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    How film use can inspire your photography

    The message How Using Movies Can Inspire Your Photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Glenn Harper.

    One of the best ways to "improve" in photography is to look at many photos. Ask yourself why some photos work and others don't. This is easy to do with the endless photo albums and magazines that are available. You can also learn a lot from the world of cinema. Use films to inspire your photography!

    bleach bypass filter effect

    The pale bypass effect comes from films.

    Many of the tricks and techniques used in movies can be transferred to photos with photos. It can be the exposure, the color contrast, the depth of field or the camera angle that attracts your attention. Watch your favorite movies and see what you can learn, but also think about films that you would not normally see. Note the names of directors and observe their style.


    Lighting is clearly an important part of cinematography, but it is not always discussed in the same terms as photographers are used to. For example, there is "motivated" and "unmotivated" lighting. The first uses a light source within the frame, while the source of unmotivated lighting is unknown to the viewer.

    Photographers often exclude artificial light sources from the image. So if you don't do that and improvise with different lights (for example, headlights), your photos will immediately become more film-like.

    A classic film lighting technique is three-point lighting. By illuminating the subject from the front, from the back and from the side, cinematographers create modeling and separate their subjects from the background. The strongest light is the most important light, while the other light sources are incident lights.

    Stills photographers know the hardness and softness of light. Soft light usually comes from a large light source and hard light from a small one. Soft light is often more desirable, but the harsh shadows caused by harsh lighting are useful in horror movies or noir-style movies.

    Inspiration for photography with films - film noir

    A small light source (for example a table lamp) near the subject creates large, bold shadows – film noir style.

    Black film

    Popular during the 1940s and 50s, and still a reference for contemporary filmmakers, film noir uses low-key lighting and often a small light source to create long or bold shadows. You will also see other tricks, such as low camera angles to emphasize the power in protagonists and to inspire fear in the viewer. Modern interpretations of film noir are "neo-noir" films.

    Inspiration for photography with films - film noir

    Almost film noir with the handrail shadow cast on the wall via an artificial light.


    Cinematographers, such as photographers, use different tricks to separate elements in the frame. One way to do this is to use complementary colors to create color contrast. A common example is the orange and blue-green sorting that can be seen in many film and TV scenes.

    orange and teal layout, film effects, toning

    Sort orange and teal blue, which can be achieved in different ways with varying degrees of subtlety. This is still common in movies and on TV.

    Orange and teal blue stand opposite each other on a color wheel, like all complementary colors. These shades are useful for emphasizing skin tones against a dark background, but they also work well in beach scenes, sunsets and sometimes street views.

    Color contrast in Photoshop CC

    The latest version of Photoshop CC includes the Adobe Color Themes extension, which can be used to find perfect complementary colors and to paint them in photos. This technique works best with uncomfortable photos, where you want to create a striking color contrast between two main elements. For example, you can paint a wall green to complement a red subject in the foreground.

    Inspiration for photography with films - Adobe Color Themes extension

    The Adobe Color Themes extension with the complementary color for this Harley Davidson lacquer.

    You can also create these color contrast effects in the raw phase using split toning or calibration sliders in Lightroom or ACR. The channel sliders in Photoshop are another option, as are gradient maps. Try to make a gradient card by choosing complementary colors in your own choice!

    Camera angles

    Even as beginners, photographers soon realize that camera angles are important. In tall buildings, a sloping camera angle emphasizes the height and has a disorienting effect on the viewer. View still images from Spiderman movies to see this! Buildings are often diagonal in the frame. Or there will be several converging buildings to create a dazzling effect.

    The Dutch corner (or Dutch slope)

    In film terms, tilting the camera to create a diagonal perspective is called "Dutch tilt". You would use it for the reasons described above, although not only with buildings. It gives the viewer the wrong impression and creates a feeling of tension, discomfort or instability. Sometimes it involves a psychological malaise in the subject. The Dutch tilt is also a characteristic of film noir films, as another means of troubling viewers.

    Inspiration for photography with films - the Dutch tilt, the Dutch perspective

    The Dutch tilt.

