November 6, 2017

How to Get the 'Film Look' Regardless of What Camera You Use

Whether you're shooting on an ARRI Alexa or a Canon T3i, you can achieve the "film look" by putting these cinematic techniques to work.

We're all going for the film look, but if you aren't capturing their images on a powerful cinema camera like the ARRI Alexa or RED Weapon, you might think that this is a level of quality you'll never be able to achieve. That's simply not true. Though cameras do play a role in making an image look "cinematic," there are so many other factors that play an even bigger one, and Jonny Von Wallström of Creative North talks about some of them in the video below. 

When it comes to creating a cinematic image, there are several important elements that will dictate (more than your camera will) the look of your images: color, composition, camera movement, and lighting. 

Many first-time filmmakers are excited to jump into post and add a sweet color grade to their footage to give it the film look, but there are so many other, more important steps that should be taken before ever opening an NLE. Knowing how to compose a shot and add movement is key for adding style to your work, as well as communicating with your audience through your visuals.

However, many pros will agree that lighting is the most important cinematic element to get right—above framing, above awesome drone shots, above shooting on a camera with high dynamic range. Good lighting screams good filmmaking more than most everything else, so if you had to master one of these aspects of filmmaking, I'd vote for lighting. (You can check out tons of lighting tutorials right here.)

What are some other ways filmmakers can create the film look? Let us know in the comments below.      

Your Comment

28 Comments

Film is low contrast muted colors, really? Its almost like theres an industry for leading filmmakers astray in filmmaking.

November 6, 2017 at 8:12PM, Edited November 6, 8:12PM

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Indie Guy
803

Maybe because he shoots in a flat picture profile with high dynamic range he thinks his footage should be less saturated? Regardless, what he says doesn't make any sense. Muted colors/low contrast is only one cinematic look out of thousands, and it certainly isn't the definitive film look. I'm not sure there is a definitive "film look" because every movie has a different visual style. Ironically, the stuff this guy shows in the video looks digital because it's obviously just lightly graded log footage.

November 6, 2017 at 9:24PM, Edited November 6, 9:25PM

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Warren Bros.
Filmmaker | Cinephile
188

Yep. Film went through color correction and boosting processes in the past to get film's style. "Film" look loosely as "Cinematic" look maybe what should be said. Wider dynamic range controlled contrast, with choosen amount of colour, is what film offered over video. Everything but the light recording concerning film is rubbish. Now video, like off a helium, can be made to do better, then you have to do the rest.

A going through the detailed uniqueness of film hardly matters concerning elements that really matter in modern cinema look.

November 7, 2017 at 6:24AM, Edited November 7, 6:26AM

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Wayne M
Director of a Life
209

Except.... the very first footage he shows doesnt look cinematic at all... its not particularly good looking on top of that.

November 7, 2017 at 12:46AM, Edited November 7, 12:46AM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
659

Good tips generally but I'm tired of people saying that a "film look" equals muted colors and lifted blacks. It's an interesting style in and of itself but it's been WAY overdone in the last 5 years or so by every hipster with a camera. Watch a real film and you'll almost NEVER see this look (the Marvel movies get close at times). I'm always struck by how rich and deep the blacks are in celluloid cinematography and it looks incredibly cinematic.

November 7, 2017 at 1:22AM

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Daniel King
Videographer, Editor
209

What a dumb article. Just because you have great composition and great lighting does not make your video look like film. Not even close. The trained eye can always see the difference. If you don’t have a trained eye… Then maybe you can’t. Probably, the video that looks most like film is “Game of Thrones“. If you really want your project to look like film… Shoot on film.

November 7, 2017 at 2:57AM

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ARW
1

just watch steve yedlins demos, and see if you can tell the difference.

November 7, 2017 at 10:34AM

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Indie Guy
803

Appreciate it..
But, when you make a video on how to make it cinematic, better try to make it cinematic :)

The most annoying thing was that he speaks like a robot or something.

Thanks for the tips.

November 7, 2017 at 4:05AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
599

Hmm, medium to large format fast lens with speed booster and fancy variable pixel density filter, to get a 16stop+ Hydrogen to 20 stop modern wdr dashcam type footage baked in with maybe a correction/contrast + coloring lowering filter. + Lighting. That was the hardware product I was aiming to develop 12+ years ago.

