Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Lighting Cars On A White Cyc

Stills shoot, red viper w model, on white Cyc. I've never lit a car on a Cyc before, how should I do it? This job is a favor (spec) and a chance to learn without client pressure. I've got a little bit of budget for G&E plus some favours. Starting out, I'm thinking a 12x12 grid cloth on the side and a 20x20 overhead as a big bounce. 5 or 10ks on the floor and an assortment of goal post / black drop rigs to roll into position.

Am I headed in the right direction?


Dave Winters


If you're in an all white Cyc, use a higher contrast film or push it a +1/4 or +1/2 stop to increase contrast slightly. All that light bouncing around tends to soften things a bit plus make sure you "matte box" the lens to prevent flare. Car are usually lit in a Cyc with a large overhead & bounce your light into that. The rest is all about using black & white cards or cloth to enhance or kill reflections…bring lots of cans of dulling spray.

All best,

Al Satterwhite
DP/LA (& shooter of cars for print)

David Winters writes :

>Stills shoot, red viper w model, on white Cyc. I've never lit a car on a Cyc >before, how should I do it? This job is a favour (spec) and a chance to >learn without client pressure.

I am sure some here have done it dozens of times I have done 4-5 times. So here are just a few insights :

Overall I think you're starting off right. IMHO, the basic trick to is to keep in mind that you will never have too big a bounce surface.

12 x 12 is just barely starting to work. Don't forget that cars are like mirrors with curves (in the wrong way) so one can be surprised how little a 12 x 12 will cover. Seems in the bounce fabric have a nasty habit of lining up just in the wrong spots. Polarizing helps but it's not fool proof. I would try to think about 2 20by side by side as a start and you can always use pieces black velvets to cut the reflections if there is too much or create some modelling. Bleached muslin is also a good bounce option. Don't forget tons of 4 x 4 flags to hide the light sources from the car.

A 20 ox 20 overhead is a minimum size and make sure grips rig it in a way that it's easy to wiggle it back and forth in order to get it just in the magic spot.

You mention it's a still shoot so at least the camera won't be moving, I hope so that simplifies matters a bit.

Have fun

Daniel Villeneuve, c.s.c.
Directeur-Photo/Director of Photography
Montréal, Canada

Your overhead bounce is the right idea...that’s where you'll get the reflective angle on the hood, windshield, roof & trunk lid...up stage and over the vehicle. 20x likely won't be long enough for this I would suggest 30 or 40 feet long and 12 to 15 feet wide. The closer to the top of frame the smaller you can get away with. Quite often you will have room to hide instruments behind the vehicle for this bounce (fres 2k's are low profile & work well for this).

Depending on your angle you'll need bounce tabs on the floor to bring out the side and/or front of the vehicle. Again, 30 to 40 feet long & 16 to 20 feet tall is preferred. This is where a few 10k's will come in handy. You can run some black duvetyn along the bottom of the side tab to put a "beltline" down the side of the vehicle if desired.

Occasionally a direct light right off the nose of the car will help the colour pop. Your model should fit into this soft environment well but you will likely need a key source for them. I've used a baby 10k with a med. chimera bag with success. Use your reflective meter to help determine exposure on the vehicle and have a good time.


David Winters writes :

> I've never lit a car on a Cyc before, how should I do it?

Think of it as table top work on large scale.

There are two basic problems in lighting cars:

1/. Cars are large and heavy, and therefore difficult to position exactly.

2/. They are highly reflective, with multiple surfaces.

Since you are shooting in LA, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a stage set up for car work, one that will minimize the grunt work associated with the above problems.

Try to find one that has a bay light or a Chimera or a Fisher Light or a "Cloud" already hanging.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP

The answer to moving a car is a set of Go Jaks…makes the job easy and precise.

Best regards to all,

Leo Ticheli

Leo Ticheli writes:

>The answer to moving a car is a set of Go Jaks; makes the job easy and >precise.

That's what I'm talking about -- find a well-equipped stage.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP

This might be stating the obvious : Light what the car sees don't light the car: So as mentioned before treat the car as a reflector of large sources of white or black.

Having said that going the safe way is boring : I saw a new Jag add where they light a car entirely from underneath, through a HUGE chess board sort of light (transparent and opaque blocks)


Rolfe Klement

Wouldn't space lights be a good choice?

What you want is even shadowless and reflection free lighting (the "wet" look of a paint job is like a mirror and the fixtures will show).

I shot cars at the yearly auto show a few years back, and under available light(vendors did their own lighting) all cars had reflections of the hard light fixtures(different paint jobs behave in their own way too), except at the Audi booth, where the R8 race car was beautifully lit, no reflections, they took their time.

