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George Ebersole

Day for Night filters pre 1980s

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So I'm noticing in pre 1990's and pre 1980's films that even though some scenes were shot at night, some films still used day for night filters. I'm noticing that the use of such filters (which I really didn't like in films) was used primarily for large outdoor "night" scenes. Whereas the more intimate scenes involving just one or a couple of characters were actually shot at night, or on a stage dressed for a night scene.

 

Is that right? Or was there some other criteria for using Day for Night filters?

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The most common Day for Night filter was to remove the 85 when shooting tungsten film. I guess it comes down to your budget, large night scenes require a large lighting rig, especially in the days when film was rated at 100 ASA.

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That's about right. Day for night was always a sort of low-budget technique to expose for large expanses of landscape that would have been impossible to pull off under actual night shooting.

 

Some of the limitations of exposing for large night exteriors were technical, the light levels were simply too low for film stocks of the time to register a base level of exposure. Even now, the fastest motion picture color negative stock available is only 500 ASA. Digital cameras can now shoot up to 128,000 ISO in some cases. With these cameras, you actually can get a usable base exposure level with only the full moon.

 

Other limitations were due to budget, not being able to bring in the amount of powerful lighting units required, along with the generators, power distro, condors, grippage, and man power to make it all work.

 

This is still true to some extent. If you want to create a stylized night exterior as seen in many big budget features and not simply accept the existing lighting, you still need to wet down streets with water trucks, set up big HMIs and Dinos on condors, rig lighting balloons or huge overhead soft boxes on truss, bring in rain towers, etc. None of which can be replicated by shooting day for night.

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Also, you still see the technique used today even in big budget films. For example, 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy did a lot of day-for-night location exterior work.

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That's right, slower stock and money. I'm also guessing some of it was style as well, but that was probably a rare case, and even then the large night scenes usually only involved a couple of actors at most.

 

Thanks for the answers. It's something I always wondered about. I've never been a fan of them, but figured they were a necessary evil for some technical reason. Thanks again.

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In reality, a desert landscape lit by actual moonlight is closer to a day-for-night look than if you used lights for moonlight, because most people cannot light all the way out to the horizon.

 

Here is a shot of my car in actual moonlight, underexposed by 3-stops to look dark:

moonlit2.jpg

 

And here it is not underexposed:

moonlit3.jpg

 

I set the camera to tungsten-balance, hence the blue color. You see that real moonlight falls just like real sunlight does.

 

Besides, back in the 1960's, for example, film stock was only 50 ASA, so there were limits to how far into a background you could light even with carbon arcs at night.

 

The thing is that we accept night-for-night as being more realistic even though the lighting might be less realistic than day-for-night in terms of emulating moonlight on a big landscape because even the worst-lit night exterior still registers as being shot at night in the viewer's mind.

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Wow, those are some cool stills. I guess it also led me to wonder why some directors opted to use day for night instead of just shooting on stage, but I imagine it's the same problem; you need to convince the audience that part of what their seeing is real, so you got your choice between a fake looking exterior set on a stage, or use a day for night filter which has its own "unreal" quality to it.

 

Interesting. Thanks for the reply. Those stills tell a lot.

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It's all artifice, it's just a question of picking which approach the viewer will accept more readily, and what works for the scene action and the budget/schedule. For example, day-for-night works less well when there are other light sources in the scene like a campfire or car headlamps because they would be the brightest thing in the space in real life compared to the moonlight, but they can't compete with sunlight when shooting day-for-night. A compromise there is dusk-for-night.

 

Odd thing is that when you have the ability to really light miles of landscape at night, it starts to look like day-for-night... And recently there have been some short films shot under real moonlight using the Sony A7S and they also feel like day-for-night or daytime.

 

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Wow, that's impressive. You could never get that kind of footage ten years ago, or even when I first joined this forum. That's amazing.

 

But here's the thing, whenever I'm out during a full moon the light reflected off the moon has that silver-gray quality to it, and that color tends to wash out all other colors. So when I see this footage, except for the YouTube clip, it almost looks color graded. Almost like it was shot during the day with the full sun spectrum, just stopped down a bit.

 

The YouTube clip, especially with the desert footage, seemed more "moon like" to me because of the washed out colors. Is there a secret to getting that, or is it simply all up to the DP and his eye?

