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How to Turn Day Into Night in Adobe Photoshop

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  • Date: 4 years ago
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  • Author: Kalhor

It’s not so easy to find a perfect photo for a photo manipulation we have in mind. Sometimes, for example, we want to create a night scene, but the available photos are either too dark or already heavily edited. What do to in such a case?

Well, you can always turn a day scene into a night scene with the power of Photoshop! In this tutorial I will show you how to play with the brightness of the scene, how to add stars to the sky, and how to add new light sources with convincing effects.


You can use any photo you need for this exercise. If you want to follow my steps directly, you can find the same photo I use here:


Open your photo in Photoshop. Take the Magic Wand Tool (W) and change its Tolerance to 100. Caution: such a high tolerance works best with a good contrast between the sky and the buildings.

magic wand photoshop tolerance

Use the Magic Wand on the sky.

magic wand tool sky selection

Go into Quick Mask Mode (Q) to see the selection better. Pick any brush to paint the areas that aren’t part of the sky (paint with black to select them as red).

quick mask mode selection
The mountains in the background are affected by the color of the sky, so let’s make them a part if it.

Exit Quick Mask Mode (Q) and go to Select > Refine Edge to make sure the selection is perfect. Select a view that lets you see the effects the best.

refine edge selection photoshop
refine edge on white view

Now check Smart Radius and increase its value. You can also play with other sliders to get a perfect result. When you’re done, click OK.

refine edge smart radius
how to select with refine edge

Go to Window > Adjustments. Select Hue/Saturation from the panel.

hue saturation adjustment layer

Clip the Adjustment Layer to the layer below (the sky). Then change the Lightness to make the sky very dark, but not black.

darken the sky saturation
dark sky adjustment photoshop

Every Adjustment Layer has a Layer Mask. You can learn how it works from this quick tutorial:

    Quick Tip: Layer Mask vs. the Eraser Tool in Adobe Photoshop
    Monika Zagrobelna

In short, when you paint on a mask, you define the transparency of the layer: black makes the layer transparent, white makes it opaque, and the shades of gray become the states in between.

Click the mask to make it active.

how layer mask work

Take the Gradient Tool (G) and click the gradient in the upper panel.

gradient tool change gradient

Change the gradient to very bright gray-white.

bright gradient

Apply the gradient to the mask from top to bottom. This will make the upper part “white” (opaque), and the lower part “bright gray” (slightly transparent).

bright gradient on layer mask
how to use gradient on layer mask

Click the background layer now. We need to darken it too! In the Adjustments panel, find Photo Filter.

photo filter adjustment layer

Change the color to dark, desaturated blue.

how to change color of photo filter
dark blue photo filter

Uncheck Preserve Luminosity

preserve luminosity photo filter

… and make the effect very intense.

density photo filter
photo filter night effect

The sky could use some blue tint as well! Add the Photo Filter adjustment to it, too, this time using a brighter, more saturated shade.

bright blue photo filter
sublte photo filter
Don’t forget to clip the adjustment to affect the sky only!
night photo filter

Normally, the night sky is brighter than non-illuminated buildings below, so let’s darken that lower layer some more. Duplicate (Control-J) the Photo Filter adjustment and lower its Opacity to adjust the intensity.

duplicate adjustment layer
intense darkening photo filter

Create a New Layer on top. Use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill it with black. Then go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Add a maximum amount of black-and-white noise.

filter add noise

Now go to Filter > Filter Gallery and select Sketch > Stamp. Play with the settings to create an optimal effect. The sky is not perfectly clear, so we don’t want too many stars.

how to make stars in photoshop

Use the Move Tool (V) to move the stars up, over the sky.

move sky up

Right click the stars layer and select Blending Options. Drag the upper black marker to the middle, to make the dark part of the layer transparent.

how to use blend if

Add a Layer Mask to this layer. Use a black-and-white gradient to make the lower part transparent, gradually turning opaque towards the top.

how to add layer mask
gradual change in opacity
layer effect added

Let’s pick some windows in the background—the farther they are, the harder it will be to notice the little imperfections. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the panes. Hold Shift to keep selecting after closing one selection.

how to select with polygonal lasso

Click the background layer and duplicate the selection (Control-J). Move the duplicated part to the top.

drag layers

Right click the layer and select Blending Options. Check Color Overlay and change the color to bright orange.

blending options color overlay
bright orange color overlay

Click the Blend Mode and scroll through it until you find the effect you like. I’ve decided to use Hue, as it adds the color without concealing the details.

hue blend mode
bright windows

Check Outer Glow.

blending options outer glow

Change its color to bright orange.

