HDR Tutorial – Day to Night

I am often confronted by other photographers (purists) and/or strongly opinionated laymen about the “heavy” editing of my photos.  “It’s not really photography when you alter your photos with Photoshop!”, They exclaim.  To which I reply, “Well I don’t only consider myself a photographer, but more-so a photo-illustrator.”

With over 10 years of photographic experience I am more than capable of capturing a “true” photograph with zero further enhancements or edits needed…But why stop there?  For me, taking a good photograph is just the first step in creating a work of art.  The photograph can be used as a starting point, a canvas if you will.  If that canvas is in bad shape, the painting isn’t going to come out that well.  But if you have a solid and clean canvas (photograph) your art will shine.

Here we have a photo of a building.  It was taken at around 12:00PM so naturally the lighting is very bland and boring.  But what if we can turn this into a dynamic night time photo?  Well, we can, and that’s what I’m going to teach you now. When we are done the photo will look like this.

***This technique will work with HDR and NON-HDR Photos. I love Surreal HDR for the fantasy like feeling it gives so I find this technique works really well with it but this will work for regular photos as well***

After processing my bracketed photos in Photomatix, this is what my image looks like.
For more information on my Surreal HDR editing, see my previous article.

Next we will open our image in Photoshop.
Create a “Solid Color” Fill Layer. Change the color of this fill layer to a dark blue color. This color will be dependent on your image and own personal taste. Since it is an adjustment layer don’t worry about it being perfect right now, you will be able to go back and change it later.  Set the layer style to “Multiply” and reduce the opacity to around 85%.  This is intended to simulate the darkness and coolness of a night scene.

This by itself is an effective way to produce a night scene from a daytime photo. However, if your photo has any lights (street lights, windows, candles, etc) we can take this even further.

Duplicate the background layer and drag it to the top. You should have the “background copy” on top, a solid fill adjustment layer in the middle, and your original background layer on the bottom.

The layer we just made will simulate the eminating light from the light sources in your photo.

Create a Layer Mask for this layer and fill it with Black, hiding the layer.  (SHORTCUT: Select the layer, Hold down ALT and click the Mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel)  We will now use the Lasso Tool to create a triangle/Hershey Kiss shaped selection, the top of the shape at the light source.  See picture below for example.

Go the the Select Drop Down Menu, and choose Refine Edge. (SHORTCUT: ALT+CTRL+R)
Use the feather slider to feather your selection. Imagine the selection as the light coming out of the light source. The number of feathered pixels will differ depending on your image so it is really a matter of taste. Click OK when your satisfied with your adjustment.

Now select the Linear Gradient Tool. Set your foreground color to white and your background color to black. Click at the top of your selection and drag down towards to bottom of your selection and let go. This will give the look of the light falling off as it gets further away from the light source.

Repeat the process with all the other light sources.  You may need to do some cleaning up if the selections are too big or too small, but this is all being done in a layer mask so its a very easy fix. Just use black or white to subtract or add this light!

To change the color and intensity of the light you can create adjustment layers.
For example, create a Photo Filter adjustment layer above the top layer (the light layer) and hold down ALT and hover your mouse over the line between these two layers. An arrow will appear, click that. This will make it so the Photo Filter will only affect that one layer. You can now use this to warm or cool the light. I used it to warm the light to contrast to cool scene.

If you want to enhance the sky a bit more you can drop in another sky from another scene using layer masks, you can do selective adjustments using adjustment layers, etc.  In my photo I made my own stars and mixed it in with the existing sky because I liked the clouds that were there.



Thats it!
Not too hard, right?

Please feel free to email me or send me a link to images you try this on.  I would love to see them and if you want, give advice if wanted.  I love to help where I can!

REMEMBER! Don’t be afraid to edit your photos. Your not only a photographer, you are an artist!

-Bill Fritz
Fritz Photography

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.comberceraldi Karen Comber-Ceraldi

    Love it, can’t wait to try your techniques!

  • Lois Bryan

    Fabulous article … I’m definitely hanging onto this one!!!! And I hear ya on the great “It’s Not Photography” debate … I’ve taken to calling myself a photographer / digital artist. Said sternly, one eyebrow raised and hands on hips, that usually shuts ‘em up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=682906422 Carrie Mckenzie

    I have a problem…I have followed all of your steps but when I select the linear gradient tool and drag it down as you say, nothing happens. The foreground is white with the background black and I can’t seem to figure out what the problem is. Please help! Thanks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bill.fritz.77 Bill Fritz

      Hey there,
      After making and feathering your selection, make sure that your layer mask is selected as your active layer. To do this simply click the layer mask to make sure it is chosen. It will appear as a black square next to your top layer. Hope that helps! Let me know if that fixes it

    • http://www.facebook.com/bill.fritz.77 Bill Fritz

      Hello there,
      Please send me an email and I can help you. Im having problems adding comments on here, I hope this one goes through

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.rich.545 Steve Rich

    Thank you Bill, I worked your tutorial inside Photoshop CS6 it worked perfectly, I also worked this same tutorial inside Photoshop Elements 11, also worked perfectly.

  • Linda E Gale

    You are awesome! Not only great with a camera but great at explaining your technique.

  • http://mikehardisty.wordpress.com/ Mike Hardisty

    Great article. I’m on a business trip at the moment but this is something I want to try when I get home

  • Cecil

    Awesome – I have tried this using QTPFSGUI for the HDR and Gimp for the night effect, I need to work on adding a “sparkle” from the lights but this is a fantastic way to give a dimension to a picture – thanks for sharing your know how!

  • outofchicago

    This is the first time I’ve been on your site, Bill. I think the image is excellent. You ask in the article, “but, why stop there?” My answer is that I want my images to be some representation of what I actually saw. If someone asked about this image I’d want to be able to say that it looked the way that I remembered it. But I think it’s important that everyone draws there own line in the sand. Yours is just a bit past mine. Then again, maybe your article will change my mind. :)

  • Graham Markham

    Great tutorial Bill, have tried it once & will have to try harder next time. I have followed your work on Hdrcreme but the community generating on Hdr One is gathering pace & I can feel with all those involved producing this Magazine/site it will be become very very strong in the Hdr world…

  • Ix Tussy

    Great tutorial! What’s the difference of using the technique you describe here to simulate a light source, or by using the filter-render-lighting effects? Any preference or reason why choose one (and not the other)?