Whenever I get asked for shoots and I meet up with cosplayers to discuss the directing of the shoot, I often get requests to give some of the shots a “movie feel”. When I first got this request, I was confused. What exactly was this “movie feel”? Why do people like it so much and how can I portray all that into a single frame instead of a video? Thus began my journey into the aptly coined term; Cinematic Photography.
So, what IS Cinematic photography? It’s not exactly a recognized genre of photography, but a term to simply describe photos that have the “Cinematic”/”Movie” feel. More often than not, the shot ends up looking like a screen grab from a movie. Like photography, there are many factors involved in Cinematic Photography that make a good shot. There are generally a few “rules of thumb” to follow. Here are three simple things to look out for if you want to do your own Cinematic Shots.
Rule of thirds is a touchy issue with many photographers. Some believe it’s a silly rule, some swear by it. While it is not ALWAYS necessary to place the subject on the left or right third of the shot, it usually works well. Due to reasons that warrant an article of its own, The Rule of Thirds basically has a strange effect on our eyes; when the subject or certain objects are placed at certain parts of a shot, they draw our attention. You can easily google up on Rule of Thirds for further reference.
Again, as I mentioned, this is a touchy issue. While it is NOT MANDATORY that the shot has to be framed using the Rule of Thirds, it usually works better that way, as you will see from my example shots (see below). Ask yourself honestly, which of the two shots do you find more “movie” like?
Ever notice how we always say that a Home Cinema can’t beat the “feeling” of a REAL Cinema? Have you ever wondered why?
Most cinemas use the 16:9 or 16:10 perspective. While most HD-TVs nowadays do offer 16:9 formats, our cameras are still taking photos mainly in 3:2 or 4:3 formats. While newer cameras offer to shoot in 16:9 crops (like the multi-aspect sensor of the GH2), most mainstream DSLRs (short of those offered by Sony) do not offer such options.
So how do I do it? (My Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 is not my main stills camera and the Canon EOS 7D and Canon EOS 5D Mark II do not offer 16:9 aspect ratios) The honest answer: I can visualize the crop lines when I look in my viewfinder. After cropping dozens upon dozens of 3:2 shots (which both Canon cameras default at), I have gotten to the point that, when I look through the viewfinder and I’m framing for a Cinematic shot, I can picture the crop lines there. After cropping dozens upon dozens of 3:2 shots (which both Canon cameras default at), I have gotten to the point when I look in the viewfinder and I’m framing for a Cinematic shot, I can picture the crop lines there. Will you gain this ability? My answer is yes, most definitely. It is a simple matter of training yourself to the level of unconscious competence.
I know that it isn’t exactly a fair answer, so here are some real tips. Canon and Nikon cameras that I’ve worked with are mainly HDSLRs (Hybrid DSLR) that are capable of recording video. These cameras shoot HD Ready / FullHD video in 16:9 perspectives in the camera’s respective Live View modes. While the LCD Screen is not in the 16:9 ratio, they have crop lines that actually show what you are recording (everything outside the crop lines is not recorded). These cameras, while not recording video, can take still shots in Live View mode while having the crop lines present. So you just simply have to frame within the crop lines, take the photo and crop it in post-processing!
What a lot of people miss out when they attempt Cinematic Photography is they fail to post-process the colors. Even in movies, the colors are post-processed, in order to give the movie a movie-like look. This is simply done by using complimentary colors shades.
Hold it, hold it. What the HECK are complimentary colors? Like the Rule of Thirds, complimentary colors have a weird effect on human beings. Things done with complimentary colors are aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. In this case, most of my photos involve human beings, which are some shade of orange/beige. The Complimentary Color to Orange is Blue, which is why, unless the mood calls for it, my photos have a slight hint of blue in it. Of course, how you balance the colors depends on you. Those who do post-processing know that when you increase the “blues”, the whole picture becomes cooler (and the skin tone gets messed up). However, you can “fight back” the blues by applying a bit more orange so that the skin doesn’t look pale while the blue overcast is maintained.
Like any other genre of photography, Cinematic Photography isn’t limited only to these 3 factors. There are many other minor factors within each major one, and, possibly, there might be more major ones that I have yet to discover myself. Of course, I have more to share for each listed factor, but that will be probably covered in future articles; or you can contact me.