There a user on Flickr who posts a lot of photos that have been processed to movie look and feel to them:


There's obviously been some Photoshopping done to the pictures, but I'm having trouble replicating it. Does anyone have any idea what adjustments you'd need to make to get this look and feel?

4 Answers 4


So there's the obvious stuff: cropping and letterboxing to the right aspect ratioS. (Note: both aspect ratios are important: 4:3 for the overall image, letterboxed down to 1.85:1 (the US "standard") or 2.75:1 (theatrical "wide screen") inside it.

But there's also the not so obvious stuff. And here it's going to depend on what kind of movies you want to replicate, because different DoPs and different colorists will do things differently. These days they have as much control over a movies color as we do over a still photo's color.

The sample images you showed here look very "gritty real life" style, as opposed to the poppy fields and rainbows style of say Wizard of Oz, or the turquoise and orange theme that it seemed every movie was graded with in 2009/2010. (haven't seen any movies in 2011 yet, I'm hoping that trend is DEAD by now.) If I had to guess, I'd say they pulled the saturation down a little bit, and flattened the contrast in a few images. But not by much.

@jrista also adds a great point about the DoF control in his answer. Movies tend to shoot with larger apertures due to the need to get a couple dozen frames per second, traditionally with old mechanical film cameras this pretty much required big glass and large apertures... or lots and lots of light. Modern optics mean they can stop down to get more DoF today, but just because they can, doesn't mean they do.


In addition to what @cabbey stated, I think a significant factor in that cinema/movie feel is depth of field. If you watch movies closely for the cinematography aspects, focus, shift in focus, depth of field, and quality of bokeh is a VERY critical factor in movies and getting that "movie feel". When I watch a movie where the photographers did not pay much attention to those little focus details, the result is bland, there are often too many distracting elements, and I just don't "feel" the movie as much. On the flip side, you can really tell when a movie was filmed by a talented photographer, as all those small focus details are PERFECT, with focus shift timed perfectly, depth of field is superbly crafted, out of focus highlights, particularly bright lights, look fantastic (usually with some spherical aberration), etc.

In the photo you linked, outside of the "gritty" tone that cabbey mentioned, the key thing that makes it look cinematic to me is the depth of field...which is quite nicely done. It seems there is a very slight amount of spherical aberration, the plane of focus is precisely placed, and DoF is just right.

  • Very good point I forgot to address.
    – cabbey
    Mar 29, 2011 at 20:37

Your example doesn't really look like anything more to me than cropping to that aspect ratio and putting the black boxes on top and bottom.

If you don't have the right lens and camera (in other words, not a Point and Shoot), you may have difficulty with the relatively shallow depth of field.

  • 1
    It's also all naturally lit, incidentally. Mar 29, 2011 at 16:15

I think I might have your answer. I came up with a technique to getting cinematic shots on any high definition camera. (I’m currently making my first feature film).

The trick is about getting the actual look of what you are shooting instead of trying to give your footage a new color (if you’re shooting in winter, don’t edit the footage to look warmer or colder, etc.). Basically, you add the letterbox (black bars) and keep everything ‘raw’, just the way you got it on video. As for the camera part, always have an object in the foreground that you can focus/blur out on. This is an easy way to get the image depth wanted, making your footage more interesting and realistic.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.