Advanced Day-to-Night Photoshop Tutorial

In this tutorial I will teach you how to edit in photo in Lightroom and Photoshop to dramatically alter its appearance and mood. We’ll change a broad daylight scene into a night-time one, lit by a street lamp. I’ll also take the opportunity to describe some non-destructive editing techniques in Photoshop.

Below you can see the ‘before’ and ‘after’:

Day to night conversion: before and after

Day to night conversion: before and after

The original, straight from the camera image is mind-numbingly dull; it’s the very definition of dullness. It was shot in a overcast February afternoon. As boring as it is, it was perfect for my purposes. I wanted to convey a sense of ‘out of place’, of a person that doesn’t really belong there, forcing the viewer to create a story – who is this young and attractive woman and what is she doing in this miserable street?

The overcast day had the advantage of decreased contrast and a complete lack of shadows, allowing me a wide range of editing.

Creating the light/dark versions

First thing, I created two Virtual Copies in Lightroom:

Day to night original

Original, with default contrast. Slightly overexposed too.Day to night lit versionThe “lit” version, Contrast was set to 100, also Clarity was was to max, increased vibrance. White Balance was set to CloudyDay to night unlit versionThe “unlit” version. The image was underexposed by 2 stops. White Balance was set to Tungsten. 

As you can see above, the altered versions are already better — especially the “night” one, dark and moody. However, the street lamp gave me the opportunity to go the extra mile in creating something realistic.

Mixing light and dark

Having exported the two versions as 16bit TIFF (for maximum quality), I opened both of them in Photoshop. I then copied the “dark” one and pasted as a layer over the “lit” version.

Creating a new layer mask

Creating a new layer mask

It was pretty clear already that quite a lot of trial-and-error was to be expected, so instead of simply using the Eraser to remove parts of the “dark” layer, I decided to use a mask instead.

I selected the Dark layer and from the Masks panel, I clicked on the Pixel Mask button to create a new mask.

A Pixel Mask works just like an alpha channel for the layer – it’s a grayscale bitmap where white is opaque and black is completely transparent. What’s cool about it is that you can alter the opacity of the layer by painting on the mask.

The effect of the layer mask in mixing the lit/unlit areas

The effect of the layer mask in mixing the lit/unlit areas

You can see on the left how the mask affects the mix between lit and unlit areas.

I clicked on the mask in the Layers panel to select it and then I simply used a semi-transparent, highly feathered black brush to create transparent areas.

There are three main lit areas: the light on the wall, faing out, the light on the pavement the light spill on the roof. You can notice that I preferred to paint everything instead of using gradients, to avoid the artificial “perfect” look.

Adjusting the exposure

The light was still too even in the lit area; close the the light source I needed something much more powerful (remember that light falls off exponentially). To improve the realism, I added an Adjustment Layer just above the Lit layer.

The Exposure Adjustment Layer

The Exposure Adjustment Layer

The Adjustment Layer was set to Exposure (Layer –> New Adjustment Layer –> Exposure). I added a simple radial gradient as a mask for this layer the same way as previously and then I tweaked it to get a slightly overexposed look.

Adding the glow

By now I had the light on the wall and pavement pretty much in place; it was time to turn to the light bulb. For this, I simply used the Lasso tool to select the visible area of the bulb and then copied and pasted it as new layer. I then used the Curves to make the bulb much brighter. Finally, from Layer –> Layer Style –> Outer Glow I created a nice amber glow around the bulb.

Setting the glow on the light bulb

Setting the glow on the light bulb

Below you can see the exact settings for the glow:

Light bulb glow settings

Light bulb glow settings

I still wanted to add some nice touches: the glow should not be that strong in the upper area. Can you guess what I used? Yep, another Layer Mask.

Please note: By default, layer masks do not affect the layer effects. To make a layer mask hide the effect, open the Layer Style window and go to Blending Options section. From there, check the “Layer mask hides effects” option.

In the layer mask, I painted in black the areas I wanted the glow to be weak. Below you can see the result:

Glowing behind the edges

Glowing behind the edges

As you can see, I did not eliminate the glow completely, but created a glow-behind-the-edges effect that is seen in high-contrast situations.

Lens flare

A simple lens flare

A simple lens flare

Most designers, upon hearing the words “lens flare” run away screaming. They are very often overused and cheesy. Even the new JJ Abrams’ Star Trek features some lens flares annoying as hell. Still, they an unavoidable part of photography and can add some realism if used wisely.

Subtle lens flare applied

Subtle lens flare applied

Unfortunately, Photoshop’s Lens Flare effect is laughable. I think it’s the same effect as 15 years ago. I only know of two decent lens effects – one in the old plugin Kai Power Tools 6, the other is Corel Photo-Paint. Both of them allow you to control the size, glow, ring, stars, streaks and reflection trail. This is not a tutorial on lens flares, but modern, good lenses don’t create reflection trails, but only a nice star pattern with minimal interference or random streaks.

For this photo I created a very simple star pattern on black background and I put it as a layer with blending mode set to Linear Dodge (Add) at 33% opacity. You can see that the effect is barely there; its purpose is to enhance the scene in a minimal way, not to overpower it.

Shadows

Selecting the body shape

Selecting the body shape

If you recall from the beginning of this tutorial, the original image had no shadows because of the overcast sky. Now, as I created a light source, I needed to create a shadow too.

