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7 Secrets to Give Your Video a Striking Cinematic Look

Color grading tricks that will mimic the vibes of your favorite movies
Photo of a cinematic look

Making videos with a cinematic look that mimics the vibes of your favorite big budget motion pictures often comes down to the color grade. Movie companies frequently hire specialists to finalize the color as the last step, to give the footage that little extra pop. But many of these color grading tricks you can do on your own.

Below are seven tips to give your personal video projects that sought-after cinematic look. Watch the tutorial from Color Grading Central at the bottom of this post to see these tricks in action.

Before you get started, be sure to do any base corrections on your footage first. Base corrects refer to the very basic adjustments like fixing color balance and exposure issues. Once these have been corrected you will be ready to move onto more advanced corrections to make your video footage pop.

#1 Tone Contrast

Most filmmakers try to emulate the tonal contrast found in filmstock, even if they’ve shot their project digitally. The best way to adjust the tone contrast is to use the curves tool. This will give you more precise control over the overtones and undertones than cranking up the contrast slider would. Moving the curve into an S shape will often give you an appealing cinematic look.


#2 Highlights Roll Off

When looking at the waveform of a digital file you will often find that highlights are stretched to the very top of the scope, which make them look harsh and blown out. To make your footage look warmer and more filmic you will want to bring down the top of the highlights in the curves tool. This will ease the brightest parts of a frame into a gentle roll off.

#3 Milky Blacks

This is another adjustment that can be made by looking at the waveform. To achieve a nice milky black, you will adjust the darkest point of your curve in the same way you adjusted the top of the highlights. This will give the blacks in your frame a bit more detail and richness than if they were at their darkest point.

#4 Teal and Orange

Teal and orange tones are often used when creating a filmic look because it can separate the talent away from the background. To achieve this, you want your skin tones to be in the orange range and give everything else a teal tint. Select your skin tones using a qualifier, create a color mask and then invert it and use the color wheel to push some teal into the shot. Use the Luma vs Sat curve to clean up the shadows.


#5 Skin Tones

Use a qualifier or color mask to isolate your talent’s skin tones and bring up the midtones in your frame. Doing this after you’ve added teal and orange to your footage will allow the skin tones to pop in the frame a bit more.

#6 Color Density

The chemicals that are used to produce colors in film stocks work differently than how digital video renders colors, and if you want a more filmic and cinematic look you need to pay attention to color density. Use the Luma vs Hue curves to make precise adjustments to your skin tones. This technique can be used to adjust other colors and elements within a scene as well.

#7 Halation

When watching something shot on film you will notice a red glow around the boundaries of over-exposed areas. This phenomenon is called halation and it’s caused by how the light bounces between the layers on a piece of film. You can simulate it on digitally shot video footage by isolating highlights, tinting them slightly red, adding a gaussian blur and then changing the composite mode to screen. Then adjust the intensity of the effect by adjusting opacity.


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