According to cinematographer Dick Pope, “about six months before we started filming (May - August, 2013), I was shooting a film called Angelica [in New York]...I was very much thinking of [Mr. Turner], and in a way I used it as a rehearsal room for what what I went for on Turner, because it was a period film set in early Victorian London. So there wasn't such a difference in time span with Turner, perhaps 40 years or so. I tried lots of different things. It was naughty of me, really, but it benefitted the film. I took what I learned in terms of candlelight, lantern light, light in general, and with that camera [an Arri Alexa] I went through the paces on the film.”
Pope also did extensive research at the Tate Britain and other art galleries, including the Maritime Museum in Greenwich which displays all of Turner’s maritime work. (During the film, Turner mentions bequeathing his work to the National Gallery in London. While much of his work is on display there, a large number of his paintings can be found all around the world in other galleries and collections.) The Tate was especially informative as they had the actual palette of the colors used by Turner. From this palette, Pope noticed that Turner liked to add teal to the shadows of his paintings as they were never completely black. The highlights would often have a bit of chrome yellow. Not only did this inform the film’s aesthetic, but it’s even mentioned in the film when Turner’s father buys his son his pigments.
Pope also was bolder than usual shooting in low light. Again, his experience on Angelica helped him understand how much light he really needed when using the Alexa. He found that the camera was able to handle very low light levels with very little grain and pixelation, encouraging him to shoot a number of scenes with just candle light, most notably the gathering at Petworth House with Turner and Lord Egremont.
Much of the film was actually filmed as is, with very careful planning. Pope mentions that they were fortunate enough to have had clear, sunny weather on almost every day, allowing them to shoot often with available light. A lot of careful planning also ensured that they were able to shoot in particular areas where the best available light at that time of day would be present.
Even more stunning is how much of the outdoor scenery was left untouched. According to Pope, “in the house that Mrs. Booth lives in, the windows— a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘That's CG out the window, right?' I say, ‘like hell it is!' It never is on one of Mike's films. The house that Mrs. Booth had behind her when she was in that room or when she was eating supper was the view out the window at the right time of day."
Many shots in the film perfectly re-create Turner’s actual paintings, and these shots were aided by the fact that they were shot in virtually the same exact locations that were depicted in the respective paintings. This was true for the shot depicting the Fighting Temeraire (arguably Turner’s most famous work) - the river, sky and sunlight were photographed as is. The only CGI effect came from the moving Temeraire itself.