Many movies contain a scene that is portrayed as taking place during the night. Due to the low amount of light some tricks are applied. Unfortunately, I couldn't find much info on this. To me it seems a lot of night scenes make use of so-called "black lights". These lights give lighter surfaces some sort of purple glow and thus enhance the visibility of lighter surfaces while the darker parts of the scene remain dark. For example here is a shot from Terminator 2: http://www.jamescamerononline.com/puddles.jpg

It clearly has the typical purple glow to it, but it's more subtle compared to the use of only a blackight. Therefore I was wondering whether black lights are used (in combination with normal lights), do they use another kind of lights, or are most night scenes (digitally) edited afterwards?

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    I've seen the reverse of this during a Van Damme movie, they used many large lighting trucks to shoot day scenes during the night. – DustinDavis Aug 21 '14 at 3:12
  • @DustinDavis: I imagine that was due to deadlines, or did they want to have more control over the light on the scene, e.g. make sure that the position of the sun is correct for the time of day etc? – invalid_id Aug 21 '14 at 5:36

The scenes which we see in the movie as night scenes might not be filmed at night. Day for Night is a set of techniques is used to simulate a night scene while filming in daylight. These include tungsten-balanced rather than daylight-balanced film stock or special blue filters, under-exposing the shot (usually in post-production) to create the illusion of darkness or moonlight.

Historically, infrared movie film was used to achieve an equivalent look with black-and-white film.

  • This does answer my question. Interesting technique. The blue filter explains the black-lightish feeling. – invalid_id Aug 20 '14 at 9:36
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    Reminds me of the silent movies they just filmed at daytime, tinting the whole image blue afterwards. – Napoleon Wilson Aug 20 '14 at 20:04
  • @SonnyBurnett: So that means that the use of the colour blue was already decided upon back then. Biologically speaking though night scenes should be more black and gray due to the rods and cones in your eyes and not or less coloured. – invalid_id Aug 21 '14 at 5:34
  • @invalid_id Hmm, indeed, but when the standard is already black-and-grey, you want to pick something more fancy to emphasize night, I guess. – Napoleon Wilson Aug 21 '14 at 7:34
  • @SonnyBurnett: I think so, otherwise it is less interesting to watch, but then again for Paranormal Activity they do use black-and-gray for the "night-vision" and no one complains. Maybe it is just a cultural thing; during the night the light is blue because this was already the case since the old time (and maybe because the night is "cool" and blue is a "cool" colour, while during the day you can use red and yellow filters to percieve the "warmth". – invalid_id Aug 21 '14 at 7:40

On the screenshot you posted, we can see that it's actually filmed at night (dark sky, visible street lights). But as it's not enough for a film, a few additionnal lights are put on the set. Additionnaly, the blue filter is added in order to make it feel a bit more "like a real night".

  • Interesting observation. Outside night scenes are differing from inside scenes. Some other oddity indicating the use of lights is the reflection on the road and on the bike; if it were moonshine the reflection of the metal should be different... So it seems that there are more techniques than Day for Night. – invalid_id Aug 20 '14 at 13:49

I just want to add a note about "day for night", which to me usually looks fake. The three factors that I think are most important for a convincing "night" scene are:

  1. The sky has to be black. If its lit up at all, which happens in every day-for-night scene, the shot looks terrible.

  2. The shadows have to be BLACK. During daytime, shadows aren't black; they still have light that softly fills them in from the huge blue sky overhead. Since the nighttime sky is all black, the shadows aren't filled in at all, so a shot without sharp black shadows will (again) look terrible.

  3. The light in the scene is primarily a cool blue and there aren't many other colors. That can be achieved during shooting by putting gels over the lights or filters over the camera, or in post-production via color correction.

BTW, I was immediately thinking of Terminator 2 when I read your question and before seeing the photo from T2. The "nighttime" visuals in that were fantastic; the blue colors were perfect and the shadows were crisp. This is especially true when Arnold, Sarah and John are driving in the car with the lights off, after they've broken Sarah out of the mental hospital (45-50 minutes into the movie).

  • I looked it up; the Terminator 2 night scenes were actually shot during night, which might explain the quality of the shadows. Yet still it has that blue color there, which is kind of odd to me, since in the dark human vision is relatively colourless. But I guess it is just a common movie effect that has been around for a long time and people nowadays associate it with moonlight (see the comment of Sonny Burnett on one of the answers). – invalid_id Aug 21 '14 at 5:42
  • @invalid_id You also don't have to underestimate the movie's (or all movies') want for self-expression. If they say night is blue, then that's just their style. They don't have an obligation to capture reality as accurately as possible. – Napoleon Wilson Aug 21 '14 at 7:41
  • @SonnyBurnett Great point Sonny! I was only really picturing Terminator 2 because I love its look. But different movies will have different color palettes, so they won't all use the same cool blue. – BrettFromLA Aug 21 '14 at 17:07

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