How to Create the Day-for-Night Effect in Your Filmmaking
December 13, 2013
•IADT General, Cinema Production
• 0 Comments
Day-for-night is a technique that makes a scene filmed in daylight look like it's in the nighttime. It was used extensively in the 1960s and 1970s before lighting techniques evolved that created the same look with more finesse, or perhaps just to save time and money. You see it in Clint Eastwood westerns like High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales. You also see it in the land-based scenes before the underwater dives in the Peter Yates film The Deep. It is still used today, and you can easily create this same day-for-night effect yourself.
Set all of your camera’s image controls, iris or aperture, shutter and ISO to manual. This should be standard practice anyway to achieve professional-looking cinematography. When one or all of the camera’s image controls are set to automatic, the image lightens or darkens every time an object passes in front of the frame or when you’re shooting into a light source like a window with brighter light outside. Lock all image controls to manual.
Now close the iris or aperture by two T-stops. If you’re shooting at T-5.6, close the iris or aperture to T-11. The image is now underexposed. It is much darker.
Closing the iris or aperture will result in an increase in depth-of-field. Images near and far will be in sharp focus. If you desire more shallow depth-of-field and wish your background behind your subject to be blurry, instead of closing the iris or aperture, put a 2-stop neutral density or ND filter over the lens. It’ll darken the image without you having to close the iris or aperture.
Change the White-Balance Preset
The daylight, sun icon or 5500K-6500K setting would be the normal white-balance preset for shooting in daylight. Change it to the incandescent , bulb icon or 3200K setting. The image now looks a dark cobalt blue.
If your camera doesn’t have white-balance presets, manually white-balance off a yellow-orange card instead of a white one. Zoom in on the card so that it fills the whole frame and then press the white-balance button located on the camera’s body. This will achieve the same result—making everything look blue.
Shooting in bright sunlight will yield the most visible image when darkened, because there is still some contrast between highlights and shadows. If you try this technique on an overcast day, the image will have a tendency to be very murky and you won’t see anything.
Add Some Warm Light
You can always augment the cool-blue daylight with some bright 1000-watt halogen floodlights inside nearby buildings to simulate house lamps and complete the illusion that your scene is in the nighttime. Tell your actors to try not to squint—which is difficult in bright sunshine, of course—because that destroys the illusion that the day-for-night scene is in the nighttime. Have one actor backlit by the sun, and use a reflector to reflect the sun's light and add fill so you can see into the shadows.
Experiment and have fun!
Photo Credit: morgueFile