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Dark, Moody, “Day-for-Night” Look

by | 2 years ago

Being able to use Lightroom and its local adjustment tools, such as the Adjustment Brush, Radial Filter, and Gradient Filter, is vital. I can’t tell you how many times I was picked for a job over another photographer because there was that pop of life or dramatic look that I created in Lightroom. This is why I want to show you a tip for making a great dark, moody image in Lightroom.

The back story of this trick is that I was shooting in Montmartre during the day and I wasn’t happy with how my photo looked, and my friend showed me this “day-for-night” technique. Basically, back in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, film wasn’t very sensitive to light, so people would shoot during the day. Then, in postproduction, they’d lower the exposure, and add a lot of blue to create the impression that it was night. This is exactly the technique that I’ll show you today with a photo I took in Florence during sunrise, so it was pretty bright.

Step One: The first thing we’ll do to create that night look is to switch to the Develop module. Let’s open up the Shadows, but not at +100, (like usual); on this one, we’re going to +51. Bring down the Highlights to –100, set the Blacks to –47, and the Whites to +37. To add some blue to create that night effect, set the Temp at 3,947. Finally, let’s lower the Exposure to –0.55, so we can relight the photo afterward.

Step Two: To make sure that your photo is straight, go to the Transform panel, click on Auto, and check the box for Constrain Crop.

Step Three: Now, let’s relight the city with some Radial Filters. Click on the window at the top right of the image so you can zoom in on it. Grab the Radial Filter and drag out a circle over the window. Boost the Exposure all the way to 4.00 and the Temp all the way to 100. Make sure that you turn on the Radial Filter’s Invert checkbox.

Step Four: To erase the Radial Filter in the shape of the window, we’ll use a brush. While you’re using the Radial Filter, select the Brush at the top right of the tool options, hold down the Option (PC: Alt) key, and paint around the edges to erase the effect of the filter. (To be very precise, you should zoom in.)

Hold down the Shift key, as well, and you can click on one corner and then the opposite corner to contour the window. You want a very sharp brush so, in the Brush options at the bottom of the panel, make sure that Flow is set to 100 and Feather to 0. Then you can contour all around with your brush. Press Command-Z (PC: Ctrl-Z) if you make a mistake. Make sure you also erase over the frame between the panes of glass.

Step Five: Using the same technique, go ahead and do the other windows. It takes patience and a little bit of work, but that’s part of the magic. When you erase over the curtains, reduce the Flow of your Erase brush to make them appear backlit.

Step Six: Now we can re-create some streetlights. Find a streetlight, click New in the Radial Filter options, and drag out a large oval, as shown here. Double-click Effect at the top of the options to reset the sliders and turn on the Invert checkbox. Boost the Exposure to 4.00 and the Temp to 100. We’ll use the Erase brush inside that filter to shape the light. Make sure you feather your brush for this to around 60, and set the Flow to around 80.

Step Seven: This seems to be a little strong, so bring down the Exposure and the Temp to whatever fits. Then, to make the light more believable, add a circle of light on the ground, just like a street lamp would. It’s the same concept: Use the Radial Filter, boost the Temp (100) and the Exposure (here, we set the Exposure to 1.73). Use the Erase brush to erase away any overlap at the bottom of the wall.

Step Eight: Here’s another example of a street lamp. This time, we’ll use a different method. First, we’ll re-create the light bulb by making a small Radial Filter inside the light, boosting the Exposure to 4.00 and the Temp to 100.

Next, Right-Click on that filter and choose Duplicate to create another Radial Filter. Make it bigger, so it goes around the lamp (as shown in the second image here) to create some glow. We’ll back down the Exposure to 2.14 for this second circle and set the Feather to 100 to make it more natural.

Step Nine: Finally, duplicate that last circle and drag it onto the ground below the lamp, to add a light effect there. Make it a little larger, but leave the settings the same as the glow above.

Step 10: Now use that same technique with all the other lamps in your photo.

Step 11: Another trick you can do is to add a fake light in the corner, just on the floor, to make it look like there’s a light outside the frame.

Step 12: You could also light up more windows to make your photo even more interesting, as I did here.

Now that the relighting part is done, we can tweak the photo and see if we want to enhance some lights, dim some others, play with the Exposure, and things like that. Here, I added some vignetting to my final image.

ALL IMAGES BY SERGE RAMELLI