Cinemagraph Tips: Where to Start

This post originally appeared on the blog of cinemagraph creator Mario Sahe-Lacheante. We’re sharing it here with his permission. 


Now that we’re familiar with, and all excited about, cinemagraphs, the next step is to just go out and try to create some for yourself. (If you’re reading about cinemagraphs for the first time, please refer to my earlier blog post here for an introduction.)

Creating cinemagraphs will be a lot of fun, and will most likely become a passion soon after your first few attempts.

As you start out and fall in love with cinemagraphs, and keep practising and pushing to get better, you might even end up landing some work for clients.

Should you find yourself anywhere in this creative spectrum, I thought I’d share a few tips with you from my experience:

  • Subtlety is leader, but not always king. Subtlety is definitely the magic component in most cinemagraphs, from breezy hair or dresses, to softly poured drinks, subtlety is usually where it’s at. Until it’s not. Some people would have you believe that a cinemagraph is not a cinemagraph if the movement isn’t subtle. To me, that’s like saying a photograph isn’t a photograph unless you’re using an expensive lens. While it goes a long way to help, it’s not mutually exclusive, and you can make good cinemagraphs with bigger motion the same way you can take great shots on your phone. Referring back to our earlier definition of a ‘living photograph’, approach your cinemagraphs with this question: “What motion will really make this image pop?”. I’ve seen and created cinemagraphs where the motion was very obvious and even took up most of the frame, without breaking the cinemagraph aesthetic, and others where the motion can take a moment to spot. So the rules aren’t cut and dry.

Here’s an example of a lot of motion in a cinemagraph that I shot for Shell at the Goodwood Revival festival in the UK:

And here’s an example with a lot more subtle motion:
  • Speaking of motion, I’ve learned a tip from my experience that serves as a good gauge for when you’re unsure if you’ve gone too far with how much motion you retain. If you’re uncertain, just ask yourself this question: “Does this just look like video?”. Sometimes a cinemagraph has so much happening in it, that it just looks like video playing by itself, having lost the photographic aspect of it. If your answer to this question is yes, chances are you need to cut out more of the action, or use/plan a different shot. This is important in ensuring that you keep the cinemagraph aesthetic as strong as possible but, again, it might be different for the shot you’re working on and might work really well.
  • And here’s another tip that works if you’re in the city or around events: try to get people in the shot. Many things in our planet, even in nature, can sometimes be still or motionless, but one thing that’s never completely motionless, is people. So if you’re after a shot that you like, and you really want to sell the cinemagraph aspect of it, try and capture it with some people in the shot – even just in the background. Having some movement in the shot, with people frozen in place, is one of the quickest ways to ‘sell’ the cinemagraph concept.

For a good comparison on the difference people make, compare this cinemagraph that I quickly created without any people:

to this one that was created by the talented Michel Molder:

  • Another important point is to keep your distribution in mind. The internet is still young when it comes to cinemagraphs, so they’re slowly being utilised across more platforms, but it’s important that you keep in mind where you’d like to see each shot featured, especially if you’re creating them for a client. The reason is two-fold:1. The prominence of your motion will need to work for all the relevant platforms. If I shoot a job for a client that wants to use a cinemagraph on their website, subtle motion is great and usually a winner to go with. However, if they also want to place that image on Instagram, which is currently one of the most cinemagraph-friendly platforms, you might end up losing the effect of the cinemagraph if the motion is too subtle for a small screen – and people will scroll past, thinking it’s just a still image. Especially if you decide to use the new 16×9 aspect ratio. At 16×9, cinemagraphs can end up too small and squished to be very effective. This leads to reason number 2:2. Aspect ratios can be required to be different for impact across different platforms. While the client might want a 16×9 image at the top of their website, they might need a 5×4 aspect shot to be most effective on Instagram, which usually means shooting the scene twice, as it’s not always easy to just crop the same shot to two different formats. So thinking about this in advance can help with your planning and save some headaches!
  • Shoot everything and find your own taste. Shoot trains, shoot rivers or waterfalls, shoot grass in the wind, shoot someone’s hair or scarf blowing in a breeze, shoot some wine being poured, and just keep shooting. Shoot with different cameras too – if you have a camera, test it out and try it, but also shoot on your phone and see which workflow you prefer. Trying different subject matter will keep you on your toes and teach you about the different caveats and tricks that come with each, and pretty soon you’ll develop a taste for the style or category that draws you most. I started with a glass of whisky and, while I’ve shot a lot of other work, it seems that I keep coming back to wanting to improve my work and my lighting with a nice glass of whisky – which is also a nice reward afterward!
  • Experiment and try out workflows that work best. I first saw cinemagraphs two years ago and, while I was intrigued, I realised that the traditional way to get a good cinemagraph done through Photoshop or After Effects, and getting a seamless loop, was very time intensive, so I gave up. Those workflows still exist and the internet is full of tutorials on them, but I’d recommend checking out the awesome app from Flixel, called Cinemagraph Pro. Why Cinemagraph Pro? Because they did some heavy thinking and planning, and built an app that makes the whole process very easy. There’s a mobile app that works well and is fun to start with to wet your appetite, but they also make an app for Mac, which is robust and well thought-out to the point where I, and many of the awesome people in the community, use the app professionally. The more advanced you get, the more you might end up doing some extra work in Photoshop or After Effects to finesse your cinemagraph, but Cinemagraph Pro puts incredible ease in the cinemagraph finish of your shot. Flixel’s appeal also lies in their subscription service, which offers access to their cloud hosting for your own cinemagraphs (or flixels as they like to call them!), which give users a means to embed them, and exposure to some of the awesome work people are doing in the community – similarly to Vimeo. Flixel is also incredibly supportive of their community, and they go to great lengths to open up doors for the community and the medium and the use of cinemagraphs around the world. And no, I wasn’t paid to say that! 🙂

Once you’ve started creating cinemagraphs, the best thing you can do is ask. Ask questions, ask for feedback, and have a look around some of the best work out there, which is only getting better by the day.

Once cinemagraphs get in your head, you’ll find it hard to look at the world around you and not think about what might make a good cinemagraph!

Good luck, and please don’t be shy to ask questions. If you’re a Flixel subscriber, Flixel’s support team and private Facebook Group are also great to chat with, so do get involved!


See more of Mario’s cinemagraphs in his Flixel Gallery.
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(Chief Marketing Officer)

Robert eats, sleeps and snores cinemagraphs while leading the Flixel Marketing Team. He stands at work but spends an awful lot of time seated on his road bike.