Lighting a car with electronic flash?

dav305z

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This is a bit of a gear question and a bit of technique question. I like to shoot cars at sunset. The challenge, as with any subject, is that if you're looking to get the sun set in the shot, the car winds up looking like a dark blob. I've tried using a flash and find it no better than--often worse than--without flash. Same when I try to shoot in other low light like museums.

I've been on professional shoots where the photographer meticulously lights the car with all sorts of equipment and one or two assistants. My question, as a hobbyist without the money for serious lighting gear, is whether it's possible to approximate the effect with an electronic flash attached to the camera. If so, are there any particular flashes that are better than others?
 

minicoop1985

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Maybe a diffuser would help..?
 

Murray Bloom

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Even if the on-camera flash had enough output, it would probably cause specular highlights and flatten the car's contours. There's a reason why such shots are meticulously lit.
 

BenjaminJ

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I had the opportuinity to take evening and night shots when I went to an auto fest last friday. The anti blur mode did pretty good, as did increasing my iso to 16000.
 

Buckster

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This is a bit of a gear question and a bit of technique question. I like to shoot cars at sunset. The challenge, as with any subject, is that if you're looking to get the sun set in the shot, the car winds up looking like a dark blob. I've tried using a flash and find it no better than--often worse than--without flash. Same when I try to shoot in other low light like museums.

I've been on professional shoots where the photographer meticulously lights the car with all sorts of equipment and one or two assistants. My question, as a hobbyist without the money for serious lighting gear, is whether it's possible to approximate the effect with an electronic flash attached to the camera. If so, are there any particular flashes that are better than others?
I would say no, it's not possible to "approximate the effect" that a meticulously lit photo results in by using a flash attached to the camera if you mean it's directly ON the camera and done with a single shot held by hand. Nonetheless, you can get shots of the car and the sunset where both are adequately lit with a bit more gear and a bunch more effort.

First, the flash. For subjects as large as cars that require you to shoot from a distance, you want a flash with as much power as you can afford. I would recommend a Yongnuo 560 or 580 series flash. They've got a lot of power and they don't cost very much compared to the big name brands like Nikon and Canon.

Now then, without the gear necessary to pull this off in a single shot with "meticulous lighting", there are a couple of other methods, and they all involve at the least: a tripod, an off-camera flash, remote triggers, and a lot of time and effort. The best way to "approximate" the shot is this:

The gear you'll need is:
  • The camera
  • a tripod
  • a wireless remote shutter trigger
  • an off-camera flash
  • a set of radio triggers for the flash
  • a diffuser for the flash can help greatly, and the bigger the better for something as large as a car
  • a post processing software that can work with layers and masks
What to do with that stuff:
  • Set up the camera on the tripod with the remote shutter trigger and flash transmitter or transceiver to frame the shot the way you like. Set the aperture and focus the way you want it, then lock them down; Shoot in manual and shut off AF. Very important: Do NOT move the camera for the many shots you'll take in the next couple of steps.
  • Shoot several photos, changing the shutter speed for each one, so that you have shots where the sky looks the way you want and others so the car is well lit from the ambient light.
  • Set the shutter speed to the flash sync speed or lower on the camera, then walk around with the flash in your hand aimed at the car, remote firing photos to light up all the different parts of it from different flash angles. Don't worry about being in the shots - just be sure the camera can see the parts you're lighting as you light them.
  • Bring all the shots into your editing program as different layers, then drill down through those layers with masks to get the photo lit just the way you want, including the sky and every part of the car. Or...
A really great software that can do wonders with this sort of thing is this: HDR ReLight

You could also try an ND filter on the lens to extend your shutter time so that you still get the sky lit the way you want, then multiple-fire the flash by hand during that shutter length to light up the car. With this "single-shot" method, you're likely to get some reflections from the flash on the car, so it will be important to set up the camera and flash relative to the car to minimize that problem. You'll also have to either calculate or guess, chimp and adjust the number of flashes to fire till you get it right.

At this point, you may be seeing why photographers who are into this sort of photography meticulously light them the way they do, then just take a few shots and get it done. The alternate method described above is very time consuming and labor intensive.

For not much more money, you can get another inexpensive flash or two, radio triggers if needed to go with them, a few cheap light stands and umbrellas, make some sandbags to keep them from going anywhere, and learn to light them correctly from the outset, "meticulously" even. You can fit all of it into/onto a small backpack or carry it in the trunk. Have a friend join in to help.

Good luck, and have fun with it.

