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How to create a cinematic look

Cinematic photos are eye-catching and can add value to a portfolio. They may not be the style you normally shoot, but they draw attention to your work. Think of a cinematic photo as a fancy sports car in front of a car dealership, it catches the eye of everyone, including those looking for a minivan. With a little planning, a creative scene and post-processing, you can add a cinematic look to your portfolio to help draw attention to your work — plus it’s a fun way to be creative!

What is a cinematic image

A cinematic image is an artistic image that is not necessarily reality, it’s an interpretation of reality that tells a story. The use of costumes, props and set design along with color, light and shadows helps create the look. Think of a cinematic image as a single frame taken from a movie scene.

Create a scene for your subject to act out

Create or collaborate on a scene for your subject to act out then direct them. It’s easier if your subject or model has acting experience, if they don’t, they may be a little shy or embarrassed. Have patience and don’t get frustrated. Give them positive praise but never patronize them. If the subject senses you’re unhappy, they will get tense and it will show in the photos causing delays. This is when proper casting ahead of time pays off. To keep expenses low, use outfits to help tell a story and to add to the scene.

Creating a Cinematic Look

Finding cinematic inspiration

We can find cinematic inspiration by watching our favorite TV shows or movies. When a scene inspires you, take a picture with your cell phone as a reference and then try and recreate the scene. Make sure you don’t do this in a movie theater — instead, go home and watch the trailer and take a screen grab.

Post-processing to achieve a cinematic look

The final step is to process the image to give it the cinematic look. For years the movie industry applies color grading to improve the appearance of the film through the use of Look Up Tables, known as LUTs. Several image editing software companies have embraced this and have included LUTs in their software. Since I’m part of Skylum’s Education team, I’ll show how I accomplished this using Luminar 3. If you don’t have Luminar 3, download a trial or if you prefer to use other software, look for the concept in this video and apply to your software.

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