Creating cinematic images

with Aakaash Bali


If you’re a fan of storytelling and moody, cinematic imagery, then you will love Aakaash Bali’s work. His photos feel like they have been pulled from a film and are often accompanied by short-form videos that bring you deeper into the world surrounding them.
We delve into Aakassh’s influences, artistic process, and advice to other artists striving to find their voice.

I’m a fine-art photographer based in New York. I’m a simple guy with an overactive brain most days. I watch too many movies, and they’ve rubbed off on me. My style is heavily inspired by cinema, from color and light to storytelling.
My stories are sometimes tragic, nostalgic, ethereal, and even innocent. I tend to create whimsical situations out of everyday activities, but with a dash of sadness and a heavy heart.

Photography as an obsession

I am self-taught. When I was young, I picked up my father’s camera and never put it down. I remember being the only 12-year old in class who enjoyed playing in Photoshop instead of riding a bike. To an extent, it started as an obsession with photography. My father was an illustrator back in his day, and I feel like some of those genes rubbed off on me somehow.

With that and constantly watching every movie I could, I guess the cinematic look’s appreciation was taught to me pretty early. Over the years, all I’ve done is tried to refine the cinematic + tableau look(s), and I don’t think I’m anywhere near finished.

Create the “feeling”

Throughout life, I’ve been in some dark places and some rough situations. I believe we all have, and those shape us into who we become. For me, remembering how a certain situation made me feel in the past has become a building block of the emotional response I aim to achieve in my stories.

I also aim to create images based on the childhood or life I wish I had. I grew up in the city between four small walls, having not seen much of the world. I never had peace and quiet, open space, or access to a magical sunset every day.

In a way, I try to create these “feelings” just to experience them

Every image starts with an emotion: loneliness, sadness, anger, fear, happiness, or anything under the sun. I then try and craft a relatable story around this with influence from my childhood memories or someone else’s. This next leads to a sketch and a description of the concept.

After the concept is final, I scout for a location, cast talent, and coordinate the set design, color, and light. Generally, my team also produces a short film of these concepts. We use these to demo a service I offer to clients, called The Cinema Experience.

“I’ve been in some dark places and some rough situations. I believe we all have, and those shape us into who we become”.

Great color happens on set, not in post

I’m a strong believer in color design, coordination, and color psychology. Choosing colors that “feel” real is something I consider important. As images age, color trends do as well. I believe that timeless images feel like a slice of reality, so I aim for realism and believability. I chase colors that feel like a lucid dream.

I didn’t always do this, but I think it’s a great habit to develop. Learning to use color effectively, rather than simply capturing color, has changed my work for the best.


My team, my primary motivation

I absolutely could not do anything without my awesome team. Baptiste Carrara, Abe Bello, Christian Ladigoski, Isabel Flemming, Matt Bell, and Aaqil Khoja.

This amazing, epic, talented group of individuals motivate me to create, and they sure as hell challenge me to raise the bar every single time. I love all of you guys!

I’m also very inspired by artists such as Gregory Crewdson, Nicky Hamilton, Ole Marius Joergensen, Kate Woodman, and Erik Almas.

I’ve found that surrounding yourself with awesome like-minded people and curating your artistic world is a huge motivator.


At the moment, I have a primary side project called The Shadow District. It is a focus on nostalgic, dark, and moody nighttime images. They carry a cinematic yet life-like feel; however, they don’t contain any people. This is a project I started just to clear my mind. Roaming around in the dark is a beautiful thing to do, especially when it’s foggy out.
You can check out this project @theshadowdistrict and its official Print Shop.

I also have an active portrait series in development called PORTALS, as well as a series in planning based on childhood nostalgia, shot entirely with Elinchrom lighting.

Creating realistic tableau-style with the right gear

The ELB 500 Dual To-Go kit is the reason why I’ve started more outdoor work rather than indoor set work. I absolutely LOVE the system, the ease of use, and the simple setup. I’ve been experimenting with creating realistic tableau-style images using an ELB 500 head + a Rotalux Octa 175 cm (69″) on a Boom-Arm. The system is just so light and easy to carry!

In terms of my work overall, I’d like to attempt a steady increase of production value with larger and larger projects. Elinchrom’s awesome technology will certainly be a driver of this!