Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Lighting Scene With Car Headlights

I am going to be shooting (in a music video I am making) a scene in which the camera rotates around a couple of dancer/singers who stand in the middle of a circle of cars that are arranged in a circle so that they illuminate him.

The camera rapidly circles them several times.

I've tested this out with five cars arranged so that their headlights point in to the center of the circle, and discovered that the headlights are aimed too low - they don't illuminate the faces.

Anyone have ideas about how best to deal with this?

Peter Jensen
Los Angeles
Camera Operator

1/. Park the cars with the front wheels on half apple boxes

2/. Aim the headlights higher (on older cars they are grossly adjustable...on newer cars not so much)

3/. Cut to fit and tape Rosco silk on the headlights with the striations running horizontally to stretch the light up and down

4/. Use PAR cans w/ medium bulbs and light diffusion for close-ups

5/. Use very short people

Note the larger the diameter of the circle of cars, the less problem you will have as the beams spread with distance

Mark Weingartner

All of what Mark said, plus turn on the "HIGH" beams as well. They are pointed higher to see farther down the road. Also, don't forget to have a good set of jumper cables for the end of the night when all the batteries are dead.


John Sheeren
610 East 9th Street
Houston, Texas 77007
(H) 713-863-7570
(C) 713-385-7595
(F) 713-863-7578

Think Globally, Hire Locally

...and last but not least, put a large soft source over the camera.

When there are a lot of specular lights in the shot (like candles) a big soft source that boosts the fill a little goes a long way. It's invisible but makes a huge difference.

And/Or... I don't know how big the shot is but another solution is to hide tungsten pars between the cars or below the frame that are aimed at his face.

Let his legs go hot and light his face to a level that feels right for headlight spill.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
Film | Hidef | Video

San Jose, CA, USA

>>Anyone have ideas about how best to deal with this?

ummm…Gosh at the risk of being too obvious, headlights can usually be aimed along both horizontal and vertical axes without too much trouble.

You might adjust one to hit their faces and the other to illuminate the road with enough overlap to look natural?

Paul Nordin
El Mundo Bueno Studios
Emeryville, CA

I'd be putting the talent in about a 3-foot deep pothole. That adds interest to the scene anyway.

-- Steve Braker - WORTHWHILE FILMS - media production for nonprofits
-- +001 608-635-4040 - Poynette, WI USA

>>I'd be putting the talent in about a 3-foot deep pothole. That adds >>interest to the scene anyway.

Add a blindfold and I think you'd have a pretty cutting edge music video.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
Film | Hidef | Video

Art Adams writes:

>>put a large soft source over the camera.
>>When there are a lot of specular lights in the shot (like candles) a >>big soft source that boosts the fill a little goes a long way. It's >>invisible but makes a huge difference.

Good advice. It'll also help kill the moving shadows you'll be creating by passing the camera, operator, dolly, grips, etc., in front of all those headlights as you arc around your subjects.

The cabling logistics for such an onboard light might be a bit daunting, but it's surely do-able.

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

A two bulb Gyory or similar flo, either diffused or in a china ball, could be battery powered and help on the cabling.

Nick Mueller
Director of Photography
Washington, D.C.

How are you going to avoid camera shadow on the talent?

Daniel Bronks

>>How are you going to avoid camera shadow on the talent?

Peter hasn't indicated how tight the shot should be, but depending on the distance of the car lights, which could be diffused, whether or not the couple are standing or on their knees, will all define the shadows to be dealt with and how powerful the above camera soft source needs to be. If you had flo's flanking the lens, with, perhaps a Kamio light on the lens, you'd mitigate a lot of shadow.

Nick Mueller
Director of Photography
Washington, D.C

I think the first question I'd ask is whether camera will be inside of the circle or outside.

And secondly, how you'll be moving the camera? Handheld? Steadicam? Dolly? What I'm getting at is how much mass is gonna be between the headlights and the principles (assuming camera will be on the inside).

If you are inside my humble opinion would be to only have the head lights on for effect (cutting through smoke, diffused glow, etc), and would light with a camera based source, large and soft as has been suggested here above. Large china, small balloon, etc.

Have you thought about rigging a balloon overhead? duv'ed on the sides. depending on the loc it may be possible. If the BG falls off to black a large construction crane could be hidden to arm in at a low angle from 100 feet away. cable between two buildings or blackened structural columns...ok ill stop now.

Best wishes

Andrew McLean
DoP, still in Pittsburgh (three weeks to go, keeping my fingers crossed)

Thanks so much for the great input!

It's great to be able to exchange the ideas and experience and information.

This is certainly one of those lighting situations that requires some extra thought and planning.

Raising the front wheels with half apples (painted black) and also adjusting the headlights where possible - is something I'll test out.

Also taking the approach of the diffusion material cut to fit over the headlights is something that might be taken a step further, in other words using a heavy diffusion material to make the headlights look as if they are lighting the scene, and use hand-held practical lights (DC powered) to light the dancers. These practical lights would be moved with the circling camera so that they are not in the frame.

The lighting balls/balloons, the diffusion material over the headlights is also a test. If I had the budget I would have a large, high light to create an overall background illumination to light the cars themselves and also the deeper background.

The camera platform is a radio-control camera dolly with a remote stable head that can have a low profile for low shots, in a higher configuration it might be best to have someone at each car to turn on and off the headlights as the dolly passes to avoid camera/dolly shadows.

Best, Peter Jensen
Los Angeles

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