Watch: How to Light a Car Commercial

Bill Bennett, ASC Creates Car Commercial Lighting
Who ever thought selling cars could be this complicated?

We've all seen them: shiny cars flying through nature landscapes, promising simultaneously the dream of freedom and the dream of comfort. But what role does the cinematographer play?

Bill Bennett, ASC spent a day with students breaking down his process of lighting for car commercials.

Using a scaled-down car model, Bennett and his student crew use the following tools to create the effect:

  • Two 10'x20' seamless muslin panels
  • One 12x12' black
  • Strip lights to light one panel
  • Nook lights to light the other
  • 4'x20' gel frames (warm on the right, cool on left side)
  • Horizon light (black duvetyne hung on a pipe)

Parking the car in a front 3/4 position allows the camera to see half of the front and half of the side of the car—what many car manufacturers want to see. After the initial setup is in place, many small adjustments are made to perfect the quality of reflections. Using a bright flashlight, Bennett demonstrates how to find the source of any reflection problems you might be having (as he says, "Whether you're lighting a teapot or a car").

Measuring the light reflections with a spot meter allows you to pick up the exposure from the reflections of a car, whereas an incident meter would not give accurate readings. However, it's clear from the video that a good monitor with exposure tools is Bennett's light meter of choice. Also worth noting: when shooting the car itself, Bennett uses a 270° shutter angle.

For more informative videos like this, check out the American Cinematographer Vimeo channel    

Your Comment


You went to a helluva lot of trouble to get your 'beauty shot' yet the illusion was immediately broken with the table the vehicle sat upon. At least, set the car on something that resembles the ground.

March 28, 2017 at 8:24AM

Lee Albright
Owner-Albright Films

This was a demonstration to students for how to light a car, not a shoot for a client. The floor in this case didn't matter.

March 28, 2017 at 4:15PM

Steve Yager

Is that a Bat-signal I see @ 1:05?

March 28, 2017 at 9:43AM, Edited March 28, 9:43AM


YES. just saw that! haha

March 28, 2017 at 7:12PM

Colton Williams
DP / Editor

Remarkable how much time and money can be wasted to achieve a very unremarkable result. Seriously a $100k camera package to shoot a 10 second slide of a model car. I need to upgrade my clients !!

March 28, 2017 at 2:10PM

Reply was a lesson for a class. What are you talking about?

March 28, 2017 at 4:09PM

Chris Kas
Jack of all trades

Looked pretty remarkable to me. And all the gear was probably owned by the school.

March 28, 2017 at 4:16PM

Steve Yager

The negative comments here amaze me.

This is a master class in lighting cars and you complain that they are lighting a model? Increase the size of everything by 6 and you should understand why it would be difficult to run a workshop with a real car.

A few thoughts on the tutorial; Sometimes you want everything under the ‘belt line’ blacked to accentuate its sharpness, it depends on the car.

Grading can help things like wheels which can be hard to light separately from the car.

Focal length can be important, some manufactures want to make large cars seem smaller or vice versa, making lens selection crucial.

March 28, 2017 at 7:11PM

Andrew Stalph

"However, it's clear from the video that a good monitor with exposure tools is Bennett's light meter of choice. "

That's actually not true. There Are Monitors with Good exposure tools, but this time its a Software tool called "Eposure Check" coming through a monitor-out of an ARRI Camera "...which is like the worlds most expensive spot-meter.." as quoted from the video.

March 29, 2017 at 4:05AM

Karsten Floegel
Head of Camera Department/Photographer