To be honest there is really no hard-and-fast rule that would qualify a photo as cinematic. At least not as of yet. A cinematic shot is basically one that you think looks as a frame that could be taken from a movie, a shot that seems to stimulate a feeling of a bigger story behind it. One that just seems to have the right mood and atmosphere.
Usually rough panoramic 16:9 formats are best suited for this type. Sometimes people add top and bottom black bars to their photographs as well to give them a more cinematic feel. For me though, it doesn’t always matter the orientation of the photo, neither does the presence of the black bars. If you have a good shot that prevails a bigger story behind, with the right light, contrast, and maybe color cast then you got yourself a winner. At least that’s how I feel.
When you take a shot having in mind that you might wanna turn it into a cinematic one, a good practice is to shoot allowing for some free space around the top and bottom of your frame so that you can crop it to a more panoramic format or maybe add the famous movie-style upper and lower black bars later in post processing if that’s something you would like to apply.
Depth of field doesn’t really have a rule. Your frame could have a shallow or a great depth of field. Depends on the scene or subject really, so I wouldn’t bother much with that. I just shoot a scene as I normally would, and make aperture decisions that I always tend to make in varying situations. Some might argue that a photo with a shallower depth of field looks more cinematic, but really if you look at movie frames they can both be shallow or great in depth. Depends on what purpose or goal you want to achieve from your photograph, as well as you dominant center of interest or focal point.
Now what I like most about cinematic photographs is that hint of low saturated, dark mood. And the color casts or image tones. I just love those. Some people shoot for a greenish color cast. Some for purple/blueish, and so on…
If you like to get better at cinematic photography, I think a good practice would be observing different film frames while you’re watching a movie. Pay attention to the lighting, contrast, color tones, and how the frame is generally laid out for the viewer.
I personally find myself paying attention to different scenes in movies just subconsciously as I’m watching. Like those ones movies often start with, an aerial view of a city or town the story is about to take place in, or just about any setting that catches my eyes. I see it as a frozen, still shot in my mind and I just think to myself how beautiful a photo like that would be. Often times those still images I see have all the cinematic qualities a shot can have: the tones, the story that is about to unfold, the perspective, the orientation… just about everything. This really helps me realize a lot of wonderful still images within a motion picture, and even if not intendedly, does give me a feeling of what a cinematic photo would look like.
Do you have any other opinions or maybe some cinematic photos of your own? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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