"Day for night"/ Moonlight effect for night time shooting

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Rodreguez
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Hi there people. Got a project coming up for college, where I'm filming at night. I want to create a bright moonlight effect outside, and also inside, supposedly coming through windows. For the inside stuff I'll probably use redheads to shine through the windows and either attach blue gels, or just tweak the whole blue and saturation balance in premiere. But for the outside scenes I was thinking of using the "day for night" technique. Anyone got any tips on this technique? And is it worth using? Should I use any extra lighting whilst shooting?

Any help or info on this will be greatly appreciated.

Rod

Alan Roberts
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It isn't just a matter of making it blue, there's more to it than that; you need to reduce the colour gamut dramatically. That doesn't mean just dropping the saturation, although that'll help.

You shoot with a deepish blue filter on the lens. The camera won't be able to balance through it so you'll get a blue caste. But, more importantly, it'll reduce the colour gamut in more or less the right way. What it won't do is drop the brightness of shadows and indirectly lit parts of the scene, which is what you have to do to make it convincing. If you're artificially lighting it, use the bare minimum of sources but make them bright, very bright. That way, you'll get deep shadows.

In post, you'll have to lower the brightness (that's the tv brightness, setting the dc level low, not the graphics brightness which deals with mid-greys) to make sure that dark corners stay dark. You'll also have to tweak colouring untiul you're happy. But, it should work. There was a big vogue in Italy for shooting film this way a couple of decades or so ago, it didn't work too well but the germ of the idea's ok.

Hope that helps.

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infocus
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Yes, to everything Alan says - but to amplify a little more. Firstly, that "night is blue" is a film convention, and my first suggestion is to go outside on a moonlit night and observe! You should come to the conclusion that far from the "film look night", the three most obvious features are it looks desaturated, "cold" but without being obviously blue, and deep shadows. All as Alan says.

Day for night is very dependent on subject, and even at best is never totally convincing (IMO). The main reason for doing it is that humans generally prefer to work in the day, and night work may involve paying large additional penalty payments! I doubt it's ever been chosen for artistic reasons. Where it completely falls down is if the scene should have practical lights - imagine, say, a country house, seen from across the lawn with lights supposedly on in the windows? How would you get the lighted window effect shooting day for night? Same goes for street lighting, car headlights etc etc. Even if you try to do it at dusk, all the post production tweaks that Alan suggests will apply to the interior lighting as much as the daylight which you're trying to affect.

When it's dark at 6pm, as in March, I'd try to schedule shooting for the evening - night shoots become more difficult in the summer! The artificial "moon" needs to be a single bright source - so one big HMI is more satisfactory than several redheads if you have the means. Nowadays, genuine night shooting is far easier than previously with more sensitive cameras, ideally a 2/3" camera. (May even be worth hiring for a day or so, it could save a lot of lighting.) If actors have torches etc, it's the only way it will look really convincing, same with street lights.

I'd recommend tests well before you shoot in earnest, do let us know what you decide.

Rodreguez
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Thanks for your comments guys.I've got a Panasonic DVX100 as it goes so thats what I'll be using. I sort of decided I'll try the day for night look for the outside shots only. It's going to be a "giallo" style film. In the scene where a guy breaks into a house there arent going to be any lights on anywhere at all, so I shouldn't have any problem with other lighting. Once I get inside I'll try using lighting instead through the windows. Anyhow I'll certainly let you know what happens.

Cheers again
Rod

Alan Roberts
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That's why I said use a blue filter on the camera, it reduces the colour gamut immensely, then you make the colour balance only slightly blue in post.

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Rookie
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Quote:
Originally posted by infocus:
Yes, to everything Alan says - but to amplify a little more. Firstly, that "night is blue" is a film convention, and my first suggestion is to go outside on a moonlit night and observe! You should come to the conclusion that far from the "film look night...

