Lighting automobiles

I’m very much interested in your forum. I think it’s a great that you are willing to help fellow photographers in their work, I think you’ve done a great deed.

I’m very much interested in Car Photography and also Home Interior Photography because of their challenging lighting aspects (it doesn’t mean that I’m an advanced photographer).

My question is that does it make any difference of shooting toy car table top to shooting real car in a studio? I mean can I still using the same tungsten lamps (as many as it takes) in a very very big homemade soft box to shoot real cars?

How do I to make a very big seamless paper? Do I have to use it?

Do I have to use film for the real shoot or can I stick to the digital camera? What kind of digital camera that I have to have? What kind of lens should I have?

Thank you just the same for your kind attention.


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4 thoughts on “Lighting automobiles



    Shooting large products, like automobiles, is quite an undertaking. The principles of lighting them are the same as your small models, but due to the nature of light you will need much more light to get the same photos. The amount of tungsten “lamps” it would require to properly light a car would fill a wall and would be very hot! As an example, in a recent interview we posted, Mark Robert Halper talked about how he lit a small room to look like a bedroom using 18 work lamps from a home improvement center. These have 500 watt light bulbs which means he was pumping 9000 watts into that room. A space large enough to hold a car would have to be at least twice as large and require much more light.

    Commercial studios commonly use very large light banks for this sort of work. The light sources are strobe or high output fluorescent light. You may consider renting a commercial studio for a day in order to get these shots.

    As for seamless paper, you could certainly use several rolls together, but it may be costly. You would also have to eliminate the seams in post processing. Commercial studios often have large curved walls to get the same effect.

    The film versus digital question is a preference issue. Film is more forgiving, but digital offers many advantages also. If your client is going to want large prints of your work, you may have to upgrade from your 2MP digital camera as it simply does not have enough pixels to handle large format output. A DSLR might serve you better. They have become quite reasonable in price this year.

    As for lenses, your big challenge will be fitting the entire vehicle in the frame. For this you need a wide angle lens. Be careful when you get close to the auto with a wide lens as it may introduce some distortion.

    I hope this response gets you heading in the right direction!


  2. Mike

    With automotive photography, you want large, solid, consistent light as mentioned above. Bill’s comments above about the commercial studio are right on, but if you don’t have access to one of these or the funds you could try the following.

    For the lighting, you again need a large light source that is ideally as long as or longer than the car. You want this light to be consistent along the length of the car if you are shooting the entire vehicle. One suggestion that you could try is to use light stands or some other mounting method and stretch a piece of light colored (white preferably as to not introduce a color cast) muslin over the car above the top of the photo’s frame. Take a few (let’s say 3 for illustration) bare bulb strobes and space them evenly above the muslin along the length of the car.

    The idea being that the muslin will create a large soft box. A lot of variables come into play here so you will need to experiment with the distance of the muslin to the car, the distance of the strobes to the muslin, the number of strobes needed, etc.

    For the background, here again you can use muslin. Most fabric stores will have large width muslin (the one I use carries them up to 120″ side). Use this 120″, as your height, and buy it as long as you need relative to the length of the vehicle and you shot framing.

    This is a reasonably priced way to do it. I just purchased another piece of muslin 120″ (10′) by 24′ long and it ran me about $40. The worst part of this is getting out the fold creases from the fabric bolt. I use a clothes steamer and hang the fabric from my background stand. You just keep moving it up and steaming…very tedious…sounds like good work for an intern! :-)

    I would say to position the car a ways forward from the background and try to bokeh the muslin with your depth of field to try to hide its texture.

    Good Luck!


  3. Ken

    I tried the white cloth technique and it doesn’t give a great look, at least the way I was using it. Best technique I have come up with is a long exposure in a dark room and flash a handheld strobe (like a nikon sb-24) into a softbox and walk down the car flashing. I did a video of the technique here:

    Most of the car shots I do use that technique. You can see them here:

    Or bounce strobes (I use alien bees) into the floor and ceiling (as long as they’re neutral in color) in front, in the back and on the sides.


    Both of these require some room to work with though and preferably zero ambient and nothing around to reflect. It’s not quite like shooting in a studio but it’s the best I can do with my cheap equipment.

    Hope this helps,

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