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Old January 13th, 2005, 11:16 PM   #1
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car lighting - dv

I find it very difficult to light a car for int. car, night shots. Any strategies used to light a car at night without resorting to turning on the actual car light.
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Old January 14th, 2005, 12:29 AM   #2
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Is the car in motion? What are the camera positions?
Charles Papert
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Old January 14th, 2005, 01:13 AM   #3
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The car would be in motion, yes. I would want to shoot a conversation, so for consistency I would probably shoot driver and passenger's shots from the back seat. Those are the two main angles.

If I wanted shots of the car on the road at night, I imagine the best thing I could do is to find a very well-lit street.
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Old January 14th, 2005, 08:48 AM   #4
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I did a night car shoot once, and our solution was the opposite as you tought.
We shoot in a building with a VERY DARK ambient and with the car parked. The director of photography then lit the two passengers inside the car with a diffuse low light from the front of the car. Then with a directional light he placed an highlight on the eyes of the two guys using a stencil. In addition he gave a lamp to 3 technicians and told them to go round in front of the car and point the lamp to the passengers while walking. This was to simulate other cars or street lamps passing by.
Other two guys where put with white leds one on the back of the car and one with red leds by the side of the car. To these two guys the director told to just move farth and near the car randomly.
By using a small dof as possible he got a blurry background with white and red light moving, a nice athmosphere on the faces of the passengers and some intermitting lights.
I didn't see the final footage but they never shoot it again so I think the light setup worked quite well (or maybe he just got fired :D )

just my two cents... :D
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Old January 14th, 2005, 08:56 AM   #5
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We used the "poor mans process" pretty much described by Dario in a cab scene in "After Twilight:. Shot the cab in a dark garage, with a large section of black duvateen hung behind it. Lit the inerior with Kino flows, had a pair of inkies on a stand behind the car, moving back and forth like headlights, had a pair of inkies on either side of the car, high on c-stands, that were being rotated by grips to look like street lamps passing over the windshield. The dialogue scene is about two minutes in length. Sandwhiched between a shot of her getting into the cab, and it pulling away from the curb, and her getting out of the cab... it is a seemless integration that fools everyone. See a tiny bit of the shot in the trailier at

If you have to shoot moving, then you are down to using battery powered lights.
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Old January 14th, 2005, 09:38 AM   #6
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There are some cool links about the lighting of "Collateral" in the following thread:

They used Electro-Luminescent panels, which I'm certain will become more readily available in the near future. They are already available for lots of applications, like the following:

The reason I post this is not to suggest that you kluge together an EL system for interior car lighting, although that might be an option. The Power supplies are in the $30-$50 range, and the 3" tape is $19/foot.

I post this to get us thinking outside the box. Your local hardware store probably stocks many unusual lighting solutions such as small flourescent lamps, L.E.D. lights, and maybe even EL Tape. Many can even be battery powered from consumer batteries, or run off the car's 12V cigarette lighter with a power inverter if you need to run standard 120V outlets.

With the great low-light performance of many DV and HD cameras, awesome car night shots like in Collateral become possible.

If you go at it from the idea of properly exposing for the nightime background, I think you'll find you require much less light than you think. Heck, cover a few flashlights with diffusion and mount them creatively, and you may find yourself lit!
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Old January 14th, 2005, 10:30 AM   #7
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I too would point you towards using a 12v inverter (get a good one that allows the the maximum wattage, generally betwen 140-200W continuous) and running fluorescents off it. The tubes can be simply taped to the windshield, although this does present an issue for the driver. If you intend to shoot a wide 2-shot from the back seat that sees the whole windshield, your best bet is to rig tubes just above the top of the windshield (and cantilevered out a few inches) that will light the actors but not be seen by the camera. A car with a roof rack will make this easy. Another tube inside the car for fill can be used. You can adjust the output of the fluorescents by simply running black paper tape right onto the tube.

If I may, I can point you towards a couple of shots on my reel that use this approach, they are 1:45 or so into the DP reel. These were shot on 35mm, so it's likely that DV would have "seen" even more of the surroundings.

Be extremely careful where you shoot with any rigs like this on the car, you should be permitted for this sort of thing.

Poor man's process can work very well also, I've done a lot of that as well. The nice thing with shooting on practical streets is that you can see a lot of the environment. Dario had mentioned using the depth-of-field to "blur out" the background--be advised that this is tough to do with DV.
Charles Papert
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