What are the different methods of shooting dialog in a moving car? Can you do night time scenes?
-Ian Bloom

There are several methods of doing this.

  • The simplest is to shoot hand held inside the car with a smallish camera and a small amount of light on the actor, either from the outside of the car or choose a spot in a well lit street where enough natural light will enter the car to get an exposure.
  • Next variation would be to fix the camera outside with a “suction” mount or something similar.  You can shoot through the windscreen this way (choose a place with interesting reflections).  A small external light (use a mechanics fluorescent that will clip on to the car battery?) will probably be essential.
  • In the studio (costs are going up!) Blue Screen/Back Projection can be used and the background added later, or backprojection using either a video or movie projector. Backgrounds (called “Plates”) would have to shot beforehand for this method.
I have a question regarding the feasibility of "do it yourself" car mounts
for the camera.  I would ideally like to get some decent shots
through the driver's side window of both passengers, traveling at no more
than 15-20 mph.  I've used a 2x4 before to shoot towards the back window,
but not thru the front.
I have very little money and no access to fancy rigs...any thoughts???

Assuming a 2x4 is a piece of wood (?), then you are on the right lines.  Professional “hostess trays” are used for clipping on the drivers and passengers windows with the camera mounted on top pointing though the window.  With a lighter camera, you could make a simple device to do this out of wood or metal.  In general always use a “safety” - a line or rope secured to the rig so that is it breaks the camera does not fall off!  Lighting contrast is always a problem in a car.  Your choices are to get some daylight balanced lights through the front windshield, or put some ND filter on the window behind the drive so that the background does not “burn out”.  At night the balance is easier, though the exposure may drop too low if you don't add some small tungsten light.

Hi, I've been having trouble shooting through car windshields while
retaining visibility of the subjects inside. However, I've seen it done
successfully in a lot of mainstream work. Besides shooting in a studio,
how would you suggest to deal with the glare from the sun and sky?
Baltimore, Maryland

In still photography, one of the most essential filter for outdoor
shooting is the polarizer. Are polarizers used in filming?

I'll answer these two at once.   A polarising filter is an essential tool for shooting car windows, and also one of the only ways of deepening the blue of a sky, and lessening the glare off water.  Because a polariser reduces the light in the opposite “plane” to how the polariser is set, it can be useful in many situations where an increase in colour contrast is sought.  If you have a pair of polaroid sunglasses, you can rotate them and you will see a change in  skys, windows and any reflective surface that polarises the light.  If you get two pairs you will see the whole view turn black as you rotate them.  This is because if you polarise the light in two directions then no light will be transmitted.  Don't forget to compensate the exposure ? around 2 stops in most situations.


Hi. I'm making a low budget 16mm student film. Do you know of any good tips/strategies for lighting a character inside a moving car in the day (i.e. how to power such a light, is it possible to get the power straight from the car?) while exposing correctly outside as well, (ie large ND filters on the windshield). Any websites I'm not seeing that you'd recommend???--Nick

Nice to know someone still shoots student films in 16mm! Portable HMI lights are your best bet as they are bright and the right colour. Try and get a suction mount to put one on the bonnet (hood). Diffuse it if you want it softer. It it's a side shot, you could ND the side window and leave the windscreen (shield) untreated and maybe enough light will come in. Try and use a car with a sunroof. This makes a huge difference to the balance. You can diffuse the sunroof if there is too much sun. Choose the location carefully. Where will the sun be when you shoot there? Overhanging trees can make a boring shot come to life with the light changing all the time. Don't be too afraid of occasional flashes of direct sun "overexposing" as the film will make this look great (unlike video). Hand held is also a way to go in a car as long as the streets are not too bumpy.


I'm about to make a film at university about a man driving a stolen car. My question is about how to film somebody through the front windshield. How can it be done without me getting on the bonnet and risking my life to get the shot???-Richard

There are many ways to film a car: most of them are quite safe and a few are not - such as the idea mentioned! Unfortunately the safest ways are the most usual.

