Ultimate Tutorial on How to Photograph a Car with the Westcott Ice Light

My friend and RIDES Magazine's head photographer Andrew Link is no stranger to Fstoppers. He also happens to be one of the kings of shooting cars with the Westcott Ice Light, which is essentially a handheld LED rod (looks like a flourescent tube) used as a constant daylight temperature light source. After about 6 months of me begging Andrew for him to make one, he has finally created a fantastic and to-the-point tutorial on how to create an epic car portrait with nothing but a camera, tripod, and the Ice Light. 

According to Andrew Link

Lightpainting is a fairly simple technique that results in unique images… especially with cars. All you need is a continuous light source and a dark spot to shoot. Westcott’s IceLight has been my choice for light painting for a couple of years now. Its bright, puts out clean, soft light, and is extremely portable, all things that rank high on my list when choosing gear. In my 10 years of shooting cars I’ve used everything from cell phone led’s, to flashlights, to video led squares, to huge kino banks, but the IceLight has become a staple for me. The new barn door attachment has become a favorite of mine for helping control spill and avoid ghosted images of myself in my frames that would be a nightmare to retouch out later. 

The Ice Light is dimmable from 1.5 watts to 15 watts, battery-powered, and because it is LED, will last a long time on location (60 minutes on a full charge). You can also buy an optional extended power pack that will extend the charge of the light by another 2.5 hours. I think the optional barn door kit mentioned in the video above is a MUST for controlling light spill and for light shaping purposes.

Douglas Sonders's picture

Commercial Photographer (mainly Phase One medium format digital) and filmmaker based out of NYC. Started a site called Notabully.org to spread stories about well-behaved and positive pitbulls. Love cars, 80s movies, dogs, and adventure. Free time is spent traveling, sleeping, adventuring, or working on my baby, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.

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I love Andrew Link.. just sayin..


Check out this boys light painting using Westcott Ice Light


his stuff is clean, i just find his backgrounds a tad dark for my tastes, but clean for sure

Good news that you don't have to buy Westcott Ice Light for $400 each.
This done with $30 LED video light. I didn't prepare this shot a lot, just my first try with this stuff.

So by that logic there's no need to buy a ferrari because it's just an expensive prius?

Noone said you "had" to buy an icelight or that it was the only way to light a car. But there ARE reasons why it's expensive and why it would outperform a $30 video led square.

Don't write something off just because it's expensive.

I'm very glad that you use this amazing Westcott Ice Light, just wanted to make it clear for anyone who want to take pics like this but don't have an opportunity to get one. Sure for this price it beats a $30 LED, it would be strange if it's not. Please don't be offended I didn't want you to stop promote this piece of equipment.

Yeah really, what's with this guy's defensive attitude? Don't buy a Ferrari, LOL!

I agree with you Andrey! I used a $30 LED shop light from Walmart for these shots, but this was a few years before the Ice Light was invented. Had I wish I had the Ice Light? Hecks yeah! The light output would've been greater and made my workflow easier, but it also would've tanked my bank account too, LOL! I would still want an Ice Light for my current shoots tho :)

As I see in the final result of the shoot, you can easily spot the legs of the photographer in front of the car.

Sorin. Good catch, just checked my PSD... accidentally left a layer from the "bad" raw turned on. Would have totally removed it but the point of this was to do as little retouching as possible to show the effect the barn doors have on cutting down the ghosting. Between the 2 raws the barn doors effectively remove just about all of it.

So as someone who is starting to play around with car photography what's the pros and cons or light painting vs setting up strobes? Car photography seems to be the toughest to find actual information on and I would love to learn more

(Any Florida automotive photographers need an assisstant :D )

Both have their pros and cons. Firstly strobes can be used day or night and lightpainting can only be used in the dark. Strobes will be more flexible lightpainting is more specific although when done properly lightpainting gives a super polished look straight out of camera.

I'm a real beginner at light-painting. Is that one pass that you did with the barn doors all the light you put on the car, or did you have to composite several passes (light the wheels seperately, etc). Also, I've always wondered how headlights were shot (is there a long shutter speed as well? Is there an aperture that looks the best for the starburst?).

Chris this one was done in just one pass.

Headlights are done the same way just play with the aperture till you get the burst you want.

Thanks for sharing! So the wheels were lit just by the single pass as well? I assume the surrounding light probably helped expose them a bit. So if you didn't have those surrounding environment lights, what would you do to catch the wheels and maybe the sideskirts a bit more?

I'd just light them separately if needed and mask them in

LOL i know you'd light them separately, but would you just "wand" over them horizontally or would you light them from a few feet away and above, just so you don't get funky shadows or "unnatural" looking shadows. I assume the caliper would show up just fine as well

Ah that's not how it read. Light them from a little above so the shadows stay consistent

Great video, Andrew. Usually when I'm light painting cars I set my shutter speed to 15 seconds. In your video you seemed to be walking around the car for a long time.. What average shutter speed do you recommend? Also, just curious, what camera where you using?

Very informative, thanks for the tips!