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How to add CINEMATIC BLACK BARS to Your Video

In recent years, cinematic black bars have become a popular trend in cinematic videos or short films. If you’ve watched a movie or a TV show on a widescreen display, you’ve probably noticed the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. These black bars, also known as letterboxing or widescreen bars, serve a crucial purpose in cinematic storytelling. In this article, I’ll discuss the significance of cinematic black bars and how you can add them to your videos with editing software like Premiere Pro. Creating a cinematic video needs several elements. One of these is adding cinematic black bars to it in Premiere Pro. 

These days you will find also a lot of videos on YouTube with the so-called cinematic black bars. The reason for this is that video editors want to achieve a film look. It not means every video automatically will look more cinematic when using cinematic black bars, but it definitely add the cinematic feel when you will combine it with the other elements. There are several creative ways in video editing to achieve the widescreen look. In this blog, I will not only explain how to create cinematic black bars in Premiere Pro. I will also share other creative ways to achieve the 2.35.1 aspect ratio for a cinematic look. Also, I will describe how I create cinematic black bars and what to think about when shooting a video where you plan to add cinematic black bars for.

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Why adding cinematic black bars to your video??

Most cinematographers are adding cinematic black bars to their videos to achieve the 2.35.1. aspect ratio. Adding these cinematic bars is a creative way to give your video a Hollywood film look. It will crop your 16:9 video footage which results in a wider look. There are different ways, and opinions, on how to achieve this. For example, there are several websites where you can download png images with a top and bottom black bar for different aspect ratios. Then you can put these templates on top of your video footage in Adobe Premiere to achieve the widescreen look.

Another way is to add an adjustment layer in Premiere Pro and use the crop effect. Finally, you can also achieve the cinematic widescreen look to adjust the actual aspect ratio of your video sequence. Now let’s go through these different steps to explain step by step how to create cinematic bars for your video. 

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Visualize cinematic aspect ratios in your camera when shooting.

As I mentioned before, cinematic black bars is one of the elements to give your video a more cinematic feel. There are many  more factors that affect the cinematic feel and look of a video. Factors like, camera settings, light, composition, different camera angles, music, sound effects and of course storytelling. Most cameras shoot video in a 16:9 ratio which makes it harder to compose your shots correctly for the wider aspect ratio 2.35.1. With the 16:9 aspect ratio, you will have more space (in height) to frame your shots. When adjusting the 16:9 footage to 2.35.1, it may result in poor composition, because of the crop.

The best way to avoid this is by activating “video guidelines” for cinematic aspect ratios on your camera. Not every camera has this, but most mirrorless 4K cameras do, like the Sony A7Siii I use  to produce our videos. This setting will add guidelines on the camera’s LCD screen to mark the desired aspect ratio. With these guidelines its way more convenient to compose your shots correctly for the wider aspect ratio. In case your camera doesn’t have this setting I advise to compose your shots with more space taking into account the crop when adjusting the aspect ratio in post-production. Or, you can simply tape the cinematic black bars on your LCD screen to help to compose your shots properly.

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Video guidelines for cinematic aspect ratio 2.35.1 on the Sony A7Siii.

Adding cinematic black bars using PNG images.

To be honest, I personally not recommend using PNG images for adding cinematic black bars to your video. You will literally put an image over your video which can cause several downsides. First of all, it will increase your video file unnecessarily. Second, when rendering in a low(er) bitrate the black bar will lose detail and it won’t look black anymore. Adding cinematic black bars in Premiere Pro in this way is quite easy. Just download the given PNG image for the right resolution and drag it into your timeline on top of your video. Thereafter reposition your shots to fit the wider aspect ratio and you’re done! You can google for “PNG images cinematic bars or cinematic black bars” to find some websites which providing them.

Watch the video to see how to create cinematic bars with a PNG image.

How to add cinematic black bars in Premiere Pro with an adjustment layer?

Another way to add cinematic black bars in Premiere Pro is with the help of an adjustment layer and the crop effect. If you never used an adjustment layer before, I definitely recommend reading my other BLOG first which is all about how to add them in Premiere Pro. And if you want to know everything about the crop effect you have to read this COMPLETE TUTORIAL about how to use the crop effect in Premiere Pro.

Especially in the beginning, I’ve used adjustment layers to create cinematic black bars in Premiere Pro. You have to add a new adjustment layer in your project panel, rename it to “cinematic bars” and place it on your timeline on top of your video footage. Then drag the crop effect to the adjustment layer and crop the top and bottom with 12% to achieve the desired widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35.1. The final touch is to reposition your shots to fit this new aspect ratio and you’re good to go!

Watch the video to see how to use an adjustment layer to create cinematic black bars.

How to adjust the Aspect Ratio in Premiere Pro to create cinematic bars?

Save the best for last, which certainly applies to the way we are going to discuss now. What is better to create a widescreen aspect ratio by adjusting the actual aspect ratio of your video. You can adjust the aspect ratio in Premiere Pro by changing the resolution of the sequence. Please realise there are tons of resolutions for specific aspect ratios. For example, have a look HERE for a free extensive cheat sheet to find the matching resolution for the aspect ratio you desire.

So, how to adjust the Aspect Ratio in Premiere Pro to create cinematic black bars? In my case, I want to adjust 4K (UHD) 16:9 footage (3840*2160) to 2.39.1. According to the cheat sheet the new resolution needs to become 3840*1609. To achieve this, drag a shot of the 4K(UHD) footage in your timeline. This way, the sequence setting will match the resolution and frame rate of the shot. In my case 3840*2160/25 fps. Select from the menu Sequence > settings and change the vertical frame size to 1609. Hit ok and confirm the “warning” pop-up by clicking OK. After this, you will notice the preview panel changes to the new resolution!

Watch the video to see how to adjust the Aspect Ratio in Premiere Pro to create cinematic bars.

Edit your video the way you want and reposition the original 16:9 shots to achieve the proper composition. After rendering your video (make sure to match the resolution in the render settings) and playing it on your device you will still see the “cinematic black bars”, but now properly created. The huge advantage to create it this way is that your video will adjust itself to any device and platform it will be played on.

Uploading your video with cinematic bars on YouTube

Please take note of the following when you want to upload the video on YouTube. Because of the adjusted aspect ratio it won’t be possible to add the YouTube end screens to your video. Simply because there is no more space compared with the stander 16:9 aspect ratio. Luckily it’s still possible to add cinematic black bars to your video and make use of the end screen option. Just apply the black bars with adjustment layers or a letterbox template without adjusting the aspect ratio. 

Please be aware the discussed methods also can be applied in other edit software like Final Cut Pro or Davinci Resolve. Just inform yourself with the appropriate technical steps per edit software to get the same results when you add cinematic black bars in Premiere Pro. 

Do you need more information about Adobe Premiere Pro? Read my other blogs with Adobe Premiere Pro tutorials!

HOW TO CROP A VIDEO IN PREMIERE PRO

Adjustment layers PREMIERE PRO l Everything you need to know

How to edit a TIME LAPSE VIDEO in ADOBE PREMIERE PRO

How to edit music to your video in Adobe Premiere Pro

Time remapping in PREMIERE PRO l How to make a SPEED RAMP

Find out HERE what the best shutter speed is for cinematic videos!

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