View Full Version : Night Filming

10-02-2006, 09:05 PM
I was wondering if anyone has some tips/tricks to night filming. I have an upcoming shoot, and I know it's silly, but don't really have any experience filming at night outdoors.

I'll be using two cameras. A Panasonic AD-DVC 7 and a Sony DSR-250. In a few days I'm going to do some site shooting and editing for practice. I would appreciate any help so I don't look like to much of a fool in front of my crew :).

This is going to be a night-for-night shoot. I'm just grasping for basics and noodling around google not getting much help.

Thanks in advance! And I'll post my pitfalls/successes after the shoot.

10-02-2006, 09:10 PM
is there a reason you need to shoot at night? many shots can be done in daylight and darkened+desaturated+blue tint in post. If you must shoot at night, it would help if we knew what kind of scenes you have to shoot.

10-02-2006, 10:00 PM
is there a reason you need to shoot at night? many shots can be done in daylight and darkened+desaturated+blue tint in post. If you must shoot at night, it would help if we knew what kind of scenes you have to shoot.

I've read a little about Day-For-Night shooting, but I'm nervous that I don't have enough technical ability to pull that off right.

The scenes all bascially revolve around a camp setting. Fire, lanterns, etc.


10-02-2006, 10:55 PM
My guess is that a camp setting is something you'd want to shoot indoors, or at night. You can fake the firelight and lantern light if you are not out in broad daylight. You could also light an outdoor scene after sundown (or before sunrise) and fake the firelight/lantern lights. I don't recommend shooting by actual firelight, unless you don't care about the quality. A campfire doesn't generate much light. A lantern might give you a bright light, but you'd want to bounce that light around for more natural looking light, and it would be easier if you had some flood lights for background lighting. I can picture a couple of other problems shooting outdoors by real firelight, that involve bugs, people tripping over wires, equipment getting damaged by the fire, etc.

I should probably back out here, and defer to someone who's actually done a shot like this. I've done some campfire video, so I know how little light you're going to get on your subjects, unless you put them in the fire! ;) However, I can't tell you exactly how it should be done. If I were doing it, I'd do several experimental shots, I'd probably use all artificial light, for control, and I'd add the fire in post, where needed. It's much easier to get great campfire video if all you need to shoot is the fire.

I have lots of campfire video that I shot on miniDV, if you can use it. It's easy to composite, because the background is perfectly black.

10-02-2006, 11:35 PM
Thanks! After doing some googling I think I might give it a go during the day, but the schedule has already been set for the night so I'll have to check everyone's schedules, etc. I definitely wouldn't mind taking a look at the campfire video.

Appreciate it!

10-03-2006, 01:34 AM
I prefer shooting night for night. Even with filters and post work I don't like the look of day for night.

Of course, you'll need lights. You don't mention lights (and power) at all in your post. I have some tricks - and can post a sequence or two if you like - but they won't do you any good if you don't have lights. I did a scene in the woods with six 650 watt Arri lights that looks really good.

10-03-2006, 08:53 AM
Agreeing with Rick; One obvious problem with day-for-night, in this case, is removing the background. A true night shot; even with lots of artificial light, will fade to black in the distance.

I uploaded 2 shortened and compressed campfire clips from my library. The original series of clips of clips is over 1GB in it's original, DV format, and the longest clip is 1m 41s long. I'd probably just mail you a DVD-R with the full clips. The compressed versions aren't as smooth, but you get the idea.

20 seconds of clip #5 a5 50% speed (
5 seconds of clip #7 100% speed (

p.s. I found that slowing the campfire down made it look less frantic and more realistic, so I included a clip at 50% speed

10-03-2006, 08:54 AM
I don't advice Day for Night unless absolutely necessary because it will not look the same as if you were actually shooting at night. The best advice I can give is light it! Light everything! You may want an experienced d.p. for this because s/he will really make the scene look right for you. But whatever you do... light it.

10-03-2006, 11:14 AM
For fire light, I use two lights, one with a red gel and one with an orange gel, put them on dimmers and then dim them up and down independently to create a firelight effect. Then I'll use a light with a either half or quarter blue on it to create a rim light to simulate moonlight on my actors. Don't forget to light your background, so put matching blue gel on a light and hit whatever is in the background, be that ground, trees or bushes.


