‘Day for night’ is the process of making daytime footage look like it was shot at night by either using a ﬁlter, post-processing, or both. While there are some examples in modern cinema of good day-for-night conversions, usually day for night will only give you poorly colored footage that isn’t very cinematic. Let’s take a look at why day for night is a bad idea and offer a few creative alternatives.
- You Can’t Shoot the Sky
One of the biggest differences between shooting at night and shooting in the daytime is the sky. Shocking, right? The daytime sky is, for the most part, almost always going to be overexposed — even if you are underexposing your subject. This means you will need to avoid the sky if you’re trying to shoot a nighttime scene during the day. It will be solid white, which will greatly reduce your creative ﬂexibility. Sure, you could tint your footage to tone down the white sky, but a real night sky doesn’t work like that.
In most shooting circumstances, the sky at night will be brighter on the horizon and very dark in the actual sky. If you’re shooting day for night, there’s really nothing you can do to simulate this nighttime occurrence other than do a lot of post-processing which will take forever and likely look terrible. We’ll discuss this further below.
2.Shadows Will Look Off
One of the biggest problems with day-for-night conversions is the shadows. As you probably already know, shooting in direct sunlight during the daytime is generally a bad idea. Your subject will get some very unﬂattering shadows — speciﬁcally raccoon eyes. Moonlight normally doesn’t work like that. When it does, it still looks strange on camera.
There will be other weird lighting occurrences that happen in the daytime that don’t occur during the night, like harsh reﬂections and possible lens ﬂares. On the ﬂipside of this, you’ll also have to worry about portions of your subject being overexposed. You’ll have to crush the whites in post in order to ﬁx this.
- The Color Cast Will Look Terrible
Color is really where day-for-night conversions start to fall apart. At its core, a day-for-night conversion is either a dark blue ﬁlter that’s put directly in front of the camera or a post-processing technique where you give your footage a dark blue tint.
However, no matter how you do it, dark blue footage is not what nighttime footage looks like. There are a lot of colors at night, not just blue.
- It Will Take a Lot of Time in Post
In light of all of the hurdles we’ve mentioned above, the biggest challenge to making day-for-night footage look convincing is the post-processing. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to do ‘good’ day-for-night conversions. A good conversion will:
- Do a blanket color grade/correction
- Track and replace the sky
- Rotoscope various silhouetted elements to avoid awkward edges
- Selectively track and level distracting elements
- Add the ﬁlm’s speciﬁc cinematic grading features
Even after you do all of this, you’re still going to be hard-pressed to make your day for night look convincing. Even the best After Effects teachers out there have a hard time making convincing day-for-night conversions.
Just Light the Scene
Who said you can’t light a nighttime scene? Audiences are very easy to trick when it comes to lighting. Most people in the audience won’t ask where that soft ﬁll light is coming from. Instead, they’ll focus on the content of ﬁlm or video as long as the lighting is close.
By using a dim light and a sensitive camera, you can generally get good cinematic footage at night even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. A simple battery-powered LED should do the trick in these situations.
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