Creating an unforgettable experience in the mind of your audience is what motivates filmmakers around the world. Making a film is not for the faint of heart. It is only a matter of time before you embark on a project that tests your boundaries: filming at night will offer that test to even the most battle-hardened filmmaker.
Transitioning your challenge to opportunity is the only way of making the most of your filming journey.
Night filming presents an additional challenge compared to daytime scenes, but with a little finesse, you can get stunning night shots that create an unforgettable project.
You might have observed that an ordinary scene during the day becomes an awe-inspiring shoot at night. Night filming can be magical, plus you can get uninterrupted access to places that are too busy during the day.
Night filming can be your ticket to stand out in the crowd and make a name for yourself. But to create a strong effect on your audience, you must know the science that goes into creating the night-effect you dream of.
But are you ready for that challenge? What are the best video camera settings for night shots? Let us look at some tips and tricks that will prepare you for an amazing night shoot.
Camera and Lighting
The first step to making a good night film is to choose the right video camera for the job. DSLR video cameras are ideal for low light conditions due to their improved light sensitivity and large sensor size.
It is also essential to come prepared with lighting tools. Whether you use a camera light, a smartphone flashlight, signals, or a complete set of lighting with different styles of stands, almost every night video needs lighting.
Let’s look at some standard quick tips to get us started:
Use a Quick Lens
Quick glass and premium lenses will help you win the day (or, should I say, night!)
Find a Light
If you do not have small, battery-operated lamps, you can always look for other available lights. Street lights are beautiful, but they are less intrusive.
You must try to find an ideal storefront or something with those lines that provide a softer, more attractive light. Let your creative juices flow!
Silhouette Your Theme
If you cannot find a source of light, try silhouetting your scene. Let the lights in the distance create a beautiful bokeh that can complement your style.
Do Not Put Your ISO Too High
It is tempting to put the ISO high as it goes to see your topic, but try to resist it. You will end up with muddy, noisy pictures and need to use a denoiser in post-production to sort it out.
Avoid slow movements
Multiple frames per second shooting where you need light.
Set your camera video to a low f-stop location, such as f/1.2 or f/2.8. This wide opening allows more light to reach the sensor.
It also limits the depth of the field, so the retention of subjects is well focused. For groups with more mobility, add more light and use f/5.6 instead.
This setting determines how much the camera is sensitive to light. At night, you can upgrade the ISO to 500-800 videos for automatic lighting.
High settings can create a grainy look. Limit the ISO to up to 1600 APS-C cameras and 3200 full-frame models.
To reduce motion-blur, it’s best to choose a shutter speed of 1/50 on 24 fps video, or 1/60 on 30fps video.
If a white balance is enabled, you can regulate the temperature of your film. To highlight the orange light from a warm fire, choose a higher Kelvin setting, such as 5500-7000. To create a cool green tone in the evening, try 2000 Kelvin instead.
Adequate lighting is essential for any film production. This is especially true for night filming.
The amount and quality of light allow you to see the items propped on the scene. How the camera sees and how it records at night is different from how the human eye sees it.
As a filmmaker, you should carefully illuminate the area so that the camera can capture various important objects without losing the effect of shooting during the night.
1. Lights, Camera, Action!
By shooting at night, the colors are subdued or give a dull effect. The moonlight can also emit some light but is limited.
Creating an awe-inspiring moonlight effect, you can use blue filters to adjust the brightness of the moon. Use other artificial lighting sources such as LEDs or fluorescent tubes to add light to your scenes.
Your video camera should have a fast lens to absorb the minimum amount of natural light available at night.
Bring reflectors into play to bounce off the light onto your props/subjects of the scene.
If you do not have reflectors, then use white cards instead for the same effect.
2. Snow in the Show?
If you decide to shoot a film in winter, then use snow. It can serve as a natural light show. The light that illuminates the snow creates a lighting effect on the scene.
However, it is vital to note that a snow effect is not as efficient as are white cards or reflectors. But if you have a great idea where snow is an important part of your project, then working with it can be exciting!
3. Water as a Reflector
Water placed on concrete can serve as a natural reflector, which is especially good when working with cityscapes that provide ideal lighting.
The light reflected by street lights, neon headlights, and even cars can provide extra light and create a beautiful and cinematic scene.
