Filmmakers often ask me for advice for achieving a day-for-night look, so I thought I would outline my process here on the blog once and for all, and make my Day-For-Night color grading preset (LUT) available for a free download.
If you’re not familiar with the terminology, “day-for-night” simply refers to a production and post process that is used to manipulate daytime footage to appear as if it were shot at night.
Shooting at night can be extremely costly and challenging logistically, which is why some filmmakers opt to shoot some (or all) of their night-scenes during the day.
While it’s not possible to perfectly replicate a true night time look without actually shooting after the sun has gone down, you can get relatively close by making the right decisions in production, and knowing how to push your footage in post.
The above article outlines the importance of lighting, framing, and other on-set elements that need to be taken into account if you want the best possible results in post. For instance, if you shoot your talent under harsh direct sunlight, it will be virtually impossible to pull off a day-for-night look. One of the tips I outline in the piece above, is to shoot during golden hour when possible, or under clouds/shade to avoid giving yourself away.
Assuming you’ve followed the protocol I laid out in my previous article, your footage will have been shot in a way that is optimized for the day-for-night look. That means you can effectively grade your material to pull off a realistic night look, either using custom adjustments, or automatically using my color grading LUT.
Below are a few before and after examples, showing my Day-For-Night footage put to use.
The first is an image I took this afternoon from inside my car. Here is the original image followed by the graded version –
I intentionally chose this area to shoot in because it was relatively shaded, and to my eye didn’t have a lot of “daytime” giveaways. If I were going for a final look, I would likely add a power window to the sky to crush it down further, but for the sake of this post I just want to show you a quick before and after with only the LUT and no other adjustments.
Here are a couple of stock photos I’ve applied the LUT to. Clearly, neither shot was actually intended to be day-for-night, but even still the effect creates a unique palette.
Normally, you would want to avoid showing a bright sky wherever possible when shooting day-for-night (that’s often the biggest giveaway). But sometimes even if you do show it, you’ll still wind up with a nice look, even if not 100% sellable as night time –
HOW TO USE THE LUT PROPERLY
Not only should your footage be shot in a way that is conducive for the day for night look, but it should be prepped in color accordingly too.
For that reason, I recommend applying this LUT as a second step in your color grading process, once you’ve already created a base grade.
Your very first step – no matter which software that you’re using – should be to create a neutral base grade. In other words, make any necessary adjustments to ensure your color balance, contrast levels, and exposure are all spot on before you do anything else.
If your exposure is off, this LUT will not apply properly, so make sure you take the time to create a base grade before applying it. Once applied, you can then go back to your base grade and fine tune the exposure more.
You’ll get the best results by making these final exposure adjustments on your first grade (the base), and not on the same layer or node that you are using to apply the LUT.
The LUT comes in .cube format (useable in any major video editing/color grading software) and .xmp format (for photographers who are using Lightroom).
I’ve also included a 6 page PDF with instructions on how to use the LUT with different software platforms like FCP X, Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Avid.
If you’d like to download the LUT, simply sign up for my upcoming CINECOLOR newsletter using the form below, and you’ll immediately receive a download link in your inbox!
Hope you all enjoy the LUT!
Be sure to send any before/after examples to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your results.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!