Cinematic Film Look on a DSLR

How can we make our films look more expensive & professional?

Lets go through some simple steps to see how close we can get to the film look.


If we want our shots to look like movies, then first, we should think about composition, the way we position the camera.
The bread and butter of visuals, this is an art form that we can always learn more about. This is the influence from other filmmakers + photographers along with our own ideas for creating depth and emotion through space and location.
Here are some common techniques from films that we can start with.
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  • In an average scene, the camera is at the same height as what is being filmed, which is mostly the eye level of the character.
  • As the character is facing the right side of the screen, you should place the camera so that there is more space on the right side of the scene, than the left, as shown in the image above. This usually makes it look more natural.
  • Over 90% of shots in films, have a dead level camera. Most tripods do have  a levelling bubble, so you can adjust your camera and tripod to be flat out and precise



This is, calibrating the camera to the colour of the environment of the shot. Most cameras have different settings to make a shot look better than it would, for example, you could change settings to different options such as, Tungsten Light, Cloudy, Shade, Daylight, etc. You can use the setting which is the most appropriate to your environment, and make your shots look better.
The often overlooked setting: accurate white balance which provides a neutral starting point for color grading. Traditionally in cinema, most shots in most movies have pretty neutral colours, unless night scenes / sunset / artificial light etc.



This is so often mistaken for ‘good settings’ or a ‘good camera’. Lighting can make something beautiful, show us the time of day, or make something look dark and grimy. An energetic back light, or a creamy soft window light. Shaping light is what cinematography is all about.
Typical cinematic lighting is quite soft. You could use things like:
  • A bedsheet clipped on some poles or stands, which gives you a large surface area to bounce the lights from, which would come from your lighting equipment. Any light pointed on the bed sheet, what bounces back from it will be nice soft light.
  • You could close all the curtains of a room, so any changes in lights outdoors doesn’t affect the scene.

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  • You could block direct light that may come from the lighting equipment, so its only the reflected light that affects the scene.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.13.25 PM


Shutter Speet controls how much motion blur there is. A fast shutter speed, of lets say, 1/250th would give a choppy look, without any blur.
The traditional Shutter Speed of a cinematic standard is 1/50th. In this shutter speed, you can see how blurry fast moving objects are, just like how we would see them in the real world, and in most films. A great way of noticing this is watching the Transformers movies.
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A side effect of shutter speed is, the lower the number, the brighter the image will be. At 1/50th, the image can be too bright when compared to lets say, 1/250th. To decrease the brightness, you can lower the ISO (which should be the last resort to make an image brighter).

Usually once you’ve got the shutter speed set to 1/50th (or 1/48th if possible) then it stays there for most of the time. Unless you’re going for a choppy / blurry look, most films tend to keep it around 1/48th. Unless shooting slow motion, in which case it can be easily calculated by doubling the frame rate: 24fps = 1/48th, 100fps = 1/100th. That way when it’s played back at normal speed, it will have a ‘normal’ amount of blur.


This is a vast topic, that you need to stay connected on this website for, to learn more about it. New posts about Colour Grading will be coming soon, so press the follow button below to know when it comes up!

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Most of these things can be done on all digital cameras, you just need to find the right buttons for your specific camera, and you’re done. But I still think Lighting and Composition make the biggest difference, so we should focus there, rather than on just the camera settings. Lets not forget that, creating cinematic images isn’t what filmmaking is all about. There are lots of different sides of filmmaking that deserve equal attention.

6 thoughts on “Cinematic Film Look on a DSLR

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