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Old June 9th, 2009, 06:29 PM   #1
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Lighting Tips For Inside of a Car (both Day & Night, 2 actors - hopefully cheap!)

We're shooting an ultra low budget movie this summer on HD video, looking for some tips in getting some good shots both day & night.

There will be two actors involved, both in the front seats (one actually driving). The car is a '90 Mustang, the camera is small (Canon hf s100) and using a car mount that I believe can be mounted either outside (through windshield) or inside the car
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Old June 9th, 2009, 09:48 PM   #2
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ND .6 filters on side window

A couple weeks from now, I have to do a similar thing. I'll be shooting the driver from on top of the passenger-side dash. The camcorder will be sitting on a beanbag. I'll be shooting just after sunset, so diffuse light will be coming in through the windshield. The side windows on the drivers side will be visible in the frame, so I'll tape some neutral-density gels to those windows. That way, the brightness of the outside won't overpower the light falling on the driver. (Well, that's the theory anyhow.)
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Old June 10th, 2009, 03:09 AM   #3
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It's a bit more complex than you expect.

There are two primary issues to confront (and a bunch of secondary ones.)

The big two are getting the interior bright enough so that the exterior sunlight doesn't blow everything out. In other words if you expose for the faces inside, everything outside is just white nothingness. And the second big issue is handling reflections off any glass you're shooting through if you put your cameras outside.

In night shots, it's WAY easy to get caught up on what your're doing INSIDE The world of the car. And neglect to pay attention to what's happening outside. This is VERY bad.

The car's roof will act as a big, solid overhead. Also, most cars windows are tinted at least to some degree. (protects the interior fabric and finish)

Here are some things that can help.

- try and pick a cloudy shooting day with diffused sunlight.
- try to shoot early or late when the sun is moderate, rather than the brightest part of the day.
- try to shoot in locations that moderate the sunlight. Forests are better than open desert
- if you get window reflections, use black cloth on light stands between the camera and the shiny surfaces to BLOCK a view of what ever is reflecting.
- scrim or screen or film the windows to knock down the light entering the interior.
- remember you don't need to see the ENTIRE interior unless that's important to the story ... usually faces are the critical thing so find angles where you can reflect or light THOSE from outside, not the entire front seat.

there are hundreds of other things to try but of them the MOST important is this.

Driving a car while shooting something is VERY, VERY dangerous. Never, Never, NEVER forget that the safety of everyone, cast, crew, civilians, stray dogs, etc, etc, etc, has GOT to be the number ONE priority when you're doing car shots. And there's NO number two priority worth talking about.

If going home SAFE means going home without a single shot in the can - suck it up and live with that.

Good luck.
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Old June 10th, 2009, 05:27 AM   #4
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What type of lights would you recommend for the interiors, what are some possible cheaper solutions or ones that could possibly plug into the cigarette lighter?

I was thinking something like some LEDs might be easier to work with since they burn cooler?
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Old June 10th, 2009, 05:26 PM   #5
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Maybe a bunch of Simas?
For $200 you get six of them from Videoguys:
Videoguys.com - Sima SL-20LX 3-Light Bundle
They appear to be pretty small & lightweight, and you
can probably just Velcro them where they best suit your needs...

Keep us posted, please,
and tell us what you went for
and how it worked out

Best

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Old June 12th, 2009, 03:10 AM   #6
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Get the windows clean if you are shooting through them.

It probably won't work to tape ND gel to the window as you will get a double reflection and the gel will flex causing its reflection to warp. To avoid this, spray soapy water on the windows and float the gel into place. Squeegee out the air/soap bubbles and cut the gel to fit just like it was window tinting.
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Old June 16th, 2009, 04:17 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Cris Hendrix View Post
What type of lights would you recommend for the interiors, what are some possible cheaper solutions or ones that could possibly plug into the cigarette lighter?

I was thinking something like some LEDs might be easier to work with since they burn cooler?
In Hollywood, the LD would probably spec the small Kino-flo color balanced fluorescents. They're typically hidden on the dashboard, taped to the dash itself, or rigged onto the visors or headliners.

Small battery powered lights are few and far between - at least in intensities that can provide useful fill during a daylight shoot.

Cheap small fluors and even LEDs are often problematic in color temp - but that's something you might be able to work around.

Also, remember that anything outside what the camera sees is fair game for rigging. So white foamcore proped up on the dashboard will at LEAST give the faces and eyes SOMETHING to reflect. And you might be able to rig something as simple as a high powered camping flashlight or lantern to illuminate those white boards to provide enough bounce fill to illuminate the faces decently.