Refining selection edges

Refining selection edges

With the background layer active, I started to make a simple selection on the girl using the Magnetic Lasso. I didn’t even needed to be very careful, but just to follow the contours.

Once this was done, I clicked on Refine Edge and increased Smoothness and Feathering. After that, I created a new layer and filled the inside of the selection with black.

Distorting the shadow

Distorting the shadow

The next step was to convert the new layer into a Smart Object via Layer –> Smart Objects –> Convert to Smart Object. Why? It’s because a smart object’s original appearance is preserved so I could distort it any way I wanted without degrading its appearance on each step.

Finally, I set the layer’s blending to Multiply and its opacity down to 50%.

Final result

Here’s the final view with all the layers:

All layers

All layers

48 replies
  1. Gordon Hunter
    Gordon Hunter says:

    Armand,

    Very good. My only comment would be that the light pattern on the wall is questionable as light disperses more as it gets further from the source, whereas yours converges toward the ground.

    Other than that, I’m going to give it a go. Thanks for posting the technique.

    Regards,

    Gordon

    • Armand Niculescu
      Armand Niculescu says:

      You’re right – it wasn’t in my intention to make it convergent, obviously, but I also did not make it fully realistic. I concentrated on the mood. The beauty of the non-destructive editing is that it’s very easy for to alter the light pattern, so I can keep playing with it.

  2. Lisa L
    Lisa L says:

    This is way cool!!! I am super impressed…maybe I will get brave enough to attempt this myself! I love it…thanks for the tutorial!

      • rohaifa
        rohaifa says:

        good day i loved your work I want to make same pic you did
        but i want to know the first step you did using the light room
        i want to know the dimension that you used in making the lit version of the pic
        and the dark one.

        i did as you said but there is something missing in not look exactly as yours in the lit version and the dark one

        will you please provide me with the exact dimensions that you used to adjust the pics in the lightroom.

        i will be thankful

        regards

  3. Ray Guselli
    Ray Guselli says:

    Excellent tuorial which I will use……..

    Thanks for taking the time to write and publish….excellent.

    Best wishes and thanks

    Ray

  4. Frank Perri
    Frank Perri says:

    Fantastic tutorial. Thank you for your generosity in sharing this technique as well as taking the time to show your settings and how you did everything. This is above and beyond what most people do these days. Thanks!

  5. Ryan Michael Reyes
    Ryan Michael Reyes says:

    wow… this is amazing… was just thinking of doing the same thing to a mall… ^_^ this will probably help me a lot..! thnx for sharing…

  6. Photonax
    Photonax says:

    WoW! How great is this! It demonstrates just how much I don’t know about the photoshop world. Its like a grammer school to graduate school comparison! Thanks for sharing. One day when I grow up. . . . :-)

  7. Armand Niculescu
    Armand Niculescu says:

    Please note that I’ll be on vacation for a week. Any comments/questions you submit will be published upon my return.

  8. Manuel Antonio
    Manuel Antonio says:

    muy buen montaje, pero la sombra esta hechada demasiado al frente de la modelo, debio recostarse mas a la izquierda de la misma y más cenital, porque al parecer figura como si la luz viniese atras de ella, muy buen tratamiento.

  9. Andree Caron
    Andree Caron says:

    Just wanted to say that is one AWESOME tutorial! To be honest, I thought it looked very daunting, but seeing that it’s basically WB adjustments! That’s just pure genius! Totally something I could try my hand at! I will be on the lookout for images that fit this kind of project!

    Thank you for taking the time to do this!

  10. rohaifa
    rohaifa says:

    good day i loved your work I want to make same pic you did
    but i want to know the first step you did using the light room
    i want to know the dimension that you used in making the lit version of the pic
    and the dark one.

    i did as you said but there is something missing in not look exactly as yours in the lit version and the dark one

    will you please provide me with the exact dimensions that you used to adjust the pics in the lightroom.

    i will be thankful

    regards

    • Armand Niculescu
      Armand Niculescu says:

      Unfortunately there are no exact values to give you, it depends on your scene. I mentioned in the article (in the caption underneath the second image) that the White Balance for the “day” pic was set to Cloudy and the WB for “night” pic was set to Tungsten. You may want to play a little with the WB/tint sliders and see what effect you like best.

    • Armand Niculescu
      Armand Niculescu says:

      Yes, indeed, the article was copied from Twin-Pixels without permission and without even giving proper credit. I contacted the author, let’s see if he makes it right. Thanks for the heads-up!

  11. Jeremiah
    Jeremiah says:

    awesome tutorial. i aint got lightroom though. that sucks. anyway to achieve those results in step one in photoshop alone…

    also i kinda feel cast shadow you created is placed incorrectly. in order for your shadow to be realistic the light source would need to be BEHIND her right shoulder (our left) some, though that would be impossible since shes up against a tall wall. the light source is in front of her body though. light would be hitting her front right side, so therefor a “cast” shadow should cast on her rear left side, on the ground directly below her some and mainly on the wall not on the floor in front of her, there would need to be a 2ndary light source that was much stronger behind her to do that… but like i said that would be impossible since shes up against a tall wall.

  12. selvam
    selvam says:

    Fantastic tutorial, thanks for sharing, wish there is a video tutorial such as this….
    continue to rock man!

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