Capturing Both Night and Day in a Single Photograph

Photographer Stephen Wilkes has become well-known for his project titled “Day to Night,” which features single images of various locations that capture the passing of a day. CBS News recently caught up with Wilkes and aired the feature above. In it, the photographer talks about how the project began and walks through how the composite images are shot and created.

Wilkes shoots his photos using a 4×5 large-format camera from 40-50 feet above the ground in a Condor bucket truck. He spends 15 hours up in the air — without any bathroom breaks, we might add — shooting around 1,400 individual photographs throughout that time. His eyes constantly scan the area, looking for the changing light and for interesting characters who enter the scene.

After capturing his pile of photos, he spends a whopping 4 months post-processing them and combining them into a single photograph.

Here’s a selection of his finished works, shared with his permission:

Central Park, NYC. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

Park Avenue, NYC. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

Washington Square Park, NYC. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

Gramercy Park, NYC. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

The Flatiron, NYC. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

Shanghai, China. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

Coney Island. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

You can find more photos from his project over on Wilkes’s website.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Mark!

Image credits: Photographs by Stephen Wilkes and used with permission

  • michaelp42

    4 months for one “image”? Seriously?

  • Philip Han

    4×5 Medium Format Camera… 1400 individual photographs…

    Hahaha, yeah right. I mean come on, 1400 sheets of film?

  • Michael Zhang

    Good point Philip: that was a fact from when we featured his work in the past. It seems that he uses different cameras. We’ve taken that line out. Thanks!

  • Michael Zhang

    He uses a digital back. :)

  • oldyeller

    Well as a slightly cynical old photographer who thinks he has seen it all photographically. Im impressed. Ive never seen this technique before, and he has obviously mastered it. Well done Steven. All the best to you.

  • Neoracer Xox

    Yes he is stroking each pixel individually 1 at a time

  • sayithere

    great works! the idea, the vision, the effort and determination are more important to your soul’s evolution than any of materialistic things. you can do it easier with digital camera and photoshop, but that’s all, nothing more that deeply affected your mentality.

  • Ivan

    Certainly not four months working full-time. I guess he had other things to do as well so editing has just spanned over that period which is reasonable. I was working for days on much simpler composites with a dozen of two layers, and it really takes a lot of time to check and recheck for errors. Masking layers in order to achieve this result means that all has to make sense once finished, and possibility for errors like leaving detached body parts floating around, shadows not matching, reflections not looking realistic, and so on is huge. So masking, checking, masking, rechecking, putting it aside for a day or two, then looking at it with fresh eyes, spotting obvious but previously missed errors, then correcting, masking, checking, rechecking… (you got the idea) is the process.

  • Paul Anthony Buehler

    I shoot gigapixel, and 300 to 1500 frames is not that uncommon (multiply that by 3 or 5 for HDR), and while I try to shoot as fast as I can, it never happens in less than an hour or two. So actually time is a real pain in the butt (consider the work warping and aligning moving/progressing shadows in a 1500 piece puzzle). I’d love to have a bucket crane too… 4 wheel drive of course!

  • Vaughn Wascovich

    …guess he couldn’t be “Landscape Photographer of the Year” could he? I think it shows more the irrelevance of too much PS versus anything else… These are really nice.

  • az

    Absolutely stunning

  • Jeff Reynolds

    My God, I feel lazy now. Well, lazier.

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd

    Beautiful images! Though I really was hoping to see a technique for capturing night and day in a single photograph… long exposure stationary slit scan or something.

  • Philip Han

    That’s what I figured. Some of us can’t fathom the concept of owning a digital back, so I just imagine being happy with 4×5 sheets for the rest of my life Hahaha

    Actually, being a student right now I can only really imagine realistically buying and owning a couple sheets of 4×5 at a time Haha

  • Óran Desmond

    Ive had Ideas like that before but Wow he pulled it off amazingly.

  • Christopher Pole

    Very impressive! Definitely going to give this a go.

  • foxhound

    wouldn’t it be much easier using a camera with multiple exposures feature. cover half the frame and take a pix during the day, cover the other half and take a pix during the night. done. no ned for 4 months post work. i was done in the analog days.


    I think he’s shooting 1,400 frames of timelapse, not a mosaic like you do for gigapixel panoramas. He uses a medium format camera with digital back to get the resolution he needs.

  • Ellis Vener

    “4×5 large-format camera”? “4×5 Medium Format Camera… 1400 individual photographs…”

    It might be a Linhof large format (4×5 or M679cs?) camera but he has a digital back on it.

    “4 months for one “image”? Seriously?”

    I guess you’ve never known any super realistic painters. That is not an uncommon amount of time to work and rework all of the minute a single painting.

  • Ellis Vener

    That would not capture any instantaneous details of people and things in motion.

  • David Nagy

    He does more to it than that; watch the video from around 4:30.

  • HSL

    Hmmm….In Photoshop paste one image over the other, add a mask channel to top layer, use black to white gradient and you’re done.

  • Jon Brooke

    Superb work. I love it when I see something like this that despite all of the technology and expense is really just about a single very creative thought.

  • Andre Friedman

    4 months my a**, quite simple technique, which uses hdr technique combined with masking 2 to 4 versions of the same landscape, shot with tripod. Anyone