ETA: This might be worth having a look at as well: http://www.thephotoforum.com/forum/photography-equipment-products/338871-hdd-flash-extender.html
 
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Aloicious

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Buckster covered gear pretty well, I'd strongly recommend using your flash manually, not TTL, its not too hard to learn and you'll have vastly more control over how things turn out. TTL can be okay in certain circumstances, but I've found to be poor in several specific areas, automotive shooting is one of those.

Lighting reflective surfaces like a car is all about geometry. pay close attention to the angle of the light in relation to the angle of the camera to avoid hot spot reflections, you will get some, but you can vastly minimize them, and if used correctly with the contours of the car, they can actually enhance the image too. I strongly recommend you read up on off camera lighting if you're not too familiar with it, look for the book Light science and magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua. its an exceptional resource on learning lighting.
 

amolitor

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Check this video out, starting at about 7:30. You might want to start from the beginning for context, but about 7:30 is where the technique you're looking for starts.

 
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12sndsgood

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I do a lot of car shots and prefer sunset and dark to shoot. Just when I prefer to go out. right now my gear is a mix. I tend to go out with an alien bees AB400 with a 30x42 soft box attached. I would like to get two more of these, but at the time being that is supplemented with a Nikon SB-900 with a shoot thru umbrella and a pair of vivitar 285's with shoot thru umbrellas. I will generally use anywhere from 1-3 flash/strobe combos depending on the car and the light situation The first shot I will show you is a scion TC shot with just the AB400 and softbox and the Nikon SB-900 .





second shot is an FR-S shot similar with the two light setup. difference is black is way worse with reflections and for me the most pain to shoot with lights. for this the AB400 and softbox were aimed down and the car was lit with the light from the strobe bouncing off the ground and back up to the car. this helps minimize the reflection of the light in the car.



Last one was an XA and was lit similar but the softbox was aimed more at the car. generally with cars I will use at least two lights. 1 light to light up the front of the car and the front side and then another light off to the side to light up the backside of the car so it doesn't get too dark.




Not sure if those are the types of shots your wanting to do or not. but that's the basic style of my sunset shots with cars.


so these are all remote lit shots, all shot and manually adjusted. I will use a tripod at times but a lot of times not.
You want to get that flash off camera, its not going to ever be in the right spot on the camera. You can get a cheap set of cactus triggers for like $50 and at least get started on off camera flash. ive used the cactus triggers for around 3 years now. have had them crash to the ground multiple times and have some being held together with ductape to hold it together and they still work good. but definatly have to get that flash off the camera.
 

Braineack

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I like to talk shop with this guy across the pond: Flickr: PGDesigns.co.uk

He likes to do multiple shots and combine them later in PS. In a nutshell he'll: get shots of the scene without the car, and then multiple exposures of the car with a flash in vairous locations around the entire car. I think his work is amazing.
 

Tailgunner

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This is a bit of a gear question and a bit of technique question. I like to shoot cars at sunset. The challenge, as with any subject, is that if you're looking to get the sun set in the shot, the car winds up looking like a dark blob. I've tried using a flash and find it no better than--often worse than--without flash. Same when I try to shoot in other low light like museums.

I've been on professional shoots where the photographer meticulously lights the car with all sorts of equipment and one or two assistants. My question, as a hobbyist without the money for serious lighting gear, is whether it's possible to approximate the effect with an electronic flash attached to the camera. If so, are there any particular flashes that are better than others?
I would say no, it's not possible to "approximate the effect" that a meticulously lit photo results in by using a flash attached to the camera if you mean it's directly ON the camera and done with a single shot held by hand. Nonetheless, you can get shots of the car and the sunset where both are adequately lit with a bit more gear and a bunch more effort.

First, the flash. For subjects as large as cars that require you to shoot from a distance, you want a flash with as much power as you can afford. I would recommend a Yongnuo 560 or 580 series flash. They've got a lot of power and they don't cost very much compared to the big name brands like Nikon and Canon.

Now then, without the gear necessary to pull this off in a single shot with "meticulous lighting", there are a couple of other methods, and they all involve at the least: a tripod, an off-camera flash, remote triggers, and a lot of time and effort. The best way to "approximate" the shot is this:

