Even for those who consider themselves 'night owls', filming at night is never easy and poses numerous challenges. But before we look at surviving night shoots, let's establish two key reasons for doing so, which are:
1. Filming an exterior night scene at night
2. Filming interiors at night due to cast/location availability
The first, also described as 'night-for-night' is likely the most obvious reason. The rain scene in Ambleton Delight was filmed this way. It is good to note that our eyes see night in a very different way from how a camera does as our eyes naturally adjust to the low light levels while most cameras struggle to compensate. The two key mistakes filmmakers can make is to either force the camera to see more light (using a wide open aperture or a gain increase) or by overlighting the scene with too many lights. Both will make the camera see more, but the result will not look authentic, either being overlit or too grainy.
- Only illuminate key objects or areas - for example using practicals from logical sources (i.e. real lights within the scene, such as streetlamps)
- Use reflectors and white cards to reflect light
- Use natural elements such as snow if filming during winter, or rain (or by wetting the ground) to create natural reflection and illumination
- Use natural light -shoot during dusk or twilight -although remember this lasts for less than an hour!
- If possible do some test filming beforehand at the hours and location you intend to film
- Preparation/planning -treat it as a normal day with a 'lunch' scheduled
- Have a well thought out schedule that wastes no time...dead time at night is demoralising and can cause people to go to sleep
- Make sure actors are scheduled only where necessary (it is good to schedule scenes with the most actors first so that some can go home earlier and only those who are required stay for the whole night)
- Food and drink are important -liquids such as water and coffee can help keep you awake
- Consecutive night shoots can for many be easier than one-off shoots, as you can get your body into a pattern
- Prepare the day before by getting more sleep (like travelling overseas try to adjust to the time zone before you arrive)
- 4am - 5am is the most difficult hour both mentally and physically -schedule easier scenes to be filmed at this time or have this as the 'lunch' break.