I'm a camera collector, and a bit of an everything else enthusiast. I like planes, fast cars, gadgets, you name it, and I probably have at least one piece of it. The one thing I never really got in to though was models. I suppose a model meant to me that I was never going to have the full size one, and since I strongly disagree with that, I've never made an effort.

But after our open house at school where a few of my friends brought in a hot rod and the necessary 40 foot scrims and thousands of watt seconds, I had a hankering to shoot a car. And while getting a cool car isn't difficult at times, getting those expensive scrims and the space to hang them is pretty hard. Check out how I managed to pull it off, after the jump.

Like I said, scrims costing $2,000 apiece and a car-sized studio aren't easy to come by. But a very elegant solution was presented when I stopped at home and remembered the wall full of scale model cars sitting there. I fit three of them in my carry on luggage, and shot them all in one day. I even learned about lighting large objects at the same time.

Now I know someone out there is going to be wondering how you learn about lighting a car from shooting a model smaller than a foot long. But the lighting principles are the same, no matter the size of the model. It was easy to see the mechanics at work, so now equipment aside, lighting a car is something I'd be comfortable doing for a client.

The first thing to remember about cars is that they're shiny. Really, really shiny. And rounded. They reflect *everything* they see, just like metal. And then they're big. Not in this case, but a real one is.

So when you have a big, shiny, round reflective item, you need a huge light source. Here's where you're learning on small scale for real life. A 10" model that represents a 14' car needs a similarly scaled light source. That 40' scrim suddenly shrinks to a 3x4 softbox, and it's a whole lot easier to move around.

The last thing to consider is the height of the softbox in relation to the model. Remember, that 10" is now 14', and we all know that the closer the light source, the better the light will look. Here's the real world scaling problem. The softbox needs to be about 4" away from the car. Closer if you can manage it, but my diffusion material was sagging in the middle.

Your camera, on the other hand, did not shrink with the car. So now you're jamming a full sized lens into a mini car studio. That front element is now 10' tall, comparatively, and unless it's really long, it's going to be like using a wide angle lens, which can distort the lines of the car.



I had a lot of extra material around all the cars I shot. You can see the softbox in the top, and even the tape holding down the gray seamless I was using. That led to some interesting editing choices, between cutting, stretching and blurring the floor to cover the bottom of the frame, and blacking out the top using the gradient tool.

I did two edits of three shots with each car, a fully revealed side, a concealed side, and a concealed 3/4 view. I like the concealed view because it just shows the lines of these gorgeous tiny cars, a la Ken Brown who was definitely the inspiration for these pics. He's got this down to a science, and I'm just playing with toys.

Still, working with something on a small scale and working up to the big league sounds like the way to go for me. And if you don't tell anyone it's a toy, I won't.

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