Playing with Color Grading for a Cinematic Look

Trouble Me - Coney Island - 2015

A few years ago, I became acquainted with the work of Jaime Ibarra. Around the same time, I started paying attention to color grading – initially in movies and later in photography.

Ming Thein has written about the cinematic look – it’s one of his favorite photographic styles. He says that “obvious hallmarks of the style are an abundance of out of focus areas, a narrow/wide format, and highly directional light.”

Add to that color – in particular, color in the highlights and shadows.

Jaime has recently updated his color grading workflow – which inspired me to dive back into that technique again. The technique delivers a very compelling cinematic image. It’s based on adding contouring highlights and shadows first to the image followed by the color grading. The effect is almost three dimensional – taking flat images into having depth. You’ll see that in these images – lovely depth of lights and shadows along with beautiful cinematic color grading. Enjoy!

Here are a few of my recent experiments – using recent images from New York City and Paris.

Toast - Paris - 2014

Cocktails - Paris - 2014

Summer Solstice - New York City - 2015

In My Hand - Paris - 2014

Market Time - New York City - 2015

Those Spiral Staircases in San Francisco’s Embarcadero Center

Spiral Stairs - Embarcadero Center - 2014

San Francisco’s Embarcadero Center is one of our favorite spots – the architecture is amazing. There are several of these beautiful spiral staircases in the various buildings – here’s one that’s on the inside. I shot the image with my Fujifilm X-E2.

For this image, I chose to focus on the structure and the lighting – emphasizing the color and the texture. I processed it first in Lightroom 5 and then pulled it into Photoshop CC for further adjustments of the shadows/highlights and a bit of simplification using Topaz Simplify 4. A final touch of the oil paint filter kicked up the texture on the tiles.

Back in Lightroom, I used the split toning panel to change the highlight and shadow colors to a more cinematic (orange-ish highlights/blue-ish shadows) to further bring out the colors.

Only the Lonely #2 – Ferryboat Eureka – San Francisco

Only the Lonely #2 - San Francisco - 2013

There’s something peaceful about this image that I really like. It was shot onboard the Ferryboat Eureka at the San Francisco National Maritime Historic Park in late August with my Fujifilm X100S.

In Lightroom 5, I gave this image the “full cinematic” treatment in terms of split color toning – highlights going towards orange and shadows toward teal/blue. The red is just perfect!

The only thing missing are the actors – waiting off on stage right!… A good friend comments on Facebook: “Hopperesque“.

Cruising in Havana

Cruising - Havana - 2013

A fun shot of one of the taxis across from our hotel in Havana – beautiful paint job on this old car!

Tweaked a bit in Lightroom with for a more cinematic look with some split toning, a 16:9 crop, and a vignette.

Brings back lots of memories of our great time in Havana last January! Nikon D600, 85mm, 1/200 at f/3.5, ISO 100.

A Cinematic Treatment of the F/V Point Reyes at Inverness

Stricken Lady - Inverness - 2012

Here’s another look a the stricken fishing boat Point Reyes run aground at Inverness. I’ve posted several versions of various shots of this boat over the years – it’s a favorite subject and brings back so many memories of great times shooting there. (See Related Posts below for more examples!)

This image is from May 2012 and was shot with my Canon 5D Mark II using the 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS lens at 200 mm (f/8 at 1/160). I’ve used this image to experiment a bit with cinematic effects – beginning with a 16:9 crop, a bit of Topaz Simplify to remove some of the grassy details, and then – in Lightroom 5 – an orange/teal split toning effect to adjust the colors to be more in the style of movies of today. A final fairly aggressive vignette completes the effect.

It’s a different effect, for sure – more artistic than realistic – but I like the way it turned out!

For more on this cinematic “Hollywood” look, see some of these resources: