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How to take Cinematic photos

Once you strip away all of the camera movement, making still photos cinematic is both very simple and quite complex at the same time. Simple, because you don’t have to worry about shooting moving video. Complex, because the limitations of stills leave you less tools to work with. Here’s a video on the subject:

So I wanted to make this guide on how to make your photos more cinematic in nature.

1. You may want to stop shooting the typical 4×5 IG aspect ratio

Movies aren’t shot in vertical aspect ratios. Composing shots in 4×5 just for the optimal instagram likes is not always the best option, especially if you’re looking for photos in the more cinematic style. I’m not saying you CAN’T take a cinematic photo vertically, but it’s harder. So if you’ve fallen into the trap of only “shooting for social media”, which is something I used to do at a point when I got a bit too into Instagram, this is one of the first things you should change.

2. Depth

Depth of field isn’t the only way to show depth, even though BOKEH is hugely popular and can easily make photos seem cinematic – at least at times when it’s used correctly. But you should also think of depth as layers. It helps to think three dimensionally of a foreground, middle ground and the background. Sometimes, showing a blurry foreground in front of your subject, instead of the subject directly, can add some depth to your photos that thus makes them more CINEMATIC!

3. Show emotion and stories

In street photography, emotion can be shown in two ways – either directly on the faces of people, or in the feeling of the photo itself. To achieve more emotional photos the first way, try not to always shoot people in the back, but show more of their faces. But emotion doesn’t always have to be literal, you can also create emotion by taking pictures with a certain mood.

Stories are difficult to add to pictures and not always possible, but when there’s a story to be told, make sure you don’t miss it in the scene that you’re shooting. One tip is to take “filler” shots that may not stand alone, but will add to the story when shown in a gallery or photo collage.

4. Elements / time of day / light

There’s a reason that every time there’s a depressing scene in a movie where something bad happens, it also happens to be raining. Rain can add a cinematic noir element into your photos. On the other hand, golden hour light can also work if you’re going for a happier kind of vibe. It’s no secret that as photographers we must consider the time of day and the weather to get the optimal effect we want in our photos, so don’t forget that!

Sometimes, a photo seems cinematic even though it has no story going on whatsoever, and it may not even have the other elements such as depth or even the aspect ratio. In these times, it’s usually because the photo simply has very cinematic lighting and / or elements.

Examples of cinematic lighting include: backlight that creates silhouettes, diffused light, which can caused by steam, fog or a simple diffusion filter, or post work.

So the easiest way to make your photos cinematic is just by looking for cinematic lighting.

5. Editing

This is a big one, but as it’s also kind of obvious I didn’t want to list it first. Because I think sometimes people overrate the importance or the power of Lightroom – if you don’t start with a cinematic photo to begin with, it’s no use editing. But once you do have a cinematic photo, you pretty much also MUST edit it to add that final finishing touch.

So how do we achieve a cinematic tone in Lightroom?

Below are some things to pay attention to:

  • A raised blackpoint on the curve gives your blacks a bit of a fade that is usually prevalent in films
  • Warm and cold color contrast, such as blue and orange, is often present
  • 16×9 crop
  • Keep it realistic with skintones and colorization
  • Limit dynamic range
  • Present your photos in a cinematic way, for example as collages or with black bars

Remember that cinematic edits have to be somewhat realistic mimicing what the eye could see – or at least not be too far from it.



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