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  • Writer's pictureBlake Calhoun

Subtly Cinematic

Ever since I first started shooting iPhone video back in 2011 the main thing I've always done is to try and make it NOT look like iPhone video.

Let me explain.

First, there's nothing wrong with "iPhone video", nothing at all. But for me it looks too "videoy". Now of course it IS video, but for what I do in the filmmaking world, I don't want a video look - I want a "film look". And by the way, this is regardless of what camera I'm shooting with.

For me this idea goes all the way back to just after my college days. I shot my first "professional" short film on Beta SP (I was an intern at a studio, so I was hardly a pro yet).

For those not familiar with Beta SP, it was the broadcast industry standard for 15 or more years and it shot interlaced 30fps in standard definition. As a side note, those cameras cost between $10k on the low-end and $60k (or more) on the high-end and I kid you not that our iPhones today shoot better quality video. But I digress...

Even shooting Beta SP in the 1990s I looked for a "film look". And as a matter of fact, there was actually a company called Film Look that was created for this exact purpose - to turn interlaced video into a more filmic, cinematic look. And it was okay. Not great, but okay.

Back then you had to go tape machine-to-machine to make this work. So you'd send them your Beta SP master tape and then they'd transfer it and add their "film look" magic as it copied to a new Beta SP tape. Oh, and they charged by the minute. I don't actually remember how much, but it wasn't cheap. I think my 15 minute short film cost in the neighborhood of $700. Ouch.

Cut to today and we all still do the same thing even with modern high-end cinema cameras (albeit they now obviously look far superior right out of the camera). If you shoot on RED Monstro or Sony Venice or an ARRI Alexa you still do color grading and add FX in post-production to make it "look like film".

Whenever I work with iPhone footage in post I have a process I do of lowering the exposure (the iPhone often slightly over exposes, which gives it a more video look), reducing the contrast and saturation, adjusting the white balance as each app can have different looks, and reducing the sharpness of the image (this is done manually in post unless you use a filter while shooting).

But now I've created a new LUT pack called Subtly Cinematic that does all this for you.

These LUTs are for iPhone footage that was NOT shot in log. Shooting in log can definitely help create cinematic images, but it's not always accessible and now with Cinematic mode on the iPhone 13/14 log is not currently available (using the Native camera app). So when you shoot that way it has a baked in look. This goes for standard iPhone video too, along with ProRes. Oh, and A LOT of people shoot this way including me.

So that's why I made these new LUTs (quick sample looks below)...

Keep in mind, as the name indicates, these are subtle corrections to the image to help make it look less like video and more like "film". Sometimes this is all you'll need to add. Typically though you'll also need to do some basic corrections as the exposure and white balance will need some adjustments - and of course every shot it different.

It's important to remember too - most of the time adding a LUT will not instantly make a shot look great. You'll need to fine tune it and optionally do additional grading and/or add FX on top of it. My go to color grading plugin for this is FilmConvert Nitrate.

I first add my Subtly Cinematic LUT, then do any required color/exposure adjustments and next add FilmConvert. I use Adobe Premiere Pro, but the plugin works in FCP and DaVinci Resolve, among others. It does not work in LumaFusion, though there are other options there if you're seeking a filmic grade (hopefully we'll one day get to use plugins in LumaFusion).

One other related thing I want to mention is a hack I use for creating cinematic "log" iPhone looks without shooting log. All you need to do is shoot in HDR, but then edit that in SDR.

Essentially what happens is the HDR metadata is not seen by the app when editing in SDR, so you have the raw HLG video left which has a very flat color profile - like a quasi-log look (of course it is hybrid log gamma). It's also 10-bit video which is great for (heavier) color grading. Side note: if you don't shoot in HDR the Native camera app records in 8-bit SDR video. This works fine in most cases, but for higher-end work and color grading using 10-bit is a good idea.

This hack works in most popular editing apps I've tried including Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, LumaFusion and FCP (in FCP you have to add the HDR Tools effect to make it work).

One reminder regarding these LUTs... Often when you think of using LUTs you imagine seeing a big difference in the way the footage looks. Here the looks are subtle when using SDR, and that's the point. Subtly cinematic to help take the "video look" away. When shooting HDR though and using the LUTs in an SDR edit, they work and look more like a traditional log transform (so you see a bigger before & after difference).

I like the idea of keeping it simple when doing correction & grading and these LUTs do that for sure. Sometimes though you might need a big dramatic look and you can do that with these too (by combining LUTs or adding FX in post).

But most of the time I'm just looking to create a nice cinematic look that makes my iPhone video footage not look like iPhone video footage. :)


  1. Do NOT overexpose your footage. And if possible, always lock the white balance. I often lower the Native camera app exposure by -0.3 to -0.7.

  2. Use a softening filter like a Black Mist or similar (I use this one).

  3. When shooting in bright sun use a quality Neutral Density filter to get the correct motion blur (these filters are great).

  4. I mainly shot with the Native iPhone camera app for these samples, but you could use third-party apps too such as FiLMiC Pro, etc. and make slight adjustments to the colors, as needed (and do NOT shoot in log or flat for using these LUTs, but if you want to I have LUTs for that kind of color grading, too).

  5. When editing reduce the iPhone sharpening... Very important! (every app is different, but most can do this) - This is NOT added in the LUT, so be sure to do this.

  6. Or, in editing you can add a very light gaussian blur (2 or so pixels) to reduce the iPhone sharpness.

  7. You can use ANY of these LUTs on your footage - it doesn’t have to precisely match the description such as “Sun” or “Shade” or exterior or interior. It’s best to try them that way first, but experimentation is encouraged.

  8. Use a plugin like Video Enhance AI from Topaz Labs to reduce sharpness, etc.

  9. Use a plugin like FilmConvert to add a color grade with film emulsion & gamma curve along with some subtle film grain.

If you're interested in these new LUTs they are now available here on my website. And there are two versions... Subtly Cinematic and Subtly Cinematic Pro. The Pro version has the HDR to SDR LUTs along with two great Bonus LUTs (a day-for-night & vintage look).

Lastly, if you haven't seen it, here's a YouTube video I made about the LUTs and the HDR color grading hack...

UPDATE: I have also now added a tutorial on using the Subtly Cinematic LUTs...

Happy filmmaking!


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