Ah, but sometimes the night isblue. Participating in a army-rehersal a couple of years back (compulsory) I had the pleasure of doing the nigth-time-machine-gun-on-guard-thing a mid-winter night slightly north of Trondheim. The full-moon light was pretty amazing and the look was pretty much 100% identical to the night-lighting in oh so many James Cameron films...

Lucibel1984
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Trapcode Lux plugin for After Effects is a cool postproduction solution to this. Basically, it creates artificial lights & beams. I've often used it in day for night, e.g. I shot a cathedral in the daytime, masked the cathedral out, applied filters to the surroundings, including the sky, so it looked a lot darker, then added an artificial moon that cast a beam on the cathedral.

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Mad_mardy
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check out this photograph and tell me what you think.

Yes it is stylised using the night is blue convention and it for a childrens drama (ghost story)
actually i must add this is not the finished version this was just for the website and it looks better on the vid monitor

http://www.nest-films.co.uk/miniseries1/echos/images/school1.jpg

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Rodreguez
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That seems to work. Nice. How did you film it? Gels or filters? I wouldnt have it so blue for my film, but as you say, it's for kids tv, for which I imagine it would be effective...

Unicorn
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The bright sky is a dead giveaway... but that's true of a lot of older movies with budgets too.

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infocus
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It's quite convincing, though Unicorn makes a fair point about the sky. Have you tried reducing the saturation, so it's still blue but not so intense? I think it makes my point above (about lighted windows and practicals) quite well. If the script calls for it to be dead of night with everyone asleep, yes, the effect works well. If it's intended to be earlier on, with activity in the house, then no, it doesn't - to give that impression you'd expect to see lights on in some of the windows, and I don't see how that could be achieved day for night. I suspect it would just be easier to do it for real than attempt it in post......

Mad_mardy
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Yes infocus i totally agree.
It is dead of night and its a school.
The sky is a problem and i think i have an idea to sort it out.
As far as the amount of blue is concerned thats down to taste but i find for children the combination of blue and black seems to work well.

Here is the original shot
http://www.nest-films.co.uk/images/school.bmp

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infocus
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Given "dead of night", it's quite good - though I think my taste would be for less saturation. To make a more general point, it's worth thinking what action the script for - we are discussing video, not still photography. If (say) two pupils were sneaking along the side, then (say) forcing a window to enter, I think it would be quite difficult to make out what they were doing if shot this way. Filming in true darkness and (subtly!!) lighting I think would make it easier to follow the action, and it enables the use of practicals, torches etc. Don't in any way take this as a criticism of your efforts, but rather as my feeling that day for night is not a true substitute for true night filming - no matter how well the d.f.n. is implemented.

Mad_mardy
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No Infocus i agree again. The previous childerens drama we did was shot in the middle of the country
and focused on a climbing frame in the grounds of a small school and various street shots. We filmed these at night using blondes etc and i think it looks terrific, nice blue effect (again ) and a really black sky.(i must admit i do like a lot of blue, well at least for the ghost stories, if for instance i was doing a christmas film (kids one) i wouldn't use much blue at all probably more of a silver/black.
I think the blue gives more of a creepy feel
So yes true night filming is better than day 4 night
We thought that this enormous school in the middle of london would be impossible to light at night coupled with the fact that people from the school would have to be available, power requirements and cost we agreed that for this shot which is an establishing shot only it would be better all round to go day 4 night.

There is another shot i'm working on in which i made a complete mess up, its an interior shot and it stupidly got filmed as daylight and not night.
again you CAN tell but i think it doesn't look to bad and when in context i doubt people would give it a second thought.

As regards to this image (the night one)
the white backfround doesn't help the eye u could try looking at it here, but as i said the colours were set for a vid monitor and the pc screen doesn't do it justice ;)
http://www.nest-films.co.uk/miniseries1/echos/echopic.htm

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Rodreguez
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Quote:
that day for night is not a true substitute for true night filming

How can you film a scene like this at true night time? I mean, would you be able to see anything at all? I'd like to shoot the outside of a house at night with no lights on in the house if I felt I didnt need to use day for night, but I just figured you wouldnt be able to see anything at all...

infocus
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Quote:
Originally posted by Rodreguez:
How can you film a scene like this at true night time? I mean, would you be able to see anything at all?

