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Tips on How to Shoot Driving Scenes (Cinematography)

Updated on April 18, 2018

In filmmaking, up and coming cinematographers seem to have a love/hate association with shooting scenes that involve driving a vehicle.

Many of them, especially those just starting out, feel that the main challenge is finding a way to control or set up their lights.

Even with this, they still love the power and force that driving a car; especially at top speed, can give video scenes.

If you are an up and coming cinematographer or a videography enthusiast, then these simple to follow tips that have been tested and true can help you avoid the associated hassles, and you will be able to shoot car scenes that look realistic and professional, and as good as they do in films.

There are 3 methods you can adopt for lighting car interiors and creating great driving scenes.

  1. Using a studio
  2. Using a process trailer or tow car
  3. Using small hidden cameras placed within the car

Shooting a driving scene . . .
Shooting a driving scene . . . | Source

1. Vehicle Driving Shoots in a Studio

One good way to control the contrast between your background and your talent for a car driving video scene is to light your vehicle in a recording studio by setting up studio lights around the car with control and excellent precision.

One of the biggest challenges faced by cinematographers who use a recording studio for driving scenes is getting a natural looking scene that looks and 'feels' realistic enough to pass off as the outdoors.

For a realistic looking scene, you need to set up a green background (screen) and use any Chroma key program to replace the screen with your pre-recorded outdoor scene. Ensure you match the vehicle's steering wheel colour with the colour of the footage that you capture so that there is some harmony between the vehicle and your background.

Another good set up used by cinematographers is to light your green background evenly and ensure the lighting inside the vehicle matches the natural light in your outdoor scene. When shooting your video from the side, using a strong backlight beaming from the back of your talent will aid in forming their shape from the background.

Place a soft light in the front and the side of your talent. With this, you can fill in the shadows and avoid unnecessary highlights.

The light must come from the same side as the sunlight in your footage, to avoid breaking the illusion. And you must thoroughly clean the vehicle windshield, so it doesn’t wash out when the lights are turned on.

For the moving effect in car driving video scenes, you can use grips to shake the car as gently or as rigorously, and control the lights, depending on your desired results. They are also good for quickly placing objects in front of your key light and backlight, to make it appear more realistic. This will create the effect of your vehicle speeding or cruise along by trees, dirt roads, poles, or other objects that tend to naturally block the sun whilst driving.

2. Using a Process Trailer

Using a process trailer to tow and power the vehicle is the best method used by cinematographers to shoot a driving scene. It is the most realistic method that will give you the most control and will give the desired results.

A process trailer has a wide berth, serves as a moving camera platform and is towed by another vehicle. The good thing about a process trailer is that both the filmmaking crew and all required videography equipment can be set up around the vehicle while it's I motion.

As effective and as efficient as they can be, the only snag it that they come very expensive, and because of their large and extra wide size, they often require the use of a police escort, and this adds considerably to the cost. But due to the level of safety, it affords the talent, the natural setting, and its convenience for the crew, they are well worth the cost and effort.

"A New York City taxicab loaded onto a "process trailer" with lights and cameras in preparation for a filming . . . "
"A New York City taxicab loaded onto a "process trailer" with lights and cameras in preparation for a filming . . . " | Source

3. Using a Dolly

If you are working on a tight budget, and don’t have the funds to invest in a process trailer, you can always rent a tow dolly from a moving company and mount your lighting gear and camera to the car itself with industrial grade suction cups.

Using a tow dolly may lack the convenience of easy electrical power output, but it still allows your talent to focus more on their lines than on the road.

A Dolly - Special mid-axle drawbar trailer . . .
A Dolly - Special mid-axle drawbar trailer . . . | Source

Lighting Setup Within the Vehicle

Referred to as car lighting, this method of shooting car driving video scenes is the most affordable of the lot, and least involved effort wise. To light the interior of the car, the equipment is set up within the interior of the car itself.

The only challenge with using this method is in finding ways to power the equipment without running down the vehicle's battery.

It is a very affordable system of shooting car scenes because you can use inexpensive non-powered items like:

  • White blankets or cloth
  • Bounce cards
  • Reflectors

A common trick used is placing a white blanket over the vehicle's middle console, and on the talent's lap, in order to reflect a soft light effect on their face. A reflector can also be placed in the back section of the car to provide your backlight. But if these are insufficient in providing adequate light, you can use a high output LED fixture.

These fixtures usually consume no more than 120watts and can be plugged into the car's power port. If these fixtures are strong enough, they can also serve both as a backlight or fill light, with the natural sun obviously acting as the key light.

The advantages of using a LED light is that it'll keep the temperature of the car's interior cool, plus you will be able to get more luminance per watt than if you use a quartz halogen lamp. And if you want to save more power you can even use battery powered Led lights.

If your cinematography task requires much more than LED lights can provide, you'll probably have to purchase a power inverter with a high wattage that attaches directly to a car battery. These are quite affordable and will last for quite some time, if the car's engine is kept running, plus you'll be able to use hundreds of watts of light in your car shooting scene.

However it has its own disadvantage in that you'll need to run cables or wires around the car or through the dashboard in order to get it inside the vehicle, plus you'll want to ensure you let the lights cool down between each shot. These kinds of irritating complications are what make the studio and towing methods much more convenient options.

Understanding Lighting Methods in Cinematography

As you can see, lighting car interiors for a driving scene is no easy task. It requires careful planning, some technical knowledge and a high sense of creativity.

But with a clear understanding of these cinematography tips most describing the common methods for car interior lighting, you can be sure that your filmmaking and video scenes will look fantastic, no matter the situation.

© 2011 viryabo


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you for the suggestions. I especially love the idea of a white cloth!

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Glad you find it helpful Trahn. Thanks for the visit.

    • TrahnTheMan profile image


      6 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

      Agreed! Seriously helpful, detailed hub viryabo. Thanks for the inside knowledge.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks Recipe Gal.

    • Recipe Gal profile image

      Recipe Gal 

      7 years ago

      Wow! This is a very thorough article! I'm impressed!


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