With careful planning and execution you can turn footage shot during the day, into night-time magic. In this segment, we show you how to shoot day-for-night by using exposure, white balance, and creative framing. Plus we talk about choosing your shoot time to get the look you want. Following a few simple guidelines will help you avoid common pitfalls, and gather footage that’s ready for the final touches in post-production.
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Shooting at night can be a huge challenge. Without the right camera, a proper lighting kit and an experienced shooter, it can be tough to get the footage you need for your project. But with careful planning and execution, you can turn footage shot during the day, into night-time magic.
In this segment, we show you how to shoot day for night by using exposure, white balance, and creative framing. Plus we talk about choosing your shoot time to get the look you want.
Following a few simple guidelines will help you avoid common pitfalls, and have footage that’s ready for the final touches in post-production.
Whether it’s crew logistics, equipment issues, or the fact that you’d rather be sleeping at midnight than shooting, Day for Night is an effective way to use the power of the sun to light your night-time scene. Shooting your footage properly can yield convincing results, with just a small amount of post-production work.
There are three basic rules you need to follow when you’re shooting day for night. Lower your exposure, offset your white balance, and frame your shots carefully. Let’s start with exposure.
The first key to exposure when shooting day for night is not letting any portion of your shot be overexposed, unless it’s a practical light. This can be tricky if you have a lot of white, or reflective subjects in your scene.
Take a look at this still from our test footage shot at twilight. The overall scene looks passable, but the sky is clearly reflected in the white car. This shot is taken just seconds later, and the black car hides the reflected sky much better.
The second key is to shoot 2-3 stops below normal exposure. This helps create those deep shadows to mimic night-time. You can do this by using a neutral density filter, increasing your f-stop, or using a faster shutter speed.
Here’s our scene set with normal exposure, take notice of the details in the shadows and highlights.
Here’s the same shot using a neutral density filter to lower the exposure by two stops. Compare the shadows and highlights between the two shots and notice how the darker areas of the shot lose detail.
Now that you’ve got a higher contrast look to your footage, the next step is getting the color in your footage to more closely resemble moonlight. You can achieve this by offsetting your white balance. The key is to set it below the actual color temperature of the scene.
You can manually do this by dialing in your white balance to roughly 3200k, or you can choose the tungsten or indoor preset if you have one.
If you need to set it with a white reference point, place a C-T-O gel over your lens before white balancing, or use an orange tinted reference instead of white to trick your camera into a cooler balance.
This footage is underexposed by 2 stops, and shot with the proper white balance, and the colors look natural. Here’s the same shot with our white balance manually set to 3200k. finally, here’s the same shot using a C-T-O gel to white balance. You can see that the lower white balance gives us the blue cast we want.
So, you’ve got a nice contrasty scene with a blue cast, but there’s one final caveat, and it’s a big one, literally... it’s the sky. You need to control the way the sky looks in your shots. The sky is dark at night, and bright during the day, so it can be a dead giveaway.
The simplest way to do this is by framing your shots so that the sky isn’t visible. Keep this in mind when you’re scouting out locations. Dense backgrounds or tall walls can really help. Another trick is stick to tighter shots and higher angles to avoid the sky.
If your shot must contain the horizon, you’ll need to use a graduated ND filter which can cut the intensity of the sky, but be sure that your subject doesn’t cross into the area being filtered.
the final option is to try to replace the sky in post-production, but this can be tricky depending on how your shot is composed.
For this scene, we’ve chosen an orchard, because it obscures the most of the horizon line, so it works well, though admittedly, we caught a few glimpses of sky through the trees that will present some issues for us in post production. For this extreme wide shot, we had to shoot from a high angle to avoid the sky.
Now that we’ve got the basic camera techniques down, it’s time to consider your shoot time. The time you choose to shoot can drastically affect the way your footage looks.
This shot was taken early in the morning so we have long hard shadows that can simulate a bright full moon. This also gives a very dramatic feel with a huge contrast in the dark and light areas of the shot. We’d definitely want to establish that bright moon with some b-roll in post to help sell it.
Take a look at this shot, taken at mid-day which reduced the length of the shadows, while maintaining their intensity.
This scene was shot on an overcast day in the afternoon which helped to minimize any shadows. If you want this feel, but can’t wait for overcast, you’ll need locations that are completely in the shade.
Finally, if you can squeeze your shoot in at twilight it’s easier to work practical lights into your shot, which help to sell the scene. This was shot just after the sun went down, and you can see that the flashlight really sells it.
So there you have it, underexpose, shift your white balance, use careful framing, and choose your shoot location and time for the look you want. Following these guidelines will have your Day for Night footage prepped and ready for post production. thanks for watching.