4. Highlight a Few Key Areas
Use small light sources such as headlights, fluorescent lighting tubes, or even light from car headlights. Depending on the intensity of the light and its intended effect, this can be displayed using white cards by placing them behind the screen.
5. Perform a Trial Before Real Shooting
Explore different scenes with different light sources and use reflectors before making the final shoot.
This will allow you to plan for any light sources and reflectors that will help you to create your dream scene. Run a simulation test by playing the trial shoot on TV to create a real-time effect.
6. Shoot at Dusk or Twilight
These times replicate the night effect while providing natural light to shoot with. As a filmmaker, you need to take advantage of the right time of day that will create the desired illuminating effect in creating your perfect shot.
Night filming between dusk and dawn has its perks too! It helps you create a scene of natural ambiance to entice certain feelings that you wish to evoke in a story.
Capturing details can be a lot of work at night. You need to be ready to make the most of your time and talent. Creating perfect night shots takes skill and experience, and learning how to effectively film night scenes can make all the difference in the quality of your film.
Take your camera and try to find a place best suited for night filming. Start experimenting with your camera and follow the tips and tricks we shared with you in this article.
You need to pay close attention to the position of the lights around you. Find innovative ways for creating a balance between natural and artificial lighting.
Start experimenting with your technique, and find the style that suits you. Don’t stick to it for the long-run, because your audience would like to see a variety.
Build a mental picture of your ideal scene and let your judgment and right technique lead the path. No matter if you are a wildlife filmmaker, or shooting a romantic scene, night-filming can magnify your outcome of any project.
Filmmaking At Night
Capturing the magic of the night takes skill and experience, and learning how to film night scenes can make all the difference in the quality of the shoot.
As you practice filming in low light, be sure to adhere to these expert tips that cover the right ways to go about shooting video at night.
How to Film Night Scenes
Let’s take a look at some specific tips.
Shoot at a Wide Angle
The wider the iris, the more light comes into the camera, which helps capture the fine details of the scene. The better these details show up on-screen, the stronger the impact the scene will have on the viewer.
Pay Close Attention to Gain
The more gain you introduce, the more it will desaturate the color in the scene. Trying to adjust the color in post-production isn’t the best way to correct this.
Stick with a Manual Focus
Never get lazy and rely on the auto-focus. In most cases, the auto-focus will constantly drift and hunt for new targets to focus on, which will diminish the quality of the shot.
Create Pools of Light, Not Blankets
Creating a pool of light in one area of the shot is better than blanketing the area in light. It gives it a more natural, realistic appearance.
Use Reflectors and White Cards Often
These bring the colors in the scene out and provide ample lighting for shooting video at night. They also create a softer, warmer feel to the scene that is less harsh than using points of light such as taillights and street lamps.
Use Snow Generously
While less efficient than reflectors and white cards, snow is the perfect surface to bounce light upon. It also provides a nice contrast within the scene and sets a chilly tone for wintry stories.
Shoot at Dusk or Twilight
When it comes to filming in low light, these times are the absolute best because they still offer some natural light that isn’t easily noticed during the finished production.
Test, Test, and Test Again
Whether you are an experienced pro or new to the night shooting game, the rule is always to test, test, and test again. Practice makes perfect and it’s the only way to determine whether you have all the lighting elements set so that they capture the best scene possible.
More Tips For Night Shooting
Shooting video between the hours of dusk and dawn has its challenges and perks. It creates a natural ambiance for a certain feeling you’re trying to evoke in a story, provides a lighting situation that brings the vision to life, or can leave you stumped on how to get proper exposure when the sun sets.
Before you set out for that twilight adventure, here are a few important things to remember to help make your night videos shine.
Shoot at a Lower F-Stop
The aperture (hole or gap that allows for light to enter) is measured by the f-stop. The lower the f-stop, the wider the opening and the more light enters. Imagine the pupil in your eye.
It widens and dilates in lower lit situations to compensate for seeing in the dark better.
Choose a lens that can shoot wide open at an f/1.2-f/2.8. Choosing fast lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 or the Zeiss CP.2 85mm T 1.5 EF Mount Speed Lens can assist with shooting at faster “speeds”.
Shoot at a Higher ISO
If you’re shooting with a full-frame DSLR camera (like the Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 5Ds R, Nikon D810, Nikon D610, Canon 6D) you can usually push your ISO up to 3200 without seeing any grain.