Back in those days, a SLR Lens and a simply diffusion based dof filter was enough to get a film look. Look up Marla the Movie, and be prepared to be entertained by a movie that would make feature film's snack budget blush.

But the problem was the dof systems lost too much light, hence the speedboosting triplet design, and low light was always an issue, hence the big fast lens, and then the cameras couldn't handle the dynamic range, so the pixel level variable density filtering (which is now in use).

You squeeze the light around in the scene and/or the optical path to achieve closer to film look before NLE, but to get film presence you also need script, acting, sets etc.

November 7, 2017 at 5:59AM

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Wayne M
Director of a Life
209

This is what I call the "Instagram Look."

November 7, 2017 at 9:04AM

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Internet Look

November 7, 2017 at 11:24AM, Edited November 7, 11:25AM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1705

We should invent a new term. How to make your films with the "Internet Look", because that's where you see it all the fucking time, not in the cinema.

November 7, 2017 at 11:25AM, Edited November 7, 11:25AM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1705

Here's a math equation a buddy and I were discussing the other day:

Lighting + shot composition + lens + glass = Cinematic Awesomeness

Too many people only want to focus on 1 aspect of this to make things look great.

November 7, 2017 at 11:48AM, Edited November 7, 11:48AM

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Jay Kilburn
Production Manager
203

Eeeeeh this isn't right either. The biggest variable for a cinematic image is location for sure, you can do nothing with lighting and have shitty glass and still have a cinematic image if your location is cinematic. There is no formula for generalities in filmmaking because you can do the exact opposite and still achieve a cinematic image. There are only formulas for specific situations. The more specific the situation, the more likely that making a rule for how to do things becomes objectively true.

November 7, 2017 at 1:49PM

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Indie Guy
803

I'm right there with you. We were using this to give students especially, the idea that it's more than the camera that you own that creates the image.

I can't count the number of times a student has said "I've got x Dollars to buy my camera for film", completely neglecting glass, lights, audio equipment, locations...pretty much everything else that goes into a shoot. It still amazes me that many people only think it's the camera or the LUT to make things look great.

November 7, 2017 at 3:30PM

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Jay Kilburn
Production Manager
203

Some pretty good ideas but, a pretty awful presentation.
The film look is low contrast and muted colors? Tell that to devotees of Tony Scott.

This guy touches on tenets of good filmmaking but, there is nothing here, visually, to back it up.

He talks about lighting a scene and using a hazer but, the next picture you see is an exterior with a person walking the ridge of a mountain.

I wonder what the requirements to be featured on NFS are?
Hey V and NFS, if I make a video on how to make your film more cinematic looking, will you feature it?

November 7, 2017 at 1:38PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
868

It's hilarious how worked up people are. These days "cinematic" means "looks like a movie". For most of these "internet filmmakers" they'd probably just put widescreen letterbox on their video and call it a day, right? I find that you have to break down digital video of most cameras to get a somewhat "cinematic" image (adding noise as an example). The closest thing to me digitally is an Arri or strangely enough the Ursa Mini 4.6k. It really is dependent on many things, color science, frame rate, camera movement, lighting and sound is also huge. The guy has 37k subscribers. If you think you're opinion has value maybe you should start sharing it with people who you think need to hear it. Here you're just preaching to the choir, complaining about some millennial who's using his platform to share his opinion. You guys sound like bitter old men. Truthfully, cinema is in the eye of the beholder. There is science behind cinema, but cinema is art, not science.

November 7, 2017 at 1:50PM, Edited November 7, 1:54PM

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There's filmmakers and then there's people who make money off of filmmakers. The Film Look doesn't depend on color science of the camera. Digital camera's do not have inherent looks. Thats misinformation and thats the problem.

November 7, 2017 at 3:35PM

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Indie Guy
803

Digital camera's do not have inherent looks? LOL! So, they all look the same? I'm confused. Why do people choose to shoot with an Alexa over a RED then? It's seems you're just here to troll, since you're not elaborating on your ridiculous statements. Have you ever seen behind the scenes footage and then the actual footage for a music video let's say? Or a family video at the beach vs. a movie scene at the same beach? That goes to show you that the location isn't the primary variable.

