With the rise of streaming services, we’re all spending a lot more time watching movies and TV shows. The best movies have a particular look and feel about them. They are dramatic, moody, and epic. We call this look cinematic. Every now and then, it’s not strange to want our own photos to take on these properties, say, for special occasions or important moments we capture on film. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a Hollywood cinematographer to create cinematic pictures that will leave your followers feeling envious.
In this article, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know to make your photos look like screenshots from your favorite Wes Anderson film, including a tutorial on how to create this effect directly in the PicsArt app!
What Is a Cinematic Photo?
Cinematic photos are ones that look like they are grabbed from the set of a dramatic movie or television set. There isn’t one way to achieve this effect in your photos, and which one you choose depends on your skill level and comfort with post-processing. For experienced photographers, expensive software and an intricate, complicated editing process may be the way to go. For those looking for a quick fix, apps like PicsArt offer an excellent and equally convincing alternative at nearly the touch of a button.
Elements of a Good Cinematic Effect
We all know a dramatic photo when we see it, but it takes a trained eye to pick apart and distill what it actually is that makes a photo look cinematic. Here are some of the basics.
What separates cinematic images from other types is that you can feel them. Mood is inarguably the most essential element of cinema. It is how filmmakers and cinematographers capture and engross their audiences to keep watching. Creating a mood requires a combination of lighting, setting, modeling, and color — all of which you’ll be working to enhance in post-production. Some things to consider are the angle you’re shooting, your color palette, and the overall vibe of the location. How do they make you feel? Is that feeling communicated in your practice photos? Don’t wait until you get to the editing room to find out if you’ve achieved the mood. Trial and error is the best way to go.
A good rule of thumb for cinematic photos is that they should be easy to look at. Don’t worry too much about the coloring of your photo shoot, if it’s very vibrant. You can tone it down in editing, using things like presets and curve settings. There are different types of palettes that photographers go for when applying a cinematic look. One is the sepia effect, which gives photos a warmer tone and a vintage or archival quality. Muted colors, which give a vibe of severity or seriousness, are also more cinematic. In general, keep it simple.
Bump up the Contrast
Perhaps the most notable feature of cinematic photos is their exaggerated use of contrast. Contrast refers to the difference between light and dark pixels in an image. Adjusting the contrast can either make an image more vivid or can mute the tones for a more subdued, somber, dramatic, and mysterious feel — all qualities prized in cinematography.
Tell a Story
Just because photographs capture a single instant doesn’t mean they can’t also communicate a narrative. After all, what are movies, but a series of moving images? When telling a story through a single image, think about including contrasting or competing elements in the shot. Think about how the viewer will interpret the variety. Take, for example, a picture of a girl with her arms hanging out of the train window. We surely don’t know much about her, but we can see the look on her face, to determine the somber mood. We see the train to know she’s going somewhere. We see her arms hanging listlessly, which adds to the mood. The angle of the picture shows the length of the track, so we feel the journey ahead of her is a long one. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s true!
Practical Tips for Achieving a Cinematic Look
Getting the perfect cinematic shot can sometimes take a bit of prep, as well as trial and error, and playing around with various settings. Here are some tips you can follow to help.
Study Your Favorite Movies
First thing’s first: What is it about the cinematic effect that moves you enough to want to replicate them in your own photos? What is your inspiration? This is a great place to start. Watch movies that you found compelling—what did they do right? Was it the color palette? The contrast? The scenery itself? Write down everything you like about it visually. Observe how every shot is composed, and pay attention to how the lighting establishes the mood of each scene. This will help you interpret their essence into your own images.
For those using editing software to achieve photos that look like still images from a film, you’ll want to shoot your images in RAW, which stands for raw image file. It’s called raw because it’s just that: raw, minimally processed data straight from the image sensor. With RAW photos, you can make edits that would be simply impossible with JPEG images. Depending on your level of experience, it can give you an unprecedented level of control over the editing process. So adjusting settings like color balance, contrast, and more will all offer deeper, more substantial edits. However, RAW images are also extremely large files (since they have more information). So if you’re editing in an app, this may not be a necessary step.
Set the Mood With Lighting
While lighting in regular photos often comes from natural surroundings, lighting sources in movies are often deliberately placed to achieve specific effects. That’s why it’s essential that you meticulously plan your shots in order to replicate the atmosphere of your favorite films. The two main types of lighting you can use to shape the mood of your images are soft lighting and hard lighting. Movies often use soft lighting to make scenes look dreamy and heavenly. On the other hand, they apply hard lighting to set a more dramatic tone.
Top 3 Photo Types for the Cinematic Effect
- Subject-Focused. Ever noticed how when you watch a movie, the subject will be in crystal clear focus, while the background will be blurred (also known as the bokeh effect)? The background, in this context, is little more than a palette, a literal mood. This helps increase drama and direct the viewer’s attention to the narrative, and it works in photography, too. To blur your background like a modern movie, if you’re using a DSLR, you should lower your aperture. On more recent iPhones, there’s even a setting for it! Add a vignette effect for an extra pop.
- Angling. Changing your camera position can have a profound effect on how people view and interpret your photo and angling is a huge part of this. An eye-level shot will help viewers connect with the subject. Then you can adjust other settings, like contrast and color, to enhance a sense of drama. Alternatively, shooting from a low level can make your subject feel bigger and dominant. Shooting from above can make them appear demure or more vulnerable. And shooting from a side angle can create a sense of imbalance that can also be really effective.
- Dilapidated Structures. What could be more melodramatic than a structure or place in a state of deterioration or dilapidation? There is even a name for this type of photography: it’s called “ruin porn” and by virtue of its shadowy rugged aesthetic, it lends itself well to the big stage. An abandoned train station. A shabby old bus. An abandoned diner in a post-industrial mining town. This type of imagery is very striking, and adding a model into the mix can be even more so. Taking pictures in this type of environment can set you up for some truly unforgettable shots.
Give Your Photos a Cinematic in Seconds!
As mentioned earlier, there isn’t just one way to get your cinematic photos. However, once you get started editing in PicsArt, we have a feeling you’ll create multiple types of cinematic edits once you start applying the various effect options. Here’s how to get started making a custom cinematic photo edit:
To get started in the PicsArt mobile app:
- Open the PicsArt app and tap on the plus sign at the bottom of your screen.
- Tap on the Effects icon and tap on the Fx option at the bottom.
- Save yourself the stress of post-production and choose from any number of evocative cinematic presets.
- Tap the filter again to adjust the settings to match your preferences.
- Tap Apply to save. Now, download or share your image!
To get started on PicsArt Web:
- Open the PicsArt Web Editor and tap the Upload button.
- Tap on the Effects icon and choose from any number of evocative cinematic presets.
- Select the Adjust icon above the image to make changes to any of the settings.
- Download and enjoy!
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