Timelapse Photography: Show Day Turning to Night in a Single Image

In this Photoshop tutorial, learn how to shoot a series of photos at sunset and twilight and then blend them into a single day-to-night photo.

Timelapse photography: show day turning to night in a single image

Whether you’re photographing a sunset
or a sunrise, picking the perfect time to take the shot can be
challenging. The range of colours, tones and the distribution of light
over time can mean taking multiple images, all with merit in their own
So why not combine the images into a single photo showing the contrast between day and night?

Timelapse photography tips: day to night
A quick word of warning to anyone who is firmly anti-Photoshop: this project involves plenty of photo editing, but it’s easier than it looks, and it can result in something much more dramatic than a single frame.
As any photographer who’s dragged themselves out of bed for a
sunrise (or braved the disappearing light for a sunset) knows,
capturing the full majesty of the moment can be a challenge. The
contrast between day and night can only really be seen over a period of a
few hours, and as such is traditionally only captured in a series of
individual images or a time-lapse.
This tutorial gives you the tools to capture all the colours
and contrast in one photo. Getting well-exposed, sharp images before
and afterwards is difficult enough to master, especially as long
exposures are required. Having limited time to catch the stages of the
sunset means preparation is required, as unlike a traditional sunset
shoot, you’ll be using more than one photo.
Altering settings while the lighting is changing takes a bit
of practice, too, but the Photoshop techniques used are basic enough to
master quickly, and with a bit of practice and some experimentation,
you’ll soon have day-to-night images you can be proud of.

How to Shoot Your Sunset Sequence

Keeping your camera rock solid is essential for combining
images later on. If you don’t own a remote, use the self-timer function
on your DSLR to avoid knocking or shaking the camera when taking an
exposure. Be aware of how you might disrupt people walking, too. Find a
position out of the way, preferably by a fence so no-one can walk in
front of the camera or close enough to knock the tripod
Timelapse photography tips: day to night setup

Stay Still!
A solid tripod is crucial, as a gust of wind or knock will make it very
difficult to line up the features in multiple images when you come to
merge them in Photoshop.
Keep Clear
When picking your subject, make sure you have a clear view with as few
obstructions as possible. A solid structure, such as a bridge, makes a
great reference point.
Lock the Focus
The camera adjusting focus between shots will make your image harder to
edit. Take your first shot using AF, then switch to manual to lock the
setting in place.
Be Level-Headed
Before you start, ensure your tripod head is level. This is easy to do
if you’ve got a virtual horizon feature on your Nikon, or a spirit level
if you haven’t.

Set Manual Mode
You’ll need to use Manual mode to be able to adapt to the changing
light. Start at f/22, at an ISO of 100. Call up your histogram and
adjust the shutter speed so that the graph isn’t stacked on either side.
As the day develops, lengthen the shutter speed using the histogram as a
reference point.
Timelapse photography tips: day to night camera setup 01

Shoot in RAW
Shoot in RAW
so you can adjust the white balance or exposure later, if needed. You
can also make each image significantly different in post-processing if
required. You can use as little as two images, but shoot 20-30 if you
can, to give you plenty of choice when it comes to editing.

Photoshop Step by Step: Merging Your Sunset Timelapse Images


Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 01

01 One We Prepared Earlier
This project requires a minimum of two images. We’ve recommended using
five or six shots, but for best results, you may need to try adding or
subtracting images, or adjusting the level of gradient in the mask. If
you don’t have your own series of shots, download ours from bit.ly/start-45. Open Photoshop and select File > Open, and choose the image DayToNight1.jpg from the downloaded images.

Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 02

02 Next!
Open DayToNight2.jpg, then go to Select in the menu bar, and choose All
(or press Ctrl/Cmd A). This will allow you to copy the entire image
using Edit, and then Copy (Ctrl/Cmd C). Select DayToNight1.jpg and
select Edit, then Paste (Ctrl/Cmd V). This will create a second layer
for DayToNight2.jpg.

Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 03

03 Stack ’Em High
Repeat the process for all of the images, until DayToNight1 has them all
layered on top of it, moving from the lightest shot at the bottom to
the darkest at the top. Click on the eye icon next to each layer to turn
off visibility, leaving only DayToNight1 and DayToNight4 with the eye
icon turned on.
Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 04

04 Add a Mask
A layer mask gives you the ability to manipulate the opacity of a
particular layer, which is essential for this technique. To add a layer
mask, with the DayToNight4 layer selected, go to the bottom of the
Layers panel and click on the icon resembling a rectangle with a circle
in the centre.
Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 05

05 Select the Mask
When you add the layer mask, a white square will appear next to the
DayToNight4 layer. Select this, and a black frame will appear around the
outside denoting any changes will only affect that layer. The next
stage is to add a gradient to fade each image into the background.

Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 06

06 Set the Gradient
Click on the Paint Bucket tool and hold until the alternative options
appear. Select the Gradient tool, then the linear gradient option from
the top toolbar. This will make the progression move in one direction.
Double-click on the gradient pattern to the left to open the Gradient
Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 07

07 What Lies Beneath
In the Gradient Editor, click on the bottom-right preset, which is
called Neutral Density. Next, select the top-right marker, and change
the opacity level to 0%. This will mean that one side of the gradient
will make the layer below completely visible, while on the other side of
the gradient the layer below will still be fully covered.
Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 08

08 The Gradient’s a Drag
You don’t actually want a completely opaque part in the gradient, so
select the top-left marker and set the opacity to 70%. Confirm the
changes by clicking on OK. This will give you ability to select the
starting and ending point of your gradient, managing how much of the
image below
can be seen by dragging a line horizontally.

Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 09
09 The Right Stripes
Select File, Open again, and open the GradientTemplate file from our
start images. This will give you coloured points across the image to
start and end at. (Don’t worry, the colours won’t appear in your final
picture.) Copy and paste the template so it’s the top layer in your
composition, as explained in Step 2. It should be the only image
Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 10

10 Leading Lines
Double-click in the space next to the title of this layer, opening up
the Layer Style window. Reduce the opacity of the layer to 30% so the
image underneath is now clearly visible, and click on OK. Select the
Layer Mask for the DayToNight4 layer – the white box will be surrounded
by a black frame when you’ve done this.

Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 11

11 Pull It Together
Click on the gradient tool and drag from the left edge of the yellow
segment to the right edge of the red segment. This should make the image
underneath visible, which is DayToNight1, but only at the very
right-hand edge. Hide the template by clicking on the eye symbol on the
Timelapse photography tips: day to night step 12

12 Fade to Black
Click on the layer mask for DayToNight3, then make the template layer
visible again. Start the gradient at the left edge of the yellow
section, ending at the right edge of the blue section. Repeat the same
action for DayToNight2, then turn off visibility on the template. Your
image is done!
Timelapse photography quick tip
Top Tip
Colour Overlay the Sky
Getting the right gradient between the lighting conditions can make the
sky appear murkier or of a less prominent colour than required. To
remedy this add a layer of a block colour, such as a deep red or blue,
and drop the opacity to under 50%. This will give you a light hue within
the sky of a particular layer, sitting between the desired layers and
providing an effect that can emphasise a particular existing shade. This
technique also works extremely well on a standard landscape image,
remedying to some degree a lack of a slide-in graduated filter or a sky
with complex tones to balance.