    Soft focus effect

    In old films and not-so-old TV series, leading ladies were often enveloped with a soft-focus effect. Then we cut sharply at the rugged leading man. Apart from the romantic quality, this effect has a soothing effect that hides skin spots and flatters the subject. The idea of ​​routinely beautifying women for ' the silver screen ' is a bit controversial nowadays, but the use of soft focus is not limited to portraits.

    soft focus photo effect - Gaussian blur

    Marcel Proust can be my soft focus model. Notice how his bronze skin is smoother in the upper part of the photo. This is a simple Gaussian blur operation.

    A subtle soft focus effect can work very well with scenery and it is a handy way to remedy excessive sharpening in web photos. Ideally, that should not happen, but sometimes the size of the image changes a bit crunchy when taking photos (just like sharpening without your glasses on).

    A simple Photoshop method for a soft focus effect is to create a double layer, apply Gaussian blur to that layer with a value of about 10 and then reduce the coverage. For a dreamy look, you can use a coverage of about 30-50%, but a much lower value will reduce the edge of sharpening in a web image.

    Call a movie genre

    Even if you do not directly copy a film technique, you can still try to capture the feeling of a film genre. For example, a war film has somber colors and a grainy appearance, while you can use a strong vignette and cool or dark tones to recommend a horror film. Vignettes force the viewer along a specific path so that they can trigger a nightmare-like loss of control if the subject lends itself to that treatment.

    horror movies, macabre photos ' s

    Heavy vignetting and a gloomy tone come somewhere close to a horror movie feeling.

    Choose lenses

    Cinematographers choose lenses for similar reasons as photographers with photos: image quality, lens speed, usability. They can use a fast telephoto zoom in less controllable situations (for example, documentary recordings), but they often use prime lenses.

    You can purchase the cinematic look with what used to be called a standard lens – the 50 mm prime. These are relatively inexpensive, although the faster, more expensive models (for example f / 1.4) sometimes have more pleasant bokeh. And you can close them a stop or two for sharper results than cheaper lenses at the same aperture. Yet the affordable 50 mm f / 1.8 is always a great buy. It is also less sensitive to focus problems than ultra-fast lenses.

    Too bad that modern cars ruin the vintage feel of this photo. I took it with a Sigma 50 mm f / 1.4 lens, which was known for its creamy background "bokeh". Every 50 mm lens is handy.

    Other prime lenses that you should consider are a wide-angle lens of 28 or 35 mm (or equivalent) and a fast "portrait" lens of between 80 and 105 mm. The ability to use a large aperture gives you more creative choices and helps isolate subjects, although this is clearly not always a cinematic goal.

    Studying movies

    You can learn a lot about photography by just studying films. If you watch DVD ' s or Blu-ray discs, you may have the director's comment as an additional feature. This provides a fascinating insight into the reasons why scenes are recorded as they are. A director has the final say in framing and what a film looks like, although the cinematographer also has creative input (for example, when lighting a scene).

    10 Well-Shot movies

    Here are 10 films by many that I admire for their photography:

    • Casablanca (1942)
    • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
    • Chinatown (1974)
    • Apocalypse Now (1979)
    • The Shining (1980)
    • Amélie (2001)
    • Children of Men (2006)
    • No Country for Old Men (2007)
    • The Tree of Life (2011)
    • Mr. Turner (2014)

    A more extensive list is here. It helps if the subject appeals to you, but dedication can overcome this.

    Inspiration for photography with films - DVD ' s

    An unforgettable film still and a beautifully filmed horror film: The Shining. I don't watch horror movies, but I've seen this many times.

    Closure shot

    The purpose of this article is to make you think of movies and how you can use them to inspire your own photography. Look at the style of different directors, the way they frame photos and the colors they use. Search for their patterns in different movies. View the lighting.

    I took photographs for years before I made a connection between photos and films with photos. I spent my formative years staring at photo magazines without often reading the accompanying text. Since then, films and their media have evolved. They are more accessible.

    Everything in life can affect our photography on a tangential level, but if you make a conscious effort to understand and repeat the cinematographic techniques, those you admire will be included in your photos.

    Has your photography been influenced by films? Feel free to share some of your photos in the comments below.

    The message How Using Movies Can Inspire Your Photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Glenn Harper.

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