The basic principle behind shooting very reflective subjects, from motorcycles to jewelry, is the same: you need to light what the subject reflects more carefully than you need to light the subject itself. Think of the subject as a mirror and you’ll understand why.
So the first tool for lighting a reflective subject is essentially a white room, which photographers call a “tent.” The tent is a white translucent container; because it is larger than the subject, its surfaces can be evenly lighted. You can use many kinds of tents. The one I use, for small objects, is a clothes hamper from Ikea (the Skubb, in Ikea lingo). When I shoot a large reflective subject such as a motorcycle, I need to create a very large tent. I do this with white seamless paper, the same stuff used for backgrounds.
There are a variety of ways to light a tent. Small tents usually are lit from the outside. But if you are using a large tent, you may actually have the lights inside the tent. In addition, you do not have to light a tent evenly; you can light from one side to create gradation. If you light from inside the tent, its material doesn’t need to be transparent because light will bounce off the inside of the tent. Note the set-up for the motorcycle shot (Figure 1). You can’t even see the subject very well from outside a tent; the idea is to let just the camera into the white space of the tent. For this to work with a large subject, the camera and the subject have to be set up f irst, then you set up the seamless paper that makes the tent. You can use your viewfinder to figure out where to cut the paper.
All this can be difficult with a large subject, though it is pretty simple with a small object. It does make it possible to shoot a reflective subject with a minimum of specialized equipment and in a studio without a cove. The main diff iculty is the awkwardness of setting up a really large tent. I used several C-stands and a lot of spring clamps for the motorcycle shot.