Day for Night

 A film illusion. by Raza Mallal

A lot of the night time exteriors you see in feature films are not actually filmed at night. They are shot in daylight using a technique called "Day- for- night" Basically you film in daylight and create the illusion that the scene is taking place at night. Almost every Hammer horror film has scenes that were shot using the day- for- night method. The French refer to it as "American nuit". For convenience and effect I have convincingly employed this technique in some of my productions. The great thing is it does away with setting up lots of lights which consume power, are expensive to hire, bubbles can blow, and stands tend get in the way. Sun and daylight don’t cost anything and you can shoot a fairly wide scene quickly and without having to wait for lighting setups. Day-for-night is best filmed at "magic hour" (in reality only about 25 minutes in the Northern hemisphere ) but this might not give you enough time to shoot a complicated scene. Ideally shoot day for night when there is no sky in shot and there are no other artificial light sources in the scene. If this is unavoidable make the interior lights more intense relative to the exterior. Film in shaded areas, in woods as Hammer did or on overcast days. However, you can simulate moonlight by shooting on a sunny day. On Lost Connections (16mm) we needed to film a night scene that preceded a scene that had already been shot. The actors and location was not available for that evening so day-for-night was the only option. It was a bright sunny day , which was ideal as there were plenty of highlights and we tried to incorporate lots of clear outlines . We shot into the light and underexposed by 2 to 4 stops with neutral density filters and a written 80a (a blue lens filter) in front of the lens.. The resultant rim lighting gave the effect of moonlight. As we were filming in a residential part of Chapeltown we had to be careful that the frame did not include unlit street lamps and cars driving past without headlights on. The filters are inexpensive but you could also make your own by cutting out an appropriate size from a roll of gel and attach it securely in front of the camera lens.

An alternative day-for-night method would be to remove the wratten 85 filter and shoot on tungsten balanced film stock.

I was filming a day- for -night scene for "Gift From The Sea" (late afternoon in June) near a beach on the east coast in Hull where the sky and bright areas were unavoidable. I realised that the sky was darkest when we were shooting at right angles to the position of the sun. By introducing a graduated filter (in addition to the other filters) and carefully aligning the shot I was able darken the sky and other bright spots.

If day- for- night is required in the schedule and if you have the time prior to the shoot then try and film some tests. If you are shooting on negative the film can be graded and processed to a degree to look like night but you must ensure that the contrast between light and dark is significant and that the scene is undererexposed rather than overexposed.

For video there is a filter which can be attached to most cameras called " Day For Night" which creates a acceptable result. However, you can make the necessary colour adjustments in postproduction. Adjust the scene colour by bringing down red and green hues . This will give you the blue-look of shooting at night. If you use Adobe Premiere you can obtain a plugin called FilmFX which has Day For Night as one of its settings.

Day for night can be a useful film effect and sometimes a life saver however to be convincing it has to be filmed carefully and generally most of your audience will be none the wiser!

Good luck.