Midnight Sun – Shooting in Alaska with ZEISS Lenses
In the early summer of 2017 I was hired to produce some video content to promote tourism and outdoor adventures in Alaska, a place that I had never been before. Images of bears, glaciers and totem poles filled my thoughts as I prepared shot lists to match the client’s needs and one for this project with ZEISS, Midnight Sun.
One of the most common and never-ending challenges to filmmaking is choosing the best equipment for the location, type of content being captured and the overall project budget. I knew that I would be shooting solo only with natural light, camping, traveling on boats and be very limited to power for recharging batteries so in the end I opted to shoot on two cameras; the Sony FS7 and the Sony A7sii. This equipment let me travel light with long lasting batteries and high frame rates for a cinematic feel. The next question was what lenses should I bring? Allot of the shots lined up were staged around people participating in activities such as kayaking, hiking, cooking outdoors, camping and fishing. The rest of my B-Roll shots were of landscapes and animals that might be encountered. Again, with limited space and knowing I would have to carry all the equipment for this shoot on my back I opted to bring the following lenses;
ZEISS CZ.2 Cinema Zoom 70-200mm
ZEISS CP2 Set (35mm, 50mm, 85mm)
ZEISS Distagon Set (18mm, 50mm, 85mm)
I was able to pack all these lenses into my Cinebags backpack with my cameras or into my laptop satchel… it’s a good thing I’m good at tetris or that may have not worked out. My reasoning behind the lens choices was; I had the cinema zoom as my “A” lens for all my key shots and when I needed a to go a little lighter or wider I would change it up with the CP2s. I primarily used the Distagon lenses on the Sony A7sii when I was on boats or in locations where the I could go handheld for most of my shots. I ended up using the Tiffen PRO100 and 4×4 NDs with the A7sii setup with the ZEISS Distagon lenses about 90% of the time to get the best exposure possible in the crazy Alaskan light.
Overall I think the biggest challenges that I faced while shooting in Alaska were light and weather, both of which I didn’t expect to be so challenging. I arrived in June, which means the sun never goes all the way down, hence the name of the video “Midnight Sun”. This gave me hours of additional shooting time. In fact, several of the shots in the video were shot at about 11pm in the evening and the light still looked great! The weather was also a great deal colder than I had planned. Rain and overcast clouds really took away from the upbeat outdoor style I was going for. The combination of the overcast skies and the strangely intense light made it essential to use ND filters to avoid over exposing the luminous clouds but posed a challenge as the landscape was so dark below. When possible, I’d use Tiffen graduated NDs but most of the time it was a struggle to expose as I did not have a crew and had to work with 100% natural light. Though a struggle at times, the natural lighting in Alaska has a hauntingly beautiful quality I have come to love.
Shooting with only natural light is intimidating and can be a massive challenge to maintain consistency and exposure when on a fast paced shoot like this. Over the years I have learned that it all comes down to choosing the right location, positioning the talent and having the right lenses to get the best look possible. There is something liberating about shooting completely natural that we can often forget exists when working on standard sets. The ZEISS lenses allow you to really fully integrate yourself with your environment an push creative boundaries. Flexibility, preparation and knowing your tools will make or break a production like this. I’m excited to head back to Alaska and would likely keep most of the same gear in my pack the next time I do.