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How to Make Cinematic Photography: 6 Key Features | 15 Tips

August 29, 2022

Cinematic photography is a subgenre of portrait and still life photography that imitates the style of a movie or a video. Cinematic photography is characterized by rich colors, dramatic lighting, and a focus on the subject's face and expressions.

While "cinematic photography" is relatively new, the style itself is not. In the early days of film, directors and cinematographers used lighting and composition to create a specific mood or feeling in their movies.

Today, many photographers are inspired by the same techniques to create beautiful, vibrant images. This article will look at some key features of cinematic photography and 15 tips to help you create stunning cinematic images.

Key Features of Cinematic Photography

1. Layering

This refers to adding multiple layers or elements to an image. By layering your pictures, you can create a more complex and interesting composition to attract viewers. You can use shadows, light leaks, textures, and even other photos.

girl's photo with Kate Green Forest Fantastic Foggy Studio Backdrop Photography

Kate Green Forest Fantastic Foggy Studio Backdrop Photography

2. Ratio

The aspect ratio is the width to height ratio of an image. The most common aspect ratio for cinematic photography is 16: or wider. This gives your images a more widescreen look, which can be effective in creating a sense of scale and grandeur.

3. Light and Shadow

Cinematic photography often uses light and shadow to create a sense of drama and intrigue. Playing with light and shadow allows you to transform an ordinary scene into something much more visually interesting.

4. Low Exposure

Another common feature of cinematic photography is low exposure. This means less light enters the camera, resulting in a darker image. Low exposure can be effective in creating a moody and atmospheric look.

5. Location

woman's witch photo with Kate Halloween Autumn Moon Backdrop Designed by Candice Compton

Kate Halloween Autumn Moon Backdrop Designed by Candice Compton

The location of your shoot can also greatly impact the overall look and feel of your images. For example, shooting in a dark and mysterious forest will give your photos a different vibe than shooting in a bright, airy meadow. Choose your locations carefully to ensure that they fit with the mood you're trying to create.

6. Saturated Color

Cinematic photography often uses saturated colors to create a more visually arresting look. Saturated colors are vibrant colors. By using saturated colors, you can make your images pop and grab attention.

15 Tips and Ideas for Cinematic Photography

1. Underexpose Your Photo

This technique can be used greatly in various situations, from landscapes to portraits. By underexposing your image, you will create a darker overall tone that can lend an air of mystery or drama to your photo. Underexposing can also help accentuate certain details, such as clouds in the sky or the texture of a person's skin.

2. Use a Lens Filter

Any photographer will tell you that a key element of taking great pictures is controlling the amount of light that hits the sensor. Too much light and the image will be washed out; too little and it will be too dark. One way to control light is to use a lens filter. Lens filters come in various types, each with its purpose. For example, a polarizing filter can reduce glare and increase contrast, while a neutral density filter can help to reduce the overall amount of light entering the camera.

3. Add Grain to Your Image

woman's cinematica photo

Photo by Ali Dadras on Unsplash

Grain is the randomly scattered pattern that occurs when a film or digital sensor is exposed to light. When used in moderation, grain can give your photos a stunning cinematic quality. There are a few different ways to add grain to your images. You can choose a higher ISO setting if you're shooting on film. This will increase the light that hits the film, resulting in more grain. Alternatively, if you're shooting digitally, you can add grain in post-processing using editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom. Select the "Add Grain" filter and adjust the amount of grain to your liking.

4. Shoot in Less Light

Lighting can make a scene look eerie, magical, or dangerous. As a photographer, you can use lighting to create a sense of mood and atmosphere in your shots. One way to do this is to shoot in low light. Low-light photography can be tricky but can produce stunning cinematic images. Pay attention to your shutter speed and aperture settings when shooting in low light.

5. Shallow Depth of Field

girl's cinematic photo with Kate Fine Art Backdrop Fantasy Abstract Brown for Photography

Kate Fine Art Backdrop Fantasy Abstract Brown for Photography

A shallow depth of field means that only a small part of the image is in focus, while the rest is blurred. This can be achieved by using a wide aperture setting on your camera. The wider the aperture, the narrower the depth of field. This technique is often used in movies and TV shows to create a more dreamlike or romantic feel. It can also be used to create a sense of mystery or suspense. When choosing an aperture setting, it is important to experiment and see what works best for your particular scene.