John F. Babl

>The answer to moving a car is a set of Go Jaks; makes the job easy and >precise.

Where can I rent a set in LA? I've have seen these on sets in the past.

Last week I did a little ENG / press shoot at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Someone left a Ranger pickup blocking the main driveway. Four valets rolled out go jacks and moved the truck in about 60 seconds.

I've received a few recommendations for the new Source stage, which has two fisher lights. Unfortunately, we are already committed to a stage.

Please keep the advice coming, I appreciate it very much!

Dave Winters

David Winters writes:

>Where can I rent a set (Go Jacks) in LA? I've have seen these on sets in >the past.

You might try tool rental places. However, they're not very expensive to purchase. Nearly every body shop or paint shop has several sets. Car prep guys have them as part of their kit. If you aren't using a prep guy, you should consider getting one. Ask him to get the jacks.

>I've received a few recommendations for the new Source stage, which >has two fisher lights. Unfortunately, we are already committed to a >stage.

That is indeed unfortunate. I would try to persuade the producers to reconsider.

Brian Heller

The space light idea is not recommended.

Several overhead sources (soft or hard) will give you "hits" and "kicks" in the paint you'll chase for hours...Light or bright color cars (silver, beige, white, bright red, yellow) can handle direct hard light. The best advise you've gotten so far is "light what the car sees". The light boxes are the deluxe way to go but bleached muslin bounce tabs are adequate. Like anything there are several approaches. Once you learn the traditional ways you'll be able to break a few rules to get something cutting edge if you prefer.

A tip I've found a car can get confused easily...don't be afraid to revisit your instruments occasionally, have the guys A/B the fixtures for you. Single Kino tubes (no housing) can be useful for both the interior and the underside of the car. Run 2" black paper tape down 1/2 the tube so you can twist them to adjust the intensity. If the stage your on does not have "go-jacks" check with the car prep/handler. Whoever is providing you with the vehicle should either have them or know where to get them in your area. If you have several positions planned for the vehicle go-jacks are a must.

Also, be prepared to paint and repaint the stage floor around the car. Even with the Go Jacks.

Hope this helps.


What's a Go Jack?

Roderick (Az. D.P.) Drives 'em but hasn't lit 'em much.

Roderick writes:

>What's a Go Jack?

Self-contained combined wheel jack and dolly.

Go see:

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP

Shop around, prices vary widely.

Best regards,

Leo Ticheli

Roderick Stevens writes :

>What's a Go Jack?

Gojack was a really cool detective show in the 1970s about this bald guy who...OOPS, that was the cannabis talking.

Gojacks are jacks on casters basically. You place one under each tire and the car can be moved into any position. The go-jacks are equipped with smart wheels so you can spin the car till your blue in the face.

Back to the Go Jack show... That dude is badasssss......

Kurt Rauf
Las Vegas, NV

What color are the cars? Are they stationary or on a turntable?

Here's some advice from veteran DP Bill Bennett who has done some really amazing work on car commercials :

"Shooting cars is unique in that you don't light the car, you light things that you reflect on the car, or you find places where there are things that are reflected on the car surface. If you take a car on stage and try to light it with hard light, it will look horrible, because of the reflections on the surface of the car. So you create big coloured (for white or light coloured cars) or white sources (for black or dark coloured cars) that have big bounce areas. You have to make them huge, at least 40 x 60, because surfaces of a car are curved. Maneuver them around and reflect them into the surfaces of the car."

Wendell Greene

Cinematographer - Los Angeles

Most specialist car photography stages have infinite curve cyc's that come back over the top for a fair distance, my favourite used to come back about 30 feet. You're in a white egg effectively.

You then have a large motorised bounce board that is at least 20' by 30' that you can move anywhere.

You then light the car by lighting the bounce board or the Cyc, or a combination, to reflect in the part of the car you want to see.

So to light up the side of the car you light the Cyc wall, to see the top of the car it may be the bounce board or it may be the top of the Cyc behind the car.

You can get great effect by gradating the light in the side reflection, even building mini sunsets from layers of lamps.

When I was shooting a lot of car launches I used to sit at the part of the car I wanted to illuminate and have an assistant move a 4*4 mirror along the Cyc walls until I could see the camera. Wherever the mirror was where I needed to aim the lights. It was quite easy then to use large blacks to stop the lamps themselves from reflecting in the car.

You can also get long framed "silks" that are seamless and backlight these to reflect in the sides or front of the car and of course the overhead could be a Fisher or the Chimera copy.


Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based

Copyright © CML. All rights reserved.