersible 5000-lumen LED with a sealed battery that gets almost two hours of run time at full brightness (the equivalent of an 200w HMI at a quarter of the weight!) and had an array of modifiers readily available, I wouldn’t have believed it. Fortunately for us, such a product now exists, and it’s exactly what we’ve needed.
In the photo below, we’ve got our typical three-light setup on display. The Stella 5000 is the key, blasting through at half-power through a two-foot OCF softbox with a sixty-degree grid. The Stella and the OCF provide a beautifully-directional soft source that creates a great eyelight that easily feathers off the background without additional rigging.
Opposite theStella 5K is aWestcott 1×1 Flex-light, and at the back we have a Stella 2000, which acts alternately as a rim light or background splash, depending on what we’re trying to accomplish. Perhaps most exciting however, is that we have all of our lights – for the first time ever – rigged to the ceiling using an amazing product appropriately titled the “Fat Gecko,” which is basically two suction cups and an arm with a spud adapter. The ability to secure these lightweight Stellas to the walls or ceilings is invaluable; eliminating sand bags and avoiding the otherwise inevitable toppling of lights stands in rolling waves is such a relief, and with so many other things to consider during this production, it’s one less thing to worry about.
We find it most convenient to match the daylight coming through the portholes of the ship, so the Stella’s 5000 Kelvin color temperature works for us without any additional gel. The skin tones as interpreted by the cameras, which have sometimes been hit-or-miss with some of our lighting products in the past, read very nicely on our Samsung NX1, our primary interview camera, as well as on our JVC GY-HM600s, our run-and-gun cameras, and give everyone a slight, warm hue.
The lightweight Stella 2000 also makes a great on-camera light that helps our ½’’ sensor JVCs cope with low-light environments. Pictured here is one of our operators about to conduct an OTF – on the fly – interview with the Stella 2000 providing some additional lighting from onboard the camera.
The Stellas have innovated our approach to production lighting this season and we’re looking forward to putting them through their paces on the high seas. Their extreme portability, high-output, and robust construction make them the perfect tool for shooting our most challenging adventures.