Manfrotto ™
A Vitec Group brand

Car On Water

The title of this lesson sounds rather lofty, yet it's really very simple. In the auto advertising industry, floating a car is commonplace and requires a lot planning, manpower and hard work. This lesson will do the same thing on a much smaller scale and in a simpler way. The techniques we will present in this lesson can easily be applied to numerous different subjects with some very cool results

Topics Covered:

  • Set construction
  • Floating your subject
  • Choosing the right tripod and head combination
  • Three/quarter back lighting
  • Controlling the reflections
  • Setting up the tripod
  • Adding accent lighting
  • Making waves

Manfrotto Equipment Used:

  • 055DB Tripod
  • 405 Geared 3-Way Head

Other Equipment Used:

  • Olympus 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Digital Zuiko Zoom Lens
  • Olympus EVOLT E-300
  • Lexar 2GB Compact Flash Card
  • Lexar Multi Card Reader
  • Light meter
  • Photoflex HalfDome2
  • Photoflex LiteDisc Holder
  • Photoflex Starlite Kit Large
  • Photoflex Weightbag
  • Dedotec DLH4 tungsten spot lights
  • Dedotec DT24-1U controller
  • Boom and boom stand
Important Note:

There are some safety items to consider any time we bring water and electricity together. The ideal situation would be to have all lights and power cables hung from above the set using a system like the Manfrotto Sky Track, but whatever you use, we highly suggest that you take heed and be very careful with the placement of power cords and power supplies. Be sure all supports and materials you choose for your set can handle the weight load you intend to apply.
Set Construction:

As we mentioned, floating a car in auto advertising is quite common. Typically they find a large flat parking lot and create a low dam, around 4 to 8 inches high with sand bags. Then the car is placed into position on short blocks and the lot is flooded to create a large shallow reservoir. This creates a smooth surface almost like a black mirror that reflects the subject in very cool ways.

We will recreate this technique in the studio on a small scale, using items we can find in a garden or home improvement store: a medium sized mud mixing tray (24 X 18 X 6), bricks, and some interesting garden stepping stones.

Once we got back to the studio, we set up our heavy duty sawhorses and a 3X4 foot, 3/4 inch thick section of plywood as our tabletop.

Next, about two feet behind the table, we set up a background pole on two lightstands and attached a 9 foot roll of black seamless paper. We lifted the paper roll about three feet above the table surface and pulled out enough paper to cover the table, clamping it to the front edge. To make light placement easier we cut off the two front corners of the paper then set our reservoir on the set.

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows the basics of our set with the stepping stones in place. We know we want the water level to be at the top of the tray and we want the subject to appear like its floating. With this in mind we placed bricks and shims under the stepping stone so that it would be about ¼ inch under water when we filled the tray.
We filled our tray with water. (Again, practice caution here if your electrical equipment is already in place). Before we started, we calculated that we would need about eight gallons of water to get the effect we wanted. So we filled a 10 gallon trash can and brought this to the set, then used a plastic pitcher to fill the tray (figure 2).

Figure 2

Before you fill the tray, it's a good idea to clean it out so when it's filled there is no dust or debris floating on the water. Also we feel the method described for filling the tray is much safer than running a hose in to the studio. A hose may be faster but it is better to be safe than sorry! Plus, the trash can gives you a place to put the water when you're done.

Figure 3
Figure 3 shows the tray filled to the level desired. We placed the cobra model in position on the stepping stone.
Choosing the Tripod and Head

Now that we have the model prepared, it's time to break out the tools necessary to capture the shot. The first item we need is the tripod. We chose the sturdy and all-around basic Manfrotto 055DB (3011BN) because it has the flexibility and features we need to easily get our camera into position. On top of the tripod we mounted the equally flexible Manfrotto 405 3-way head. When we need to move our camera just slightly, the 405 3-way head makes it easy and precise (figure 4 and 5). More on this to come!

Figure 4

Figure 5
Like all Manfrotto tripods, the 055DB (3011BN) is very simple to set up. To extend the legs simply loosen the locking knob on the leg collar, extend the leg to the desired length and tighten the knob (figure 6).

Figure 6


To make adjustments to the center column height loosen the locking knob at the top of the tripod, then position the center column where you want it then tighten the locking knob (figures 7 and 8).

Figure 7

Figure 8

Figure 9
The 405 3-way geared head offers the best mix of rapid camera positioning and precise final adjustment. There are two control knobs on each of the three adjustment handles. The large knob allows for quick approximate positioning in the range of motion on the relevant axis, while the smaller knob allows for precise geared final adjustments on the same axis (figure 9).

Figure 10
The term 3-way describes the adjustment planes available on a 3-way head. The first of these adjustments is the flat plane, this the handle on the bottom of the head that allows the head to turn 360 degrees parallel to the ground (figure 10).

Figure 11
The second plane is the first of the two vertical adjustments, allowing the camera to point up and down. The range of motion is +90 degrees (down) and -30 degrees (up) (figure 11).

Figure 12
The last adjustment on the second vertical plane sets the camera into the "landscape" or "portrait" orientation. Again, these adjustments are -30 degrees and +90 degrees (figure 12).
Three-Quarter Back Lighting

With the set put together and our car in place, and the tripod chosen we can start the lighting process. The main/key light for this shot will be a 1000 watt Starlite in a Large SilverDome soft box placed over the top and just behind the subject.

