Colour grading for that “Cinematic look”

before and after colour grading

I had no idea that movies were colour-graded, and that the same editing techniques could be applied to still photography (more evidence I’ve been sitting under a rock for the past 20 years when it comes to advanced post-production techniques you might suggest).

Take the movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon, with its red and ochre palette that’s devoid of any blues and greens. Or The Joker – hypnotically colour-toned with combinations of orange and teal. Or the latest Mad Max movie with its highly saturated colours. Each of these movies began with a conscious decision by the director to limit the colour spectrum used and apply a particular colour palette in post-production to give the movie a certain feel and mood. Batman (dark and sinister), Bladerunner (orange and apocalyptic) and The Reverence (cold and blue) are other obvious examples.

Anyway, my recent dive into advanced post-production techniques has revealed this colouring can be applied to stills by tweaking the colour settings in Lightroom to give your photos a so-called “Cinematic Look” (which I’ve applied to a few photos below, ranging from the more obvious and colourful to the more subtle).

Using the popular orange and teal palette
The Monaris style
The Mars look
Dark cinematic look
Brown and grey colouring
Dark and brooding
Muted tones
chocolate colouring


For a professional photographer, understanding how to use colour is as important as understanding how to use light. But, as I’m only now discovering, capturing colour is just half the equation. Gaining a better understanding of what I can do with it once it’s been caught is just as important.

Mastering colour in post-production requires a serious commitment to understanding the effect colours can have on your photos. You’ll need to become familiar with the entire spectrum of Lightroom’s colour editing tools (including its colour sliders and wheels, RGB tone adjustments, using colour in your shadows, mid-tones and highlights, blending, and colour calibration). And, yes, you can buy pre-sets but, as you’re bound to discover, you’ll still need to tweak each photo to make it work, so you’re best to get your mind around how different colour adjustments can effect your images.

I know it sounds daunting and, again, as a tourism photographer who has to produce quantity as well as quality, I’m not sure how much I’ll actually use this particular technique. But let me rush to add that what I’ve learned about colour in photography during the process of studying this technique – and the others I’ve recently added to my post – has been invaluable. I expect them to dramatically (though subtly) change the photographs you’ll see from me in future.

I short, I couldn’t recommend studying colour in post-production more highly. It’s like adding another dimension to your work after you’ve captured the image (at the risk of labouring the cinema analogy, the difference between a B-grade movie and a Hollywood production).

Again, if you’re interested in learning more about the technique, sign-up to my blog and drop me an e-mail. I’ll send you the bookmarked links to the Yutube tutorials I’ve used to get this far.

David’s personal blog

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A successful promotional photograph starts with knowing what you want it to say and who you want it to appeal to - before you even bring the camera to your eye.




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