I define my style as cinematic photography. Have you ever watched a movie and for some reason you just loved the overall mood? Perhaps some scenes left you feeling uneasy? Happy? Sad? Probably. But why? It is not always just the acting. The secret lies in the color. Hollywood knows this and has been applying this color grading to films ever since Technicolor was invented back in 1916. The wider aspect ratio also plays a key role.
One of the best examples is from the film The Matrix. Neo leaves the real world and enters into a fake world created by machines. If you watch the film you will notice that the real world scenes tend to be de-saturated and normal. However, when he is seen in the matrix world, there is an uneasy green color cast that makes the viewer somewhat uneasy. This is purposeful.
Without going into the complete science of color, there is something very important that Hollywood uses quite often. This is complimentary colors. Most notably, Orange and Bluish-Cyan. By looking at the color wheel, you can see that the complimentary color to blue/violet is orange/yellow. When viewed together, these colors are pleasing to the eye
and our brains respond with a sense of emotion. Watch some of your favorite
films and you will notice the shadows in many blockbuster movies are a cyan
color. The actor's skin will likely be more on the orange side and most lights
or lamps will be an exaggerated orange color.
Below are screen shots from the 2019 film Joker. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher
is a genius and he colors this film beautifully.
When I approach a scene with a still camera, I tend to think about the mood I am trying to convey to the viewer.
Below are some shots from one of my favorite locations. Unlike when I shoot in a sunny field, shots at this factory
location lend themselves to a more dramatic and cinematic process. Here is an example of a high school senior I
photographed in a traditional manner contrasted with a more dramatic and cinematic process I added later.
Cyan & Orange
Aside from the color compliment, one can also change the aspect ratio. I bet most of you have a new LED TV and
noticed the black bars on the top and bottom of many movies. Again, Hollywood. Most feature films are done
using an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is quite wide and allows for many options to create drama. The image directly above is not 8x10, it is 8x12. Unlike most photographers, I use a wider aspect ratio and for shots like this it creates
a sense of place within a location. Look at my image below for another example of using the aspect ratio to create a sense of drama.
I have seen this bridge and overall scene hundreds of times on social media. But, always 4:3 aspect. In my opinion,
my aspect ratio works better as it places the subject in the wider field of view without actually shrinking her with
a wide-angle lens. The pond and trees become supporting actors in this image and they deserve it with their
beautiful fall color.
Of course, color is subjective and my way is not
the "correct" way. It is my style.
I am drawn to the power of cinema and the styles of great directors and cinematographers that push
the boundaries of color to add drama and mood
to their work.
Some images don't call for too much drama, however. The image below is a portrait of a
high school senior outdoors on a beautiful
sunny day. In this case, my color choice is
To sum this all up, the choice of color grade can be just as important as the image itself. In fact, I consider post-processing almost more important than the actual capture of the image some times.
My main programs are Lightroom for basic touching and Photoshop to clean skin or do major work. For coloring I
use Alien Skin Exposure X4 and I am partial to the M31 LUT, often used in films. If I need to add more blue to the
shadows I may use photoshop and overlay some cyan color in post.
Always shoot in RAW!
None of this can be done well if you are working with a JPEG image. You need to work with 12-14 bit uncompressed files so you can push all of the pixels effectively.