Video Software Club

How to make your movies and videos look more cinematic

One of novice filmmakers’ most frequently asked questions is, “How can I make my movies more cinematic?” Today we’re sharing five tips you can use to make your next video more cinematic. We’re assuming you’re not working on a Hollywood set, so each of these points includes practical actions you can require to make your independent,home-shot, or low-budget footage look professional! 

What does cinematic footage mean? 

What does it mean when we say we want our footage to look more cinematic? There are several interchangeable terms we can use. Cinematic, professional, high quality, sharp, etc. The ultimate goal is to make your video look like what you’d see in a feature film in theaters. 

But that is a high bar we set for ourselves. How can you achieve that? The truth is, there’s no checklist of things you have to do to achieve that automatically. It’s a skill you acquire throughout your life, and you get better at it the more time and effort you put in. Yet it would be best if you began somewhere, and the following tips will give you a solid head start. 

Tips for creating cinematic movies and videos

1. Create depth

You may have heard that shooting with a shallow depth of field is an easy way to make your footage look more cinematic quickly. That’s right, too! It helps, mainly because it’s a very effective shortcut to adding depth to your shot

Take a still image from one of your favorite movies. You’ll most likely see a shot with a foreground, a middle ground, and a background. Somewhere in between, your attention is drawn to the point that is the focal point. Creating depth means focusing on one point, and the rest is out of focus, creating an accurate 3D feel. It allows you to look at a specific point while immersed in another world

Now how can you apply this to your movie? There are a few simple ways. 

Reduce your aperture as much as possible

It allows you to create an excellent focal point while creating a more considerable background of everything behind you. It also means you don’t have to worry as much about whether the background is distracting because it’s out of focus or not. But be careful: the wider you open the image, the harder it is to keep the focus on the point you want

Use smoke 

Unless you shoot against a flat wall, every shot you take will have depth. You won’t notice it if there are other objects in the background. 

Don’t have any props? No problem. Do you know how to enhance depth? Smoke! Or artificial smoke or fog. This technique is used in Hollywood movies, just in different forms. The smoke adds depth! It’s also one of the many factors you see so many characters smoking in movies. 

Put something in the way

Another fine tip is to put something in front of the lens, just a little bit. That is one of the reasons why over-the-shoulder shooting is a favorite method of coverage. It gives you an overview of where your character is, but it also creates a simple foreground that adds depth to your shot. 

You can accomplish the same impact by placing anything else near the lens. That can be any object in your home or a tree branch if you are shooting outdoors. As long as it’s not too distracting, it probably doesn’t take much to create the illusion of depth

Move it around

If you have something held in front of the lens, you should move the camera. If you move your camera when taking a shot with a lot of depth, you will create a parallax. Parallax is when all the shot elements are moving at different speeds. 

Use vertical lines in your shot. What is meant by vertical lines? Trees, buildings, streetlights, and anything else have a vertical, linear shape. After all, vertical lines are the easiest way to show that you’re moving horizontally if you’re moving from side to side.

2. The right light

Let’s pause for a moment. The lighting field is so vast that we can’t do it justice in a brief overview. Instead, we’ll offer some quick solutions that can help you get better quality shots with any camera you use. 

Shooting with a flat profile 

Shooting with a flat profile mutes pretty much everything in the camera, giving the sensor a better chance to capture the best dynamic range of your scene. 

Dynamic range is between the minimum and maximum amount of luminance your camera can capture. Believe us when we say that dynamic range significantly impacts your shot’s cinematic looks. Some cameras can handle an extensive range at once, while others can only capture a small range at any given time. There’s a reason higher-budget cameras have a more comprehensive dynamic range

Depending on the camera, you have access to many different flat profiles. S-Log, C-Log, and Cinestyle are a few that may sound familiar. But whatever you have available, the goal is to give you more editing flexibility. 

That’s all you can technically do to affect the dynamic range of your camera. The rest is to modify the scene itself to optimize the camera you’re shooting with.  And that has a lot to do with the design and styling of the light you’re working with. 

Take advantage of the sun

We encourage you to use the best, brightest, most desirable light you can get for this trip. And it’s free! It’s the sun. 

Make sure that the exposure of your subject and the exposure of the light on your subject’s face are reasonably comparable. You will get a crazy silhouette or a blurry background if you don’t. 

You’re likely to run into a new problem if you’re shooting outdoors – harsh, unwanted shadows. There are numerous methods to solve this problem, but your goal should be to soften the light by diffusing it, leading to our next suggestion. When shooting indoors, you can place the subjects in front of an open window and use the incoming light to illuminate their faces.


Reflectors will help you diffuse the light. Using some fabric or a white sheet is a great DIY option. If you have a 5-in-1 reflector, you already have a great, portable solution for diffusing light on your talent. It makes a significant difference in how your actors look on camera. 

If you want a lovely halo of light around your subject, you can shoot them with their back to the sun and then bounce the light back onto their face. You don’t need an expensive reflector either – white paper, a white sheet, or anything lightweight and reflective can do the job

Even if your electronic camera’s wide variety isn’t that impressive, you can create a great backlight without compromising your subject’s expression. With this simple trick for backlighting, you can add crazy production value to your scene with minimal effort and little money. 

Use nature to your advantage

If you have absolutely no equipment to control your light, another option is to wait for the perfect time of day and let nature work for you. The light is most natural and spreads evenly across your subject at this time of day. It has a beautiful golden glow! Wait for a cloudy day so that the clouds soften the natural sunlight and make it beautiful, or await the golden hour (right after sunrise or just before sunset). 

Over the years, some films have relied almost exclusively on shooting during the golden hour. It is by far among the most cost-effective ways (that even the pros still use) to get great shots! 

