Lighting 101: Shooting Day For Night

By Jahnavi Patwardhan. Posted on June 24, 2015

That lighting is the key to how your film looks on screen doesn't need any reiteration. However it is a skill set that comes with experience. One of the biggest challenges for any young filmmaker is getting clear, non-grainy shots in the night. A lot of films need night shots that are essential to the story. But what do you do when you don't own ultra high-end equipment that can assist you with the night shots?

You are not alone, neither are you the first person to face this problem. Over the years, people have devised some neat tricks to overcome this problem. One of which is the use of day for night shots that can work very well if done right. This technique was created as a way to shoot night scenes for black and white photography when people didn't have adequate technology to record at night.

The technique is pretty simple to execute. The scene is darkened and with a few tweaks to the colour and contrast, it will be possible to make the audience believe that it's night.

There are several steps to consider before you start to shoot day for night. Though you can also do a lot of these changes in post, it is better to do them while shooting.

Avoid Shooting The Sky

When you are shooting day for night, you should never include a shot of the sky. The sky completely changes between night and day. This should be pretty obvious -- the sky is bright during the day, dark during the night, and unless you have some real experience and finesse with colour correction, you might want to avoid this obstacle altogether. If you do have some real experience and finesse, then go for it!

Else try and get close to your subject so that the sky is never seen in the shot.

Watch the exposure

Shooting day for night means exposing your image as if it was actually shot at night, or in other words – underexposing. A very common issue that filmmakers run into when shooting day for night material is that they neglect to expose their footage in a way that will allow them to colour correct it later to pull off the effect properly. Put differently, they simply expose their image in the same way that they would in a daytime scene, and this can be hugely problematic when it comes to colour the shots.

While there is a lot of work that can (and should) be done in post, in order to get the best possible results you need to be working with an image that was exposed intentionally for this type of look. It's recommended that you underexpose by at least one stop (sometimes even two or three, but use your discretion), so you are putting your levels in a place that is much closer to what real night time footage would look like. This way you don’t need to push things as drastically in post, and your final look will be far more organic.

Turning down the Lights

You need to dim the lights in the shot. The best way to do this is to increase the contrast. Either decrease the light level to darken the image, or use a filter

Light a Candle

Ambience is as important to romance as it is to day for night shots. By adding nocturnal elements to your image, you add believability. Now, lighting candles would add ambience under normal circumstances, but for this effect you will need more power. Remember, you're competing with the sun. Try carrying a strong flashlight or turn on the high beams of cars in the shot. These light "gags," as they are called in the industry, help create authenticity.

Audio is important, too. Have you ever been out at midnight and heard hundreds of cars whizzing by or people walking around? No one is up at midnight - well, except crickets and hoot owls. Find a quiet area or make the area quiet. Then add in natural sounds of the night. You'll be amazed what a little audio sweetening will do.

Keep Your Cool

The final and probably the most important stage of this effect is to cool down the colour temperature of your camera. While sunlight is considered to have a blue tint due to its colour temperature (5600 - 6300 degrees Kelvin compared to a tungsten desk lamp at 3200 degrees Kelvin or a fire which might be 1800 degrees Kelvin), moonlight is much bluer.

Try white balancing your camera on something warmer than white. If you have CTO (colour temperature orange) gels that you use on your lights, put them in front of the lens, and then white balance on white. If your camera has the ability to adjust the colour temperature manually, try moving it into the 6000 degree Kelvin or higher range, essentially tricking your camera.

If it's still not blue enough, you can gain some more blue by moving the shot into deep shade or shoot during an overcast day when the colour temperatures are very high.

Here's a video that might help you clarify your doubts on shooting your day for night footage.

Let us know if this was helpful. If you have further questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. We would be happy to help. :-)


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