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Movie imagery has a specific style and mood that increases the sense of drama. The cool, blue tones, faded contrast and shallow depth of field draw the viewer in. It’s a look that speaks to many still photographers as well. But not all still photographers have the right gear to recreate it on camera. Luckily, if you’re a fan of the cinematic look, you can recreate it whenever you want with just a few simple steps in Lightroom.

Start by opening your image in your Lightroom catalog and open the editing window by clicking the Develop tap at the top of the window, or by using the shortcut D. An editing bar will appear to the right of the image.

Cinema tends to have a darker tone than still photography, so start by bumping down the Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. Then bump up the Contrast slightly. You’ll notice the really bright tones of the image will be flattened, and the shadows will deepen.

Now you’re going to start playing with the saturation. Bump up the Reds and bump down the Blues.

Then switch over to the Luminance tab. Bump down the Orange and Yellow tabs to decrease the amount of luminance in the skin tones. Decrease the Green, Aqua and Blue sliders and then increase the purple and magenta.

Next, under the Hue tab, increase the Aqua and Blue sliders to about +70 or +80.

Then go down to Tone Curve. Check the small box in the bottom right corner so you can select the different channels. With the channel set to RGB, pull up the shadows and mid tones slightly. This is going to start to give your image a more faded, antique film look.

Switch the channel to Blue and bring up the blues in both the highlights and even more so in the shadows. Movies also tend to have a very cool hue to them, so this is where we’re going to add a lot of that tone back into the image.

Next we’re going to switch the channel to Red and bump down the highlights. This will give the image a much more green and yellow tone.


Lastly, change the channel to Green and bring down the highlights slightly. This will mellow out the green hues in the picture to make it look more natural.


Then go down to Split Toning. Under Highlights, change the Hue dial to a Blue shade. Then increase the saturation to around 10. Under the Shadows setting, change the Hue to a Magenta tone and increase the Saturation to about 5. This should increase the blue and magenta tones of the image even more. Remember these settings will vary from image to image so keep playing around with the different hues and saturation levels until you like the way your image looks.

Now we’re going to darken the image even more to make the subject pop out in the center of the picture, just like it would in a movie. At the top of the editing panel, click on the Radial Filter tool, which looks like a simple circle to the left of the brush tool.

Expand the filter until it generously surrounds your subject.

Bump down the exposure and increase the feather. Make sure the box that says Invert Mask is not checked. You’ll notice the selected area will darken.

We need to make sure the subject isn’t too dark, so we’re going to click on the Brush tab, beneath the Radial Tool icon and scroll down below the sliding tabs and click on the button that says Erase. Then brush over the areas of your subject that you want to be highlighted. You’ll notice those area will start to brighten as you brush over them.

At this point, your image should already have a pretty good cinematic feel, but now we’re going to add one last touch that will really make it look like a picture straight out of a movie. Click on the Graduated Filter tool, which is the rectangle next to the Radial Filter icon.

Bump the Contrast and the Defringe sliders all the way up, and bump everything else all the way down.

Then, while holding down Shift, drag down from the top of your image until you see a black bar appear. The bar might appear as a gradient at first. In order to make it a solid, black bar, drag the bottom guiding line up until it meets with the center guiding line.

Repeat these steps to create an identical bar at the bottom of the picture. Your end result should look like a shot from a widescreen movie.

Once you have your letterbox in place, you can continue tweaking the hues of the image until you achieve a cinematic look that you like.

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