Creating a Cinematic Feel by Embracing 16:9

Often times as photographers we feel like we get stuck in a rut. Making the same compositions, using the same processing and in the end we feel like we are missing something in our photographs. Almost like there is no story or feeling behind our images and this can happen very quickly, the shift from loving our work to feeling it is completely lacking.

Those of you that follow me know that I tend to be primarily a nature and landscape photographer, well that’s what I share with you via social media most of the time. But I do actually shoot a wide variety of subjects, from portraits to real estate and even the small town street or what I like to think of as Americana landscapes. I’ve been focused on keeping my feed just about strictly landscapes and nature but have decided I need to start sharing more of my work.

I say all of that because in this decision I’ve hit that point where I’ve been going through my vast archive of images from over 11 years as a photographer, just skimming through really, and noticed a lot of great photos but the many where things seemed not quite right. Many of them didn’t feel like they were telling the whole story or there was no clear story. Most likely it’s because my compositions weren’t terrific to start with, but no one is perfect, right?

If you find yourself in a situation like this there is one simple thing you can try and that is a simple crop of your photograph. I’m sure many of us have heard people refer to a photo and say “Wow, that feels so cinematic!” or “That looks like a scene from a movie”. One of the easiest ways to achieve this look is to utilize a more dramatic image aspect ratio. Basically this is the relationship of how “tall” a photo is versus how “wide” the photo is. In fact if you want to read another very interesting article discussing this check out this fantastic article from the FujiLove website from last April, “Why Crop to the Cinematic Aspect Ratio 2.39:1”.

So I know the 2.39:1 ratio is the true cinematic ratio these days and 16:9 looks almost chunky by comparison when you look at the two side by side, but I want to talk about the 16:9 here because I feel it’s a great way to dip your toes into a cinematic look without feeling like you are totally stripping your image down to nothing. Baby steps is the key sometimes. Maybe in the near future I’ll revisit and share some work and thoughts about the 2.39:1 ratio, but for today let’s stick with 16:9, deal?

So for a comparison, let’s take a look at a recent photo I posted up on my Instagram feed. It’s one of those small town living landscape photos I mentioned earlier of an old abandoned car wash. Here is the original image as I had posted it with a standard digital camera format ratio.

I like the photo and feel like it gives a nice sense of place. But, let’s see what happens if we crop it down to a roughly 16:9 ratio.

The crop gives it a bit more of a feeling like you are looking at a scene from a movie or your favorite TV show. By eliminating some of the sky and foreground elements, in this case just gravel parking lot, you bring the focus to the old building and the history that it represents.

Now let me be REALLY clear on something. There is much more to making a photo tell a story and feel cinematic than just the cropping. You need the right compositions, the right light, colors and mood, heck even the contrast or punchiness of an image is often different from a cinematic image versus a standard photograph. I may write something more about that in the future, but for right now I just wanted to show that how adding a 16:9 crop can really give your photos a totally different feeling.

Let’s look at a few more examples I’ve processed in this style over the last few days. These are all small town landscapes and I’ve been careful with the color grading and tonality to try to bring as much cinematic punch to the photos as I could.

These are all fairly moody looking photos I’ve made over the last few years, all made at night while out exploring my local small towns. Just skimming through my archives they are a few that jumped out at me at first glance. But, if you know you want to have this more cinematic cropping/ratio in your finished photograph it makes it much easier to pull off successfully if you plan for it with your original composition. For example, with the photo of the car wash above, had I planned to shoot with the 16:9 ratio as the finished product I would have changed my initial composition to move the car was more to the right side of the photo as I think it would have tied the final image together more than it does currently. None of these photos in this article were intended to be cropped this way and I’m just fortunate that the compositions worked out well in this ratio.

Just like anything you photograph or any technique you pull out of your toolbox, it doesn’t work on every photo. Portrait or vertical oriented photos don’t work well with this crop because they end up looking like a tiny little bookmark strip of a photo. I actually tend to really like more of a stout ratio on my vertical/portrait oriented photos but that’s an article for another time.

So you want to create more cinematic photos but you don’t enjoy shooting at night? Daytime works great and if you feel like getting out of town, landscapes and nature details work great as well!

At the end of the day, like most things related to photography and art, it all comes down to our own personal tastes. Not every type of photo will work well for this, but if you know you are wanting to have your finished photo be in a different ratio, such as 16:9, you can do a little planning for it as you create your photos and increase your likelihood for successful images.

The bottom line is that often times, if we can just find a way to shake things up with the way we are seeing the world around us, it can help re-ignite that creative spark and jump start our photographic vision. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try some things. You never know where the exploration will lead you.

Photo notes:
All photos created with Fuji X series camera’s/lenses and processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC with the Rebecca Lily Pro Set IV Premium Color Grading System. I’m not affiliated with any of these companies nor am I a paid spokesperson, they are just the tools I use to create my photographic work.

To stay up to date with all of my current work please follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, the links are below!

Instagram – @dave.szweduik

Twitter – @daveszweduik

Facebook – @DavidSzweduikPhotographer



Follow/Like/Share if you enjoyed this article!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

2 thoughts on “Creating a Cinematic Feel by Embracing 16:9”