A friend of mine showed me a picture he took during daylight, and then showed me how he transformed it into a nighttime photo. I thought this was amazing, so it inspired me to try it and show you, here, how you can achieve this look!

Back in the day in Hollywood, they used to do this trick called Day for Night. Because films shot at night were very grainy, they would shoot during daylight, with a tinted film, or change the white balance to make the image look like nighttime.

Step One:

The first thing you can do is use the Basic panel to do some basic retouching. Here, I brought down the Highlights (–100), opened up the Shadows (+82), boosted the Whites (+28), and lowered the Blacks (–54).

Step Two:

To start getting the night look, I lowered the Exposure quite a bit (–1.30), and like they do with movies, I changed the white balance by decreasing the Temp slider (3,486).

Step Three:

Now you can take the Graduated Filter tool (M) to make the sky even darker. I set one filter in the middle and lowered the Exposure to –0.72, and then set another one in the top-left corner to make it very dark (–0.91).

Step Four:

To make this more like cinematography, get the Crop Overlay tool (R) and crop the photo to make a panorama.

Step Five:

You can see now that we have a blue-hour mood, so it’s time to relight the photo with some Radial filters. First, we’re going to light the streetlights. Take the Radial Filter tool (Shift-M), and turn on the Invert Mask checkbox (near the bottom of the panel) so that the settings you apply affect the inside of the circle and not the outside. Click-and-drag a small circle over the streetlight on the left, then boost the Exposure to 4.00 and the Temp to 36 to make it a bit yellow. Now boost the Highlights to 100, and if it’s not enough, Right-click on the edit pin, and duplicate the filter to apply the settings a second time. To make the light glow, you can duplicate it again and make the Radial Filter bigger, but on that third Radial Filter, lower the Highlights to 41 and the Exposure to 0.90 to make it more realistic

Step Six:

You can also duplicate the last Radial Filter and place it below the streetlight because it usually reflects on the ground.

Step Seven:

For the light on the building, duplicate the last Radial Filter, again (the big one), and drag it below this light to light the side of the building. You can make it way bigger, to light up the place, and then set the Exposure to 1.50 and the Highlights to 16. Then, add a smaller Radial filter to concentrate on the actual light, and boost the Exposure to 3.08 and the Highlights to 29. The idea is to add a few Radial filters to re-create the night mood with the city lights.

Step Eight:

You can also create some lights coming from the windows: same idea, add a Radial Filter and set your Exposure to 1.30, Temp to 100, Highlights to 100, and add a bit of Saturation (50). I also lit the lamp that appears further back in the scene using the same method we used for the first lamp, but using much smaller Radial Filters.

Step Nine:

Now, you can have fun and light anything that you want—it just has to be realistic. On this photo, I made the city on the left side glow a little bit, as well as the sign of the restaurant just because it’s pretty.

Step 10:

As you can see, the overall photo is really blue, so go to the Split Toning panel and add some warmth in the highlights (click on the Highlights color swatch and choose a warm color). Set the Saturation for the Highlights to 91. To mix the highlights with the shadows, use the Balance slider. Here, I set it at +37 (as reflected in the next step).

Step 11:

The last thing I want to fix on this photo is to add a Graduated Filter in the top-right corner because it’s too bright. So, after using the Graduated Filter tool (M) to add the filter, I set the Temp to –33, the Exposure to –1.42, the Highlights to 100, and the Saturation to 50.

Here is the before and the after photo, quite a change!


You can now create presets to make this look again easily (using the Presets panel), but you’ll just have to move (or add or delete) the Radial and Graduated Filters. This is a pretty cool trick and I hope that it will be useful for you guys!


This article originally published in Issue 30 of Lightroom Magazine.