outer glow bright orange

Play with the Blend Mode again…

how to use correct blend mode

… and adjust the sliders to the effect you want.

how to adjust blending options

The effect should be quite subtle.

bright windows in dark

There’s something resembling a lantern on the side of one of the buildings. Let’s use it to add some interesting light to the scene! Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select its shape.

select with lasso tool

Click the background layer, duplicate the selection (Control-J), and drag the new layer to the top.

drag selection up

Right click the layer and select Blending Options. Check Color Overlay and make it white.

white color overlay

Check Outer Glow and make it bright orange.

bright orange outer glow
select color for glow

Experiment with the settings to get the best result.

outer glow blend mode
outer glow settings
glowing lantern photoshop

Create a New Layer and drag it right below the lantern. Pick bright orange and use a soft brush to paint the light around the lantern. You can lower the Flow to make the brush even softer.

bright orange color
bright orange glow

Go to the Blending Options and drag the lower black marker to the right to remove the bright orange from the shadows.

using blend if to adjust transparency
shadow removed

Hold Alt to split the marker to make the effect more transitional. If you want to learn more about this technique, check out this quick guide:

    Quick Tip: the Magic of Photoshop’s Blend If
    Monika Zagrobelna
blend if split marker
blend if effect applied

Scroll through the Blend Modes of this layer to find the best effect.

blend mode for blend if

Add a Layer Mask to this layer and paint the shadows on it. Nothing detailed—just make sure the light doesn’t reach to the parts blocked from it. Use black to paint the shadows and white to remove them, until you are happy with the result.

how to paint shadows on layer mask

Create a New Layer and take a bright orange again.

bright orange color

Subtly paint some highlights on the protruding elements of the building to keep them 3D.

orange highlights on the wall

Change the Blend Mode and add a Layer Mask to make the effect more subtle.

blend mode to make subtle effect
layer mask for subtle efect

Finally, duplicate the glow (Control-J) and change its color to white.

color of glow

Then remove it from the darker parts, leaving it only on the bright elements of the building. They should reflect more light and shouldn’t be so vividly colored.

make dark invisible
white elements brightened

Change the Blend Mode and lower the Opacity to adjust the intensity of this effect.

adjust intensity with blend mode and opacity

Let’s adjust the final brightness of the scene now, since we have it all together. Go to the top of the layers and add a new Adjustment Layer: Levels.

levels adjustment layer

Drag the white marker to the left to increase the amount of bright shades in the scene.

more brightness in the scene
photo with leveles adjusted

Create a New LayerFill it with black, and then go to its Blending Options and add Gradient Overlay.

gradient overlay

Give it the colors of a low sun.

sunset gradient
sunset sunrise color gradient

Hold Control and click the sky layer to get its outline.

how to take selection from layer
part of layer selected

Click the gradient layer and add a Layer Mask. The selection will be automatically applied to the mask.

selection applied to layer mask

Paint on the mask to reveal the mountains in the background.

layer mask painting

Duplicate the sky (Control-J) and drag it to the top. We’re going to add special effects to the clouds.

copy sky

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment.

hue saturation adjustments panel

Clip the Adjustment Layer to the duplicated sky, desaturate it, and make it slightly brighter.

how to use hue saturation adjustment
desaturated sky

Add a Levels adjustment, clip it, and add more contrast to the sky with it.

levels contrast
contrasting clouds

Select all three layers (the sky and its Adjustment Layers) and Merge them (Control-E). Then go to the Blending Options of this new layer and remove it from the bright parts of the sky using the lower white marker. Change its Blend Mode to Soft Light and lower the Opacity.

blend if adjusting transparency
sky adjusted

Duplicate (Control-J) the layer and play with its Blending Options too, this time removing it from the dark parts of the sky (the lower black marker). Change the Blend Mode to Soft Light as well, but leave the Opacity at 100%, adjusting it with a layer mask if needed.

adjusting transparency of layer
layer transparency adjusted

Time for some final adjustments. Add an Exposure adjustment on top to play with the overall brightness.

exposure adjustment

I’ve also decided to drag the sky slightly down to make the change of the colors more gradual (you can do it with a smart use of Layer Masks).

final brightness adjustment

The background seemed a little too bright, so I darkened it too using a Hue/Saturation adjustment with some masking.

darkening background

When you’re done, merge all the layers (right click > Flatten Image) and go to Noise > Add Noise. This will add some realism of a photograph taken in low light.

add nosie low light
low light photo

Artist: Monika Zagrobelna


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Bachelor of directing animation, 3D designer and modeler and 4 years professional web designing experience.
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