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Filmmaker Tips & Tricks: How To Shoot a Car Commercial

Mackenzie Scott

Jul 21, 2021

*Disclosure: We only recommend products we use (or would use) for our in-house video production. If you purchase something through the affiliate links in this post, Soundstripe may earn a small commission.


“This shoot looked wildly different six hours ago... We had the crew booked, the studio booked, and we realized we still needed to make something happen.” — Soundstripe Creative Director Jonathan Frazier

There’s a reason — well, more like 20 reasons — why production teams put in so much work on the front end to create treatments, shot lists, shooting scripts, lighting overheads, and more. 

A smooth production isn’t possible without this type of preparation in pre-production (which is why it's important to know how to write YouTube scripts, treatments, etc. in the first place).

But even with weeks of planning, it’s a safe bet that things won’t always go according to plan.

That’s something our Creative Team was reminded of when we arrived on set to film the video featured above. 

All it took was one phone call from our talent (who came down sick) for our team to abandon the Plan A we expected and transition to a Plan B we hadn’t prepared for. 

Instead of shooting a live music performance, we would now shoot a car commercial in the same location with the same crew we’d already booked. Talk about a production pivot, right?

Within six hours, we rented a Tesla Model 3, developed an entirely new shot list, and experimented with different staging and lighting techniques for this shoot.  


In this post, we’ll share our main takeaways from this process and a few things to keep in mind when shooting a car commercial for clients or as a way to get clients for video production.

How to shoot a car commercial in any location

Step 1: Have a car

It goes without saying that you can’t pull off a product shoot without the actual product. 

(Well, unless you have the budget bandwidth to film with something like a CGI vehicle.)

For corporate filmmakers, the importance of the product is undeniable. It’s the focal point of your video but, more specifically, it’s the thing that your company and client partners want help selling. 

The most common scenario is that a client supplies you with the vehicle for your shoot and enough pre-production time to develop the commercial concept and production plan. 

But if our situation taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to be hired by a brand like Volkswagen or BMW to plan, produce, and distribute a cinematic car commercial. 

Like us, you could rent a car through a marketplace like Turo and shoot a commercial on spec (or just for your creative portfolio). 

It’s not often that you’ll find yourself in a situation like ours. But if you do, you can pull off a great car commercial shoot with some strategic studio lighting, movement magic, and hero shots.

Step 2: In-studio lighting

Long before you set foot on set, it’s helpful to know as much about the car (i.e., the product) as you can. That’s because the more you know about the product, the better informed you are when showcasing it in the commercial. 

But, as prepared as you are, there are still certain questions you won’t be able to answer until you see the car in person — especially when it comes to lighting. 

Here’s what we mean. 

When you’re shooting a commercial inside a studio, you have all of the lighting equipment, camera rigs, sound equipment, etc., that you could possibly need at the ready. 

But it’s only when you turn on the vehicle’s headlights or shed some light on the body that you find out if the headlights are extremely bright or if there are any reflection problems.

From there, you can tweak your lighting setup to accentuate the car’s appearance in the best way.  

For our team, this meant using Astera Titan tubes in a single long run to highlight the curvature of the Tesla Model 3. And plenty of bounce cards to soften the light sources near the car.

Step 3: Movement magic

When you think of car commercials, you might visualize those long cinematic tracking shots of a car driving down a winding highway or across rocky terrain. 

If you’re able to shoot off-site, that’s a great way to capture how the car drives — especially if it’s equipped for off-road driving and/or extreme weather conditions. 

While this is ideal, it’s not always possible to film in multiple locations or even outside of a studio setting. 

In our Creative Team’s case, we had one day to shoot the entire commercial in one studio. 

Since we couldn’t showcase our product (aka the Tesla Model 3) on the road, we used a few video production techniques to create the illusion of movement. Here are a couple ways we did that:

  1. 1. Positioned the ​​Asteran Titan tubes above the car and changed the setting so the light would move from one end of the tube to the other. (This makes it appear like the car is moving forward, potentially through a dark tunnel.)

  2. 2. Used a haze generator and fan. (This gives the impression that the car is driving on a foggy night and also creates more separation between the foreground and background.

Step 4: The hero shot

The hero shot is the star of any product shoot, and a car commercial is no exception. 

With the right lighting, staging, and movement techniques, you can showcase your client’s product in the most appealing way — whether you’re limited to one studio location or not.

The hero shot is used to demonstrate the product’s value proposition and show off the car’s sleek build, off-road capabilities, smooth driving performance, etc. 

Essentially, this is your opportunity to feature all of the important visual and functional details that potential buyers would be interested in.

For our car commercial, capturing a cinematic hero shot was our top priority — so much so that we made adjustments to the staging and lighting until we got the shot we really wanted. 

If you’re interested in seeing exactly how we captured our hero shot, make sure to check out our breakdown of the shot in our Tips & Tricks video.

Looking For More Filmmaker Tips & Tricks?

Interested in filming cinematic interviews or making travel vlogs? You can find more filmmaker tips and tricks on Soundstripe’s YouTube channel.