If you want to craft a compelling visual story for a photo series, the cinematic route is hard to beat. With the style borrowing the lighting, setting and composition of the big screen, it encourages the reader to pay attention to the narrative.

Still, I think it can be challenging to pull off for portraits. This is especially because the term “cinematic” has been thrown around a lot in recent times. In any case, I always keep my eye out for cinematic portraits that get the look and mood.

Among my recent finds is a 2019 series by Milan-based photographer and 3D artist Elia Pellegrini. While inspired by the 1985 sci-fi film “Cocoon,” I think this body of work was able to stand alone with its own narrative. Looking for a peg for cinematic portraits or are simply interested in emotive portraiture? This dreamy collection should be interesting to you.

Getting the cinematic mood

The series titled “Branches of Hidden Reactions” is a pretty big collection of portraits that anchored on mood, imagination and emotion. We are introduced to a singular character of otherworldly origin, based on the movie inspiration. I like how she is dressed in a minimalist color palette that complements the earthy colors of the setting.

Lighting also plays a major role in the wistful mood of the series. Pellegrini’s choice to shoot in the golden hour allowed him to take advantage of the dramatic look of the natural light. A quick peek at his projects so far shows us that he has actually mastered this

For me, this body of work reminds us that we can definitely craft our own brand of cinematic look. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cinematic photography. As long as you use angles, mood, characters and settings that make your photos look like movie stills, you’re all set.

Adding surreal, sci-fi-inspired touches

To reference his movie inspiration, Pellegrini added some sci-fi elements for the finishing touches. Most of these come in planets hovering in the background, suggesting that the setting is somewhere both alien and familiar. I like how subtle yet effective they are, proving that there’s no need to overdo editing and compositing just to create compelling photos.

Whether you’re new to shooting cinematic portraits or just want to try something different for your portrait photography, I’m sure this series gave you some ideas. Why not start by creating mood boards based on some movies that inspired you?

If you liked this series, don’t forget to check out Elia Pellegrini on Behance to see more of his impressive portrait work.

Photos by Elia Pellegrini. Used with Creative Commons permission.