Properly Create the Wakui Cinematic Effect

Properly Create the Wakui Cinematic Effect

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Take Your Photos to the Next Level

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Today we’re going to cover how to create a cinematic effect in a similar style to those of Masashi Wakui. I’m sure you’ve seen his photos on Flickr. I’ve been following his work for years, but finally wanted to try and figure out how this effect is done, by hand and without and plugins in Lightroom and Photoshop. I have a photo taken in Shinjuku in Tokyo that I took myself that we can use as a good demonstration of how to to recreate this effect. The key parts of this technique are the crushed blacks, the colour toning in the shadows and highlights, and the glow of the bright lights. You can use plugins for this of course, but it’s easy enough to do by hand, and that extra layer of control means that you can potentially create a much more special photo.

Let’s go back to the before and start in Lightroom. The basis of this technique is in the use of an extreme white balance that is then recovered by split toning. Push the white balance to its maximum of 50000, and set the tint for 0. Don’t worry about how it looks, because we can then use split toning to partially reverse the effects of white balance. We need a yellowy colour for the highlights, a hue around 60 seems to work well, with the saturation set to 50. Use a deep blue hue for the shadows of around 225, with saturation at 100, and you should see a large colour change in your photo. Use the balance slider to get this to your liking. That’s most of the colour effects complete, using only white balance and split toning. It can help to use the camera calibration tab to fix any colour problems in the shadows if you have them. Try pushing the shadows tint to one extreme, and then move the green and blue primary hues to around minus 25 to 35.

If you want, you can stop here. If you don’t want to have to do this yourself every time you process a photo like this, there are a couple of presets that will do this for you in the totally free Lightroom Develop System, available from, along with over a thousand other presets and brushes.

We don’t have to stop here though; we can do more with this photo. Let’s move onto the tone curve to create the crushed blacks, and to also add some more toning to them. Click on the little symbol in the bottom right of the tone curve to activate the point curve. Select RGB as the channel, then click on the curve near the bottom to add a point and drag the bottom of the curve up. How high up you move this point depends on the photo. You can drag it up and down until it looks good to you. To give a little extra tone to the shadows, we can do the same to some or all of the individual colour channels. For this effect, doing the same with the green channel works well, as this adds extra green to the shadows. You may also want to reduce blues in the highlights by pulling the top of the blue curve down. That’s the tone curve done. Now we just need to make a few basic adjustments to finish our work in Lightroom. I’ll reduce contrast and increase clarity, compress the brights by raising the highlights but lowering the whites, and giving a slight vibrance boost. Finally, we can boost sharpening to a quite extreme level. This is too much for most photos, but works well with this effect, particularly as we will be adding in some softness in Photoshop.

Now, let’s export to Photoshop to finish the photo. I’ll also create one more version, with the white balance pushed to the other extreme. This will help us to colour the shadows in Photoshop.

After opening our first version of this photo, the first thing to do is to add glow to all of the bright light sources. I’m going to skip ahead and use an action from the Photoshop Colour Control ActionPack to create this highlight glow. This is available for free from If you don’t want to use the action and want to create this effect yourself, it’s easy enough to do on your own. Simply move to the channels tab and create a brights luminosity mask by control-clicking on the RGB thumbnail. Hold control-alt-shift and click again to refine this mask to only the brighest parts of your photo. Then go back to the layers tab and duplicate your base layer. You can now run a blur filter on this layer, and change its blending mode to soft light and duplicate it a few more times to enhance the effect. To see how to create this effect in more detail, take a look at the ‘How to Make Sunsets GLOW’ video. So let’s delete those layers and go back to those created by the action. I’ll paint out the glow in the centre of the photo, then duplicate the glow layers to really enhance the effect. Here’s the before and after. It’s quite a strong effect, but you can of course reduce the opacity if you like.

Next, we can bring in the cold version of this photo, create a layer mask and paint out all of the bright light sources so that their yellow glow shows through, while blue is added to the shadows.

We can use curves and levels to make minor contrast and brighness adjustments, first reducing the brighness of the blown out highlights, then increasing contrast in the shadow areas by using a levels layer with mask. Then, we can use curves to add a touch more crushed blue to the shadows, and shift the highlights more to a red, which is more appropriate for a cinematic effect. The colours are very saturated in this photo, so it’s probably for the best to use a vibrance layer to tone it down a bit.

The contrast doesn’t seem balanced too well. A good way to change contrast balance without changing the overall contrast is to reduce the contrast using a global contrast adjustment layer, so that we can then use a curves layer to increase the contrast back to former levels in a more targeted way. In this case, I will make some adjustments to the individual colour channels in the tone curve to add more green to the shadows, and slightly more contrast to the highlights. The photo is still a little on the blue/purple side overall, so we can use a colour balance layer to add a bit of green to the shadows. And that now looks pretty similar to those photos we started with.

To finish the photo, I will sharpen the highlights using the action in the Photoshop Colour Control ActionPack, so that the glow isn’t quite so overpowering, and sharpen the shadows separately, using it’s own action. If you want to recreate these sharpening actions yourself, take a look at the ‘Sharpen Your Photos the Right Way’ video. And that’s the cinematic effect finished.

Why not try this out and let me know how you got on?
There’s also plenty of other free tutorials and resources at

Follow Tim Daniels:

Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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