Features and Columns · Movies

Why “Day for Night” Is So Hard to Pull Off

Lights out! I mean on! Wait, uh —
Nope Day For Night
By  · Published on September 5th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explains why it’s so difficult to shoot night scenes during the day.

Day for Night? What’s that — the 1973 rom-com by François Truffaut? Dismount your high, impressively cultured horse, dear reader. Today, we’re here to talk about something way way goofier.

“Day for night” is a term in cinematography that’s exactly what it sounds like: film scenes shot in the day and tampered with to give the impression that they were actually shot at night.

There are a number of reasons a filmmaker might go the “day for night” route. For one thing, shooting during actual nighttime is expensive (cinema-grade lighting doesn’t grow on trees … at least not yet). And if that weren’t enough, in the days before digital cinematography, there was also a good chance that the footage would come out underexposed anyway. The human eye is an incredibly sensitive piece of biology. What appears visible to you and me after midnight might look like inky blackness to a film camera. Having dark skies and intelligible subjects is hard, okay?

One of the infamous downsides of “day for night” is that it has a tendency to look cheap as all get out. And shooting on digital won’t save you from this after-effect, it turns out. Whereas ye-old “day for night” had a tendency to over-simulate blue hues (an attempt to replicate the Purkinje effect), digital “day for night” has a habit of over-darkening (remember House of the Dragon?).

But, despite its genealogy going all the way back to the Silent Era, “day for night” is here to stay. And as the video essay below underlines, tools like the ARRI ALEXA 65 Infrared are making sure that we can still tell what the heck is going on.

Watch “Why It’s So Difficult to Shoot Night Scenes During the Day”

Who made this?

This video essay on the challenges of shooting day-for-night scenes is by Insider, a global news publication that specializes in video content. They cover all manner of topics, including film production. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.