Turning Sunlight into Moonlight for Stills or Video: A Lighting Tutorial
In this Slanted Lens lighting tutorial, we are going to show you how to change sunlight into moonlight for stills or video. This is not a post process, it’s an in camera technique using two different color temperatures in the same image. People ask me all the time, “Why worry about color in the camera when you can shoot raw and fix it when you process it?” That may be true to some extent, but the reality is color balance can become another tool you can use to create mood and interest in your images. This will show you a creative way to shift the color balance of sunlight and create a blue background that looks like moonlight.
I wanted to give a nighttime look to this 20′s scene. Shooting later was not an option. This was a way to give a nighttime look to the sunlight streaming in the window. This technique can be applied to all types of photography. I saw a wedding photographer using this technique by putting a small amount of warm gel on his strobe which allowed him to let the background behind the bride and groom go slightly blue. This adds depth and interest. I have used it in corporate portraiture to create a cool background out of what was a boring scene. The blue becomes a unifying layer that pulls a background together into one element.
We are shooting in a well-lit room in the afternoon. The sun is streaming into the room through the window and has little or no mood. I want this image to look like nighttime so we will need to cool the sunlight in the room, making it look more like moonlight.
Looking from over head, you can see the lighting set up.
Even though the scene is daylight with a color balance of 5500 degrees Kelvin, we are going move the color balance on the camera from daylight to Tungsten or 3200 degrees Kelvin.
This deep blue makes the background so much more interesting and it looks like night. The sun becomes the first light in our light set up.
Now we are going to need to light our talent. Our strobe light is daylight balanced so it will make her very blue unless we color correct the strobes. The first light we will add is a medium Photoflex soft box from camera right, riming her body.
Because Strobes are balanced at 6000 degrees Kelvin, we are going to add a Full CTO or orange gel to the strobe lights. They need to be warmed or our talent will look very blue. (We buy our gels at Rosco.)
Here is our first strobe light. We will pan it slightly away from the background so it will allow just the right amount of light on the man at the window. This gives us a nice rim light on her and does not over light him.
We are now going to set the key light on her face from a low angle. We added a Hensel porty with a small Photoflex Octodome from camera left on a low stand. I used a grid on the Octodome to keep the light contained and not over light the background. Placing the light low gave us a more interesting key light on her face to feel consistent with the speakeasy. I will pan this away from the man in the background so we keep his silhouette.
Again we add a Full CTO or orange gel to this light.
We use full sheets of gel because they need to cover the entire head or the color diminishes. No stray light can escape into the Octodome or the effect of the gel will be lost.
Here is our final lighting set up for the first shot. Two strobe lights and the sun coming through the window.
This is what the shot would have looked like if I had shot it at 5500 degrees or daylight. Very warm on her face from the CTO.
Now lets look at a variation we did on this shot. We turned off the Octodome and only used the medium soft box as both the rim and key light on her face. She held the mirror up and reflected the light back into her face. When she sees the softbox in the mirror, it’s in the right place. It was a fun variation.
This is one of the shots taken with the rim light and mirror as key.
Let’s now look at the post process. I wanted the image to look a bit more gritty than the above image, so I went to Nik Software’s Color Effects Pro 4 to enhance on it.
Using a custom recipe called Super Cross Pop, I made changes to each layer to open up the shadows and reduce the contrast. Her face is still too heavy and the effect needs to be removed.
I removed about 60% of the effect on her face using a minus Control Point, and dialed the whole effect back 20% opacity. This will become my final image.
This effect is easy to apply to shooting video. Using a tungsten light, like this Aries 2K, and setting the color temperature on the camera to Tungsten, you’re ready to shoot. Tungsten lights are balanced at 3200 degrees Kelvin and sunlight is 5500 degrees Kelvin so no gel is needed to achieve the effect. The tungsten light is naturally warm so when you warm the camera, the sunlight goes blue. If you are using an HMI then you will need to use a CTO on the HMI to achieve the effect. HMI’s match the color balance of sunlight or 5500 degrees Kelvin and need to be warmed to match Tungsten.
It’s important to think beyond my example and see the application in your own work. That is what this exercise is all about.
Keep those cameras rolling and keep on click-in!