Photo Cornucopia   Home    

Rig Shots 6: The mechanics of rig shots


John Jovic

Rig shots are created by physically connecting a camera to a moving subject (a car) and making exposures long enough to achieve enough background blur or movement to make the subject appear to be moving much faster than it really is. This often requires an exposure several seconds long so you may need to shoot them in a relatively dark environment, hence the preponderance of rig shots shot at night or in under cover car parks. Rig shots can easily be shot in bright sunlight however the bright sunlight will need to be tempered with Neutral Density filters which are designed to reduce the amount of light passing through the lens without having any other effect on the image. Sunlight also causes shadows which will either have to be avoided, in the case of partial rig shots, or removed in post for full car rig shots.

Rig shots should always be shot at the slowest practical and safe speed, usually no faster than walking pace. If possible, walk with the camera and rig operating the cameras shutter manually, possibly with a cable release. In many cases it can help to apply a little pressure on the camera, or kind of 'pre load' it, as this seems to help to reduce the vibration passing to the camera. Use the cameras histogram to set the exposure, trying not to burn out the sky but paying the most attention to not loosing shadow details. Always shoot RAW, always!


It might sound easy but in reality it can be quite hard to connect a camera to a car with enough rigidity so that you get a very sharp image during an exposure of several seconds. A very short and simple rig, such as a tripod with suction cups, can be very rigid and can pretty much be relied upon for very sharp images. Once you extend the camera many meters from the car, using some kind of boom, you are much more likely to have flex in the boom which will render images soft.



There are many factors that come into play and that will have an effect on how sharp your image will be. This is by no means an exhaustive list but these are just some of the factors or issues which effect sharpness.

* Is the road smooth or rough?
* Does the road have pebbles or rocks on it which can deflect the car slightly and induce wobble as it passes over them?
* Will the engine be running or will the car be pushed/pulled? The ideal scenario is one where the car can roll up or down an incline with the engine switched off.
* Does the car have a locked differential which prevents the car rolling around a bend? This is quite common on most high power muscle and drag cars.
* How long is the boom being used and what is it made from? Carbon Fiber is an ideal material but extremely expensive. Aluminium is inexpensive but can flex significantly.
* How is the rig or boom attached, vacuum cups or under the body?
* If attached with vacuum cups, are they on a rigid part of the car, eg windscreens or other rigid points? Panels, such as roofs and bonnets can flex considerably.
* If attached with vacuum cups, are they stiff or flexible?
* If the engine will be running during the shoot, will it shake so wildly that it might shake the rig off (such as in a burnout shot)?

In some cases it is simply not possible to achieve a sharp image so it may be necessary to composite 2 or more images to achieve the final image. You might even find this to be the only practical and reliable way to work. In any case, it's always a good idea to shoot a few images of the car whilst it is stationary, preferably in the same light as the rig shots themselves, so that you have at least one image where the car is razor sharp in case you need to composite images later.

  Copyright 2011 Photo Cornucopia

Contact Terms