How to add cinematic flair to your images

While researching some possibilities for my completing and expanding on my final project, a horror narrative, I stumbled across this handy tutorial on giving your photos a cool cinematic look written by FanHow users Kzion and Sunny, and decided to share the fruits of their labors with you all.

01. Open the image you would like to make cinematic in Photoshop.

This is the base image I will be using for the purposes of my tutorial.

02. Create a ‘Duplicate Layer’  and set the ‘Blend Mode’ for this new layer to “Overlay”.

This will give the image a darker and more contrasted look.


03. Bring up the Image Adjustments shortcut in the Layers menu and click on ‘Hue/Saturation’ (or you can simply hit Ctrl+U).

Reduce ‘Saturation’ to -65.

04. Bring up ‘Image Adjustments’ again, but this time select ‘Levels’ (or Ctrl+L).

Set the black slider on the left to ’20’ and adjust the middle slider to ‘1.30’.

05. Once again in ‘Image Adjustments’, click on ‘Curves’ (or Ctrl+M).

Using the above image as reference, add two anchors on the curve and adjust them as shown into a slight “S” shape.

Once you have done this, your ‘Output’ should be around 55, and your ‘Input’ set to roughly 65 (Click on the lower left anchor to get your reading).

06.  Now ‘Merge All Layers’ (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E), which should create a New Layer at the top of the stack.

07. Next, go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise and change the value to ‘3’, as shown below.

08. Create a New Layer.

09. Select your ‘Rectangular Marquee Tool’ to create two rectangles on the top and bottom portions of the image, using the below image as reference.

The easiest way to do this is to just create one large rectangle that covers all but the top and bottom, then right-click the rectangle and click ‘Select Inverse’. This will create two rectangles on the top and bottom respectively.


10. With the ‘Paint Bucket Tool’, click on one of the rectangles to fill the area with Black.

This creates a wide-screen ‘letterbox’ format, similar to the ones used in many films.

And that’s it! Now you have a cool, cinematic effect for your pictures, which will make them look like a movie still. Here’s a “Before and After” of the original image and the altered one.

Depending on your needs/tastes, you may want to play with the levels used in this demonstration to get maximum effect. For instance, with the image I used, I would probably want to make sure the final result was a bit brighter, but you get the general idea.

TIP: If, like myself, this is an effect you’d like to use repeatedly, it would probably save you a lot of time and grief to go ahead and record an ‘Action’ for this effect.

– Wayne Sisson

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