10-03-2006, 05:30 PM
Thanks for all the help, suggestions. I just messed around with some day shooting and I did notice the background issue. I'm figuring that will take care of itself somewhat if I have a somewhat forrested backdrop. I also noticed that any little bit of the sky that snuck killed the shot ;). I already started the rumor that we may be moving the shoot, but I may just stick with the night and work up until that point with lighting. I'm just nervous that if I mess up the lighting in a night shoot, everythings lost, whereas a day shoot, I can at least work with it in post.

10-04-2006, 09:27 AM
I should have added this to my other message, but doing day-for-night is a bitch. I've done it, but only for a shot or two on most occassions. I did one scene that simulated dusk which worked. The key is to avoid showing sky. One glimpse of daylight sky and the illusion is shattered and the audience is out of the scene and maybe the entire movie.


10-04-2006, 09:33 AM
I should have added this to my other message, but doing day-for-night is a bitch. I've done it, but only for a shot or two on most occassions. I did one scene that simulated dusk which worked. The key is to avoid showing sky. One glimpse of daylight sky and the illusion is shattered and the audience is out of the scene and maybe the entire movie.


We stocked up on some lighting last night and probably will get some more equipment over the next few days. I'd rather have too much light if possible :). I've decided with the tests and all the help from on here, that I'm just going to stck with the night-for-night.

The sony did a real nice job in a pretty low light environment. I still have to test the Panasonic, but I'm pretty much just going to jump in feet first.

10-04-2006, 09:46 AM
If you end up with a sky shot, you should be able to make a garbage matte and generate a super high contrast version of the clip to use as a mask so you can replace the sky with dark. If the shot is relatively quick, it should pass.

10-04-2006, 12:18 PM
I'm with Knightly on this. Fixing the sky can be done with a luminance key or a travelling mask.

However, being aware of what sorts of problems you might have, will allow you to shoot better day-for-night video. I've found if I shoot in a heavily wooded area, when the sun isn't directly overhead, I can get day-for-night with almost no effort. The dense canopy makes it rather dark below. Once the sun reaches 4 o-clock, I'm finding it hard to get enough light.

The bigger problem might be finding a light that is bright enough to give you the firelight effects on people's faces. You may be able to use a luminance key to isolate faces and apply firelight digitally, if the faces contrast well with a dark background, but I'd do some test shots before I staked my film on it. Actually, I do test shots of almost everything, unless I've done it before.

Will Vincent
10-07-2006, 12:51 AM
I would strongly advise against using "nightshot" modes on anything you want to use in a finished "professional" piece. By ramping up the gain so much you're adding a TON of graininess to the footage.

I would also not recommend shooting day for night. On the whole it would be best to remove "we'll fix it in post" from your vocabulary... even if it's you doing the post, save whoever is doing it all of the headache and do it right during production. Period.

Shooting at night, light is your friend. Light the background, light the foreground, light everything. Listen to Scott's advice about the firelight effect, he definitely knows what he's talking about. Something else you might consider adding to your light setup would be a china lantern or two, they are good for simulating moonlight in night shots.

A key thing to remember is that at night contrast diminishes considerable, so you should light accordingly -- soften everything, shadows are virtually non-existent at night, with a few exceptions.

Harsher light would make sense for "practical" lighting, such as car headlights, flashlights, etc.. also firelight would cast a shadow if it's the primary source of light, so take that into account when you do your light setup, while you'll want to light the background and such, it should be soft light at a much lower wattage than the key light of the fire. Even the fire light should be overpowered by any harsh practical lighting you might use (headlights, flashlight, etc)... but if you're not using any of those, then just make sure your fire light is the brightest light you've got, and you should be golden. The key, if you're not working with an experienced DP, is to do lots of testing as oakstreet mentioned.

With practice and patience, you'll get good results. Just don't rush through it because you're behind schedule (indie films, especially low/no-budget indie films are almost ALWAYS behind schedule). The more you prepare, the better the results. Time spent in preproduction is always the 'cheapest' time you have to spend, and even during production it's better to spend a couple hours getting your lighting set up before you have your actors arrive, than it is to make them sit and wait.