Without writng a huge essay, the answer to your question is along the lines of "with subtle lighting"!

OK, life's easier if you have the option of generator and large HMIs, and every scenario is different, but relatively modest lighting can cover most situations. What you DON'T need to do is "light" the house (in this case) as if it was for an actuality event (which would indeed need a lot of light!) - think more of giving a hint of what's there, according to resources. In big budget productions, a very large HMI may be used to give a general wash (impression of moonlight), with detail of close action picked out by much smaller lights, probably warmer in colour temperature. That enables detail to be seen clearly, but deep black shadows, and pitch black all around. What d.f.n. DOESN'T give are the deep shadows.

Not long ago I had to film a PTC in front of a blacked out building, with the results needed there and then. No mains was available, but a dimmed camera headlight for the subject, and a 100watt spotted battery Dedo light on the building gave a very acceptable result - at least enough for "Here in the building behind me...." to have relevance! Total lighting power - 120watts, all off camera batteries!

At the very start of this thread I commented that "Nowadays, genuine night shooting is far easier than previously with more sensitive cameras, ideally a 2/3" camera." and I'd have to add that the above scenario wouldn't have been very successful only a few years earlier with Beta cameras, or with any of the current prosumer cameras.

Mad_mardy
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I filmed a street scene with a house in the background at night and it didn't look to bad.
i'll post it if i get chance.
it was of a kid running down the street and then looking at the house then running on past it.
we lit it with 1 redhead and a 2500kw floodlight.
funnily enough not one light was actually pointing at the house.
I personally think day 4 night is a good substitute for night filming in certain circumstances.

If you are interested this Day 4 night shot i did of the school
was filmed completly normal then the day 4 night effect was produced entirely in After effects using 3d layers and light layers.
it was alo shot on an XL1 as was all the night filming we did, so i disagree totally with the statement that any of the prosumer camera's these days can't do stuff at night.
I'll also show you some screenshots of the climbing frame scene i mentioned
plus a shot of the same scene being filmed from a bog standard dv camera.
the differnece is amazing it was all down to exposure

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infocus
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I didn't say prosumer cameras can't do stuff at night, rather that one would not have satisfactory for the actual example I gave. As a more general point, they may be usable for the examples you give, but make the lighting more difficult and/or expensive - in the original post I used the phrase that modern 2/3" cameras made filming easier, rather than possible, and I'll stand by that.

Mad_mardy
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ok fair point

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Rodreguez
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This is a great thread, and I really appreciate all of your comments. I'd be interested in seeing the pics your'e talking about, Nest. Please do post them.
For the film I'm making, I also want various introductory landscape shots at the beginning, of the marshes and a quay in a place called Keyhaven, and of shots of a beach and other things. I'm hoping to time it for a full moon that I can shoot, and then interject it with these shots to try and give the impression of moonlight lighting the shots again. How would I do these long distance shots? From what I understand, day for night is ineffective when the sky is in shot?

Mad_mardy
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yes it is, it really only works for medium to close shots or as in the case of the school when a large object dominates the frame.
If you have no choice but to do day4night when the sky is in shot then i would try and get a very overcast day and film around sunset just before twilight not in the middle of the day.

I will post my nighties as i call them when i get chance

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infocus
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Wish I hadn't got started on this, but..... ;) A little theory from monochrome days, when day for night really could look realistic, if no practical lights were around!

An effective way of going about it was to use infra-red film with a red or infra red filter, and underexpose a couple of stops. If you've ever seen an infra red landscape, the most obvious features are that healthy vegetation reflects a lot of IR, theres little in a blue sky, and little gets reflected off water. Hence lightish grass, dark skies, and quite high contrast, and add in underexposure and you could believe it was night-time! Unfortunately, this trick was spoiled by the addition of colour, and the underexposed blue filter was the best Hollywood could come up with.

