Capturing good video of cars is harder than it looks. Keep these tips in mind when you need to shoot cars in different locations and at different times.

Cover image via Yevtushok Tatyana.

Let’s say you’ve just been asked to shoot a 30-second video for a local car dealership, brand, or startup that includes various car shots. This sounds like a simple task, but there are several factors behind a shoot like this that go into making the car shine — literally. Even if you’re in the middle of nowhere with virtually no gear, there are workarounds you can use to improve your shoot. Here are a few different solutions to common problems you should consider before taking on a gig like this.


Video Production Tip: Capturing Great Footage of Cars — Location
Image via Lukas Gojda.

Aside from the obvious (making sure your car is spotless), the next critical element is finding a visually appealing location for the background. You want to convince the viewer that they can take the car wherever they want to go. If you’re shooting an outdoorsy vehicle like a Jeep, Subaru, or a truck, you’ll want to shoot the car in the appropriate setting (i.e. a forest, mountains, field, or riverbank).

Note: you can rotate your shots in post to create the illusion of different angles if you have to work with only one background.

Time of Day

Video Production Tip: Capturing Great Footage of Cars — Time of Day
Image via PopTika.

Most likely, unless you’re shooting inside a warehouse, you’ll be shooting outdoors. While this will yield the most visually striking images, the unpredictable lighting will play differently on the different surfaces of the car. So, let’s say you have free rein to shoot a particular car wherever you want. This is both a curse and a blessing if you don’t live in a beautiful, exotic location with controlled light.

If you’re shooting a brand new car, the goal is to give the viewer the exact feeling you had when you saw your dream car for the first time. To do this, you’ll need the lighting in your favor. There are a few ways you can try to control this. With the sun directly above you, placing the car under a tree can produce some truly stunning results with fractal lights that paint the surface of the car like a piece of art.

You can also consider the classic water-on-the-ground technique. This creates a dreamlike quality — almost as if the car is floating. But instead of waiting on the rain, just hose down your set. Further, if you plan your shoot correctly, the setting sun in the background (or in the foreground) can mask otherwise-unimpressive outdoor settings.

Lighting the Car

If you’re in a warehouse or shooting on an overcast day, consider the color of the car’s paint job before you start rolling. Matte-painted cars will not reflect light like a normal paint job. So, if you’re using a standard glossy car, use heavy diffusion to minimize reflections. If you’re working with a matte paint job, you can use harsher lighting.

Lighting a car can be tricky, especially if you’re working on a tight budget. Given the size and shape of most cars, you’ll need three lights that can effectively expose the entire car. But, if your project focuses on key features of the car, you can light specific parts with one light source.

And, most importantly, remember to avoid your own (or your crew’s) reflection on the car.

Looking for more video production tips? Check out these articles.