In this article/video, we’ll show you how I captured the featured image and used Lightroom to bring a rich and moody, cinematic look to it.  As an added bonus, I’m also going to give you the recipe to create this baseline look from our new Visual Flow Mood Preset Pack and Wanderlust Workshop. You can download the RAW exercise file here and edit along with me!

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Video: Lightroom Editing for Mood and Cinematic Warmth

How I Shot It

Lightroom edit warmth and cinematic look final before
RAW IMAGE – RAW SOOC: 50mm prime, 1/1600, f/2, ISO 800

Let’s talk first about how I actually captured the image. For those interested in gear, I used a Canon EOS-R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 lens. You can find the EXIF data in the caption above. Looking back, I could’ve lowered the shutter speed and stopped down the ISO, but it still works as is.

editing for warmth and cinematicmood natural light sun spot
The sunlight poked through the canopy of trees (see the center of the image above), which I used to highlight my subjects.

What’s more important here than the specific settings I used to arrive at this exposure is the way I positioned the subjects based on the existing light. You can find more tips on that topic in this article. Basically, if you’re shooting with natural light, it’s imperative that you pay attention to light direction in relation to how you position your subjects. For this image, I placed my subjects in a well-lit pocket of space that was otherwise surrounded by open shade cast by the trees. That’s why they’re naturally lit yet brighter than everything else in the area. In fact, it almost looks as though we’re using flash to light the subjects.

[Related Reading: 5 Tips for Creating Authentic Natural Light Family Portraits]

How to Edit the Shot in Lightroom for Mood & Cinematic Warmth

To edit the featured image, I used the Soft Light preset from Visual Flow’s new Mood Pack. If you don’t have this preset, don’t worry. I’ll include screenshots of the settings below. If you’re interested in learning more about Visual Flow presets, you can find that information here.

Point 1: Apply a Soft Light Preset

The beauty of Visual Flow’s presets is that they’re all based on lighting conditions. In other words, if you’re shooting under hard light, you would then choose a preset that was designed to work best with that lighting condition, which in this case would be the “Hard Light” preset. This minimizes the tweaks you have to make when applying presets that were designed to create a certain look for only one condition, which may or may not match your needs.

lightroom editing for mood and cinematic warmth Before after

Many people don’t recognize the power of the tone curve in Lightroom. If you look at the GIF above, you can see how different the edit is based solely on the tone curve; all of the other settings (which are part of the soft light preset) are the same between the two images. The “S-shaped” curve in this preset is adding contrast to the image while pulling down the highlights and lifting the blacks, which results in adding a matte look to the edit. You can find all of the tone curve settings below.

Lightroom Editing mood cinematic warmth Tone Curve Collage
Settings for each option using Lightroom’s Tone Curve .

Adjusting the Base Tones with the Basic Slider & HSL Sliders

edit for warmth cinematic look basic hsl split toning lightroom

The next piece in the basic adjustments puzzle for this look involves adjusting the base tones. You’ll notice that highlights and blacks have been lifted while the whites and shadows have been dropped. We also added a bit of clarity and the dehaze tool to increase the contrast. Even though the vibrance is raised in the initial application of the preset, I like to revisit the vibrance slider after I’ve adjusted the colors in using the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) sliders. The adjustments to HSL and Split Toning noted in the screenshot above further add warmth and cinematic look to the image while keeping the skin tones from getting too vibrant.

The Visual Flow presets have been built over the DVLOP X platform, which gives us a camera profile that unifies colors between different camera models. If you don’t have the presets and access to the DVLOP X profile option, I recommend just switching over to Adobe Standard or Adobe Color.

Saving Out the Preset

Edit with warm cinematic look in lightroom Saving Presets

Now that we’ve established the baseline colors, we can save our preset. Here’s how:

  • Press the “+” next to the Preset Panel in the top left of the library module
  • Select “Create Preset” from the dropdown menu
  • When the New Develop Preset box opens, select “Check All”
  • Remove the adjustments you don’t want to save out (usually Exposure and White Balance, which can vary greatly from scene to scene.

[Related Reading: How to Create Presets in Lightroom Mobile | Quick Reference]

Point 3: Add a Radial Burn

warmth and cinematic feel radial burn lightroom edit

The Visual Flow Retouching Toolkit includes a previously-designed Radial Burn preset, which you can use to quickly dodge or burn your own photos. Here’s how (use the image above for reference):

  • Select the radial filter tool on the righthand side of the Develop module in Lightroom
  • Place the center over the area you want to keep the brightest, and then drag the filter to the appropriate size and shape
  • Holding down Alt or Option, click and drag the radial burn marker to the left to further darken the image around your subjects

Because I positioned the subjects in the brightest part of the image, this edit renders beautiful results after the above steps have been applied. The Radial Burn’s vignette won’t look great if it’s not carefully placed.

Point 4: Dodge the Shadows Where Needed

Dodge Brush to lift shadows

If you want to make local adjustments rather than global adjustments that affect the entire image, you can use the brush tool. See the screenshot above for the “Dodge Shadows” settings we’ve dialed to brighten up the shadows on the girl’s face. Once your settings are good, you can click and drag the brush over the areas you want to adjust.

Before and After

Lightroom edit warmth and cinematic look final beforeLightroom edit warmth and cinematic look final after


We hope you enjoyed this article/video on Lightroom editing for mood and cinematic warmth. The screenshots included throughout provide all of the pieces you’ll need to create your own baseline mood preset, much like the ones included in the Visual Flow Mood Preset Pack. You can learn more about shooting and editing in this style in our new  Wanderlust Workshop.

Be sure to catch our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!