Create a Dark, Cinematic Effect in Photoshop

Today’s before & after Photoshop tutorial comes to us from Marc Andre.  He will be showing us how to create a dark, cinematic effect.  Near the end of the tutorial, he provides the link to a free action you can download in order to apply this effect to your photos!

photoshop before and after

Photoshop allows you to create all kinds of different effects for your photos, and in this tutorial we’ll go through the process of creating a dark, cinema-inspired look. If you’re looking to add a dramatic touch to a photo, this approach can work quite well. We’ll use this photo as the starting point:

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And here is a preview of how the photo will look at the end of this tutorial:

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We’ll go through the process of creating this effect step-by-step. The specifics of some steps may vary depending on the photo that you are using as a starting point, so if you’re working with your own photo feel free to experiment a little and don’t feel like you need to stick to the exact details of each step. In each step we’ll create an adjustment layer. If you’re not familiar with adjustment layers in Photoshop they allow you to make non-destructive adjustments, meaning that your original photo layer will be untouched. To create an adjustment layer all you need to do is click on the circular icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

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When you click on that icon it will open a list of the different types of adjustment layers that you can add.

Step 1: Create a Black & White Adjustment Layer

Click on the icon to create a new adjustment layer and select “Black & White” from the list. Select the black & white adjustment layer in the layer’s palette and adjust the opacity to 60%.

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This adjustment will tone down the colors of the photo, but not to the point of making it black & white.

Step 2: Create a Curves Adjustment Layer

Next, we’ll make some adjustmes to the red, green, and blue curves, as well as the RGB curve. Click on the icon to create a new adjustment layer and select “curves”. The images below shows each of the curve adjustments that you will need to make. Use the dropdown to select RGB, red, green, or blue, and then make the adjustment to the curve.

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After the curves adjustment the photo looks like this:
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Step 3: Create Another Curves Adjustment Layer

Next, we’ll create a second curves adjustment layer, but this time we’re only going to edit the RGB curve, which will impact all colors in the photo. Drop the middle down a little bit and it will darken the mid tones of the photo.

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After this adjustment the photo looks like this:
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Step 4: Exposure Adjustment

Click the icon to create a new adjustment layer and select Exposure. We’ll adjust the exposure to +0.33. This step may or may not be neccesary depending on the photo that you are working with.
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Step 5: Saturation Adjustment

Next, click the icon to create a new adjustment layer and select “vibrance”. You’ll now be able to adjust vibrance and saturation. We’ll actually leave the vibrance setting untouched, but change the saturation to “-15″.
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Step 6: Contrast Adjustment

Now, for the last step. Click the icon to create a new adjustment layer and select “brightness/contrast”. We’ll leave the brightness setting untouched and change the contrast to “8″, giving it a slight contrast boost.
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Final Results

Here is a look at the before and after images:

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If you’re interested in adding the cinema-inspired effect to your photos without the need to go through all of these steps, a free Photoshop action is available that will complete the steps for you with one click.

About the Author:

Marc Andre is the editor of PhotographyPla.net, a website that offers downloadable products like Photoshop actions, Lightroom presets, photo overlays, textures, and print templates.

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8 Responses to Create a Dark, Cinematic Effect in Photoshop

  1. Thank you for the tutorial!

  2. I’ve been wanting to figure out how to do this for a while now, it was the first time I actually searched how to do it, this was the top result and I’m VERY pleased with how it turned out! Thank you so much for this post!

  3. Parampreet Dhatt says:

    Thank you for this excellent tutorial. Unfortunately, I do not use Photoshop.
    Can you also create a Lightroom preset to achieve this look?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Angie says:

      Hi Parampreet! I actually do not do a ton with Lightroom myself, so I’m afraid I won’t be much help here! But check out a few of the Lightroom preset creators such as Two Blooms and Pretty Presets… perhaps you will find the look you are trying to create there! Thanks for visiting. :)

  4. I really love your tutorial! Thanks! :)

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