How to Create a Cinematic Effect in Photoshop

In this video, Jesús Ramirez shows us three ways to achieve a cinematic effect on your image in Photoshop. Ramirez goes in depth on using color curve layers and also shows us some shortcuts using color adjustment layers and color lookup adjustment layers:

Color grading is an adjustment that is often used in film to give a particular cinematic effect. The example Ramirez uses here is frequently used for action movies. The teal/orange tones in the final image create a high contrast as they’re on opposite ends of the color spectrum, thus making the final image pop. This can be seen easily using a color wheel like the one that Adobe provides for free.

color wheel

Adobe Color

Ramirez points out that this method is for creating an effect rather than correcting an image that has a color cast. Before you start color grading an image, make your corrections and make sure your grays are neutral.

This video shows three ways to color grade your image, and it begins with the most advanced. Color grading with color curve layers gives you the most control and will give you the best final result, but it can be a bit daunting for those who are new to Photoshop. If this method is overwhelming, start by mastering the use of selective color adjustment layers or the presets in a color lookup adjustment layer.

Color Curve Layers

  • Create a curve layer for luminosity and set your blend mode to luminosity rather than leaving it as normal. This will ensure only your luminosity will be adjusted.
  • Similarly, create a curve layer for color adjustments and set your blend mode to color.
  • Begin with your luminosity layer and drag the point in the shadows down to increase your shadows and drag your highlights point up to increase your highlights. This creates a higher contrast.
  • Adjust the luminosity to an extent that looks right to you and gives the image the desired amount of contrast. Following the example’s settings exactly will likely not give the same results on a different image
  • Now move on to your color curve layer and select the red channel. Since you’re adding red’s opposite (cyan) to your shadows, drag the point in the graph in the lower left hand corner to the right. You can also adjust the red in your highlights by dragging the point in the upper right hand corner to the left to increase the amount of red in your highlights.
  • Once you’ve done this, adjust your midtones in the center of your line back to the middle. This protects your midtones from having a color cast.
  • Next, you can do similar adjustments on the green channel and the blue channel. Drag the shadows up to add the color or to the right to add its opposite in the shadows and drag the point left to add the color or down to add its opposite.

green channel adjusment

  • Remember to fix your midtones after each adjustment.
  • If something like a skin tone has a color cast on it, like red, this can be adjusted individually by going back to the red channel and selecting the tone with the dropper and then dragging the red channel down to decrease red in that color.

channel mixer contrast

  • Lastly, open your channel mixer and and choose a preset that balances the contrast as you like it.
  • If you drag the opacity all the way off, you can then start to bring it back until you reach your desired amount of contrast and de-saturation. You can continue to play with the color channels until you reach your desired effect.

Selective Color Adjustment Layer

Once in this layer, you can add any color to any other color in your image. If you select black and then add cyan, you can add this color to the shadows. Similarly, you can add green and blue until you reach the desired shade in your shadows. Again you can also add a channel mixer mask and adjust the opacity until you reach your desired contrast and saturation levels. 

Color Lookup Adjustment Layer

Using one of the LUT files, you can add one of the many preloaded presets available to give you the desired look immediately. After adding the preset, make adjustments until you are satisfied. This option is the easiest but gives you the least amount of control.

cinematic effect

Now you’re ready to make your images dramatic and cinematic; watch out Michael Bay!

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2 responses to “How to Create a Cinematic Effect in Photoshop”

  1. LPB says:

    I look forward to trying this, thanks! Although, in the first curves bulletpoint, doesn’t setting the layer style to luminosity ensure that color is not affected? Thanks for the tips!

    • Maryanne Wirkkanen says:

      Hey, you’re absolutely right, there’s a little typo there. In this tutorial he creates two curves adjustment layers. First he adjusts the darkness with a luminosity layer that doesn’t affect the color and then second he makes a color curves adjustment layer so only color is affected (second bullet point). If you skip to like 10 minutes in he explains this. Hope that clears things up!

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