Remember the first time you watched a cinematic classic? The color schemes, the breathtaking visuals, the dreamlike quality of the scenes etched a permanent memory. Ever wondered if you could replicate that intoxicating allure in your still images? You may be surprised to know that you absolutely can with Photoshop, a tool most of us have at our fingertips but often underestimate its power.

The art of applying a cinematic look to your photos, in very basic terms, involves mimicking the color grading and lighting effects seen in motion pictures. ‘Wait a minute’, you might say, ‘did you just use the term color grading? That sounds familiar.’ Absolutely right! It’s a term we explored in detail in our previous tutorial which you can find here.

Understanding the Cinematic Aesthetic

Before we delve into the Photoshop actions, it’s crucial to understand what makes an image ‘cinematic’. Think of cinema classics. Whether it’s the stark contrasts in ‘Sin City’, the vintage vibes in ‘The Godfather’, or the cool undertones in ‘The Matrix’, each film carries a unique visual signature. But is it just about colors? Well, not quite.

Creating a cinematic image also involves aspects like framing, lighting and depth of field– details that add to the realistic, yet dramatic feel of movie scenes. In Photoshop, we have the power to modify these elements, applying the layering of effects to revolutionize how our photographs look. But remember, subtlety is key. Can’t we just slap a LUT or a preset and call it a day? Not so fast!

The Caveat of LUTs and Presets

Look-Up Tables (LUTs) are fabulous, indeed. One click, instant transformation- as seductive as the sirens of the deep— unfortunately just as deceptive. Because each photo has a unique combination of colors, applying presets without understanding them, frequently results in unnatural outputs. ‘So, what should we do instead?’ I hear you ask. Time to roll up our sleeves and get down to the nuts and bolts.

Manual Color Grading and Lighting Adjustments

Something that’s often misunderstood about making a photo seem cinematic is that it’s all in the color grading and lighting, and not just in replicating a film’s unique color palette. We cannot undermine the potency of good old manual adjustments in Photoshop when it comes to achieving that cinematic feel in a photo. Let’s look at some handy techniques to get you started.

Painting the Scene with Shadows and Highlights

To start, we’ll need to work on creating depth in our image. Adjusting highlights, midtones, and shadows can make your image pop like an art piece on a glow board. A simple way to do this is by using Photoshop’s ‘Curves’ tool. A soft ‘S’ curve can add a dash of contrast and depth that works wonders.

Creating a Colour Harmony

Next, we’ll dive into the realm of color. When we talk about the cinematic aesthetic, we typically see complementary color schemes. Think of orange and teal – a classic movie duo. Photoshop’s ‘Selective Color’ and ‘Color Balance’ can aid in pushing your colors in the desired direction. The trick lies in careful, incremental adjustments and not drastic, overall changes.

Final Touches

Now that we have our lighting and color set, we can use tools like ‘Blur’ to manipulate the depth of field, and ‘Crop’ for framing like a cinema lens. Don’t forget the essential final ingredient – a dash of grain to give your image that distinctive film texture.

Remember, Photoshop is a toolbox, and your imagination is the key. Experiment, play around, and most importantly, have fun!