Cinematic photography looks like a screengrab from a movie. It involves controlled lighting and composition, lens choice and model direction. And some post-processing know-how.
Camera Orientation For Cinematic Portraits
The camera aspect must be horizontal to create a cinematic portrait. Movies have a wider aspect ratio than still cameras. You need to keep this in mind when you are composing your portraits. Leave enough space above or below your subject. Or you will not have room to crop it well.
And turn your camera or viewfinder’s grid display on. This will help you make your portraits fit the right dimensions.
Visual Story Telling
Movies are about storytelling. Cinematic portraits must tell a story as well. They need to tell the viewer something about the character. But this does not always need to be obvious.
Creating a photographic story is about directing the model and composition. You need to communicate well with your model so they understand what you want from them. They need to know your vision and the idea you want to express through the portrait.
Everything around your model is important to storytelling. If there are elements in your composition that do not support your story, remove them. Or move your model until the unwanted elements are out of the frame.
Sometimes you do not need the background. The character of your subject might be a strong enough story. This works best if you have a very confident and expressive model.
How To Control Composition To Achieve A Cinematic Look
The way you compose cinematic portraits must support your story. Your choice of lens and aperture setting will have a big influence. The angle of view you choose is also significant. Many cinematic photographers prefer to use telephoto lenses because they compress the scene. It’s often easier to achieve a creatively blurred background with a longer lens. The 35mm was perfect to also include some of the environment.
Finding balance in the bokeh can be more effective than a total blur. Many cinematic portraits contain no information to support the story. This does not always work well. Softening the background too much can rob a portrait of meaning. Control the background. Everything does not need to be sharp or a total blur. Instead, make it soft enough to still be recognizable but not distracting.
Movie scenes are often a combination of different angles featuring the same subject. A scene might start with a low angle, switch to an overhead view and then crop in tight to a close-up. Look for different perspectives. Try more than the first angle you think of because that will be what most people will photograph. Watch your favorite movies for inspiration. How does the director use the camera angle to create and support the tone of their story?
Why You Should Use A Variety Of Compositions
Make close-up, medium and wide compositions. Movies often feature a combination of these three to build up the story. Establishing the scene a director will use a wide-angle. This gives the viewer a broad perspective of the scene and begins to build the story in their mind. You can place a person in the foreground or further back to make a wide cinematic portrait.
A medium view will show more detail and be more relational. This will help develop a feeling and convey a sense of connection. Close-ups will build emotion and intimacy. You can express more intense feelings coming in close, especially with a wide-angle lens. Displaying wide, medium and close up portraits as a series will complement your story. It will also look impressive on your Instagram feed and other social media.
How To Use Cinematic Lighting For Photography
Lighting in movies is always a major part of the production. When working with daylight, directors will wait for the right conditions. Lighting style and technique vary. There are whole movies filmed only at certain times of day, or with the same lighting set up. This is to achieve the desired mood. Use these techniques when you are creating your series of cinematic portraits.
Control of the lighting is essential. It must look intentional. You cannot leave it to chance otherwise your portrait will not tell the story. The more purpose behind your use of lighting, the stronger the visual story you will tell. Style depends on the story. A high contrast film noir lighting style will support a high drama portrait. A soft light will produce a more romantic or contemplative feel. Multiple lights will produce a different mood than a single light. Make sure your lighting style enhances the character of your story.
Post-Processing Cinematic Photography
Some cameras come with preset options that you may like to experiment with to get a cinematic look. Post-processing a RAW image file is the best way to create the mood and feel for cinematic portraits. Some amount of desaturation is common to create the right look. This is part of the cinematic photography look. You can also try rendering portraits in black and white. Not by desaturating only, but by careful manipulation of tones.
Keep in mind the story you are telling. Match your post-processing to work with the character of your portrait. If you are expressing a romantic feeling, don’t use harsh processing, make it gentle. When you want to enhance the drama in a cinematic portrait adds contrast to create edginess.
Movies have an aspect ratio that is wider than 35mm or cropped sensor still camera formats. The framing aspect is 2.35 to 1 whereas a 35mm frame aspect is 1.5 to 1. Crop a portrait to match the envelope shape we see when we watch a movie. This triggers a subconscious connection in a viewer’s mind. The photo immediately gives a sense of being cinematic because of the shape.
Experiment with lighting, camera angle, composition, and lens choice. Mimic these things from your favorite movie directors. Practice different post-processing methods. Try the same photo in black and white, desaturated. Then with added contrast or with less contrast. Compare the results and decide which you like better.
Remember to keep in mind your story. This is key to creating good cinematic portraits and developing a recognizable style. Seek balance in your subject, lighting, background, and post-processing.
originally posted on expertphotography.com by Kevin Landwer-Johan
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