Auto Interior @ Night


I'm a film student and I'm shooting a short road movie, the majority of which takes place at night. I need some suggestions about how to light the interior of the car for night. The scenes only involve actors in the driver and passenger seats. I will be front towing and using a hood mount and hostess tray (which is all I can afford). The car is a Volvo station wagon (the back seats fold down), and I will be shooting on Vision2 500t (unless someone recommends otherwise).

Thanks for any help or suggestions you can provide.

Matt Serrins

Hey Matt...

To keep it simple, head to the Home Depot and get a couple of AA battery powered 8" fluorescent wands (usually used for kitchens or bathrooms) to motivate the dashboard lights; add some plus green if you like.

To get more light from outside the car, use the car headlights and bounce them back in with a "holey" bounce card or fabric ("holey" so it won't act like a sail while you're moving).

To get more complex (but more direct light), fasten a fresnel to the hood mount or hostess tray with some grip heads and C-stand arms. Of course, you'd have to find juice for it.

Search for a section of road with lots of overhead street lamps, passing cars, bright businesses, etc. to give you a real-world-passing-by look. This is, as I found out, the least dependable way to light the int. of a car. But it's the most natural-looking as well.

These are off the top of my head, hope you find a way that works for you and your crew.

Danny Eckler
DP, Richmond, VA

In a word...Kino-Flow.

Could be your easiest answer. Check out there Web site.

Good Luck

Mike Franz

Hello Mat,

You could go for 2ft Kino-flos, easy to hide, nice, soft and controlled light. You can bounce it on a foamcore and you will get an even softer and more natural look. You can place the Kino in the actor’s legs, directing the light to the dashboard and bounce it from there, as if it was the ¨dashboard lightning ¨hitting on the actors face.

Ivan Araya
DP, Costa Rica.

It depends where the car is supposed to be driving.

If it's in the country, you won't see anything outside part from other cars driving past and you could even fake a lot with the car static with just the odd light moving across the occupants. Creating light reflections in the car windows from passing houses and cars is great fun and gives you a kick afterwards when you see it afterwards. A bit of vibration on the camera helps to sell the effect.

On the other hand if it's a bright city, a lot of the lighting will be motivated by the street lights. In Times Square you only need a touch of fill on the faces because the lighting levels outside are so high. If you get the balance right with your lighting set up you can get a surprising amount of interaction from the street and shop lights. However, keep an eye out for shadows from both the camera and the tow car. Also, cover the rear lights of your tow car, because there's a chance that the red will be picked up.

You can get a Kino-Flo car kit which is extremely neat and the lights can be easy mounted around the dash area. You could also use a battery light on the towing vehicle that could occasionally pass across your action car (Beware of camera shadows).

Just be careful about overdoing the effect of exterior lights moving across the actors, because if the cueing isn't carefully set up the editor won't thank you.

You shouldn't have too much difficulty mounting the camera in the back of the Volvo. With the rear seats folded a set of baby legs should work and you can then use the actors' bodies to hide the lights from the camera.

Brian Drysdale
DP & Steadicam Op,

For auto interiors at night or other tight lighting situations. I've used white Christmas tree lights in a box. They give a nice soft light without much heat at a low cost. They can be powered by an inverter attached to the car cigarette lighter and often hidden out of sight. A smaller, more directional system (and more expensive) is from Fisher. It is a bar of daylight balanced LEDs. The benefit of LEDs is the ability to dim the light source without changing the color temp.

A fellow student

Matt Efsic
Brooks Institute of Photography

>A smaller, more directional system (and more expensive) is from Fisher. It is a bar >of daylight balanced LEDs. The benefit of LEDs is the ability to dim the light source >without changing the color temp.

When they say "daylight balanced" I wonder if they are just generic white LEDs, since they typically have a high colour temperature anyway.

Clive Mitchell

Thanks for all your help and advice. Given a student budget, these are more realistic and effective suggestions than anything else I've heard from various DP´s and online forums.

To clarify my original post, I will be shooting in a suburban neighbourhood, a commercial district/strip mall, and on an interstate, so I guess the light levels will vary somewhere between Times Square and pitch black country road.

I'm on a limited budget, so I really can't do more than an inverter, some Kinos or generic fluorescents, and a few 200w lights.

Will I have to worry about windshield glare? Should I use a polarizer filter for that?

I have also heard that cutting from a hood mount to hostess shot creates a perceived change in the speed the car is moving. Is this true? How do I compensate for this if so?

I plan on shooting tests this weekend with some combination of fluorescents on the dash and fresnel for more direct light. I will let everyone know how it turns out.

Thanks again for all your help. I really appreciate it.

