How To Turn Day Into Night in Lightroom

by Jan 18, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How To Turn Day Into Night in Lightroom

In this tutorial, I’ll explain how to turn day into night using only Adobe Lightroom. This is much easier than you may at first think.

Below, you can see the starting image. This is a typical daytime shot, although it does feature neon lights and a light in the upstairs window.  We can use these lights to help create the feeling of night-time in the finish photo.

starting daytime image before any adjustment

To turn our daytime image into a night scene will use a three-step process.

  1. Darken the Image using global adjustments to reduce the exposure. This makes the image appear to have been shot at night.
  2. Add Light to the image using the masking tools in Lightroom. This enhances the appearance of a night-time scene, making the adjustment more believable and attractive.
  3. Remove any distractions from the photo that detract for it appearing to have been shot at night.

Step 1: Darken the Image

Our first step is to darken the image by reducing the exposure. We can do this in the Basic panel of the Lightroom Develop Module using the Exposure slider. Move this to the left until most of the Histogram is in the left half as shown below.

Reducing the Exposure and Temp settings to make the image appear to have been shot at night

Here the image has also been cooled by reducing the colour temperature. This was done by moving the Temp slider left. It gives the image a cool, blue tone which is more typical of images shot at night.

Step 2: Adding Light to the Scene

The next step in turning day into night involves adding light to the scene. This will contrast with the dark areas of the image, making the image appear to be lit by street and neon lighting. To add the light effect to the image we will use the Lightroom masking tools.

To add a lighting effect, click the masking icon below the Histogram panel. Then in the options choose the Radial Gradient selection. You can see this indicated in the following screenshot.

Adding a Radial Gradient selection to the image

After selecting the Radial Gradient tool from the list, add the selection to the image. You do this by clicking once with your mouse. Then whilst holding down the mouse button, drag to draw the radial selection. Once you’ve drawn the selection, you can click and drag the gradient controls to position and resize it.

Below you can see a Radial Gradient in place next to the neon sign.

Adding a radial gradient to the image to create a light effect

With the selection in position on the image, add light by moving the Exposure slider to the right. This produces a pool of light on the image, but it will appear very cold because we reduce the temperature of the image in the previous step. To fix this, move the Temp slider for the Radial Gradient to the right, warming the appearance of the light.

You can see the effect this produces in the screenshot below.

Adding a pool of light to the image

The effect this has on the image is twofold. Firstly, the neon sign in the image appears to be casting a light onto the scene. Secondly, it emphasises the reduced exposure we made to darken the image. This now looks to be a more believable night-time image.

We can then continue to add other spots of light onto the image by clicking the “New Mask” icon in the Masks Panel. In each case we only need to use the Exposure and Temp slider to produce the effect.

Below you can see a series of images, each showing an additional light having been added. These are to:

  1. The pavement in front of the shop.
  2. The neon sign in the door.
  3. The upstairs window.
  4. The entire shop front.

Notice how this builds to create atmosphere and a feeling of the image being shot at night.

Image series showing light being added to create a night time effect

The image now appears more believable. The only problems are the distractions of the white wall on the right, and part of a sign in the top left corner. We could try to remove these using the Lightroom Clone and Healing Brush tools but hiding them in the shadows is easier and adds to the mood.

Step 3: Remove Distractions

Let’s start by adding a vignette to the image, using the global adjustments in the Effects panel. All we need to do is move the Amount slider in the panel to the left to produce a dark vignette around the image. You can also consider moving the midpoint slider to the left to make the vignette’s darkening effect wider.

Here’s the image, both with and without the vignette, along with the settings used.

Night time image after adding a vignette to darken the edges

This has reduced the distraction in the problem areas but there is more we can do.

The white wall on the right of the frame is still too distracting. We can reduce its brightness by adding a new mask to the image using the Linear Gradient tool. After selecting the Linear Gradient, click on the image once and drag with your mouse to draw the gradient.

Using a linear gradient to darken distractions in the night scene

After you have drawn the gradient, move the Highlights slider to the left to darken the area. In the above screenshot on the right, you can see the result of moving the slider to -100. This removes the distraction of the bright wall and completes the image.

You can see a comparison below between the starting daytime and finished night-time images.

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How to Turn Day into night using lightroom

I’m sure you will agree, this is a powerful transformation, turning day into night using only basic Lightroom tools.

Now watch the video demonstration.

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More Lightroom Tutorials

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