Cinematic Color Effect in Photoshop


A noticeable thing whenever we watch a movie is the actual tint of the image, which in comparison with common digital photography tends to have a more vivid effect in which respects to tints applied both to the skin of subjects and shadows as well. Film post production uses a technique called “Color Grading” in order to enhance the tints in a motion film, but where does it differ with common color corrections made on a picture?

Color correction vs color grading

Color correction refers to the process where we define a certain color temperature given either by a value in Kelvin scale in order to match up with certain illumination conditions on a normal day or by eyesight playing with values until the image looks pleasant to us. It’s all about balancing out your colors (and that’s why we call it White Balance at the common photography knowledge), making the whites to appear true white, and the blacks actually appear true black; everything in between will adapt to those predefined conditions.

The main reason behind doing this process is because camera lenses don’t have as much sensitivity as the human eye, meaning that even if they can capture still or in movement shots, they can’t accurately solve the conditions regarding color tint the very same way we naturally do. Without a proper white balance setting most images would have attained a distinctive blueish or greenish tint that is not normal to the way we perceive scenes.

In filmmaking, Color grading is taking what you have done in color correction one step further, by altering an image for aesthetic and communicative purposes. Once the tints are balanced you can use proper knowledge of color theory in order to have your image to transmit a feeling with more than simple movement or words: it affects the whole environment becoming either dramatic or loving.

Color grading is performed by manipulating ranges of thresholds and tolerances within the three conventional image channels: Red, Green, and Blue. For example, if you want to give your video that a warm beach feels, you have to alter values towards reds and if you want to give if your aim is to get a cooler atmosphere then you move the values towards blue tints.

You will then emphasize moods or situations experienced by characters in order to invite the viewer to take part of the story.

If then your aim is to take the quality of the work you produce a step further, you can apply this technique to your photography portfolio with the help of Adobe Photoshop.

The procedure – Cinematic feel in Photoshop

Start by creating two Adjustment Layers of Tone Curve but deleting the layer mask since we won’t need it further on. Rename the top adjustment layer to “Color” and the bottom one to “Luminosity”, and when working with each one, match the Layer Blending mode to those modes (“Color” layer with Color layer blending mode and “Luminosity” with Luminosity). In that way, you can be sure that hues won’t be affected unless it becomes your intent but most importantly the adjustments are going to add extra information to the image instead of modifying existing information data.


Click on the Luminosity layer and take a minute to consider your image conditions. For my image, I see at the Histogram that I have a wide range of Midtones rather than pronounced blacks or highlights, therefore I need to work with caution with the adjustments.


Work your way with the values that fit your image conditions; in my case, I want to increase the contrast and add a bit of highlight in order to create a dramatic feeling that plays along with the pose of the fighter.

Next, we need to work with the Color layer in order to complete the feeling of this effect. For this, we have to work on each R, G, B channel and adapt it to the needs of the project we have. A killer idea on this is having a good color wheel palette in order to remind us of opposite colors; you can find a good online palette at

Start working with each single channel in order to adjust the values of the tone curve until you are pleased with the result. Remember that going to the right means increasing the tone you are working (either Red, Green or Blue) whereas going to the left adds the hue that is opposite to the one you are working with (that’s why it is needed to have a color wheel). Same happens with up and down.


First, comes Red channel, which has vital importance on the skin


Then green in order to accomplish a teal look


And finally, blue to add more yellows.


To end up with this effect add a Channel Mixer adjustment layer (also deleting the Layer Mask) and set the preset to work with to Black & White with Orange filter.


Reduce the opacity to between 25-35% in order to accomplish a realistic effect.


A cinematic color effect in only 3 adjustment layers – remember to save the values as Actions for further editing.

Hope this guide was useful and see you next time!

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