Capturing a cinematic portrait is often about more than just the hours of planning and hard work that comes before you press the shutter button. You can often find that the process of recreating the cinematic tones you have in your head relies heavily on spending some solid time sat in front of a computer afterwards. This can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if you’re relatively new to post-processing, but don’t fear – you can achieve beautiful results with just a few clicks in Photoshop, no matter what your skill level is.
While creating cinematic tones is mostly done in post-processing, this doesn’t mean that your base image isn’t important. Without having a strong shot to work on, it doesn’t matter how many layers you apply, you won’t be able to achieve the results you want. Ursula Schmitz was kind enough to let me play with one of her gorgeous shots taken in the Lake District. I love the dreamy vintage mood, and I wanted to really emphasise this with the color toning. I also thought that the contrast between the model’s red hair and the blue of the lake and sky makes this image perfect for a cinematic effect.
Firstly, I felt this image could do with being a little darker, as this would bring a moodier effect to the shot. To do this, simply go to ‘Create new fill or adjustment layer’ (located at the bottom of the Layers panel) and select Curves. Then choose a point roughly in the middle of the curve line and drag it downwards slightly. This will increase the shadows and darken the image.
Next, go to the same ‘Create new fill or adjustment layer’ button and select Solid Color. To choose the hue you want, go to the slider and pick a light blue. Then use the selector tool to pick the exact tone you’d like. Click ‘OK’, then go to the layers panel and adjust the Opacity to around 5% (you can go back and change this at any time if you feel the effect should be stronger or weaker). Emphasising the blue tones in this image will help create the final cinematic effect.
While I love Ursula’s background setting, I feel the green of the grass is a little too vibrant and distracts from the model. To create a more muted green, create a Selective Color layer (from the same menu as before) and go to the Yellows channel. It may seem strange to be in this channel when grass is obviously green, but you’ll usually find that any natural green objects, such as trees, bushes or grass, are best adjusted in the Yellows channel rather than the Greens. Next, increase the Magenta to around +40. This will introduce purple/ brown tones to the grass and decrease the green. Then, decrease the Yellow to around -60 to give a cooler desaturated tint to that newly introduced brown. I found this effect a little strong, so I then slightly increased the Cyan and the Black, which introduced a little of the green tone back into the shot. Remember that this tutorial is meant to be a guide rather than strict instructions. Each image will be different, so don’t be afraid to play around with these techniques to find what works best for your shot!
It’s also worth remembering that when color toning a portrait you should keep an eye on the skin, as it may be affected by an adjustment layer that’s meant for a different object. This Selective Color layer left the model’s skin with a slight red color cast. However, this isn’t the end of the world, as it can be simply masked out. To do this, click on the layer mask thumbnail and then use a black brush at 100% opacity to erase the layer in the areas you don’t want it.
If you want to bring even more blue into the shot, as I felt this image needed, then create a Color Balance layer. Make sure that Midtones is selected in the drop-down menu and then increase both the Cyan and Blue sliders.
Now that Ursula’s image as a whole is suitably cool-toned and moody, it’s time to introduce more contrast by adjusting the model’s red hair. This isn’t a necessary step, as you’ve already done the bulk of the work in creating a cinematic portrait. However, adding extra contrast to your shot will help take it to the next level.
Create another Selective Color layer and ensure the Reds channel is selected. Decrease Cyan to around -55 and increase Magenta to roughly +15. This will erase any blue tones and boost the red tones significantly. Then, increase Yellow to around +25 for a warmer red and slightly increase Black to lighten the color as a whole. This layer affected the skin as well, so I quickly masked out the skin using the same technique as before.
We’ve now finished all of the color work on this shot, but you can still add a final flourish by adjusting the exposure. Rather than using a tool such as Levels or Curves, which will change the image as a whole, you can create a more specific effect by dodging and burning. We don’t recommend using the official Dodge and Burn tools, as these are destructive and harder to adjust if you decide you don’t like the effect later. Instead, click on the ‘Create a new layer’ button at the bottom of the layers panel and then change the blending mode to Overlay.
Select the brush tool in white and change the opacity to around 3-5%. Then, paint the brush over the areas you want to emphasise. I used it mainly on the model, but I also slightly increased the highlights in the sky and lake. Next, change the brush color to black and paint over the parts of the image you think are potential distractions. I used it on the sides of the frame to create a very subtle vignette.
Creating cinematic tones is the perfect way to complement your portraiture, so have fun experimenting with the amazing colors you can produce. If you like the results, why not join our Facebook group and post your image there – we love to see other photographers’ amazing creations!
Before you go…
Perfecting cinematic tones can be tricky, no matter whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro. If you want gorgeous filmic colours without the hassle of creating layer after layer, why not consider trying our actions?
Created in collaboration with portrait photographer Kate Woodman, The Cinematic Collection has six beautiful premium actions that each explore a rich palette of colours. Not only can you create incredible tones in a few clicks, but each layer is fully adjustable and customisable, allowing you to create the exact effect you want.
To recreate this moody, dreamy look in just a few seconds, try the Cruella action.