Capturing Realistic Day for Night: Techniques to Know Before & After You Shoot

Now that we have affordable, super sensitive cameras with high ISO settings, like the Sony a7s, it seems as though shooting nighttime scenes aren't as big of an issue as it might've been a couple of years ago.

However, if you don't have one of these cameras, nor access to sufficient lighting, you might find yourself in need of completing a day/night conversion in post to avoid a big, muddy, grainy mess. (Also, it's just a great technique to have in your creative toolbox.) The folks at Surfaced Studio show you how to shoot day for night in the helpful Adobe After Effects tutorial below:

Now that you know how to process your footage, it might be a good idea to know how to shoot that footage, otherwise you'll have a load of issues to deal with in post -- some of which you may not be able to fix.

Avoid direct sunlight

Harsh shadows made by the sun are a dead giveaway that you originally shot your footage during the day. Try to film when it's cloudy or overcast, in the shade, or during a time of day when the sun is less intense, like at twilight, dusk, or dawn. (These are also good times because they produce cooler color temperatures.) To get a better idea of how this works, Cambridge in Color does a great job of showing you how the sun and natural light affects your shots.

Avoid shooting the sky

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 color correction, you might want to avoid this obstacle altogether. If you do have some real experience and finesse, then go for it! If you don't have some, but want some, keep reading.

Be mindful of your exposure

You certainly don't want to overexpose your shot if you're trying to shoot day for night, but Andrew Kramer of Video Copilot suggests bringing your exposure down more than you normally would.

You can also learn how to pull this effect off (and with greater results) from the master, Andrew Kramer, if you head on over to Video Copilot to watch his tutorial. He talks about some of the same stuff, but he goes into greater detail on how to make it more realistic by using certain color correction techniques, as well as how to add headlights from a truck. Kramer even uses footage that has a bunch of sky in it, but he shows you how to crush the colors and adjust the colorization and saturation settings in After Effects to get a truly beautiful and realistic-looking day-for-night shot.     

Your Comment


I think Andrew Kramers looks better. In Surfaced Studios video everything looks exposed and there are no shadows. I think day for night really needs some contrast to look remotely passable. Without it your just lowering exposure and tinting blue.

December 31, 2014 at 4:58PM


I have a couple of tips that I learned through experience, one that they seem to have missed themselves:

1. Don't shoot the sky - avoid showing the sky itself, because it will give away that it is daylight unless you do some post-processing.

2. Avoid whites in the actors' wardrobes! It shows way too bright on a day for night shot, especially if it catches any direct sunlight.

January 1, 2015 at 2:30AM


I think the result of the work show in this tutorial is really bad. I don't think anybody would buy that this have been shot at night. If people understand that I was the idea because to me it looks nothing like night time.

My first advice if you want footage that look like night time, is to shoot at night time. Your image may be grainy but that's what looking in the dark is, even our eyes gives grain at night.
If you have to choose between bad but realistic image and clean but unrealistic one, please always go for realistic. Good image don't make a story.

Then if you really have to make a day for night, first go outside at night and see how it looks, then try to mach it. For me the first important thing is that without any source of light we see nothing. So if I want my day for night look realistic (and still see something in it) I ad sources of light, make the window of the house brighter and yellow, etc.

In my opinion the time and effort it takes to make a day for night look realistic is so big that for independent small production I would just buy a few led light and shoot at night.

January 1, 2015 at 10:02AM


and sorry for the spelling :-)

January 1, 2015 at 10:05AM


I did quite a bit of research on Day-for-Night as an option for a low-budget feature - which included speaking to a few DoPs, and trawling through a lot of threads on the forums on Roger Deakins website (a really great resource for anything cinematography related). The general consensus was:

- Don't get the sky in shot.

- You need some contrasty light. An overcast day will just give you mush.

- Use a sun-seeker app and ideally try to side light as much as possible (low sun, horizontal, from 90 degrees to the subject), or backlight at a push.

- Don't burn out any highlights - underexpose by a stop or two.

- If you're going B&W, use a Red #29 to darken skies and give you more contrast. Possibly in conjunction with a Yellow Green filter to bring skin tones back down a bit (the Red #29 will lighten them and leave your cast looking pallid).

- Avoid white costumes.

We'll have some examples from our shoots up on over the next few weeks. We're not going for 'actual night' in the look, but rather 'film night', which I think is a different beast entirely - and one audiences are quite familiar with.

January 2, 2015 at 1:16AM

Alex Richardson

This day for night doesnt look too convincing.

January 2, 2015 at 5:48AM


Here's a test I did that ACTUALLY accomplished a night look during the day:
I'm sorry but a tutorial showing me how to do something where they actually don't manage to do it effectively is pretty embarrassing.

January 2, 2015 at 1:44PM

Harry Pray IV
Director of Photography/Lighting Technician/Colorist

if I click the link it say "Content not found".

February 17, 2017 at 3:15AM


Actually the sun and the (full) moon are the same size preceived from the earth and almost the same light quality. The only difference is the luminance. And of course the disability of the human eye to see color in lower luminance. So my prefered condition would be to shoot at direct sunlight without any fill. The trick is to avoid white clipping. Also using heavy ND filtering in stead of cranking up the aperture leads to a much shallow depth of field much more analogous to a night shot. As for the color correction, I would pull down the greens a lot more as well (almost to a blueish monochromatic). The sky I agree.

January 4, 2015 at 3:20PM, Edited January 4, 3:20PM

onur cakaloz