Start with the camera position you want. Then think about how to bounce light onto the faces in ways that don't interfere with that camera position.

Good luck.
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Old June 17th, 2009, 03:23 AM   #8
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For what it's worth, I'll throw at you the "Hollywood" version (p.s. Bill, LD's are only in the TV broadcast world, they'd probably shoot something like this on stage with green screen anyway).

"Free driving", where the actor is actually piloting the car, is only used when the car is shown in its entirety and has to be able to manuever separately from the camera, but yet we are close enough to see that it is the actor. As mentioned, it's not ideal as the actor is focusing on his craft, not necessarily driving! For everything else, we tow the car either by the front wheels on a low trailer, or with a full-bore insert car where the entire vehicle is sitting on a low trailer. In that instance, we may even have platforms around the car for full-size dollies and lighting gear which makes it quicker to reset between shots (otherwise you are reliant on hostess trays that mount on the side windows etc). Lighting-wise, we traditionally use large HMI units through diffusion frames to punch through the windshield to bring up the interior. This is obviously not doable if the actor is free-driving.

For a low budget situation, I'd first make sure to use a polarizer to cut down on windshield reflections. You may not even want to dial them all out, if you have a canopy of trees reflected it might be nice to leave a little in. You can check this in the viewfinder.

In a free-driving situation, again you can't fire lights in through the windshield so knocking down the windows behind the actors is your best bet, as mentioned by others. Bobbinet is material very similar to that used in framed nets, which will cut down exposure but unless you stack it too much, remain invisible to camera. You can tape it in place.

Night driving--for years it was standard to rig small units on the dash and back seats, but that look is a bit stagey these days. We often have a complicated array of small units that are panned on and off the car, mounted around the perimeter of the trailer that duplicate the effect of streetlights etc. I've been involved in whimsical rigs with overhead lights on a pulley system that fly over the windshield as we drive down the street, creating the appearance of streetlights. And of course there is poor man's process, where the car is parked on a dark stage or warehouse and lights are played across the actors from various vantage points to simulate motion. This can be done amazingly convincingly. The main issue is not seeing anything outside the window, so this doesn't work for city scenes, but for rural backroads, not a problem.

Low budget version: you can indeed create base illumination with mini Kinos or better yet, small LED's like the Lightpanels. Positioned just out of frame, these can provide all the illumination you need (don't overlight, unless perhaps this is a comedy). There are all sorts of creative "household" ways to achieve this as well, from bunched up layers of rope light or battery powered puck lights, all stuck to the dash.

Here's an example from a low-budg project I shot years ago, with the actor free-driving and a few mini-kinos taped to the outside of the windshield. We had the camera on a hostess tray on the side window or on a high hat inside as I recall. We tried to sneak this stuff on a quiet street but we still got nailed by the law--talked our way out of it but I wouldn't recommend this--the actor did get close to side-swiping a parked car. This was shot on 35mm by the way--would have looked quite good with today's sensitive HD cameras, there would have been even more detail outside the car and/or reactive ambient lighting that would have played on the actor.
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Old June 18th, 2009, 02:35 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
For what it's worth, I'll throw at you the "Hollywood" version (p.s. Bill, LD's are only in the TV broadcast world, they'd probably shoot something like this on stage with green screen anyway).

Since I've been on the set of all of two major motion pictures and Charles has likely been on a hundred times that, I'd advise everyone to listen to him.

That said, I find it interesting that the various branches of the motion picture and video content industry have such different working organizations and titles.

The british convention of using the term "lighting cameraman" rather than the Director of Photography (DP) term we use here implies that the final word on lighting position and approach is probably theirs. But I'm interested in who actually makes the call regarding the lighting setup.

I know a lot of the folks here are from the "indy" persuasion - and that lighting and EVERYTHING else is often the province of a single person trying to do it all.

But I'd be interested in hearing how much variance takes place in the real world of the kind of jobs you work, Charles, as to who has the final call on this stuff.

I know there have to be a LOT of variations and that Director A may be passionate about lighting while Director B may may remain totally focused on performance and be "hands off" when it comes to technical matters.

But is there a practical Hollywood "hierarchy" thats easy to learn, or is there a lot of variation when it comes to who tells whom which instruments to put where?

