Nighttime car interiors are some of the most challenging shots for a cinematographer to light, but here are a few setups that you can try on your next project.
Some of the best cinematic moments have happened inside cars at night: Scorsese's monologue in Travis Bickle's cab in Taxi Driver, Wayne, Garth, and their buddies singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in Wayne's World, and Drive—like, the whole movie. When combined, the darkness of night and the isolation of the inside of a car creates interesting moods that you can use to increase tension, anticipation, and atmosphere in your films, but unfortunately, the lighting for these types of shots are notoriously challenging to design.
However, in this video, Ted Sim from Aputure does you a solid by explaining four different lighting setups that are commonly used for nighttime car interiors. Check it out below.
Here are the four different looks Ted mentions in the video:
- Moonlight look
- Car dash look
- Neon look
- Rain look
Now, achieving these looks is challenging. You're going to need plenty of lights, modifiers, gels, power, and hands, not to mention space to put all of your equipment, crew, and, you know, a car. And let's get real, if you're a brand new filmmaker or are working with zero budget, you're not shooting your car scenes in a giant studio space. You're shooting out in some empty parking lot at 2 A.M. That means your list of challenges just got a whole lot longer.
You're going to need generators to produce enough juice to light your scene. You're going to have to either navigate around the light that is already there in your location (street lights, fluorescent signs, traffic lights, the moon, etc.) or find out how to work with them. You're going to need permits and permission because shooting a scene with a ton of equipment and people tends to attract a lot of attention and you don't want that attention to be coming from police officers who want to shut your shoot down because you're disturbing the peace. (It helps to call your local police department and just let them know about your shoot.)