best lighting setup for car photography at night

Taking good looking pictures of cars at night is probably the most demanding discipline of automotive photography. To take serious cars photographs you will need external light sources. Either you find these light sources at your location or you need to create the needed light on your own.

In this blog post you will find out, which are good options for you, when you plan to use lighting equipment for car photography.

how to use a lightning setup for car photography

You use your light source to light up different areas of your car to make your car with its details visible on your photos. It is possible that you have to take several photos and merge them together in Photoshop. Depending on your used lighting gear this going to take more or less effort. However in this way your are able to realize your projects with only one normal speedlight. 

Speedlites vs continuous lights for car photography?

In general you have the choice between 2 types of lights: 1. flashes/speedlights and 2. continuous light. Both of them work and both have advantages over the other type.

You can decide, which works better for you.

Is the camera integrated flash good enough for car photography?

The camera integrated flash is not usable for car photography. This flashes are to small and not bright enough. The much greater problem is, that you are not flexible enough, because you need to move the light source away from the camera.

Speedlights and flashes for car photography beginners

Flashes and speedlites fire when the camera is triggered. You as photographer have control over the intensity of the light. To sync your speedlight wireless with your camera, you will need additional equipment. However have some advantages over monolights regarding their higher portability and lower energy consumption. Speedlights work with normal AA batteries. Furthermore flashes have more power which makes them more suitable for short exposure times.

The disadvantage could be, that it is a bit of try and error to find the best position and settings for your speedlight

Continuous light

Using continuous light give you the opportunity to adjust your lamp perfectly before you start your shooting. So you don’t need to test your light settings as you do it with a speedlight, which make it easier to shoot. One more advantage is, that you don’t need sync that light with your camera – both work independent from each other.


One limitation might be the energy supply of the lamp. Many of them need a power connection, which makes them less suitable for outdoor car shootings. 

Continuous light for starting with car photography

Profoto B10 - combined speedlight and continuous light

If you want to have full flexibility, a 2-in-1 light could be very interesting for you. The Profoto B10 compact flash is both flash and continuous light. The light is very strong but compact and works wireless with his included battery pack. The permanent light function works with adjustable brightness and color temperature.

In my mind the perfect companion for you as a car photographer, when you want the full flexibility of using a flash or a permanent light with great mobility and a strong battery pack. 

Which equipment do you need to complete your lighting setup?

Radio flash triggers

As i mentioned before, if you gonna use flashes and speedlights, you need a wireless transmitter to sync the speedlight with your camera. It’s on the one hand a transceiver (mounted at the flash) and a controller (mounted at the camera). Both are usually purchased in a set. Some flash triggers allow the use of more than one speedlite at the same time by adding more transceivers.


A softbox is a white attachment for your light with reflecting elements at the inner side of the box. A softbox helps you to soften your light and avoid stronger reflections at your car especially at the windows. Light will be scattered by the reflectors and reduces the intensity of shadows. Caused by the size of cars you should use softboxes with at least 60x40cm for automotive photography.


For car photography shootings you will probably need lightstands for your lamps, especially when you are working alone without assistance or when you are using more than one lights. Similar to tripods for cameras you simply mount your speedlite on a lightstand and you don’t need assistants to hold the lights in their hands. 

Erik Dräger


Erik Dräger ist Automobil-Fotograf und Online-Marketing Experte in Halle (Saale).

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