Good luck, and keep us posted! Would love to see some stills or video when you get it shot (even from test shoots)

10-07-2006, 10:48 AM
Second, I am not recommending the technique outright, but rather some experimentation with it. Under the appropriate circumstances it can look very good, however I also recognize that most of my shots that look decent from shooting nightshot were in a situation where there was plenty of light around. All the nightshot served to do in these cases was to get more detail out of shadows and to be more forgiving of looking into bright light sources with the subject in the darker foreground.
In a situation where you cannot control the lighting, you have to do what you have to do to get the shot. When I was shooting weddings for a living (on film), I would use 1000 speed film for a candle light ceremony, but I wouldn't consider such a loss in quality, if I could do something to raise the light levels.

Third, I am very big on breaking mold and trying new things. Definitely know the standard cookie-cutter formulae (i.e. the way everyone has done it since one innovatior found something that worked), but then if there's something you think could be better, give it a shot. ...
I'm all for testing the limits, but the reason we light any scene like we do, is to make the lighting look natural to the camera. Cookie-cutter or not, the fact is that cameras do not "see" the way we do. If you go sit by the campfire and you let your eyes wander, you'll find that the campfire looks bright, and orange, but not too bright when you look at it. When you gaze into the woods, your eyes quickly adjust so that you can see whatever is revealed by the weak light of the fire, the moonlight, etc., and when you stare into the sky, you see stars that can only be recorded on film by tracking them in a long exposure. It is simply a fact that you cannot reconcile all of these things with a single exposure setting in your camera, so you must fake it by adding light to the dark areas and exposing for the bright areas.

I know I sound like a 90 year old, professing the merits of the old ways, but light has not changed, the human eye hasn't evolved much in the past 10,000 years, and cameras, from film cameras to the most modern HD video cameras, all fall prey to the single-focus, single-exposure per frame syndrome. Reconciling the differences between our perception and the camera's limitations is the hallmark of a great photographer.

That is not to say that you should not study the capabilities of your equipment and know how to get the most from it. All I am saying is that to achieve a natural looking shot on camera, it is necessary to give special attention to your lighting. The more context you include in your shots (i.e. wide shots) the harder it is to get it all right. If in doubt, keep your shots tight.

Rock on! :cool:

Will Vincent
10-07-2006, 01:07 PM
A couple of comments in defense of the concept....

For the record, I wasn't attacking your technique.. I actually was going to post before you, but was running late for work, and in flipping back and forth between tabs in firefox accidentally cleared my post, so I didn't have time to rewrite it. ;)

Will Vincent
10-07-2006, 11:39 PM
For headlights you might find that putting some gaff tape in an X formation across the center of them will knock it down enough that it's not blowing your shot out of whack, while still reading at headlights on camera.

I will grant you this, you have recovered a decent amount of picture information from the very dark shots.. but 'nightshot' modes really have no place in a professional piece. For something to just play around with any whatnot, cool more power to you, but you'd likely be spending your time better learning to correctly light scenes rather than trying to correct poorly captured images. That's my whole point.

Incidentally, what I would probably do for the above pictured scene would be to use something like a 4k with a soft box (and maybe a blue gel) from a fairly high angle off to one side, to brighten up the whole area (think moonlight) Then use the headlights and house lights as practicals, show the car pull up and park. Then cut to a closer shot for your conversation bits, so you could effectively light your actors without screwing up everything else. Maybe hang a china lantern just over the camera while you steadicam the conversation/walk, enough to light their faces and not much else... That would be my first attempt at lighting this, but there may be a better way, I'm not a lighting expert (strictly speaking).

10-08-2006, 10:40 AM
I agree with will as far as narrative work goes, but for doc work or wedding work, sometimes there is no way to light a scene that you are expected by a client to just magically capture.

I've had too many shoots that were ruined because the house lights were too dim to get an image. :( I also don't have an IR night shot on any of my cameras.

Will Vincent
10-08-2006, 04:02 PM
Well clearly we are not going to see eye to eye on this, and I'm not going to spend any more time arguing with you about how to correctly light and shoot. If you want to consider 'nightshot' an additional aperture setting, I guess that's your prerogative.

