Changing the illumination of a photo (from day to night)

Posted by admin | On site photoshop tutorials | Wednesday 10 June 2009 12:40 am

Tutorial difficulty – moderate

In this tutorial I have tried to explain the process of turning a photo from a day shot into a night image using photoshop. Bellow is the image that we start with.

1) Sky color
The first thing that we need to do is to change the sky color to a much darker tone.
For this we need to select it first; I usually start with the wand tool with a tolerance of about 22, and refine the selection using the magnetic lasso tool or the polygonal lasso.
After having completed the selection it would be a good idea to save the selection set (click on “selection, save selection, and type “sky”)
With the selection active, you can either paint the sky in a new layer, or paste a photo of the sky taken at night time.

2) Environment color
Click on “select”, “inverse” and create a new layer). Change the blending mode of the new layer from “normal” to “color”. Using the brush tool paint the new layer with a shade of dark blue. If you need more chromatic variety you can combine several shades with the brush hardness set to “0”.
You should obtain something similar to the image bellow:

The color is starting to look ok, but as you notice, the building needs to be a little bit darker. You can do this easily by selecting the “background” layer (the base layer that represents the original photo) and click on “Image”, “Adjustments”, “Brightness/Contrast”. Drag the “brightness” slider to the left until you obtain a result that you are happy with.

3) Placing lights inside the building
At the moment the picture already looks like a night photo, but due to the fact that there are no lights inside the building, the place looks deserted.
What we need to do at this point is to select the windows of the rooms that you want to place lights inside. You don’t need to select all the windows, because just like in real life the probability that every light in a building is on, is quite small. After having selected everything you need, save the selection set as “windows”.
Now comes the fun part; with the windows selection still active, make a new layer above the stack and start painting with shades of yellow, orange and very light blue. You need this kind of diversity in color, because in real life, different types of light sources produce different light colors. For example tungsten light bulbs cast an orange/yellowish light, while neon produces white/light blue hue and so on.
After having finished with the painting, change the blending mode of the layer, from “normal” to “linear light” and change the opacity to around 80%.
Here is what we have so far:

For more realism, we can add a subtle glow to the light in the windows; make a copy of the last layer and add a gaussian blur (in this case I have used a 20 a radius of 20 pixels for it). As you can see, the widows look much too bright. We can adjust this by loading the “windows” selection set, and press delete. This way there will be no overlapping between the new layer and the previous one, and we will only keep the glow around the windows.

Here is how it looks:

You can take this even further by cropping windows from other photos of buildings taken at night and compositing them in your imag.
4) Final touches
We’re almost there…
However, there is one more thing to do. If you look at photos taken at night you will notice that the bottom parts have a subtle orange/yellowish hue, due to the artificial lights cast by the street lights, car lights and neighboring buildings.
You can simulate this, by making a “foreground to transparent” gradient tool (with the foreground color set to orange), in a new layer, dragged from bottom to top. Change the blending mode to “color” and adjust the opacity to around 50% (or whatever looks good to you) and you are done.

Here is the final result:


  1. Pingback by [Tutorial] List of Great Photoshop Tutorials - AC Web — June 18, 2009 @ 8:31 am

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  2. Comment by photo retouching — June 23, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    Nice pleasing result.

  3. Comment by farhan — July 2, 2009 @ 11:10 am

    very nice… thanks for giving me the creative ideas. i want to learn photoshop and you are instructing me by uploading these tutorials.

    thanks alot


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