The gear you'll need is:
  • The camera
  • a tripod
  • a wireless remote shutter trigger
  • an off-camera flash
  • a set of radio triggers for the flash
  • a diffuser for the flash can help greatly, and the bigger the better for something as large as a car
  • a post processing software that can work with layers and masks
What to do with that stuff:
  • Set up the camera on the tripod with the remote shutter trigger and flash transmitter or transceiver to frame the shot the way you like. Set the aperture and focus the way you want it, then lock them down; Shoot in manual and shut off AF. Very important: Do NOT move the camera for the many shots you'll take in the next couple of steps.
  • Shoot several photos, changing the shutter speed for each one, so that you have shots where the sky looks the way you want and others so the car is well lit from the ambient light.
  • Set the shutter speed to the flash sync speed or lower on the camera, then walk around with the flash in your hand aimed at the car, remote firing photos to light up all the different parts of it from different flash angles. Don't worry about being in the shots - just be sure the camera can see the parts you're lighting as you light them.
  • Bring all the shots into your editing program as different layers, then drill down through those layers with masks to get the photo lit just the way you want, including the sky and every part of the car. Or...
A really great software that can do wonders with this sort of thing is this: HDR ReLight

You could also try an ND filter on the lens to extend your shutter time so that you still get the sky lit the way you want, then multiple-fire the flash by hand during that shutter length to light up the car. With this "single-shot" method, you're likely to get some reflections from the flash on the car, so it will be important to set up the camera and flash relative to the car to minimize that problem. You'll also have to either calculate or guess, chimp and adjust the number of flashes to fire till you get it right.

At this point, you may be seeing why photographers who are into this sort of photography meticulously light them the way they do, then just take a few shots and get it done. The alternate method described above is very time consuming and labor intensive.

For not much more money, you can get another inexpensive flash or two, radio triggers if needed to go with them, a few cheap light stands and umbrellas, make some sandbags to keep them from going anywhere, and learn to light them correctly from the outset, "meticulously" even. You can fit all of it into/onto a small backpack or carry it in the trunk. Have a friend join in to help.

Good luck, and have fun with it.

ETA: This might be worth having a look at as well: http://www.thephotoforum.com/forum/photography-equipment-products/338871-hdd-flash-extender.html

Sounds like you've done this a time or two Buckster. Now not to change the subject but can the same be apply to shooting people?
 

Buckster

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Sounds like you've done this a time or two Buckster. Now not to change the subject but can the same be apply to shooting people?
Multiple-flashing of people can be a lot tougher to pull off because they move between flashes, which produces either a blurry person if shot in a single long exposure, or a LOT more work matching them up later in post by drilling down through multiple layers and moving parts of the people around to that the seams match up correctly. It's really not worth it, IMHO.

A hundred-plus years ago, when nearly all studio photos were long exposures, photographers would position their subjects in the studio with metal rods behind them to support them, especially their heads, so that they wouldn't move. I guess if you went to those kinds of lengths by introducing some sort of support system so they don't move, you could pull it off.

It's just that there are a lot easier and more efficient ways to do it these days, using flashes and reflectors that don't cost much, or simply compositing the subject(s) into a well-shot and lit background in post.

If compositing interests you, here's a really great how-to book on the subject: Amazon.com: Photoshop Compositing Secrets: Unlocking the Key to Perfect Selections and Amazing Photoshop Effects for Totally Realistic Composites eBook: Matt Kloskowski: Kindle Store
 

Braineack

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This is a cool one: TVR - Before and After | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Like many photographers I get asked how my images were made up, so here's one to explain...
The After shot is made up of 3 exposures, these cover the Light Painting of the car.

After a chunk of Photoshopping I still wasn't happy with the result, something was wrong - but what!?
Then I chopped out the tree and sky for something else, instantly the shot looked better! Then I pushed it a bit harder, and went for the sunset backdrop - until I arrived at the result
 

Tailgunner

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Sounds like you've done this a time or two Buckster. Now not to change the subject but can the same be apply to shooting people?
Multiple-flashing of people can be a lot tougher to pull off because they move between flashes, which produces either a blurry person if shot in a single long exposure, or a LOT more work matching them up later in post by drilling down through multiple layers and moving parts of the people around to that the seams match up correctly. It's really not worth it, IMHO.

A hundred-plus years ago, when nearly all studio photos were long exposures, photographers would position their subjects in the studio with metal rods behind them to support them, especially their heads, so that they wouldn't move. I guess if you went to those kinds of lengths by introducing some sort of support system so they don't move, you could pull it off.

It's just that there are a lot easier and more efficient ways to do it these days, using flashes and reflectors that don't cost much, or simply compositing the subject(s) into a well-shot and lit background in post.

If compositing interests you, here's a really great how-to book on the subject: Amazon.com: Photoshop Compositing Secrets: Unlocking the Key to Perfect Selections and Amazing Photoshop Effects for Totally Realistic Composites eBook: Matt Kloskowski: Kindle Store

Thanks, you're a wealth of knowledge. I was just thinking about trying something like it out on a family portrait type photo but that's a subject for another thread.

Anyhow, I've also been dying to take some evening photos of the truck. So I'm going try this out.
 

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