As this thread was started to help someone with how to correctly light a night shot, I would hope they would not see your views the same, because the footage looks cheap -- for a narrative. I would agree with Knightly that in certain cases, weddings, concerts, etc when you have no control over the lighting it's all you can do to get the shot, however for a narrative piece, it's best to do it "right". If done correctly, it won't "LOOK harshly lit, like almost all night scenes normally look." I'm not sure which night scenes you are referring to by that, but the good ones I've seen look good, because they were correctly lit, not cheaply with as few lights as possible.

That's all I have to say, I'm done now. :)

10-08-2006, 07:02 PM
Don't worry, Will. You made your point well, and I'm in complete agreement with you. Sputterwall is still trying to defy physics, but we should not discourage him, because this is how many of us learn.

Speaking of "nightshot", I don't believe you ever get something for nothing. Less light means more gain, and a poor signal to noise ratio. If the noise doesn't matter to the producer, then it's his perogative.

For those of you who want optimal quality from your video/film cameras, light is your paintbrush ... good, strong light means bright, clean images. Just like with audio, you want your signal to be well above the background noise level.

Sputterwall: Your DOS/GUI analogy doesn't really work. I, for one, am not stuck in the old ways. I've done many experiments like you are doing. I don't wish to discourage your research, but some of the people on this forum speak from a wealth of invaluable experience. You may not want to discount them too quickly.

10-08-2006, 07:11 PM
It is about using nightvision because it responds to light more like the human eye at lower levels
Sorry, but I have to disagree here. The light sources are all severly burnt out because the camera is exposing for the shadows. The same rules apply here as in normal shooting modes. The entire problem, as I described earlier, is the disparity between light sources and shadow that our eyes deal with independantly. My vision is nothing like your test shots. Aside from sensitivity to infrared, your test shots look just like images shot with ultra high gain, or super high speed film. The infrared sensitivity just adds another source of hotspots and more deviation from human vision.

Will Vincent
10-08-2006, 09:55 PM
Thank you oakstreet.. I'm glad you understood my point.

As an aside, I'm all for breaking the "rules" of film making.. BUT firmly believe that you must understand the rules before you can choose to break them (for creative reasons). Know what those rules are and why they exist, so that you can break them purposefully for a valid reason. But that's another discussion altogether.

10-09-2006, 12:18 AM
Shoot at night. Nothing wrong with a night shot where you can't see anything... it's night! Use it to your advantage. The sound is 50% of the film. Sticks cracking as they walk, etc... build the scene with sound.

Will Vincent
10-09-2006, 10:13 AM
Shoot at night. Nothing wrong with a night shot where you can't see anything... it's night! Use it to your advantage. The sound is 50% of the film. Sticks cracking as they walk, etc... build the scene with sound.

Sometimes sound is even more than 50% :)

10-09-2006, 02:07 PM
I have clearly asked twice if anyone else has had experience using nightshot. So far, I am the only one who has said they have any experience working with it. I have over ten hours of nightshot footage

Just to clarify, I have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of night shooting.

My final advice is shoot night at night, unless it's a few very carefully composed and controled shots. There's a whole different feel to footage shot in darkness as opposed to day for night.


10-11-2006, 10:35 AM

Thanks for the clarifications. Sorry for the misunderstanding and thanks for posting those stills. They can be valueable to doc shooters who have to make the most of availlable lighting.


10-12-2006, 04:02 PM
I just wanted to give a quick update. We've doubled out light power thanks to you guys and we're going to give it our best go Saturday night. I'll be sure to post pics/clips as soon as I can and let everyone know what issues/successes I had. I haven't run the tests I wanted to, just some small ones, and now I've run out of time :).

Thanks again!

Will Vincent
10-12-2006, 09:06 PM
Good Luck Alex, I hope it goes well for you!

10-17-2006, 09:28 AM
Here's some shots. The first two are from the Sony DSR-200A and the last one is from a Panasonic AG-DVC7.

I took some of the worse shots to show what went wrong. First the lighting was more over powering from the right side as you can see by the shadows. We had limited power and tripped the breakers once so I was gun shy about trying to get more on.

It would have also been better if we were shooting mostly with the lighting at our backs. Also, these were the less expensive Home Depot lights, but I have to say, I'm not really sure the price for the real lights is worth the quality for the point we're at yet.

