Aikido, Creative Work, Photography & Documentary.

Anholt - Look & Feel


The view in summer from the top of Anholt's lighthouse.

"The island is a very different place in winter" Malene explained as we drove to the edge of the desert in her dusty and dented mini bus. Malene was to be our local co-ordinator, liaising with locals and presenting job offers to the group. She was also our tour guide.

The purpose of the tour was to scout out locations and get a ‘feel’ for the island. I visited various places we could use in the film, from the small white church in the town centre to the airfield the desert's border and many places in between. 

We took photos and audio recordings from the different locations and I slowly began to see the island as a character. Her different terrains had different personalities, and I felt these could be explored somehow. In winter the place was isolated, cold, harsh - The complete opposite of the summer months that the group would be arriving in.

As the wind became stronger and the light dwindled our group headed back to the accommodation. Over a glass of wine and some home-cooked food we all discussed the documentary. Anders wanted the documentary to be cinematic, to look less like a fly on the wall or reality TV programme and more like an adventure film. He had recently seen some work I had directed and shot in Cornwall and really loved the visual style.

It made sense to me too, and I planned to use large format sensor cameras, two of them which helped give the film its ‘cinematic’ look due to the shallow focus the cameras are capable of achieving and the wide selection of lenses we could employ.

It was my job to develop a blue print to present to the film's Director of Photography for us to jointly develop. 

A blueprint consists of different setups. A setup is type of scene; e.g it could be an interview or sequence of shots of someone performing an action. Each have their own style, look and feel, and are therefore created in different ways.

Over the course of a programme a pattern is developed to create a consistent professional style for the video image as it adds a sense of familiarity for the audience from scene to scene.

The key components I planned to shoot / generate included:

  • Interviews
  • Sequences - events, techniques, actions that are planned and performed for camera.
  • Cutaways - events relating to the content of the interviews that are filmed separately, this take the form of live, uncontrolled action or staged shots
  • General views - establishing shots that show a location
  • Titles and graphics
  • Boat to land and boat to boat photography.
  • Aerial photography
  • It wasn't until the 2nd July that we were able to explore each setup and create the template look and style of the film, and this was only possible in collaboration with Mark Lomas - the film's Director of Photography (DoP) and lead camera operator

A DoP is responsible for creating the most suitable image of the story through technical equipment, this occurs in close co-operation with the director and other camera operators.

In the small sleepy village of Silkstone, in the county of South Yorkshire, England, three members of the crew got together to shoot some test shots and design a production package we could then take on the road.

Mark & Josh preparing to shoot with the Anholt life boat crew on their powerboat.

Alex Broadhead, Mark Lomas and myself tested different ideas, as well as methods of producing that same idea using different technical pieces of equipment. All of which had to fit into a finite amount of space.

This process is designed to generate ideas. It starts with presenting the ideas I have designed for the visual template and then withdrawing my role to allow others to take the floor and adapt and alter the initial concept. Honest feedback is important. Non-constructive criticism and negativity are left outside, it should be a positive experience and my role is to make it an enjoyable and creative process.

With our two cameras selected - a Canon C300 which is relatively compact and supports a wide range of cost-effective zoom lenses, and a Sony F3, bigger, more robust with the option of PL mount lenses - We decided on the following plan for  the two main setups - interviews and live action (sequences, cutaway and general views).


Our interviews were categorised into two types:

Controlled - Mulitcam.
These interviews will be more formal, they will be setup before-hand in a suitable location and use lighting equipment. Two cameras provide a medium and closeup shot of the subject. The closeup shot will emphasise emotion, allowing the medium shots to showcase the environment and the subject's body language. The cameras were ‘locked off’ in most situations to create a more formal and consistent look.

This style would be used for interviews before and after the project, and less on the island itself due to time.

Single camera - ad hoc.
This style would be used only on the island. It was quick, direct and was less intrusive than setting up lights and other static equipment.
Sometimes we conducted interviews in handheld shot, depending on the situation and time constraints, at other times a tripod was used. I wanted to use a wider lens for this interview, especially on the island as it gives a feeling of space and we can visually differentiate Anholt from all other locations.

Single camera, hand held interview with Bianca, at the back of the school hall.

For the multicam interviews it also felt important that locations should play an important part in establishing our characters, be it youth workers, parents or the young people themselves. To do this, one camera covers a wider angle, establishing the scene and the second camera covers a mid shot.

Whilst wanting the location to be visible, I didn't want to loose or overwhelm the protagonist. To achieve this Mark and I decided to shoot the wide angle on a 50mm PL prime lens. Sometimes we had to use a wider, 35mm lens due to smaller locations but generally the 50mm was used.

The 50mm lens required us to be further away from our subject. This is less intimidating for an interview, and the distance compressed our field of view, meaning we focus on the subject without the background ‘taking over’ the frame.

The focal length provided adequate separation from subject to background. We opened our aperture lens up quite wide, and lit the scene accordingly. (On a side note, the initial interviews in the homes of the three participants were shot with a deeper focus, allowing more of their environment to remain in focus with the intention to make the characters themselves seem a little lost in the frame, contrast to their final interview at the end of the project.)

When split into two teams we had enough technical resources to achieve this look and the 50mm did not distort the person or location.

The height of the camera was also considered in the design of the interview scenes. I wanted to gently manipulate the affections and feelings of the audience towards our protagonists, as such the camera height changes at three separate intervals:

Introduction When you first see the three main characters at home, they are show from a slightly higher angle, just above their eye line. This is subtle, but makes the characters look slightly smaller. 

On Anholt depending on the situation the angle was varied, but was usually neutral to the subjects eye line. This creates an objective viewpoint for the audience. Occasionally however, characters were made to feel smaller using a high angle or big using a low angle.

After the Project In the final interviews that took place back in the subjects home environment, be it their house, school or youth club they were shot from a slightly lower angle. This gives the audience the impression that they have grown as people, they are now more in focus, taking up a slightly larger amount of space and look more imposing from underneath.

The interviews were lit in a way that made use of the natural or artificial light available in any given location. The subject was separated from the background using a subtle rim light from behind that adds definition. They were lit with a KinoFlow key light, usually heavily defused by a scrim - it was angled from the main natural or artificial light source. Colour temperature was balanced accordingly to ensure our lighting matched the location lighting. The fill light was provided by reflectors, some times with a light aimed directly at the reflector but usually bouncing the key light.


The majority of the filming was captured as it happened, however some scenes required more control and basic setup / direction. For example, the scenes in Denmark with Anders riding his bike were more controlled as this was before the project began.

This usually involved staging the action from multiple angles, handheld, to bring the audience along for the ride, making them feel a part of the location and journey.

Our lens choice before the protagonists arrived on Anholt was to shoot as telephoto and as far back as possible to make the home life before the project appear constricted and somewhat smaller. On Anholt we would shoot using wider lenses, closer up and in a wider variety of styles to achieve the opposite affect.

Cutaways & General Views.

Tripods are typically employed for cutaways and general view shots. However, to convey the adventure and immediacy of events the majority of cutaways and general views were shot from the shoulder on a camera rig. This was a large creative risk and at least 98% of shots were achieved handheld with no camera support - this represented a clear commitment to a vision and shooting style. 

DocumentaryJames Stier2