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Transform day into night with this easy technique

Added on Monday 27th of February 2006 05:21 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Photoshop, Image, Day, Night, Transform, Mask


When you’re working on an assignment and the client tells you they love your image choice, but they were thinking more in terms of a night photo, you can be up the creek if you don’t have time to reshoot the photo. But, if you leave the dirty work to Photoshop, you can change day to night in your almost-perfect picture.


To change a day image into a night image we’ll:

     Analyze the elements of the night so you can better plan for your image adjustment.

     Show you how to add interior lighting to your image to make it glow in the dark night.

     Explain how to use lighting effects with multiple spotlights to add various ambient lights to your nighttime exterior.

     Describe how to add extra effects, such as stars and chimney smoke, to make your nighttime photo more believable.



It isn’t always possible to get everything you need in a photo. Time and weather are often against you, and you rely on Photoshop to get you out of a pinch in a hurry. When you need to take an image taken in broad daylight and make it look like it was taken well after dusk, you definitely have a challenge. Luckily, Photoshop pulls through again, providing you with the tools you’ll need to turn day into night, as illustrated in Figure A.




From dusk to dawn


Changing a day scene to a night scene is a multi-step process. You can quickly alter the color scheme of your image through the Match Color command, which works quite well if you have the right images. For more on this approach, see our companion article “Out of time? Use Match Color for a quick day to night conversion” in this issue. For this article, however, we’ll take you a few steps further.

Before we begin, we should think about what actually happens to the landscape when the sun goes down. Aside from the obvious fact that it gets dark, the mood and color scheme of the landscape are also altered. Indoor lights go on, creating glowing windows and casting highlights outside where they didn’t exist previously. The moon and the stars give off ambient light, and depending on your scene, you could have elements such as car headlights, reflections, bonfires, and fireflies.

For the purpose of this article we’ll take a photo of a cottage in a winter wonderland, set the sun, turn on the lights, and create a cozy night scene that will give us a toasty warm glow on a snowy winter night.


Turn on the lights


To get started with this technique you’ll need an image that was shot outdoors during the daylight hours. To follow along, with our samples, download from the URL listed at the beginning of this article, and extract the file cottage.psd. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.) First, we’ll set up our layers, and then we’ll cut out the windows and illuminate the inside of the cottage with lights.


To set up the layers:

1.       Duplicate the background layer and name the new layer Cottage.

2.      Turn off the visibility for the background layer for now.

3.      Make the Cottage layer active.


To cut out the windows:

1.       Choose the Zoom tool zoom and zoom in on the first window you wish to remove.

2.      Select the Polygonal Lasso tool polygonal lasso.

3.      Click on a corner point of the first window you wish to cut out.

4.      Continue clicking around the perimeter of the window and then click on the beginning point to close the selection.

5.      Select the Add To Selection button add_to_selection on the Polygonal Tool options bar.

6.      Repeat steps 3-4 for all the windows in your house that you want to light up, as shown in Figure B. (We toggled on Quick Mask Mode simply because it’s difficult to see the crawling ants selection in our image.)



Note: You don’t have to illuminate all the windows, since realistically, when indoors people don’t have all their lights on at once, just the rooms that are occupied.



7.      Choose Select > Feather.

8.      Enter 3 in the Feather Radius text box and click OK.

9.      Press [delete] ([Backspace] in Windows) to cut the selected window panes out of the house.


To create the interior lights:

1.       With the selection still active, create a new layer and name it Windows.

2.      Choose a foreground color for your lights, such as a light yellow or pale orange. We chose a light yellow with RGB coordinates of 244-222-178, respectively.

3.      Choose Edit > Fill to display the Fill dialog box.

4.      Choose Foreground color from the Use pop-up menu and click OK.

5.      Set the Windows layer’s blending mode to Color.

6.      Duplicate the Windows layer and set the Windows Copy layer’s blending mode to Overlay.

7.      Turn on the visibility for the Background layer to see the illuminated inside as shown in Figure C.



Tip: If your windows appear too dark, with the selection still active, choose the Background layer, and then choose Image > Adjustments > Levels. Move the middle slider slightly to the left until you’re happy with the value. If you want to adjust only one window, choose the Rectangular Marquee tool rectangular_marquee and choose the Subtract From Selection subtract_selection button on the options bar. Marquee around the selections you want to leave alone and then adjust the levels on just the remaining selected windows.



8.      Press [command]D ([Ctrl]D in Windows) to deselect everything. Your windows should be aglow as ours are in Figure C.




Day is gone and night has come

The next step is to actually make it dark outside. We’ll create the night with a multi-spotlight lighting effect.


To create the night sky and exterior lights:

1.       Select the Cottage layer to make it active.

2.      Choose Filter > Render > Lighting Effects to display the Lighting Effects dialog box.

3.      Choose Five Lights Down from the Style pop-up menu.

4.      Select the first spotlight and adjust the size and location by clicking and dragging the handles until it’s small enough to fit over your window or door.




Spotlight Tip: To move a spotlight around in the preview pane, click and drag from the center point of the spotlight. To increase or decrease the diameter of the spotlight, click and drag a point on the perimeter of the circle and drag it accordingly.



5.      Adjust the Intensity and Focus sliders for each spotlight. Move the Intensity slider toward Full for a stronger light source and move it toward Negative for a dimmer light source.

6.      Click on the color swatch to the right of the Intensity slider to display the Color Picker.

7.      Choose a color from the Color Picker for your light source and click OK. We used the default white for the bright outside porch light, and a light yellow for our window spotlights to cast a warm highlight out of our windows.

8.      Repeat steps 4-7 for each spotlight, and drag any remaining spotlights off the preview pane so they don’t affect your image.



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