When you’re asked to bring a new level of production value to a client’s marketing materials, you’re basically starting from scratch when it comes to creating imagery. Tim Gerard Barker’s recent work for The Strand Cruise in Myanmar is a great example of this: the Vietnam-based photographer spent four days getting stills and video on and around one of the company’s vessels for their website and brochure.
This was my first commission with the cruise line. For the stills, I was given a shot list of rooms and facilities that they needed me to cover. The client brought props along to style the room shots so that they felt lived in.
During scout day, we visited all of the areas on the shot list and worked together to figure out the best angles.
Mapping out the best angles has been a learning process for Tim, who has consistently picked up tricks of the trade during hospitality shoots and has applied them to subsequent assignments. For example, the Australia native used to work with a wide lens but made the switch to a tilt shift lens a few years back because it better helps him control the look of the image.
The tilt shift allows me to shoot from the angle and height that best suits the subject matter. From there, I can shift the lens up and down to control the amount of floor and ceiling in the shot.
Another way Tim has evolved as a photographer is through his use of lighting, something over which he had complete creative freedom for this shoot. As his career has progressed, Tim has purchased his own lighting gear, and working constantly with it has enhanced his portfolio.
When I first started shooting architecture, I didn’t have my own lighting gear. Even when I rented it, I wasn’t as confident as I am now in the way that I use it. I used to rely on shooting a set of bracketed exposures with the lights on, then another set with the lights off, and then I’d merge them together. I now use my lights in the same way that I’ve always used the sun: I light my subjects from behind so as to bring up texture. I like the mood this brings to my images.
Let’s take a step-by-step look at how this approach gets Tim from initial shot to final deliverable. We’ll use a seemingly innocuous photo of a receptionist to hammer home the point that the creation of each image necessitates extreme attention to detail.
In the initial image, I concentrated on the receptionist. I wanted his body language to be as friendly as possible, so I asked him to smile and arranged his computer so that his shoulders naturally opened up toward the camera. I positioned my key light at a 45-degree angle behind him to enhance the window light. I also used a grid on the softbox to concentrate the spill of light onto the receptionist only. I then added a second light on the right side of the frame to add a small amount of fill light to the shadows.
Next, I took another frame with the lights further back so I could remove them in post. If you look closely, you’ll notice that I had yet to get rid of the reflection of the light in the floorboards. I removed that later and added another frame to bring back detail into the floorboards.
From there, I moved the same softbox that I used to light the receptionist back into frame and positioned it at a 45-degree angle from behind the desk. I brought the head lower to the ground to highlight the texture in the desk. I positioned my second light at a 45-degree angle to the side of the desk facing the camera to bring up the texture from that side as well.
Next, I wanted to bring up detail in the chairs and flowers on the opposite side of the room, so I repeated the process on the left side of the room. I positioned the softbox at a 45-degree angle to the wall to enhance the natural light coming in from the windows. I only used the one light this time, as I didn’t feel that I needed any more detail in the shadows.
Once I lit all of the main features, I took a series of bracketed exposures to blend in some natural light. I want my images to appear as if they’d been shot with natural light, so I toned down the flash lighting wherever it looked unnatural, like the left hand corner. I also used the natural light to tone down the glare on the wall behind the receptionist and I used the exposure to blow out the candles and increase the glow they produced in the wall and on the roof.
Finally, I used another bracketed exposure to bring detail to the background and floorboards (and to remove the reflection of the lighting stand). As the ship changed direction, the shadows changed significantly from the initial image, but I much preferred that because light fell toward the receptionist.
I then cleaned up the image to remove any distracting elements such as air vents, lights, sprinklers, and the logo on the computer.
Of course, part of taking a cruise is getting off the ship and exploring. Myanmar is a culturally rich land of more than 50 million people sandwiched by India and China. The vast majority of the population practices Buddhism, which informed Tim’s imagery during his excursions. His favorite trip was to the U Bein Bridge, a place he’d been to once before. The photographer has always been drawn to the setting’s combination of natural light and foot traffic — and will never miss a chance to interact with the friendly locals.
The bridge is always full of all sorts of people. It’s particularly magical in the early morning light, so I made sure to get there as early as possible. I loved running up and down the bridge and capturing the surrounding scenery as well as the monks themselves.
Myanmar is a fantastic country to visit. The people are warm and kind, and the sites are incredible.
One of the main elements of the project is a video that splices clips of the cruise itself with shots from Tim’s ventures. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the kind of marketing materials that The Strand Cruise simply did not have before Tim and his team, which includes accomplished documentarian Colin Elphick, came aboard. With an undertaking this all-encompassing, it pays to be detail-oriented — like when it comes to editing shot transitions to match the music.
We purchased the track from Premium Beat. Colin spent a lot of time looking for something that would go well with quick cuts. We usually cut the first draft without music and then look for a track that complements the edit. Once the music is selected, the cuts can be moved around to suit the beat. I absolutely love the way that Colin cut the footage to the music, particularly the transition he used as the music fades off at the film’s halfway point.
But with video comes numerous moving parts and, thus, more challenges to overcome. Though he’s learned a lot about producing hospitality shoots over the years, Tim got an education in drone usage the hard way this time around.
We dedicated the first afternoon to shooting aerial stills and video. The problem was that the cruise ship was moving, which led to difficulties with takeoff and landing. We had hoped to take off from the roof of the ship, but unfortunately the magnetic interference from the ship’s antenna was too strong and the drone would not take off. We attempted the take off regardless and instantly regretted this because the drone clipped the railing. Thankfully, it did not crash and we got shots of the cruise ship sailing at sunset.
The next morning, Colin went to shoot some aerial footage of the ship sailing. That’s when things took a turn for the worse. Each time he attempted to take off the drone would rise a few centimeters off the ground and the motors would cut out. We thought it might have been because the drone had clipped the railing during take off the previous evening, so Colin changed the propellers. Twenty minutes later he came back to me with bad news: after changing the propellers, he got the drone in the air but it only went a few meters up before the motors cut out and the drone disappeared into the Mekong River. It was never to be seen again!
The ship’s captain offered to look for it, but the chances of finding it were slim to none, so we pushed on. We still needed drone shots, so we searched online and found a store selling the Mavic Pro 2. We shipped the drone to Mandalay so that we’d have it by the following morning. It was an expensive lesson but I learned to avoid taking off from and landing on a moving object.
As he’s built up more than a decade of experience in this field, Tim has dutifully expanded his skill set to meet the ever-changing requirements of the industry. With a project like this, the ability to wear many hats comes in handy. It also helps to have a teammate like Colin, who helped Tim deliver the final product within four weeks of the shoot wrapping up.
At first, I was only shooting. Now, I do a bit of everything, including directing, editing, and color grading. Colin had been working in video production for a few years before we met. He’s a fantastic director, a very talented script writer, and a great editor.
The Strand Cruise was immensely pleased with the work, as one visit to the cruise line’s website shows. It’s nearly impossible to navigate the site without seeing Tim’s fantastic work, which represents a clear step up from what the Myanmar-based client previously displayed.
The client was extremely happy with the stills and the video. They were looking to increase the production value in their marketing materials, and they felt that we achieved this.
Photography/Camera Assistant: Nguyen Tuan Anh
Director/Editor: Colin Elphick
Color Grading: Khanh Nguyen
Music: “Truth to Tell” by Big Score Audio
See more of Tim’s work at tgbarker.com.
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