First of all you have to decide what kind of shot you want. Static (fixed frame) or moving (panning) or car-to-car with or without craning ? the last option is obviously the most expensive but in some ways is the most versatile. As you are at university it is likely that you won't have access to a crane on a camera car, but you can still do shots car-to-car either hand held or with a tripod in the back of a van with the side door (sliding please!) open. One of the things to remember is that if you are doing this in daylight a sunroof will make a big difference to the light level inside the car, which may mean you don't need lights shining through the front window which can be quite tricky to rig and need fancy battery powered HMI lights, or lights than run off a small genny in the trunk (boot for UK readers). You can also do handheld of the driver from the passenger seat, or from the back seat. The shot of the passenger is a bit more tricky unless you do this from the back seat also.

The gadget that clicks onto the sill of the window is called a Hostess tray and this is a way to fix a camera on the side of the car. Make sure the actor is a good driver before you do this! Small cameras can also be mounted with a rubber suction mount which you could borrow from any decent grip store. There are a number of small remote heads coming on the market designed for DV cameras which can pan the camera with a remote control. This kind of thing is useful if you want to pan from the passenger to the driver through the front windscreen.

Incidentally test the window with your polarizing filter before you decide on a car as some older models can do weird things with a pola filter which is almost an essential for shooting through the front window.

Lastly, you can put the car on a trailer, but this will bring it up quite high unless it is a "pro" trailer which are very expensive. The height won't matter in the countryside but will really matter in town for obvious reasons! The advantage of a trailer is that the actor doesn't have to drive and you have much more control over the lighting and the shots. The bad news is that very few actors can drive convincingly when they aren't actually driving!

The first half of the film is warm and light and the second half is cold and dark, is there anything you could recommend to help convey those feelings, using filters etc, especially in a car setting? Thanks in advance.--Derek

The obvious answer is to shoot the first part with a warm or Sepia or 85 type filter with the camera balanced to "daylight" and then the second part with the camera balanced to tungsten which will make the daylight very cool. Of course you could achieve this afterwards with the timing process, but there are subtle differences between doing it in the camera and doing it later. Not being a MiniDV expert you'd have to check that by experimenting. If you are in the car a great deal, think about the relationship both in colour and contrast between the outside and inside of the car. You can make a big difference to how the windows look by putting ND Gel (0.3,0.6,0.9 etc) on the windows and even using colours on the gel to alter the colour of the outside that you see. Soft gel may give you reflection problems, but not always - especially if it is applied carefully. In the "cold and dark" half you could use a lower exposure to get the driver more into semi-silhouette or full silhouette. For daylight the direction that the car is travelling in relation to the light makes a big difference so choose your roads carefully and think about using overhead trees to create a shadowy effect from sunlight at the carefully chosen time of day.

Just a quick question: Do you know of anything available on the highstreet that makes a good cheap replacement for ND gel? On a recent shoot I tried using a black bin bag, which was silly because it just melted, but was thinking perhaps a thicker variety of black bag might work. I'm in the UK so if you could angle your answer with that in mind I'd appreciate it.
Great column by the way. Not that the other two aren't great as well, but as a 2nd year film student I'm starting to feel that cinematography is ultimately the true art and craft of film and am close to becoming a little obsessed. Shame my experimentation is mainly limited to consumer mini-DV cameras.

Obsession is good! Not sure about shooting through bin liners though: might want to rethink that one. The cost of ND gels is a pain, especially the hard variety which is good for shooting with cars or anywhere where reflections from the soft ones might be a problem.

Sometimes you can get away with black net which is re-usable and cheaper (bobbinet is sometimes a name that is used). It doesn't reflect but is not much more than ˝ stop before it gets too thick and becomes visible. I use 12ftx12ft black nets sometime behind an actor in a static shot to bring the brightness of the BG down a bit: just has to be far enough away to be out of focus, or use a longer lens and/or shallow stop.

Your local car accessory store may have illegal stick on gel for car windows to make it dark and mysterious inside. If it comes complete with ultra-violet under-car flouros, maybe you could use them in a nightclub scene!

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