I'm making a short film that takes place mostly in a car at night. Will i need a polarizer to see the actors through the windshield?

  • I strongly suggest not using polarizer in low light situations. It robs you of about two stops of light, which can be a problem (e.g. pushing you into impractically high ISO)
    – Jindra Lacko
    Sep 21 '17 at 13:41

I'm making a short film that takes place mostly in a car at night. Will I need a polarizer to see the actors through the windshield?

A polarizer could help reduce reflections, but the best way to do such a shot if you desire no reflections is to shoot it in a way that there are no reflections to reduce. How you can best do this depends greatly on how you want the finished scene to look, particularly what angles you desire light to be illuminating your actors and the car's interior. One obvious solution would be to remove the windshield altogether.

Just because a scene takes place in a car at night doesn't mean you must shoot the scene at night - or even in an unmodified car.

Many of the tricks of the movie trade involve shooting in conditions that barely resemble the final look of the scene on screen. This was true in the film days just as it is true in the digital age. The use of green screens, CGI, etc. has expanded the possibilities of what can be done to footage after it is collected but the practice of using lighting and exposure to make a scene look different than it actually was when shot has been around almost as long as motion pictures have.

Most of those 'night' scenes you see in old westerns were shot in daylight with an 80B filter on the camera and the film underexposed by a couple of stops. So much so that the 80B and similar blue filters were nicknamed "American Midnight" filters in Europe.

More than a few scenes in films with characters in cars were shot with the windshields and other glass (or even parts of the car's roof) removed. Often such scenes could be shot with multiple sets (glassless stationary vehicle, moving intact vehicle, fabricated sets resembling parts of the interior of the car) and edited together in a way that made them appear seamless.


While a polarizer could reduce reflection, it can induce patterns on rear windshields. Happens all the time with my polarized sunglasses.

If you're shooting through the windshield of a stationary car, you could try to black out around the camera so that no light reflects off the inside of the windshield.


Generally my approach to car shoots is to avoid shooting through windows whenever practically possible. If the shot is stationary, it is possible to open car doors and shoot from far enough back. As long as you don't get the actual frame of the car in the shot, it won't be noticeable that this is what you did.

If shooting through an open door isn't an option, shooting with a wide angle lens on a small stabilized camera (I generally use an Osmo.) can allow for a workable shot, again without having to shoot through glass.

If you absolutely have to shoot from the outside, using a window mount and putting a matte box around the camera to shut out other light sources is a good option for preventing the glass from interfering with the shot, but it is a pain to setup.

There are also strap on mounts that can hang outside of a window for a moving car shot where you need the camera located physically outside the vehicle but still want to be able to avoid having glass in the way.

Another trick when shooting a car at night is to light the scene. Just because you want it to look dark doesn't mean it has to be dark. When trying to shoot night time footage, I normally light the car from light placements that would make sense for a car, but with far higher intensity. This allows for a well exposed image that I can artificially darken to produce the desired look.

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