View Full Version : nighttime lighting

04 April 2006, 06:53 PM
I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions, tips or techniques as to how to go about lighting a night shot? I originally planned on doing a three-point light setup (with maybe some ambient light), but perhaps there's as better way to do it. Comments, anyone?

04 April 2006, 07:26 PM
my first question would be whether it's an outdoor or an indoor scene.
as for outdoor lighting i found some useful reference on this site: (

which was made sticky on these forums some time ago. be sure to check part 3 of it, too. hope that helps...

04 April 2006, 08:09 PM
I'm looking specifically for an outdoor scene but I'll take anything I can get on interior too, while we're on the topic. Thanks for the link!

04 April 2006, 11:13 PM
well what is lighting your scene? moon or electric or both?

04 April 2006, 01:12 AM
I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions, tips or techniques as to how to go about lighting a night shot?

First, don't make everything dark - you still need bright rims, highlights, reflections of lights, and a few well-lit areas, pools of light where things are visible. The fact that it is dark out is no excuse to pass-off an underexposed image.

Second, think about anything - anything - that could motivate some light. For example, if there are any lamps, lights in windows, moonlight, glow from the sky. Lights in the background are especially important, because any lights in the bg can motivate rims and reflections and highlights that light up the scene. If it's at all plausible that the ground be wet, as if it just rained, that helps alot to capture highlights and reflections.

The sense of darkness doesn't come from an image that is all dark, but from high contrast, with a few limited areas of light, and dark contrasty shadows and dim areas in between them.

Color is important: colors get more pale in the darkness, so in most of the shot you don't want saturated object colors, except maybe if there's a dim rich blue from moon or sky light. Blue light tends to desaturated people's faces so there is less warmth in them. The moon can be yellow or white if the glow from the sky is blue, but it should be more blue if there are also lamps or streetlights in the scene.


04 April 2006, 09:35 AM
Also decide on whether you want a realistic or non-realistic/cartoony look and if there will be artificial light sources in the scene.

When you take a photograph of a city at night you usually won't see any blue from the sky at all because it is so dim compared to the lights and signs. You'll have to really overexpose the picture to make that show well. Though you might see the sky coloured with a yellowish/orange tint from the light spill. Also the moonlight is pretty weak compared to city lights, it'll hardly show up. Cartoony setups will tend to go with blue more often.

Without artificial lights and with long exposure times it's pretty crazy how much the night will resemble the day except you'll see stars in the sky. But of course the point is to convey the message that it actually is night and (especially in film) you don't want long exposures anyway. The way night stuff is often lit in film is with a big light coming from some direction. Basically giving it a lot of contrast.
Again in a cartoony setup blue is more often used as you can really make something feel like night-time with that and also give a lot of atmosphere and mood.

Things to remember:
- At night there's usually no bright sky to fill in the dark area. This will result in high contrast and pools of light when there are artificial light sources. (as Jeremy mentioned before)
- Desaturated colours. (also mentioned)
- It's all relative. The sky might be the brightest part in the image but it might become the darkest next to city lights. Also the moon light might be the most yellow but it may become the most blue next to a light bulb. Exposure and colour temperature.
- Reference, this is so important it's not even funny. Corspe Bride has some really nice lighting for referencing a cartoony night-time mood. Also check out how they do night-time shots on film sets.

Hope this makes some sense. :)


04 April 2006, 03:56 PM
Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions. I'll keep them in mind. The scene is a campground/forest/national park at night, so most of the light will be coming from the moon, and a little bit of warm light coming from the remnants of a burning fire, embers/ash.

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