Just a few words about Cinemagraphs: what, how and why they matter

They look simple yet very engaging and the reason why cinemagraph has been invented in the industry is to allow photographers to preserve the living moment. “More than a photo, but less than a video” is the most common expression used to describe this type of artwork.

1. What is a cinemagraph

Originally coined by Photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck, a cinemagraph is a clever revival of the classic animated GIF. It combines features of video and photography to create the illusion of a still image but with cool motion effects. What make cinemagraphs unique is the fact that they bring back to life certain part(s) of the photo, thus making the entire frame more realistic, attractive and sometimes even thought-provoking.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I wonder what is a cinemagraph worth. A few weeks ago I had a job where I was asked to create a few cinemagraphs. You can see below two final results from that project.

Andrei Ivascu Cinemagraph

Andrei Ivascu Cinemagraph

2. How to make a cinemagraph

As the popularity of the cinemagraphs grew, we began to see various mobile apps which allow the easy creation of amateur cinemagraphs using the device’s built in camera. These apps provide a quick and easy cinemagraph solution, but as always, the only way to achieve great results is when you have fine control over the whole production process.

I used Photoshop to create the above examples, but since there are lots of tutorials on how to do this, I won’t make this article another step by step tutorial – you can find tens on Google. Instead, I will give away a few tips from my experience.

    • Depending on the movement you’re featuring in your cinemagraph, sometimes it helps to reverse the frames of your animation to make a smooth transition.
    • Use a tripod. The background of your scene must remain perfectly still in order for just a specific subject to be animated. It’s much easier if you don’t have to align the frames in post production.
    • If you don’t have enough frames to work with, learn how to use Photoshop’s “tween” feature.
    • Feature a scene that includes some kind of continuous or looping motion. Cinemagraphs of subway trains or escalators work really well because they move consistently and predictably.
    • Sometimes subtle effects result in the best cinemagraphs. A visually intense scene might just work better as a video, whereas the subtle animation of grass blowing in the wind or an intermittent blink of an eye can create a really impactful cinemagraph.
  • cinemagraphs using videos vs cinemagraphs using photos

    In most cases the first method is recommended and I’ll explain why.

    The biggest advantage of using video files to create cinemagraphs is the higher number of frames per second (usually at least 30). A higher number of frames will create a smoother movement. If you’ll take a closer look at my examples from above, you’ll notice that the movement isn’t very smooth. That’s because those two cinemagraphs were created using photos and the frame rate was lower (~10 frames per second in my case).

    The only time when it’s better to use photos instead of videos is when you plan to create a large billboard cinemagraph and that’s because photos have a larger resolution than videos. But if your intention is to create small gifs for web usage, go with video files, there’s no reason to think twice.

    3. Why do the cinemagraphs matter

    Little things that autoplay and never stop. Eye-catching little things that won’t leave you alone until you take a glance to see what’s happening in there. Almost hypnotic little things that would stop your thumb from scrolling farther down your Facebook feed.

    Can you guess who would be interested in something like this? Anyone? The answer is advertisers.

    Cinemagraphs are compatible with all kinds of modern gadgets or devices like personal computers, mobile phones and smart watches. Consider this type of visual element in a cluttered newsfeed where you have only a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, and you’ll start to understand why top-brands are testing cinemagraphs.

    Embracing this trend, using cinemagraphs in online ads, at least on some channels, could prove to be a really inspired move for some companies and brands.

    © 2012-2017 Andrei Ivascu