Most photographers schedule their sessions around a certain time of day for ideal lighting conditions based on what’s needed for the shoot. However, as Marlies Hartmann demonstrated in a previous video, when she used a Profoto B10X Plus and a MagMod XL modifier to create a “funset” (fake sunset), we can use flash photography to transform our scene. We can even go so far as to turn day into night, which is what you’ll learn how to do below. Spoiler alert: you won’t need a lot of gear to do it. In addition, you’ll find some other useful flash photography tips and techniques along the way.

Video: How to Use Flash to Turn Day Into Night

Gear Checklist

Here’s a quick overview of the gear used to turn day into night:

C.A.M.P. Framework

The day-into-night technique makes a great candidate for using the C.A.M.P. Framework, which we shared in a previous article. Basically, the framework breaks down as follows:

  • Composition
  • Ambient Light
  • Modify or Add Light
  • Pose and Photograph

Working through the process of creating a photograph in this order makes for a smooth workflow with more consistent results. You’ll see the framework in action as the tips below unfold.

Okay, let’s get started!

The “Before” Shot

In order to better document the transformation, let’s start with the “before” shot.

day into night before shot with daylight ambience

You may recognize the scene from a previous video on creating dramatic flash portraits with MagMod modifiers in four simple steps. This time, however, you’ll notice the level of drama go up when day turns into night. So, this is what the scene looks like when exposed for natural light during daylight hours.

Now, refer to the C.A.M.P. Framework to start transforming this scene.

Step 1: Composition

Think first from a compositional standpoint. Are you going to shoot with a landscape or vertical orientation, or both? What elements do you want to include in the frame? Are there elements in the scene that can contribute to make the composition stronger, such as natural frames, leading lines, and so on?

day into night final composition for first setup
Settings: 1/400, f/4, ISO 50

For this particular scene, the arches in the background make a strong compositional element. You can play with this as you go along, but it’s important to establish a direction up front to help get you to a solid final image.

Next, you’ll need to turn this daylight setting into a nighttime frame.

Step 2: Dial in Dark Ambient Exposure

Once you’ve decided on the composition, you can move onto dialing your ambient exposure. Because the goal involves creating a night shot while the sun is still out, you’ll need to darken the image quite a bit. Here’s one way to do that:

  • Lower the ISO
  • Increase the Shutter Speed

If you’re able to use high-speed sync with your flash, you can take the shutter speed up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/2000. Here’s what that looks like:

day into night ambient exposure setting
Settings: 1/2000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 7000 Kelvin

You’ll notice that the color is still too warm and not convincing, so be sure to lower the white balance temperature. This will shift the color of the scene to appear more blue, more like how it’d look at night. Here’s a shot with the white balance set at 3600 Kelvin.

day into night white balance adjustment
Settings: 1/2000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 3600 Kelvin

Now, here’s a look at the two different white balance settings side-by-side:

before and after white balance for day into night technique

With the ambient exposure dialed in and the white balance shifted to a cooler temperature, you can move onto the next step to turn day into night, which is modifying and/or adding light.

Quick Tip: Find Some Shade

One consideration for pulling off the day into night look is finding a spot that’s shaded. If you have direct sunlight in the scene, it can prove more difficult to make it look like the shot was captured at night because you’ll likely see hard light in the scene, which will look out of place. That said, this technique works best on either overcast days or in shaded areas.

Step 3: Modify and/or Add Light

To this point, you should’ve decided on your composition and dialed in your ambient exposure and white balance. What you’re probably noticing now is that–like the environment–your subjects are dark and very cold looking, right? You’re going to need to brighten the subjects and warm up their skin tones, and for that you’ll need to add flash and use a CTO gel.

Add Light

To begin, place your flash on a stand. Ideally, your flash will offer 500 watt-seconds of power, or something close to it. The reason for this is you’ll need to pump a light into the scene to overpower the dark exposure setting. Also, modifying the light with things like gels will require even more power. To help boost the flash power, Pye added a Reflector XL to his Profoto B10X Plus and positioned it near the couple.

You may need to fire off a couple of test shots before you get the flash power and position where you want it. Here’s a look at how the flash impacted the shot before any modifications were made.

Settings: 1/2000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 3600 Kelvin | Flash Power = 1/1

[SLRL Related Reading: Create Dramatic Flash Portraits in 4 Steps with MagMod Modifiers]

Modify the Light as You Turn Day Into Night

Adding a flash solved the issue of the subjects getting lost in the dark, but the issue of their cold skin tone remains. Now, it’s time to add a CTO gel to the flash. Pye used a CTO DomeGel for this shot. For more insight on using gels creatively to enhance your shots, check out this guide. Creative gelling can go a long way to help you modify and change a scene.

Settings: 1/2000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 3600 Kelvin | Flash Power = 1/1 (CTO DomeGel added)

The image above shows the impact the DomeGel had on subjects’ skin tone.

At this point, you can always make adjustments as you turn day into night with your flash. Change the shutter speed to bring more light back into the background, or adjust the aperture to impact the depth of field, and so on.

Settings: 1/1000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 3600 Kelvin | Flash Power = 1/1 (CTO DomeGel added)

You can also modify the light further by adding something like a MagGrid 40 if you need more control over how and where the light is falling.

grid and no grid examples for the day into night technique

Pose and Capture Photos

With everything ready to go, all that’s left is to pose your subjects and start capturing images.

Settings: 1/1000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 3600 Kelvin | Flash Power = 1/1 (CTO DomeGel & MagGrid 40 added)
Same settings as above.
final shot example for day into night technique
Settings: 1/1000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 3600 Kelvin | Flash Power = 1/1 (CTO DomeGel & MagGrid 40 added)
Same settings as above.

Just to recap, here’s a side-by-side comparison of how it started and how it ended:

Light Pattern Two: Backlighting

So far, you’ve learned one light pattern using the flash photography technique for turning day into night. Now, let’s explore a second light pattern that works well with a nighttime vibe: backlighting.

You can keep the lightsource warm for this pattern, and maybe add a MagSphere to get more of a blooming effect around your subjects.

The Setup

You’ll use the same setup as the previous shot, but you’ll just remove the grid and reposition the flash about six to seven feet behind your couple, as illustrated here:

Position the light low and aim it up towards your subjects’ faces. Direct your subjects to pose close together to block the flash from appearing in the background.

Here’s the final image:

Settings: 1/1000, f/2, ISO 50 | White Balance = 3600 Kelvin | Flash Power = 1/1 (CTO DomeGel added)


Hopefully, you found these tips on how to use flash to turn day into night helpful. To pick up some more creative and useful flash photography techniques, be sure to check out this free lighting guide that Trevor (from MagMod) and Pye put together. It’s completely free to download and it contains 10 different lighting recipes.