Question while shooting car lights

Aug 23, 2007
Hi friends, I have a question: I'm doing a shoot with a senior and they want to have a photo with their car and with the lights on and it's about dusk. How would I get that shot? Meaning ISO, aperture, and shutter speed? Would I have a slow shutter speed to get the car lights to illuminate?

Thanks!! :)
Apr 3, 2006
Would I have a slow shutter speed to get the car lights to illuminate?

Any darker ambient certainly would. The headlights at closest range are probably fairly strong.

I think it is a hard question, that only experimenting will answer.

It seems different situations if you want the headlights to appear to be illuminating the subject, or if they are just present somehow as background. If both lights are to be about equally strong, one needs to be compensated a stop or two less then metering indicates. Then you have to choose which is to be the dominant one, stronger than the other.

I don't know the white balance of headlights, there are different types. If probably close to incandescent, you may want a CTO filter on the flash, so you can set incandescent white balance?

But sure, exposure-wise, you could keep lowering shutter speed on the flash shot to give the ambient you want. Shutter speed does not affect the flash exposure, but it does affect continuous light. So, shutter speed is the control you have of this ratio between them.

But two lights sources probably have white balance issues. The flash is probably white and the headlights probably orange. A little orange may look realistic, but a lot is surely too much.

You might practice in a similar situation with a different person/car on a different evening, and then be more ready on the big day.
Nov 21, 2009
Baton Rouge, La.
I don't know if it helps, but this was shot with a SB-900 split red/blue right behind him on a stand and a SB-900 shot through an umbrella camera right. The red/blue is just that SB as there were no lights in the unit yet, but obviously the headlights were on and we shot in my drive way after dark. If I did it again, I would use a reflector on his right (camera left) to bring up that shadow, but live and learn. The EXIF is intact, but its D7000/105VR 1/160th @ f5.6

Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
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Jul 15, 2010
an alternative is to shoot 2 frames.. take one with lights off and one with lights on and then blend the lights back in in photoshop.

thats a fail safe that you know will work if you don't have time to figure out how to balance the incandescent lights from the car with your ambient light and any strobes you may have.

As Wayne said you have multiple color light sources which is going to really be hard to white balance for..

Ambient = Dusk around 6500-7000k
Flash = 5000-5500k
Incandescent headlights = around 2800-3000k

trying to gel accordingly for each is not going to be easy or perfect.

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