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You’ve probably noticed a new crop of images sweeping the web. They’re not quite photographs and not exactly videos. They have the marks of high quality photography but contain just a subtle hint of motion. Like a GIF, they’re looped videos that contain something moving ad infinitum but what’s different is that everything else in the frame remains static. What is this new art form?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

cinemagraph-how-to

It’s a cinemagraph.

A cinemagraph is a looped video clip layered beneath a photograph. In this way the file size is minimized because all the other pixels in the frame remain static. As such, when the document is saved, it is not saving a video which usually is a much larger file size. Because it is a photograph containing just an area of motion, the file can be compressed more effectively and thus shared on the web more easily.  That’s essentially the point of it all – downsizing the file size so it can easily be accessed on a website.

Cinemagraphs are not a file format. They are GIF files. The distinction though comes in the fact that most GIFs you see on the web are looped video clips – usually clips taken from movies, TV shows or random YouTube vids. Cinemagraphs pair the cinema and photography if you will – combining the two.

So how the hell do you make one? Well, for this tutorial you will definitely need some basic Photoshop skills. I definitely cannot do Photoshop and its wizardry justice by being the one to teach you. But!  The product makers themselves can – Adobe offers a Photoshop training course on their KnowHow website and there are numerous websites out there that’ll teach you Photoshop basics.

How to Create a Cinemagraph Using Photoshop

For this walk through I’ll be using screenshots of the process using Photoshop CS5. This also supposes you already have a video clip ready to go. If you don’t have a video ready, I suggest you try the technique out using free stock video.

If you are planning on creating your own video, here are some key tips to keep in mind when shooting:

  • Your camera must be on a tripod – you need the image frame to be stabilized.
  • Consider what part of the scene will contain the motion. Ideally the area containing the motion will be distinct from other areas in the frame (this makes it easier to create a layer mask in post production).
  • You want the motion you are shooting to be naturally occurring movements. This is why things like water or something being ruffled in the wind look great in cinemagraphs.
  • Large areas of motion don’t work well for this type of image – it just looks like a video.
  • Think about your starting and ending points, you want them to be similar as this will make it easier to create your loop.

First thing, you want to have your Photoshop workspace window set to motion. Once you have done this you will see the animation timeline come up in the program. The timeline is the area that allows you to play the video you import. To import the video, I just drag the file into the program and you’ll see the timeline propagate the frames accordingly.  

Motion-Workspace

Video-Timeline

Now you’ll want to move the play head within your timeline to find the perfect still frame for your image from your video footage. Once you’ve found your perfect still frame, leave the play head where it is and select CRTL A to get the whole image and then CRTL J to copy the frame and create a new layer that is the still image.

Layers

Once you have done this you will notice that there is now a 2nd layer – this layer is your still frame. It is to this layer that you will be creating a mask but first, we’ll need to select a portion of the video that we will be looping. 

To do this, you’ll turn off the visibility of your second layer so you can watch the video. You will create the start and the end of your work area – your work area is all that will be exported when you save the file we are creating. To set the work area start time put your play head in the timeline to where you want the clip to start and then select the start work area. To create the end of the work area, select where you want the video clip to end using the play head and select end work area.

Note: You want to keep the video clip you are looping short try to keep it under 3 seconds if possible (so long as it contains the complete motion you are trying to loop, of course.)

Visiblity-OFF

StartWorkArea

EndWorkArea

Now, what we’re going to do is make a “hole” in your still image by creating a layer mask. What this will do is reveal what is beneath the still frame, i.e. the video. Stay with me. To create the mask for this frame you’ll want to select the still frame and then the magic wand tool. Using the magic wand tool we’ll select the area that we want to isolate, i.e. the area of motion. In this example we’re keeping the water moving.

WandToolSelection

With the area selected now we’re going to create the mask layer. Click on the add vector mask key while holding down the ALT key. It’s the icon at the bottom that looks like a rectangle with a little circle inside. By holding down the ALT key while you create a mask you are ensuring you are putting a hole in the still frame. You want to make sure the foreground color is set to black when you do this.

Foreground-Black

Once you have done this you will now see that the area in your still image has a hole. Once you turn on the visibility for your video layer, you will see the video play again in the ‘hole’.

VideoWithHole

Now you can save your work. Go to file -> Save for Web & Devices.

SaveWeb

You want to save your video as a GIF.

GIF save

In the bottom left you can see how big the file is. You can play with the image size dimensions on your right to get the file size down smaller. And in this area you MUST set looping options to “forever” so that your video continuously loops underneath the photo.

Loop Forever

Click Save and you’ve made your first cinemagraph!  

water---done

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