This is commonly referred to as a three-quarter back lighting pattern. This set up will light the subject without placing highlights in the reflective surface of the water.
In figure 13, we see the placement of the main/key light over the subject and set.

Figure 13
Before we set the camera and get started shooting, we need to place a cutter card between the light and the background. This cutter will control the light falling behind the car, allowing us to get a pure black background.

To create the gradation to black on the background, we cut a section of black foam core about 10 inches wide and three feet long.

Then we set up a Photoflex LiteDisc Holder on to a light stand and placed this assembly on to the set under the main/key light.

With the spring clamp on the end of the LiteDisc Holder, we attached the black foam core cutter to block the light from the main/key light from striking the surface behind the car (figure 14).

Figure 14
Figure 14 shows the position of the cutter card, creating the gradation to black.
With our main/key light in place and controlled, we now have the space to set up the camera and tripod. Once we set the tripod in place we could attach the camera to the quick release plate. To remove the plate press the release and move the handle at the same time, the handle will click into the open position and the plate will pop up (figures 15 and 16).

Figure 15

Figure 16
Wwe attached the camera to the plate, then fixed the camera and plate to the tripod head and pressed gently until it snapped securely into place.
Once we had the camera and the tripod assembled, we set the camera's programs to the following. The white balance was set to Tungsten, the ISO to 100, the focus to Manual , the exposure to Manual, and the resolution to TIFF. Once the camera was set and we found the camera angle, we squeezed off our first shot.

Figure 17
In figure 17, our result shows the effect of the lighting pattern on the car and in the reflection. The broad highlights accentuate the clean classic lines of the car and are mirrored in the reflection on the water. The two images work together to add interest to the overall shot.
The top of the car is now looking good. Our next task is to light the side.

To keep the lighting looking consistent, we set up a Small Silver HalfDome with a Starlite and a 500 watt lamp on a light stand. We placed this assembly to camera right at a 45 degree angle to the set and about 18 inches from the car.

Again we set a cutter card in between the second light and the background to control the light on the background and keep our gradation going to black (figure 18).

Figure 18
Figure 18 shows the placement of the second light and our cutter.
In figure 19, we have moved in to show the cutter card placement. Again, this is black foam core about 6 inches wide and a foot long. We simply attached a spring clamp to the edge to hold in place.

Figure 19

Figure 20
In figure 20, we see that the second light has opened up the detail on the side of the car and in the reflection on the water.

We could stop here and have a pretty cool image.
In figure 21 and 22, we can see a side-by-side comparison of the first and second result shots showing the improvements we made adding the second light.

Figure 21

Figure 22
Our next addition to the lighting set-up will be to add our accent lights. To accomplish this we will employ the DLH4 tungsten spot lights from Dedotec.

To start, we set up a DLH4 light on a stand and placed it to camera left. We set the height of the light about eight inches above the level of the car on the set. Then we connected the light into the DT24-1U controller unit and plugged the controller into the wall. The control unit has sliding power output switch so you can control the intensity of the light from the unit.

For this shot, we set the slide to the maximum output. We then installed the controlled focusing spot attachment to the front of the DLH4 light so we could shape the pattern of light on the subject. We aimed the spot at the front of the cobra model and used the cutters on the spot attachment to shape the light to just light the grill and head lights on the car. We then added a light blue gel to the light to give added interest to the model (figure 23).

Figure 23
In figure 23, we see the placement of the spot light relative to the subject.
In figure 24, we see the placement of the spot relative to the set.

Figure 24

Figure 25
In our results shot, we see the effect of the spot light on the subject. We have gained added separation of the subject from the background and more of a sense of three dimensions to the subject (figure 25).
In figures 26 and 27, we can see the side-by-side comparison of the shot without and then with the spot.

Figure 26

Figure 27
Now for our final image, we added a second DLH4 to the camera right and just past 90 degrees with the same set up as the first spot light. But for this set up, we added a red gel filter to the light to strike the back bumper and tail light section of the model (figures 28 and 29).

Figure 28

Figure 29

Figure 30
In figure 30, our result shot shows the effects of separation and reflection that the second spot light has on the subject.
In figures 31 and 32, we see the side-by-side comparison of the shot with and with out the second spot light.

Figure 31

Figure 32
As we mentioned, with this type of set up the subjects are endless. We can apply this lighting solution to any number of products and move them up the scale of interest and price.

Figure 33 is just one example we made once we finished the shot with the cobra, using the same set. We simply added some leaves to provide some color and visual interest to the background of this camera shot.

Figure 33

Manfrotto Equipment Used:

  • 055DB Tripod
  • 405 Geared 3-Way Head

Other Equipment Used:

  • Olympus 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 Digital Zuiko Zoom Lens
  • Olympus EVOLT E-300
  • Lexar 2GB Compact Flash Card
  • Lexar Multi Card Reader
  • Light meter
  • Photoflex HalfDome2
  • Photoflex LiteDisc Holder
  • Photoflex Starlite Kit Large
  • Photoflex Weightbag
  • Dedotec DLH4 tungsten spot lights
  • Dedotec DT24-1U controller
  • Boom and boom stand