3. Aspect ratio

This tip is a lot more quick trick than the previous examples. You can fool your audience into thinking your shots look more cinematic by changing the aspect ratio. 

Conventional DSLR footage usually has an aspect ratio of 16:9, which when you break it down to the minor fraction is 1:1.78. If you change the aspect ratio even slightly, say to 1:1.85 or 1:2.35, your eyes will immediately see the footage differently

Vertical footage immediately says a lot about the shot (especially that this type of footage doesn’t belong on the big screen)! Think about what feelings this type of footage evokes. Even if you were to shoot your DSLR footage in the same format as your vertical cell phone footage, you would have the same feeling as those shots because of the shape. 

Fortunately, using various methods, you can quickly achieve a cinematic aspect ratio (and the feeling that comes with it). 

  • Add a cropping effect to the top and bottom of your video footage 
  • Add an element ratio overlay on a layer above it 
  • Shoot your video footage in a more cinematic aspect ratio first (this depends on the camera you’re shooting with). 

However you go about it, this simple tweak can make a noticeable difference to your footage and thus to the overall cinematic feel of your video. 

4. Color correction

You knew this point was coming color correction is an essential piece of this puzzle. The image you captured is transferred into the final product in terms of light and color.  

Now comes the hard part – color is a matter of subjective opinion. Remember that every situation is different because every film is trying to convey a slightly different feeling, tone, or emotion. But we will point you in the correct direction to achieve the more accepted “traditional cinema look” with your color correction. 

In general, you’re trying to achieve three things when you’re trying to give your footage a cinematic look: 

  • Contrast 
  • Separate your interest points (also referred to as “pop”). 
  • If you’re filming people, skin tones 

If you shot your footage with a flat color profile (as suggested above), there are a few things you can do to bring out the colors. 

Use your waveform tool 

The most important thing is to bring as much contrast into the image as possible without losing information. A helpful tool for this is the Waveform tool, which allows you to highlight your clip’s lightest and darkest areas. Anything above 100 on the waveform is pure white and unrecognizable. The lower area, 0, is pure black

As you make changes to your video clip, the waveform will expand. You can look at increasing the contrast after you make the changes but still retain the information! The goal is to have the waveform fill the graph but not go past the top or fall below 0. 

Use the Lumetri Color panel

One of the easiest methods to get started with color grading in Premiere Pro is to use the Basics panel of the Lumetri Color panel. To adjust your clip’s light and dark areas, use Exposure and Contrast to make fundamental changes. Please don’t overdo it because you can fine-tune using the White, Highlights, Shadows, and Blacks sliders

So if you want to cut off the darker parts of your clip without affecting the lighter sections too much, you can use the sliders for shadows and blacks to achieve the desired effect.  

If you shot in a flat profile, you can add life to your footage by adding some saturation. Adjusting the white balance can give your colors more character and realism. Finally, you can use the Hue Saturation Curve to boost or pull back specific colors to achieve your desired look.  

Few things can mess up the look of a movie faster than when human characters look inhuman! However, if you overdo the colors, you can run into problems with skin tones. We recommend familiarizing yourself with the HSL secondary range to isolate your skin tones and adjust them separately if you want to push color correction even further. 

It’s important to remember that the extent to which you can enhance your footage in processing depends entirely on how you originally shot it. The closer you get to your in-camera look, the happier you’ll be in the long run (and the less time you’ll have to edit)! 

5. Everything is an illusion

In filmmaking, everything is a magic trick. Unless you’re watching a documentary, the characters aren’t real, the locations sometimes don’t exist, and if you look behind the scenes, you’ll see lights and equipment everywhere that destroy the illusion. 

Because that is what a movie is – it is a trick. So the ultimate goal in all of this is that you don’t remind your audience that they are watching a movie. 

That is a kind of “collection category.” Many technical points could be included here, such as: 

Shoot at 24 frames per second and select a shutter speed that is twice the frame rate (so your audience sees your image as they experience life through their own eyes).  

Other points are pretty obvious, such as: 

  • Make sure there is no boom in the image
  • Make sure the props are appropriate for the scene’s time (see Game of Thrones).
  • Avoid sneezing noises behind the scenes in the audio.  

Some props take a little more time and practice to get right: 

  • Please make sure the sound is clean (otherwise, your audience will immediately know it’s an amateur production). 
  • Cut the footage to look professional (that would take a whole class).

But other things aren’t often considered, like making sure your audience believes the story you are telling. How many pupil films have you seen where a kid plays the mob boss? That immediately ruins the illusion. Even if the lighting, camera work, and acting are excellent, the audience won’t believe it. 

So right, here are some more valuable suggestions for producing the most realistic film possible. 

Don’t bite off more than you can chew 

If you have a brutal fight scene where people are beaten up, you need to make sure that the blood and makeup look realistic. If you want to put your characters in some science fiction world, you need to make sure the audience thinks you’re living in the future! 

Test things in advance 

If you are not sure you can pull it off, do a few test shots to see what you’re capable of.  If you don’t think you can make the shot believable, scrap it and rewrite the scene so you can make it work. If the main character is a millionaire, it’s much easier and cheaper to show them throwing propeller money around than flying around in a private jet. Creativity is the key here! 

Write intelligent and start simple

Make sure what you want to do delivers a credible result. If you’re starting, it’s best to begin with, a location and a small number of people or characters. Over time, you can evolve and become more ambitious. Whatever you do, make sure you can make it look high quality. 

Cinematic footage has an extremely shallow depth of field where everything outside of the foreground is blurred. Some people call it the bokeh effect. Bokeh originally referred only to how spots were rendered out-of-focus backgrounds. If you want to create a cinematic video, then you’ve come to the right place. We have several ways you can go about creating your cinematic video. See the different options here.  Video Software Club

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