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'Blue' moonlight is really only a movie convention. Real moonlight appears silver gray, because the color sensitive cones in your eyes start to crap out in low light. The most sensitive of them, and therefore the last to stop working, are the blue sensitive cones. This is why moonlight appears slightly cold, and very desaturated.

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Moonlight is also cool because it is daylight-balanced and often we see it mixed with tungsten sources, which are much warmer in comparison. But as Stuart says, in low-light, your rods work more than the cones in your eyes so colors are rather muted.

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I just bought a Sony A7s II (still on the way) that I will attempt to shoot a sequence under a full moon on the 20th of May. It's a long shot of a character walking through the desert carrying a torch. I'll try it several different ways, once at dusk, just on the cusp of darkness with a Red Epic. Then at full dark, with only moon and star light. I fear thought that the torch will be completely blown out using the A7s at 14,000 ISO.

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The movie The Proposition, from 2005, has some of the best Day-for-Night shots that I've yet seen. I believe the way they achieved these shots was filming in direct daylight with a heavy polarized blue sky that was then essentially used as a blue screen. Then they digitally played in the night sky. This is pretty bad screen grab but it gives you an idea of the look.

Edited by Joe Taylor

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Then at full dark, with only moon and star light. I fear thought that the torch will be completely blown out using the A7s at 14,000 ISO.

Just tape some ND gel to the flashlight, unless you meant a flaming torch. If so, make a small flame...

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'Blue' moonlight is really only a movie convention. Real moonlight appears silver gray, because the color sensitive cones in your eyes start to crap out in low light. The most sensitive of them, and therefore the last to stop working, are the blue sensitive cones. This is why moonlight appears slightly cold, and very desaturated.

 

Moonlight is also cool because it is daylight-balanced and often we see it mixed with tungsten sources, which are much warmer in comparison. But as Stuart says, in low-light, your rods work more than the cones in your eyes so colors are rather muted.

 

Ah, got it. I thought it was some strange photo-chemical thing happening with sunlight being bounced off the moon's surface or something. It is, but it's in my eye, and not so much the light itself. Most interesting.

 

Thanks for the lesson! :)

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Moonlight is also cool because it is daylight-balanced and often we see it mixed with tungsten sources, which are much warmer in comparison. But as Stuart says, in low-light, your rods work more than the cones in your eyes so colors are rather muted.

 

One of the things that occured to me after I reread this thread was that just how on the nose your real moonlit stills looked. That is to say the filters used back in the 60s and 70s, even though there was probably no way for them to get good "moonlight" shots, actually predicted what low light digital photography would look like.

 

I find that absolutely amazing.

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Just tape some ND gel to the flashlight, unless you meant a flaming torch. If so, make a small flame...

 

No David, we're using a big flaming torch.

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we're using a big flaming torch.

A good rule of thumb for shooting fire is to shoot at f4, 500 ISO. That will give you some warmth and color to the flames. If you're shooting at 14,000 ISO then the torch would be around 5 stops over-exposed, so there would be no color or detail left in the flame. That's assuming that you were shooting at an f4, which I guess you would probably not be doing...

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There was an interesting part of John Seale,s talk at the Australia ACS about day for night shooting for Mad Max .. where it was the complete opposite of how he had worked with film.. the DIT kept on requesting they open up the iris more.. so it was shot actually more wide open than normal day exposure.. to get a ton of data for then grading down to a night look..

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No David, we're using a big flaming torch.

 

Seems odd, but maybe you could find an ND grad filter that is just an fuzzy ND dot in the center and clear all around...

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That's fine as long as you don't clip anything, because if you do, it will be odd-looking once you darken it for a night look.

 

 

Yes it wasn't really technical .. just his amazement at shooting day for night ,pretty much the same as you would for straight day.. compared to how he had done it, Im sure many times over, on film..

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What actually may have helped in the Mad Max example was ND'ing down and shooting at wide apertures since that's what would actually happen at night. In a lot of old movies that did day for night, they were shooting desert exteriors T16, which did not look very convincing.

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No ND,s mentioned..just opening up the iris to the max.. without clipping I presume.. the DIT wanted max data for grading.. which was counter intuitive for him,compared to how he would have done it on film.. don't have the link now.. it was John Seale and the B cam DP.. an ACS presentation.. might still be online.. very interesting.. about the whole making of MM from the original 3D camera option ..

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