Dayfor Night Cinematography

The speed of modern color films makes it possible to shoot night-for-night scenes. However, there are night scenes that are impractical to illuminate artificially and actually film at night. Shooting such scenes day-for-night eliminates the additional problems and expense of night shooting and can deliver excellent pictorial results.

Techniques for filming day-for-night scenes in color or black & white vary greatly because of the many factors involved. Cinematographers naturally differ in their interpretation of what constitutes a night effect. The overall effect must be one of darkness. Processing laboratories differ in their negative preferences, although most prefer sufficient density on the original negative since it is always possible to "print down" for a darker effect, but impossible to obtain a rich, full-bodied print from a thin, shadowless original negative (if black shadows are desired, the scene must print at center scale or higher).

Choice of filters and degree of underexposure will vary according to sky conditions, color and contrast of subject and background, the strength, quality and direction of sunlight, and the particular effect desired. Very generally speaking, the most convincing day-for-night shots, in either color or black & white, are made in strong sunlight, under blue skies and with low-angle back-cross lighting.

Direct backlighting results in a "rim-light" effect which, although pleasing in a long shot, lacks the necessary three-dimensional, half-illuminated facial effects required in medium and close shots. Front lighting will flatten and destroy all shadows. Side and front-cross lighting is permissible but not as effective as back-cross illumination. Since production does not always permit shooting when conditions are exactly right, and since day-for-night shots must sometimes be made all day long, often the choice of sun angle must be compromised. Under these conditions, avoid front lighting as much as possible and stay with any sun angle that results in partial illumination, preferably with shadows toward the camera.

Skies give the most trouble, since they will invariably read too high and are difficult to balance against foreground action. Graduated neutral density filters, which cover the sky area only, and Pola Screens, which will darken the sky with the sun at certain angles, are both useful for either color or black & white films because they do not affect color values and can be used in combination with other effect filters.

Neutral-density filters will tone down a "hot" sky, even if it is bald white. A partial or graduated neutral-den-sity filter covering only the sky will therefore be very useful for bringing the sky into exposure balance with the foreground. Care must be taken, however, that action does not cross the demarcation line between the filter material and the clear glass area. Pola Screens are most useful when the sun is directly overhead at right angles to the camera.

A Pola Screen should not be employed if the camera must be panned through a wide arc, since the polarization will vary and the sky tone will change in density as the camera revolves. Typical underexposure is V/i to 2Vi stops, rarely more. Brilliant sunlight will require greater underexposure, gray days less. The underexposure can be handled in several ways. One is by ignoring the filter exposure increase required, if it is close to the amount of underexposure desired. For instance, the filter being employed may require two stops increase in exposure for a normal effect. The increase is ignored and the diaphragm set for the exposure without the filter, thus delivering the necessary underexposure for the night effect. Or, a neutral density of the desired strength is employed and its exposure increase ignored.

Proceed as follows: insert the effect filter, or combination of filters for the desired effect, and allow for their exposure increase as in normal filming. Add the desired neutral (a .30 for one stop, .50 for a stop and one-half or a .60 for two stops). Ignoring the neutral filter's exposure increase will automatically underexpose the negative by the necessary amount. This is a quick and effective method in fast production shooting where night effects are suddenly required and little or no time is available for computations.

If the sky is not sufficiently blue to filter properly, and if it is impossible to use a graduated neutral-density filter, try to avoid the sky as much as possible by shooting against buildings or foliage, or choose a high angle and shoot downward.

The contrast between the players and the background is very important since a definite separation is desirable. Dark clothing, for instance, will merge with a dark background and the player will be lost. It is better to leave a dark background and players in lighter, although not necessarily white, clothing than to have a light background and players in dark clothing. The latter combination will result in a silhouette, rather than a night effect. This is the reason that back-cross lighting is preferable, so that the background is not illuminated and the players have a definite separation through edge lighting, which also imparts shimmering highlights.

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