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If you’re struggling to achieve a cinematic video look, we’ve covered 5 tips to help you do just that. The best part? They require zero budget!

5 Easy Tricks for Achieving a Cinematic Video Look in VSDC

If you’re a big fan of cinematography, sooner or later, you may want to try and create your own little movie. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what tens of thousands of people decided to dedicate their time to during the pandemic. 

But what if you discover that your footage looks nothing like a Hollywood video? When you’re a beginning video editor, this may feel discouraging.

Well, here is the truth. If we had to break down why most Hollywood movies look so impeccable, a few reasons would come up: proper framing, colors, anamorphic camera lenses, quality light, location… that is besides the fact that they are shot by professionals, of course. 

Now, here is the good news. Even if you don’t have half of this list, a lot of it can be achieved during post-production. 

In this article, we’ll review 5 easy tricks to help you turn your average footage into a cinematic looking video. We’ll be using a free video editing software named VSDC to implement these tricks, however, they are not software-specific and will work in any video editor of your choice. 

Tip #1. When shooting, turn color controls on your camera off 

Want to know the best-kept secret of all professional filmmakers? They shoot their videos using minimum brightness and contrast camera settings. As a result, colors look deemed in the video, and that allows for using a wider spectrum of color correction settings during post-production. 

Once you upload your footage to a video editor, you’ll be able to use color correction and LUTs to get that cinematic look. We’ll talk about it in a moment.

Bottom line: before starting your next video shoot, you should either switch camera controls off, or set these parameters to the minimum.

Tip #2. Cut videos like a professional

It may not be obvious, but how you cut matters a lot. A video cut defines the tone of transition between scenes and helps you produce the right impression on the viewers.

To master the art of a good cut, you can start by learning the most popular techniques. They are:

  1. Standard shot
  2. Jump cut
  3. J-cut
  4. L-cut
  5. Cut on action
  6. Cutaway
  7. Match cut

Each cut serves its own purpose. We encourage you to get familiar with them and most importantly, practice them to figure out how they work.

Consider the Jump cut as an example. It’s a popular technique you’ve surely seen many times. To replicate it, take a single continuous shot with not too much action going on. Then cut it into multiple pieces and remove a few frames to get the effect of jumping forward in time – hence the name of the cut.

The Jump cut is a perfect way to shorten a lengthy video with little action while maintaining the illusion of time passing by.

Bottom line: next time you’ll be editing a video, don’t just randomly cut away the unwanted pieces of footage. Instead, use one of the techniques from the list above.

Tip #3. Dedicate time to color correction

There are several ways to approach color correction. If you’re a complete beginner, you can use LUTs – pre-configured look-up tables that essentially serve as color filters for a video. They work like a charm on raw footage and will help you achieve a cinematic look within a couple of clicks – even if you have no idea about the color theory.

When LUTs aren’t enough, consider using color wheels, namely the RGB and Hue&Saturation. They allow you to perform more in-depth color correction and set the tone of the video. For example, by increasing the contrast level, you can make the image brighter. On the other hand, if you want to create a grim atmosphere in the video, you can reduce the contrast level and increase the values of cool tones on the spectrum.

Bottom line: there is no one-size-fits-all recipe when it comes to color correction. You’ll have to tweak the controls a bit to achieve the desired cinematic look. If you’re just getting started, quick solutions like LUTs, can be very helpful.

Tip #4. Add a light source imitation 

In addition to color correction, it’s a good practice to work on the light as well. Whether you’re shooting indoors or outside, the source of light – as well as its size, proximity, and strength – will play a significant role in how your video will look. 

Setting a proper light, however, may not be enough to achieve a cinematic look. The lens flare matters a lot, too. Most Hollywood movies are shot with so-called anamorphic camera lenses producing a beautiful glare when the sunlight hits them. This effect is often referred to as “anamorphic lens flare”. This is what it looks like:

Luckily, you can replicate this effect without having to buy an anamorphic camera lens. Depending on the video editing tool you’re using, you can search for lens flare video overlays or create your own custom lens flare and adjust its size and position. 

Bottom line: although having proper lighting is essential, you can easily adjust it during post-production or even imitate a source light using special effects.

Tip #5. Add cinematic black bars

For many of us, cinematic black bars are an integral attribute of a Hollywood movie. Ever wondered why we see them in the first place? The reason is that professional cameras used in filmmaking are set for a widescreen aspect ratio (21:9), whereas our home TV screens typically have a smaller 16:9 ratio. As the result, the blank space at the top and bottom creates the illusion of black bars. You may also hear them being called “letterboxes”.

Now, if you have no professional camera at your disposal, and you’re shooting with a regular camera or even a smartphone, you can imitate a letterboxed video by manually adding black bars to it. For example, in VSDC, you can literally add two rectangle shape objects at the top and bottom of a video, adjust their sizing, and paint them black. 

Of course, for some videos, this is not an ideal solution because the letterboxes will hide a part of the scene. If this is the case, you can use sliding letterboxes for the opening scene only – as illustrated above. This will add a cinematic look to your video while keeping it fully intact.

Bottom line: letterboxes often change the way we perceive a video because we’re used to seeing them in Hollywood movies. Use this knowledge to achieve a more cinematic look by placing black bars at the top and bottom of a video or creating a letterboxed opening scene.

Final words

Filmmaking is an art, and it will take you some time to sharpen your post-production skills. These quick tips will help you make you video more cinematic even if you’re on a budget. However, what matters more is your ability to tell a story – and that’s the skill you should be working on, too. If you’re looking for the next step in this direction, consider these Master’s programs in film production available in 2021.

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