Matt Serrins

I did a spot where we lit a baby in the back of the car, a 4 door - The Kino’s are a good combination w/ '218- and care must be taken not to over light, depending on vehicle/conditions.

Best regards,
John Babl

>When they say "daylight balanced" I wonder if they are just generic white LEDs, >since they typically have a high colour temperature anyway.

Yes those LEDS are made by Nichia and are 6000k. But those LED fixtures are not very good. I have been working with LED development for two years and it's a battle at this point. I made one workable sungun and that to has limitations.

I used to make stick ups for cars with 12 volt lamps and a cigarette lighter. Worked great. Actually I swear the Brand stole the idea from me. You can also use an 8 watt store-bought florescent fixture that is warm white, with 1/8 minus green around the lamp and a 100 watt inverter from radio shack and make a simple interior light that rivals a professional fixture. Don't use the battery ones, they have CCR limitations. Or you could take an MR16 spot with a cigarette lighter and bounce it into a small white card on or under the dash. Or buy an auxiliary 12 volt round frosted plastic lighting fixture that they sell at auto stores (the kind cab drivers and police have installed additionally in their cars) and wire it up to the ceiling light temporarily with alligator clips and double stick tape to mount it.

Walter Graff
BlueSky, LLC

One of my favourites is the Diablo.

Fairly common before the mini-Kinos. It's an automobile type fuse holder. You know, the type of small tubular glass fuses that autos used to have. They also make 12 volt bulbs that size. You can get fuse holder blocks with four, six, eight, 12 across. You just wire them up and place in as many bulbs as you wish (dimming is easy) and plug it into the 12 volt outlet. Very small; can be hidden/taped anywhere.

I also use my 100 watt StikUps for this, but they are usually too bright and I have to pile on layers of diffusion/ND.

Blain Brown

There are a lot of over the counter 12 volt lights that can be improvised for a car shoot. I've even used ordinary hand torches mounted using magic arms with some frost over the front to smooth out the light. The usual problem is reducing the light level with lots of ND and then controlling it. The dimmers on the Kino Flos make life a lot easier.

Just make sure the windscreen is clean. In an urban area you'll get the reflections of the street lights moving across the windscreen, but it's usually a nice effect. To remove them would involve building a tent type flag over the top of the windscreen, since the street lights don't produce polarized light the polarizer filter won't work (Never minding the light loss).

The perception of speed looking out the side depends how close the buildings etc. actually are to the car. It becomes more apparent on longer lenses, however, unless there are a lot regular verticals passing by, it's usually not too much of a problem. The way to control this would be to just drive slower. There are some rules of thumb used by the guys shooting background plates for back projection or blue screen: shooting out side ways at 90 degrees you'd drive at 60% of the normal driving speed and for three quarter shots at 80%

Brian Drysdale
DP & Steadicam Op.


Regarding your question about perceived speed changes depending on shooting angle.

The ASC guide recommends the following when shooting backplates for car Blue/Green Screens.

Shooting directly forward or back - 100%
3/4 front 80%
Profile 60%

This approach presumes an urban location where other cars, etc. will be close to your subject car, and therefore appear to move much faster in a 3/4 or profile shot than they will in a head on.

If you're in the burbs or country, the backgrounds will presumably be much farther away, and less of an issue.

I'm betting you don't bother with it, and try to find a speed that smoothes out the bumps as much as possible to give you a steady shot.

Good luck

Bill Berner

>"The benefit of LEDs is the ability to dim the light source without changing the color >temp."

What does color temperature matter? Is there a set color temperature for dashboard ambient light? The Kino-flo car kit is definitely the way to go if the car is in motion.

Anyone consider gelling the Kino’s, after all most dashboards don't give off white light, it's blue or green "indiglo" most of the time.
Perhaps a half or full blue?

Dave Evans

>What does color temperature matter? Is there a set color temperature for >dashboard ambient light? The Kino-flo car kit is definitely the way to go if the car is >in motion.

In my own defence:

A : I believe maintaining color-temp of your keys and fills to be very important. If you want to make the effect of a blue, green, or orange dash - great. However, if you need to tweak your key and fill when you change camera position, and you dim your light (dimmer switch not scrim or net) you lower the color-temp making your key or fill more yellow. Have fun spending an extra 30 min. in telecine. 30 min. might not seem alot, but we STUDENTS would rather put the $90 somewhere else.

B : I stated the Fisher LED light was the more expensive option of the two I offered. The other being X-mas lights in box run from a power inverter in the cigarette lighter(it really works). This is for the truly frugal student

C : I agree KinoFlo’ s are great, and as a student you can get a discount from Kino or from Mole (Note: Kinos and Moles still cost money).

Matt Efsic

© copyright CML all rights reserved