Many years ago, whilst working on exterior drama with electronic cameras, we noticed that ND filters (used to control depth of field) produced all sort of colorimetry problems. It caused much head scratching before they were spectrally analysed and all found to have uniform absorption of visible light, but not affect IR at all. The cameras of the day responded to IR in the red channel, so the cause of the problem was solved.

It got me thinking about day for night. What about using one of these filters, then using the red output of the camera as the luminance input of the coder, (Yes, it was a long time ago!) and underexposing and desaturating? Hence an IR weighted luminance component, as in b/w film days, with some colour added to it?

Unfortunately, at this point the cameras were replaced, with the new ones having integral coders, and IR absorption built in. So, I'm afraid that never got tested. And nowadays, in the high end sector anyway, most night scenes get truly shot at night anyway.

Rodreguez - an interesting experiment may be to film with a red filter underexposed, then totally desaturate. If it's a static locked off scene, it may even be possible to wash in a little desaturated colour from a separate shot locked off in the same way, done with no filtration. I make no promises, but you may have fun experimenting! Even if it fails, at least your college will see you're prepared to experiment!

Rodreguez
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Excellent advice. I shall start some test shots with an infa red filter. As you say, if it doesn't work, I'll still get marks for experimentation. Thanks.
If everyone isn't tired of this thread by now, I have another question.
Lets suppose I choose to try and light a scene at night time in which a person is walking around a house, using redheads and either filters on the camera or gels on the lights, is it feasable to move the light along with the person moving if the light is back some distance? Obviously I dont want a moving spotlight going along the wall! Perhaps if a large area is in shot I'd need to light with several that are spaced apart, then try to fuse the lights together so it looks like it's coming from one large, uniform source?. I understand that to diffuse the glow a little you can put tracing paper over the lights as well, so perhaps if I had them placed a good distance back I could have the light moving along with the person? Is this the right way, or is there another, more effective way of doing it?

infocus
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Quote:
Originally posted by Rodreguez:
Excellent advice. I shall start some test shots with an infra red filter.

Two further things - perversely, this is more likely to work with cheaper cameras (infra red is the whole principle behind "zero-lux"). High end cameras are likely to have filters to cut out any IR, to get good colourimetry. Secondly, red filtration is more likely to be generally successful, it may even be worth trying such as a daylight-tungsten conversion (CTO). It's also likely to work better in some types of weather than other - I'm thinking of blue skies, which a blue absorption filter (red, yellow) will obviously make darker, just what's needed.

The technique may well be more suited for film or digital stills. Some video cameras derive their aperture correction from the green channel only, so using red only may make for soft luminance. (This effect can sometimes be seen when stage type monochromatic lighting is used.) For simulated night, with everything quite dark, that may not matter. As said before, no promises with any of this, but have fun experimenting, and please let us know whether it does work or not!

As far as the lighting queries go, I suspect moving the lights with subject will look a bit odd. ("Why is the light moving?") Leaving dark patches may be a good idea - add to the impression of darkness - and yes, diffusion may be a good idea, possibly even bouncing light off white surfaces. I suspect you may start to better appreciate my comments about sensitive cameras making life much easier as you progress. You could easily find yourself with a choice between quantity and quality of light, or having to use a 2k when a redhead would be more than enough with a better camera. The extra couple of stops that such as a DSR500 (say) gives over a PD150 (say) can make all the difference in this sort of situation. But it's near impossible to generalise.

Mad_mardy
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Well this has gone a far way from dimming exposure and sticking a blue filter across the lense

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infocus
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It may well come back to it - I'm making no promises! :D

Rodreguez
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Splendid. Full moon on the 23rd I believe.I'll be printing this lot off for evidence of research in my scrapbook, so extra thanks for the input..

Mad_mardy
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Rodreguez
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Wicked thanks. I've bunged that in my sketchbook for research!