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Day for Night with a DSLR

Marty Hamrick

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I'm shooting a horror short with night exteriors and a really sparse lighting package. Camera is a Canon t2i.We shot some tests using traditional technique, white balance set for tungsten so it goes blue and underexpose a few stops. The problem is that getting large amounts of sky in the wide master shots is unavoidable and the effect is killed.Also the director wasn't too keen on the effect as he stated to me that he wasn't a fan of the "Hammer horror film look."He may be SoL on that one, his largest instrument is a 750 watt PAR. We're going to do some more tests tonight at full dark with a few instruments on closeups (still doesn't solve my master shot ptoblem).

I've read that the old black and white classics of the 30's used infrared film and got spectacular results turning the blue skies solid black with noonday sun looking like moonlight. Could something similar be achieved with a DSLR and infrared filter?

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DSLRs have, or should have, heavy internal IR filtering, as otherwise infrared would cause a lot of flare and haziness, especially when shooting high temperature objects (flame, etc).


This complicates what you propose, although people who are willing to risk destroying the camera have removed the IR filtering for astronomy-related work. I suspect the best approach in your case is to design the shoot to avoid seeing sky.



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Phil is right, dSLRs block IR. Maybe try one of those minidv cameras with night shot if you really want the IR look without spending a lot of money.


I would just rent a 1.2k HMI and honda generator. Maybe $250/day? If you have a tiny space and fast lenses you can buy a lot of 500w EBW photofloods and put them in china lanterns around the scene. If the director's unwilling to spring for that, he will get a "Hammer horror" look no matter how you dress it up. Although maybe you could do some night for night and day for dusk and motivate that according to the story and get away with it.


I've never done day for night, but if I were to, I would:


Try to shoot when the light is very harsh, like contrasty and with a clear sky, and the sky on the horizon is about 90 degrees from the sun, so....noon-ish? Shoot 3200K white balance but then desaturate considerably in post.


Use a good polarizer to darken the sky; the polarizer should be pretty effective since the sky near the horizon will be 90 degrees from the sun. You'll need to frame creatively to get as little sky in frame as possible and to make sure the sky you do get in frame is polarized correctly. Wide shots will be tricky, so I'd use an ND grad if necessary. Sky replacement in post is one solution, too.


Use the sun as a key light, filling faces with bounce board as needed. Expose so that the key is one and a half stops under, so maybe 30 IRE on faces? Normally during the day you'd be using the sky as a backlight or side light and so it might be a stop or two, possibly much more, hot...so this would be a drastic amount of underexposure.


Stack tons of ND filters to get a stop of f2 or so on the lens. That way you can believe there's not much light out there and you can blur out the background, making the tricky continuity of finding acceptable backgrounds a little easier.


Even with that kind of approach you'll probably get ugly results. It's day for night, after all.

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen
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Actually we shot more tests on the location and were quite pleased with the results.I won't have to do day for night at all.We got some pretty good test shots lighting two or three trees at a time for medium shots and closeups. The sequence could work without a master shot easily, but the director(who's also editing and doing CG effects)and I discussed the possibility of lighting a few trees with the actors on a wide locked down master shot, then shooting without actors and lighting a different set of trees for each take and compositing them in post as he apparently has some pretty good software.I saw this done in a low budget horror film once where a murder scene was done in a public bathroom stall. The bathroom the crew actually shot in only had two stalls, but they made it appear as if it had five.Right now the director is unsure whether or not he's going to keep the chase scene as much depends on weather. This guy doesn't have a budget so renting more instruments isn't going to happen. The property where we're shooting is being sold to developers so it's a now or never kind of thing.


I'm well pleased and a bit surprised at how well these cameras handle low light with little grain. I'm shooting at ISO 800 at F 3.5 and the tests looked very good from what I saw on the camera's monitor. When he puts the tests on youtube, I'll be able to view it on a good, large monitor.This is the first time I've done anything remotely like a dramatic film in over ten years as I've been primarily shooting news the last 7 years. The last time was a low budget horror film in 16mm, so I'm pleasantly surprised with what I got.Can't say I'm particularly wild about shooting video with a DSLR, they're quite fiddly.

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BTW, I'm shooting the moving camera shots with a Glidecam 1000. I've had a chance to do a little practice with it, but it never seems quite balanced. We had to put a little weight on the bottom as DSLR's are really light for this piece, but it still has a little trouble not wandering off. Any suggestions?

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Just face the fact that you are too limited to do what is asked and take a stand. 8 bit DSLR's with no lights and a toy-like stabilizing device will only go so far. This is why HMI's, Sony F3's, RED's and Stedicam's sell so well.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Getting back to the topic of infrared, one thing that is interesting is to do stop-motion or time lapse with early generation digital cameras that were more sensitive to IR light, such as the Olympus and nikon Coolpix that shared the same sensor. Good IR response, but no motion picture, sorry.


Maybe a time lapse without people in it could substitute for an establishing shot...


But yeah, the major reason besides cost to ever fool with HDSLRs is that right now, the canon is king when it comes to low light shooting. There is a zone around 1600 iso with f/1.4 lenses that hasn't existed before.


Other than that, they are annoying things that break and annoy.


Another thing that is annoying is horror films - if people are going to all this trouble to make a film, please try to make a good one. The economics of the genre dont make sense anymore. The finished film will be lost in a sea of unoriginal dreck, languish on a shelf and all that effort will have been for nothing. The planet deserves better. My two cents, sorry.

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