On a crop sensor body, limitations usually sit at 1600 ISO.
Of course, every situation is different and if you feel you can still bump up the ISO past these numbers without getting grain, by all means, do so to get the look you want. We recommend experimenting with different settings to get what you’re most happy with.
Check Your Shutter Speed
You can slow the shutter speed down, allowing for more light to enter, however, slowing down your shutter speed can cause motion blur.
Keep Your Camera in Manual Mode
Yes, automatic is easy to run and gun but it does not give you full control. It may even make each of your scenes look different from each other, even if the same basic settings and locations were kept.
On automatic, it may focus on things you don’t want, and/or your white balance will bounce around, which can be frustrating to fix in post.
Get yourself familiar with the manual mode and you can even customize your camera’s back buttons for quick access to each of the necessary dials
Distance From Your Subject is Important at Night
The reason you often see your subjects go in and out of focus in darker situations is that you’re shooting wide open which makes the depth of field super small.
If they move even within an inch or two the wrong way, they’ll be out of focus.
Try moving back a bit to give yourself a little more leeway so that your actors fall closer to the infinity focal range.
Find a Good Location
Take your time to scout different locations that will offer you ambient street lighting, reflections, etc. Go out there with your camera prior to your shoot, if possible, to see if the scene registers on your camera and how adjusting ISO and shooting wide open looks.
If Absolutely Necessary, Adjust in Post
Plan ahead while you’re shooting to know what kinds of things you can salvage afterward. Whether it’s exposure, color-correcting, or reducing grain, there’s always a little movie magic available in the editing process to help complete the shoot!
Lower Your Exposure
There’s less light available to you (whether your camera or your eyes) during the night, so have your camera help you a bit on the way to achieving the ‘Day For Night’ effect by lowering your exposure.
You definitely don’t want anything in your shot to be blown out or super bright, and you also don’t want to lose too much detail. So manually adjust your exposure to be just a little lower than you normally would have it. The rest you can take care of in post.
Avoid the Sky
If you don’t know anything about color-grading, using masks or keyframes, you may want to completely avoid shooting the sky. A bright sky in your nighttime shot screams daytime and there goes the suspension of disbelief out the window.
That said, a night sky can be eerie or beautiful or set up your shot perfectly, so if you know how to effectively edit the sky in post-production, go ahead and shoot it.
Just keep in mind that moving shots or action with the sky as a backdrop is going to require a lot of careful editing later. If you can achieve the same results for your scene without having the sky in the shot, you’ll be much better off.
Use a Polarizing Filter
Think of the polarizer as a safety net. If you have to shoot against a surface with a glare, such as a body of water or a shiny building, the polarizer will help you avoid anything too shiny to remove in post.
You can even leave it on your lens for the duration of the (‘Day For Night’) shoot and not even think twice about it. It’s not going to hurt your shots and it will help if you miss accounting for a shiny surface in your shot setup.
Take Your Sweet Time in Post-Production
Carefully adjusting your hue, saturation, colors, exposure, and shadows will get you far, but it will be your attention to detail that will really sell the shot.
Adding artificial light sources, like headlights, streetlights, the glow from a window, the speckle of lights from the windows in a high rise, and so on and so forth, will create the nighttime setting – more than turning off the blues and turning down the reds will ever do.
Post-production is where the technical magic is going to happen when you’re shooting ‘Day For Night’, so take your time.
Tell the Story Right – Wrapping Up
As a filmmaker you’re first and foremost a storyteller, so don’t get hung up on technicalities like polarizers or blue hues in post-production, just to then forget about your most powerful tool of all: the power of suggestion. This is what will take your project over the finish line.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Say your character is driving all night to meet his lover on a dock four hundred miles away, so they can skip off to a tropical island together.
What will make the scene feel like night may be the quiet music on the radio, the coffee he’s drinking to stay awake, and the empty road.
Or say your character is running through the woods to escape a cloaked villain. Quick cuts to other creatures of the night, being disturbed by the chase, may sell the fact that it’s night: an owl, a fox, a couple of eyes caught in the glare of a flashlight.
Or say you’re shooting an action movie – nothing says night more than night vision.
All this to say that you have more in your toolbox than filters and color-grading. Use the power of story to help people believe that it’s nighttime.
We hope this article on night shooting has been helpful to you. Have you got experience shooting projects at night? Let us know in the comments below.