In use: 3 X 500 Watt, and 2 X 250 Watt

Should have had some more, but I'm happy with how it came out. Any comments are fine, you can be brutal :). Any questions I'll try and answer the best I can. I also post a clip update when I can.

10-17-2006, 10:32 AM
It would be easier to trick your audience, if you kept the pseudo light sources out of the picture. It's really tricky to get the lighting to look right, when the fictional light sources are in the frame.

If there is a next time, you might try framing your shots tighter to leave out the lanterns, then set your key light from the lanterns POV. Set up your wide shots with less light so the lanterns appear as light sources, and keep them brief. This really is a tricky business. I think one could do about 10-20 practice runs and still find areas for improvement. Then, of course, when it came time to do the real thing, it would rain. :(

p.s. I still those campfire clips if you want to superimpose some flames in the foreground. I'll mail you a DVD, if you can use them.

10-17-2006, 10:49 AM
You have lit the darkness there...I would have stopped down just a smidge...some of your highlights are blown out.

You may have considered putting one of the larger ones up higher somehow with some blue in front of it to simulate moonlight streaming down. Then placing a lower wattage light in front of them to illuminate the talent (practicals are visible in the shot). And a couple more behind to illuminate the trees behind as if falloff from the lanterns (no, real lanterns can't throw that much light), hidden by the talent.

Will Vincent
10-17-2006, 07:36 PM
I would agree with what the previous two posts suggest (if and when there's a next time).. However, with what you did get, I'd say it's probably still workable as is.. maybe drop the gamma a bit to darken it up a little more, a subtle blueish "night" filter correction might help too, but probably wouldn't be needed..

I'll mess around with 'em in premiere a bit later tonight and post a couple alternatives with details of what I did to 'em if I can find a better look.. but for your first try, without doing test shots previously it's pretty nifty :)

Good job!

10-18-2006, 09:35 AM
Thanks for the tips guys. I watched the "Monster are due on Maple Street" twilight zone right before shooting. When it gets dark, the lead character carries around a lantern once it gets dark. Even though if you look at it from our perspective you can tell the lighting isn't coming off the lantern, I thought it looked okay.

I didn't realize at the time how much effort goes into creating that. It was a last second decision to put the lanterns in the shot, made a mistake :). I don't think I'm going to need/have time for the fire, but I really appreciate it.

10-18-2006, 10:04 AM

If you have access to power you can do it with three basic 650 Open Face lights...
1- Bacic bounce (camera position) for ambiance
2- Key simulating fire (amber gel) - Low Angle
3- Back Light

If you have a fourth light - Blue gel and drop it on the background

Will Vincent
10-18-2006, 10:23 AM
Here's a quick alteration of one of your clips..

The settings I used looked decent for all of them, but the first screenshot is all blown out and does look a little weird regardless of how we tweak settings.

Anyway.. this is the combination of 4 video effect layers in Premiere Pro, from first applied to last applied here they are with the settings (Default levels unless for all settings not listed):

Brightness 15.0
Contrast 75.0
Hue 0.0
Saturation 65.0
RGB Black Input 0
RGB White Input 255
RGB Black Output 0
RGB White Output 252
RGB Gamma 90
(The rest at default levels)
RGB Color Correction
Red Gamma 0.90
Red Gain 0.90
Green Gamma 0.90
Green Gain 0.90
Blue Gamma 1.30
Blue Gain 1.00

Brightness & Contrast
Brightness -17.0


Obviously more tweaking could still be done, but parts of the footage is definitely workable. :)

10-31-2006, 11:06 PM
The final product finally :). We didn't make it like you guys, but it was fun and I learned alot. Hopefully sometime soon I'll be able to take as good of shots as you guys:

Markham Horror (

Hope you enjoy and don't loose your ears to the crickets. I put a thanks to everyone who posted to this thread. It would have been much worse without you guys :). We added a little bit of tint to each shot. I'm going to also post this in the debut forum. Let me know if that's okay, just wanted to close this out and say thanks once again...

Right in the middle my work sent me to California, my cars got towed, the package didn't arrive in England in time, and I was living on 1 hour sleep a night. What a great hobby!