It’s hard to take your eyes off a Wes Anderson film. From the cult favorite The Grand Budapest Hotel to his latest work on The French Dispatch – Anderson has established himself as one of the most recognizable film auteurs of the century using his trademark flat and symmetrical shots, unique color palettes, and quirky cinematography.
His latest short story anthology – said to be his finest work to date by The New Yorker – features Benicio del Toro, Timothée Chalamet, Owen Wilson, Léa Seydoux, and Elisabeth Moss, amongst other notable Hollywood names. With the star-studded cast and his whimsical visual style, the Wes Anderson fan base is only set to expand.
But what makes Wes Anderson, WES ANDERSON?
The Wes Anderson aesthetic is so distinctive that it doesn’t take a film buff to recognize it. There’s no doubt that Anderson is a genius. But credit should also go towards his go-to director of photography, Robert Yeoman, who was also behind other Anderson films like Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, to name a few. Their delightfully crafted flat compositions create a world that almost looks like it belongs in a dollhouse.
We’re going to show you how you can edit your photos to look like they came out of a Wes Anderson film.
1. Start with the right photo
Original image by photoboyko, 123RF. Edited in Pixlr E.
Selecting the right photo is crucial. For the most Wes Anderson-esque style, you need photos that have flat compositions, symmetry, and lines.
The photo above is a great example. It’s symmetrical; the subject is placed dead center with the street lamps mirroring one another – creating perfect lines. It’s not entirely flat, but the ocean’s stillness in the background and the lines of the pier creates the illusion.
It doesn’t hurt that the composition of this photo looks strikingly similar to the mesmerizing shot of Suzy Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom. The one with her in a pink dress and her binoculars at the pier with the ocean in the background.
His characters and objects are placed against a flat surface. If you’re working with an image that isn’t flat, head over to Pixlr E, click Edit, then click Free distort and tug on the sides until it looks flat.
The framing in Anderson’s films is symmetrical. Draw a line down the middle of a shot, and it’s as if you’re able to fold it in half, and everything aligns. It feels unnatural, and that’s the beauty of it.
Original image by cepn, 123RF. Edited using Pixlr E.
2. Know your color palette
Another telltale sign of a Wes Anderson film is the colors. Without his hallmark color palette, just symmetry and flat compositions alone won’t scream Wes Anderson. His stories are brought to life by pastel-hue drench characters and costumes, painted over the architecture, with the tiniest details of the set props matching the overall hue of the film.
There’s no exact formula for editing like Wes Anderson, but a good rule of thumb is understanding which color you want to highlight. In his films, colors that he commonly uses are yellows, pinks, and blues.
Original image by langdu8x, 123RF. Edited using Pixlr E.
We attempted to go for a similar vibe as the (very pink) hotel in The Grand Budapest Hotel for the photo above. We bumped up the warmth, reduced the highlights and shadows (more on this below), played around with the color balance (dialed up the reds of the mid-tones), and went heavy on the pink tint. Notice how the clouds also have a faint pink tint.
How you edit will highly depend on your photo and the emotions you want to evoke. For example, Moonrise Kingdom – a film revolving around summer love – is heavily drenched in yellows that even the actors’ skin has a yellow tint.
Original image by alexdov, 123RF. Edited using Pixlr E.
3. Reduce the contrast and highlights
Original image by brillianteagle, 123RF. Edited using Pixlr E.
Anderson’s films are well lit. If you’re familiar with his work, you will notice that much of the detail is still highly visible, even for night scenes.
Other than adjusting the brightness and exposure of your photo, you can reduce the contrast and highlights to make it dreamlike and emulate vintage photography.
Here, we adjusted the Highlights & shadows slider to Highlights +81 and Shadows +59. Play around with it and see what looks good!
Remember, Anderson films aren’t trying to be realistic. It’s meant to work within the Art Nouveau style.
4. Anamorphic fisheye lens
Many of Wes Anderson’s films use what is called an anamorphic lens. That’s what gives it the widescreen, slightly fisheye effect in some frames – allowing for a deeper depth of field. The distortion of perception highlights the surrealism of it all.
Anamorphic lenses can be pricey, especially if you’re not a filmmaker. Rather than splurging on one, you can fake it! One way is to use the Fisheye filter on Pixlr E.
Original image by manjik, 123RF. Edited with Pixlr E.
Click on the Buldge slider to give it that fisheye look, then Stretch it to fit the entire frame.
It’s crucial not to overdo the fisheye look; a little goes a long way.
Tip: This effect probably works best with landscapes or a frame where you want to capture the many details in the background.
5. Add fun texts to your photo
Original image by oigres8, 123RF. Editing with Pixlr E.
Wes Anderson’s films are text-heavy but never boring. His characters sometimes explain the story by typing or writing a letter, often in stylistic fonts.
While he hasn’t completely stuck to one particular font, there are multiple fonts that he uses in his films. His favorites seem to be Futura and Helvetica. On Pixlr E, many fonts fit the style. For example, Father and Son, Gustavo, Camille, Hello Daddy are some fonts that give out a very Wes Anderson vibe.
While Anderson sometimes gets critiqued for favoring aesthetics over substance, underneath all the visual style is a thoughtful and heartfelt story that transports his viewers to another reality.
“That’s the kind of movie that I like to make, where there is an invented reality and the audience is going to go someplace where hopefully they’ve never been before. The details, that’s what the world is made of. “ ― Wes Anderson.
We hope you have fun recreating your own Wes Anderson-inspired edits, and don’t forget to share and tag us on our social media!
Love our photo editing tutorials? We have plenty! Check out these blogs: 4 Editing Tips to Improve Your Travel Photos and 4 Photo Editing Tips to Make Your Social Media Feed Look Magical