6. Use Vintage Lens

Vintage lenses can produce a beautiful, dreamy look that is perfect for creating cinematic photography. One of the main benefits of using vintage lenses is that they often have a softer focus, which can help to create a more ethereal look. In addition, vintage lenses often have a shallower depth of field, which can be used greatly in genres such as portraiture and still life.

7. Shoot in Harsh Light

immitating photo of Hepburn by JEFERSON GOMES on Unsplash

Photo by JEFERSON GOMES on Unsplash

When most people think of cinematic photography, they envision soft, dreamy images with gentle light and muted colors. However, there is no one formula for creating this type of photography. Some of the most dramatic and memorable cinematic images are shot in harsh light. The key is to use the light to your advantage, creating contrast and shadows that add depth and dimension to your photos.

8. Use a Prime Lens

Prime lenses are an excellent choice for those looking to capture cinematic photographs. For one, they have a wide field of view, which is ideal for taking in sweeping landscapes or capturing large groups of people. Prime lenses tend to have lower f-stop numbers, allowing for greater field depth control. This is perfect for creating shots with a soft, dreamy background or isolating a single subject against a stark backdrop. Finally, prime lenses are typically lighter and more compact than zoom lenses, making them easier to carry around and less conspicuous when shooting in public places.

9. Shoot at the Golden Hour

When shooting at the golden hour, use a long shutter speed to capture the beauty of the sunlight. Experiment with different shutter speeds to create different effects. A slow shutter speed will result in a dreamy, ethereal look, while a fast shutter speed will freeze the action and create a more dynamic image. You can also use filters to help balance the light and create even more beautiful effects.

10. Use a Low ISO

Kate Christmas Backdrop Snow House Tree for Photography

Kate Christmas Backdrop Snow House Tree for Photography

ISO is the measure of a camera's sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the camera is to light, and vice versa. When shooting in low-light situations, it's important to use a low ISO so that your photos don't come out grainy. A low ISO will also help create that shallow depth of field.

11. Use a Fast Shutter Speed

A fast shutter speed is one of the most important factors in achieving cinematic photography. A fast shutter speed will help freeze any movement in your frame, which is important for two reasons: first, it ensures that your photo is sharp; second, it helps create a sense of movement or dynamism.

12. Subject Isolation

Isolation is one way to achieve a cinematic look. When you isolate your subject, it stands out against the background, creating a more striking image. This is often achieved by using a wide-aperture lens to blur the background or framing the subject within a narrow depth of field. You can also use physical barriers like doorways or windows to isolate your subject further. By isolating your subject, you can create photographs that have a classic cinema look.

13. Communicate Using Angles

To create photos with a cinema look, use angles to communicate. The camera angle relative to the subject communicates different things to the viewer. For example, a high angle shot makes the subject look small and powerless, while a low angle shot makes the subject look larger. Shoot from different angles to see how it changes the feel of the photo. You can also use the angle of the light to create different effects.

family photo with Kate Retro Christmas Backdrop Downtown Store for Photography

Kate Retro Christmas Backdrop Downtown Store for Photography

14. Color Grading

Creating a cinematic look for your photographs doesn't have to be complicated. One simple way to give your images a more film-like appearance is to grade them according to color. This means adjusting the levels of different colors in the image to create the desired effect. For example, you could increase the brightness of the blues to create a more ethereal feel or amp up the oranges and reds to create a warmer, more inviting atmosphere. Playing around with color grading allows you to add a touch of Hollywood magic to your photos.

15.  Focus on Your Subject

If you're looking to add a cinema look to your photographs, one of the best things you can do is focus on your subject. Whether you're shooting still life or a portrait, keeping your subject in sharp focus will help give your image a more polished look. Of course, achieving a deep depth of field can be challenging, so it's important to choose the right aperture.


Cinematic photography is a beautiful and vibrant style characterized by rich colors, dramatic lighting, and a focus on the subject's face and expressions. Following this article's tips and ideas, you can start creating your stunning cinematic images.

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