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    Industry Tips: Achieving the Cinematic Film Look on a DSLR

    Posted by Specs Intern on Fri, Feb 3, 2017



    As professional in the digital media arts industry, we all know that one of the most important aspects in media is the quality. We as videographers, photographers, and graphic artists aim to achieve the best quality possible when working with our clients, and we want them to be able to tell us apart from amature artists. There are some things you should know if you're looking to achieve the cinematic look. Things you need to keep in mind are shot composition, white balance, lighting, ISO and shutter speed, picture style, and color grading. Here are some tips for achieving the cinematic look.



    Composition is listed first because it is the most important thing to keep in mind when shooting video. Having the proper looks space, and making sure the camera is level with your subject is crucial for achieving a great shot. It is also recommended that you purchase some equipment such as a tripod, stabilizer, or glidecam/steadicam which helps in reducing shakiness that you see sometimes when shooting handheld. If you plan on using the above mentioned equipment, make sure to pay attention to the leveling counter, and adjust your camera until the horizons are flat.

    White Balance

    It is very important to make sure that your camera is calibrated to the color of your environment. An obvious way to tell if your camera is white balanced correctly is by looking at the LCD screen or viewfinder, and seeing if the color that the camera is capturing is the same as what your eye is seeing. You may notice a blue or orange tint which means that your are not balanced correctly. To do this, you can either manually calibrate your camera with a white balance card which is recommended, or use your camera’s built in settings.


    Proper lighting is crucial when filming to achieve the cinematic look. Depending on what you’re filming, light position and intensity play a major role in setting the mood for your audience. Knowing the difference between soft and hard light, and how to setup and achieve that look, will be a great help to you and how your film comes out. Typical cinematic lighting is soft so making sure you have proper diffusion material will help so that your film doesn’t look too dramatic.

    Shutter Speed/FrameRate/ISO

    Possibly the biggest component of the cinematic look is the frame rate. Films are shot in 24 frames per second, or fps. This creates a choppy look that our eyes have become accustomed to, and identify as a film. Shutter speed determines how much motion blur there is. The higher the shutter speed, the more details in which are captured. As a general rule, you want your shutter speed to be about double your frame rate, so the cinema standard is 1/50 shutter. The ISO is considered a last resort for brightening an image because too much ISO can cause digital noise which is not very cinematic. Increasing ISO makes your sensor more sensitive to the light coming in.


    Dynamic Range

    All cameras struggle to capture objects that are very bright at the same time as capturing something that’s really dark. You may notice this when filming a person or object with lights behind them. For example, some documentaries place their lights behind a person that they are interviewing to show only their silhouette. The way the camera deals with these high contrast situations is called its dynamic range. You can improve your camera’s dynamic range by shooting flat, which means reducing the contrast and saturation while recording to produce the best foundation for color grading in post production.

    Color Grading

    The final step to achieve the cinematic look after filming is color grading. After desaturating your video and lowering your contrast, your image will look washed out unless you add the color back to the image in post production. Most video editing software include built in color grading presets which can be useful to people who aren’t that experienced, but you should learn how to do it yourself so that you can achieve the specific film look that you had in mind for your video.

    Topics: dslr, Digital Media Arts, Film, Lighting, videography, cinematography, color grading, tips, composition, white balance, dynamic range, shutter speed, ISO

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