Shooting Car Interiors – In An Improvised Studio

Hi and welcome to this blog post about how to shoot a commercial-like car interior photo in an improvised studio.

! Before I will come to the topic, I want to note that I will publish blog posts in a regular basis from now on – every 1st and 3rd Sunday of a month.

Okay, lets start.

A few month ago, I made my first try on car photography in a more professional and commercial-like way.
Except that I love to drive cars and think that tuning them discreetly is necessary I’m not a real car fan. However, my interest on this field of photography grew because of my ambition to shoot portraits of people in a context to their interests. I started with my grandpa and his 1956 BMW motorcycle and when my cousin Anna-Lena will get her drivers license I also want to take a photo of her and her first car etc. I don’t just want to take an usual photo but something special. To me that “something special” is a commercial-like looking image – shot with professional techniques and camera systems to get high-quality. That’s my approach in all fields of photography that I’m active in. I just love that commercial look and the high-quality.

After I shot an Audi A4 from outside a few months ago, I wanted to take an interior shot this time. Therefor I used a 5er BMW.

At the Audi shoot I recognized that I would need a much bigger white surface to bounce off the flash to flood the car with 5000K warm light.
For the interior shot I built an improvised studio in the garage. The garage was renovated a few years ago and is shiny white now. Because I only wanted to shoot the cockpit of the BMW I would only need three white walls that surround it. I hung up a white plastic blanket to hide the work bench and to have also a plain white surface in front of the car.

Finally, I had three white walls to bounce off the flash to illuminate the car interior with diffuse light.
The wrinkles on the blanket don’t matter because the flash will lighten it up so strong that you won’t see any of the wrinkles in the final image.
Then I drove in the car and began to mount the Nikon Speedlights. I mounted one Speedlight on every roof rail and adjusted it so that its light would bounce off the ceiling and wall. A third Speedlight I just set in the middle of the car roof – it would illuminate the ceiling and blanket in front of the car. Finally, the cockpit would be illuminated from all three sides by a diffuse light.

In the next step, I set up the camera inside the car on the back seat. To have more working space I expanded the trunk by turning down the back seats.
I used a small tripod and arranged it in the right position – in the middle of the car.
To control the Speedlights I used the Nikon SB-800 Commander and set them to manual power. The Speedlights on the left and right were set to group A and the one in the middle to group B – all with an power output of 1/1 and zoomed to 14mm to spread the light as much as possible to flood the cockpit with soft 5000K warm light.
My Nikon D3 was also set to manual mode and I used a Tamron 10-24mm/4.5-5.6 lens.

I thought it would take a bit more of lighting arrangement but right after the second shot the whole shoot was done. Here’s the result:

Very commercial-like.
The white windows an mirrors are easy to select with the Photoshop “Magic Wand Tool” to insert a scenery or whatever.

I gave it a try and inserted the Skyline of Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

However, the next time I will create a 100% realistic car interior image without photoshopping the windows and mirrors …
So, maybe you want to turn your garage into a car studio now, too … Have fun!


Car Shoot

Hi there,

My cousin Anna will get her drivers license soon and she will also get a car – the Mini Cooper of her mother. Well, I want to shoot her with her first car. Something like an Need For Speed Underground thing or so. However, the problem is: I don’t know anything about lighting cars or car scenes. So, this is a good example for my slogan: “Striving for the better picture everyday.”
I drove into the field this evening and tried to shoot my own car. Because I don’t know anything about shooting cars, I surfed on websites of professional car commercial photographers to get an imagination about angle, setup, lighting etc. Everyone knows that typical car ads in magazines or on billboards etc. Pretty cool stuff, isn’t it? Dramatic sky, motion, clean car, great lighting etc. Awesome shots.

So, I used my whole knowledge about lighting from sports and portraiture and just gave it a try.

All I know was, that I need very soft light and that it must come from an angle that doesn’t cause reflections on the car. Therefor I would have to spread and soften the light as much as possible but not too much so that I would still have a high quality of light. Phew! Hard conditions. Anyway, I tried it with a diffuser. It was much too small but I’ll use a larger one the next time.
Because one light source is almost not enough to light the car effectively I would need a bunch of them. Another option would be to wait for less available light so a few flashes would spend enough light (quality). Well, there a many other ways. Here I used three flashes only. Another thing is that it’s better not to light the whole car but generate some shadows to create an interesting image with drama etc. Here I lit the whole car so that there are no contours and shadows but just a white dull surface.

Finally, my session ended in results like the following image. I think I’m on a good way but not on the royal road. Maybe there is really no way around Photoshop?! I don’t think so …

If you have any tips – let me know!
If you have a cool car that you want to be shot – also let me know!