November 7, 2017 at 4:53PM

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This is the problem entirely. Digital camera are just data capturing devices, what you do with that data is up to you. If you want to use Red's display preferences thats your prerogative. But you can transform the color space to mimic alexa or film or whatever if you understand how digital works and your data capturing device is capturing enough data. But instead of focusing on the real parameters of digital you chose to believe camera manufacturers' "looks" as the only options and you give up your authorship as the artist creating the image. Learn digital man. Sometimes creativity and "art" just means lazy.

November 7, 2017 at 10:03PM

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Indie Guy
803

Color space and color science are not synonymous. Please expand on “the real parameters of digital”. The entire internet community of filmmakers is depending on it. You’re telling me that I can make a GH5 look like an Alexa? The difference is the depth of the image, it’s like food. Lots of people can make spaghetti. However, please share! I’ll bow down. Btw, what do you shoot with and why?

November 8, 2017 at 9:39AM

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For the GH5 comment, "If your capture device is capturing enough data" As far as the real parameters, they are full well capacity, bit depth, highlight halation, spacial fidelity, and signal to noise ratio. I shot on everything, depends on the project. Yes there is a difference between color space and color science, but both can be remapped with the right math.

November 9, 2017 at 10:30PM

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Indie Guy
803

Is it true you can get blacklisted from commenting on NFS?

I just found this in my email today.
It's a comment on one of my blog posts (about my meeting Warhol) on my Squarespace website.
No name besides 'Truth Teller'.

"New comment from Truth Teller on Meeting Andy Warhol:
Hey moron, you know you're killing your chances for gigs every time you comment on sites like nfs right?
Your name is already blacklisted in a lot of circles. Smarted up jackoff."

November 7, 2017 at 2:02PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
868

Ok, I understand, something grom elsewhere.

November 7, 2017 at 9:07PM, Edited November 7, 9:11PM

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Wayne M
Director of a Life
209

Why are you posting this absolute garbage?

Every advert on TV has lifted blacks, lens flare, full scope widescreen for no reason - because the directors came through the DSLR age where they learned crap like this through sites like this.

November 8, 2017 at 11:52AM, Edited November 8, 11:52AM

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Sigh... we need to stop equating a cinematic look with low contrast & low saturation. That's as easy (read: lazy) as somebody with a GH4 shooting in Cine-D and doing zero color correction in post. The most important takeaway from this video, IMO, is this: "it's about creating a consistent look". I don't think it's a cop-out. Having a consistent look shows you know what you're doing, whether you're producing a flat-color-profiled wanderlust #video for Instagram, or DP-ing a gritty Miami Vice-style bleeding-color short film.

November 9, 2017 at 11:13AM

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Some Ok points.

Too much talking about subjective choices objectively.

All cameras are cinematic.

November 15, 2017 at 7:24AM, Edited November 15, 7:24AM

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I think this guy correctly covers some of the very basic elements of cinematic images such as lighting and composition, but I wholeheartedly disagree with his idea that a desaturated, low contrast, log profile image is what looks like film. He then says that TV is a saturated high contrast image. It is today with HD TV broadcast, but that's because of the gains and efforts made to create a digital electronic image that looks like film. Quite the contrary. A log camera profile is the way we start with an image that can be made to look more filmic in post, by adding back the saturation and contrast. I grew up with film and I'm old enough to remember asking my self as a kid why certain images I saw on TV looked different. Why did the movies in the evening look different than the game shows, soaps, and news broadcasts aired earlier in the day. It's because the evening programs were shot on film, not interlaced video signals. The high contrast, rich saturation of film is what I remember as a kid to be the best looking images and what has always guided me in creating the images I create today, regardless of acquisition format. Film captures it by nature but to create it digitally, we use log color profiles.

Whenever I see finished work that has a low contrast, desaturated look, I think to myself that the creator of the image mistakenly thinks that because it was shot on a digital cinema camera in log that it was meant to look that way. It just looks unfinished to me.

November 16, 2017 at 2:06PM, Edited November 16, 2:06PM

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