Just curious.
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Old June 18th, 2009, 03:03 PM   #10
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The standard hierarchy is that the DP oversees camera, lighting and grip departments. He will give his lighting instructions to the gaffer and key grip and they execute. This may be as simple as "give me a big soft source over here and keep it off the wall", or it may be as specific as "give me a Maxi through a 12 by mus and medium egg crate, 1/4 CTO, slow down that wall and bottom it off the floor". Depends on the DP and his relationship with the crew. Once into a rhythm, especially on episodic TV where you visit the same sets over and over, often the shorthand between a DP and his G/E guys can reduce things to a couple of syllables.

Theoretically lighting cameraman is the same as a DP (our friends overseas tend to use the term DoP, same thing) but the "English System" dictates that this gent focuses mainly on lighting while the operator works out the shots with the director. It's rare that you see that these days but it does happen, sometimes to a partial degree.

In that broadcast studio TV world (i.e. live TV), the lighting director lights the set while the technical director organizes the camera shots. I don't hear the term lighting director used on single camera production. This would be somewhat different on a sitcom set, for instance, where there would be a DP who would assume the standard role of managing both.

Probably one of the main differences between the indie world and higher end production is separating the camera operator from the DP. It's rare on indies for a DP to get an operator unless it is for an additional camera. Many who start in indies and move up to the union world have a hard time "letting go" of the camera; some learn eventually and others never give it up. For those who have not worked in that situation, it might seem undesirable but once you have seen how much more efficient it can be to have two people working simultaneously during each setup, it makes a lot of sense.
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Old June 18th, 2009, 04:27 PM   #11
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Many who start in indies and move up to the union world have a hard time "letting go" of the camera; some learn eventually and others never give it up.
Steven Soderbergh gets the jobs all confused.
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Old June 23rd, 2009, 06:50 AM   #12
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Luckily right now we're just trying to tackle day shoots, we tested some footage this weekend basically just using some white foamcore as well as some bounce made with aluminum foil and a really shiny silver car windshield protector, lol.. working with the texas sun we had plenty of light to bounce with, I think it had to at least be about 110 in that car though and with all that light bouncing around - it wasn't very comfortable

I'm going to continue doing some tests to see how to achieve the best image, and also a more convenient way to set up the bouncing so that we can concentrate on the performance and not dealing with the uncomfortable situation. We actually had so much light in there that we had the side windows wide open and the background wasn't even close to blowing out.. now I just need to learn how to focus and use it better, and maybe to know when it's too much or not enough

I'm using a car mount rig from filmtools that came with a bunch of suction cups and rods for hooking up the camera in different positions, we'll try to do as many stationary shots as possible, or maybe try driving really slowly around a vacant parking lot or something for some of the moving shots (unfortunately we can't afford a towing truck, this is mega low budget)

I'll check out those Simas for the night shoots, they look good and cheap. Do they have to attach to the camera? I suppose they don't need an additional power source which is good

Lutz I'd like to hear some of your recommendations on battery powered lights, I tried to find that tutorial on the German site but it was a bit difficult to navigate

The look I'm going for is somewhat of a 70s retro exploitation look (kinda like the car scenes in Death Proof, although I know those were actually pretty well done) so if it looks a little "off" that's ok, as long as we achieve something that looks 'cool'
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Old June 23rd, 2009, 09:27 AM   #13
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Luckily right now we're just trying to tackle day shoots,
Have you considered shooting your day shots closer to dusk? That way (if you're careful about your route to keep the sun in a workable place in the sky) you are dealing with less heat and less ambient light.
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Old June 23rd, 2009, 09:32 AM   #14
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Lutz I'd like to hear some of your recommendations on battery powered lights, I tried to find that tutorial on the German site but it was a bit difficult to navigate
I took a look too and I think that Lutz gave the wrong tutorial ie it was in a bar. I think that it was tutorial number 4 that he meant (multistorey car park) but after 6 minutes it was all talk and we hadn't got inside the car so I am afraid that I gave up (I had watched the first one all they way through too).
Judging by the product placement I suspect that Lutz may suggest Bebob, if they make battery powered lights!
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Old June 24th, 2009, 08:38 PM   #15
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Have you considered shooting your day shots closer to dusk? That way (if you're careful about your route to keep the sun in a workable place in the sky) you are dealing with less heat and less ambient light.
Oh yeah we're definitely gonna shoot for early morning/early evenings from now on.. a little hard to work around schedules but we met up at 3 pm last weekend and definitely paid the price for it lol
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