Car Rig Lighting, Considerations

Are the windows tinted, do you have a choice of tint? A heavier tint on the rear window is an advantage for hood rig shots of people in the front seat because it may save gelling the rear window. Consider a solid piece of neutral density plastic cut to fit a window. It could replace the clear window or be taped on. Watch for double reflections if there are two windows. Gel filters taped but not touching the window will blow in the wind and can show up in the camera. A plastic bubble window can be made to facilitate magazine clearance outside the car for a sound camera magazine.

Remember the filter factor of the tint if shooting through gelled window. Use your spot meter to measure the filter factor, by comparing the brightness of something through the window and not through the window, the difference is your filter factor. Double curved (convex) windows are difficult to gel. Some tints are gold colored and will act as a colored filter. Be careful with color temperature. .

The film can see detail that you might not see in the eyepiece, especially with the lens stopped down. The small holes in Roscoe Scrim can show. The increased depth of field stopped down can reveal unwanted detail that is out of focus with the lens wide open. It is even more difficult to judge the shot on video assist. Eyes adapted to sunlight have a problem looking at a stopped down image

Light is DECREASED both going through a tinted window and back out to the lens. The reflections on the glass of the sky, or landscape can INCREASE the exposure. Use your spot meter with a gray card.

If no other factor determines paint color, darker paint will help you balance lighting with people inside if the camera sees part of the outside of the vehicle. You can tape white cards on the hood for more reflected fill light. You can rig fill cards from roof rack extensions out over the doors to the bottom of the windows to reflect overhead sunlight on to the people in the car.

If the vehicle becomes wider or higher than normal, remind the driver, who should be very experienced at this kind of driving, to consider the extra width or height, especially when turning around. Continue to remind them.

Light reflected from white cards will have the correct color temperature, but light reflected from the car's paint can give a fill light of an undesired color especially if not seen in the shot. Cover it with white card. Tape it down well. Be very careful with paint. A drafting tape base allows a stronger tape on top.

Consider solids or scrims above the windshield to reduce or remove reflections. It takes a lot of cover for the reflections in a curved windshield. (Double layers of net scrim create moiré patterns that can show in the camera. They are worst when blowing in the wind.)

Consider a pre-fit Duvateen or other scrim with sleeves for pipes like horns from a roof rack to save time and avoid grip clips for above the windshield.

Consider a vehicle with a sunroof if possible for lighting. Plan for a clear or diffused panel to cover the opening if shooting sound. Maybe a selection for different light conditions.

Consider the direction of the shooting road for best lighting for a planned and possible earlier or later shooting time. Have a map and ask about the schedule and possible changes.

Darker background can help lighting balance.

What is the effect of overhead cloud scrim? Look and ask before you rig and be prepared to rig lights. Think about scrims or solids if they become necessary as conditions change.

Scrims and shades over the windshield can help balance the lighting of people in the back seat that are lit only from the side windows. The rear window will be pretty bright and you might want to gel it down with ND.

Consider complexion, such as a light skin and a suntanned person in same shot. If possible put the darker complexion person nearer the light.

Driving into very early or late direct sun is very pleasing either side or front light. Watch for camera and rig shadows. The balance with the outside is often good without additional lighting. Maybe a bit of fill light if the key light it too far around to the opposite side. Daylight fill, like skylight can work too. Just be careful to not overfill. If you plan for this early or late lighting, be well rehearsed and rigged BEFORE the light gets just right, it doesn't last long. A long run could help get more shots with the right light.

Ask if a bad camera or rig shadow in part of a shot caused by a bad road direction can be covered in editing with another cut-a-way or shot. Have action start later or already into scene to change the timing of the bad background or shadow problem part of road.

I prefer edge light with some fill mid day. Broken light through trees helps gives the feeling of motion. If the outside is not brighter than the people inside in a mid-day shot, it will look fake. Don't over light the people, they are in a car where the light is less than outside.

For night, a little fill with broken and passing headlights, street lights etc. works well. Study some good films for ideas. People are not fully lit at night. Select areas with lit backgrounds. Squinting down your eyes will help you judge contrast. The spot meter is a big help. It's hard to burn out neon, but theater entrances and some store windows can get pretty bright.

Shooting in town at night is a good time to trailer or tow and create headlight effects from the camera car towing the picture car. If getting a camera car to your location is too expensive, bring in a camera car driver acquainted with all the safety involved. A heavy-duty tow bar is safe if the picture car has is a real bumper to attach to. A heavy tow vehicle is necessary. Many newer cars are difficult to tow and need to be trailered.

For the realism of a dirty windshield we mix a little Fuller's Earth with water and spray it on the windshield with a paint spray gun and run the wipers after it dries. If you don't like the effect, wash it off and start over. We also do this for other areas of the vehicle such as around the wheels. Wait for a coat to dry before you add more. Be careful that it doesn't run. Clean and dry out your spray gun when through. WEAR A PARTICULATE BREATHING MASK TO AVOID BREATHING THE DUST AND ASK BY-STANDERS TO STAND BACK. The solvent, water won't hurt you but the Fuller's Earth might. This aging and dulling system will work on large areas of many things and is removable with water or a rag if you don't like the effect. Use water on car paint. Be careful of new and especially "peal" paint.

Check for undesired reflections or shadows of the above items.

What is revealed if the camera moves? Rig and camera shadows appear when car changes direction or the sun gets lower. Rig in the basic direction the car will travel. It will help you consider lighting, reflections, fill etc.

Power source for lights, generator in trunk, how to hold it open? (DANGER-CARBON MONOXIDE), cable to camera car. Who's going to grip the cable and will it breakaway if there is a problem? Will the cable get caught in running gear or get run over? Use a short cable on car and longer on camera car.

Batteries won't shock people, but they CAN CAUSE EXPLOSIONS, BURNS, FIRES AND VERY HOT CABLES IF THEY ARE SHORTED. Secure and insulate them well wherever they are placed. Battery acid will burn paint, flesh and most things. Wash skin with water and baking soda immediately if you get acid on it. If you suspect damage seek medical aid. PROTECT YOUR EYES. WEAR SAFETY GLASSES WHEN HANDLING LEAD-ACID BATTERIES.

Remember the inverse square law. Light drops off with distance. Putting lights at the maximum possible distance away from subjects will keep the lighting balance more constant for subjects at different distances from the light. Example; a light from a camera car will better balance people in the front and back seat of a towed car than one on the hood of the picture car itself. Or for a side-towed car, fill light from the far side of the camera car will fill deeper into the subject car without over lighting the people closer to the light.

Select dark backgrounds for better balance for naturally lit people in vehicle.

If you need a dimmer for the picture car headlights, make sure that you can get to the fuse, breaker or wires to the headlights. A stack of silicon diodes will reduce DC voltage by 7/10 volt per diode. They will pass electricity only in one way. A rheostat must be a very high wattage unit. P=IE and I=E/R

For extensive off road sound shooting where you can't tow or trailer a vehicle, consider a "Buck" (a car shell of only that part that you need to see) mounted on 4 wheel drive pick up or flat bed that can carry the camera, cameraman, sound man and a real driver. Let the actor driver worry about acting and not have to drive. A sunroof if not seen could contain diffusion and help lighting. There should be lots of relative motion between the camera and the actors for realism. Consider a hand held camera, vertical sprung dolly or loose tripod head mounting. (See Feeling of Motion)

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.