Cinemagraph Learnings from Down the Street

We’re excited to welcome our first guest writer to The Flixel Blog. Josh Rose is a modern renaissance man. In addition to being the Chief Creative Officer for Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s largest marketing agencies, Josh is also a passionate and talented street photographer. Having recently joined the Flixel Community, Josh reached out to us and offered to share his insights on street photography and the cinemagraph.

I am CCO at an agency that frequently creates cinemagraphs for our clients. So, I’ve been aware and versed in the medium for a while. I’m a big fan of progress and new media types and this is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. I’ve also been a fairly avid street photographer for a number of years. Recently, I’ve begun putting the two things together. And I like how it’s pushing my work, both personally and professionally. And if you’re looking to take your image-making into new territories, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Much has already been written about how to use cinemagraphs for business, but for you street photographers and artists out there looking to try something new, a few learnings from just down the street:

 Suit and Tie
Suit and Tie, 2015. By Josh S. Rose

Photographer, meet cinematographer.

You’re balancing two distinct roles when you make a cinemagraph. On the one hand, the same rules apply to making a cinemagraph that apply to your still photos – composition, light and all the rules of good still photography. That hasn’t changed. But you’re suddenly tasked with thinking about video, too. That’s a new element. And, like a cinematographer, you have to consider the role and meaning of that element. Its relevance and position in the frame. Also, technical issues that are particular to video, like keeping your camera still, staying aware of overlapping elements and how the video portion will loop. I’ll get into some of those specifically in a minute. But just from an approach standpoint, learn to switch back and forth between mindsets and you’re well on your way to making compelling work.

The emotion of motion.

The medium is new enough that having anything that moves is going to have a wow factor, but that’s going to wear off. The most effective cinemagraphs will use movement in conceptual ways. Or in ways that have the same emotional effect as a really good street shot – which often hinges on the unexpected, surreal or some amazingly coincidental confluence of things that make you feel special for bearing witness to it. This is tough in a medium like street shooting which doesn’t usually entail much pre-planning. Eventually, though, it becomes second nature to ideate the video component of a shot along with everything else. It’s just a new muscle. Now when you’re walking and observing the world, you’re free to think about the symbols and emotions inherent in moving objects, too. The dance of a fire on the end of a matchstick, the slow drip of a faucet, the hint of wind on a freezing day – these things can have huge emotional impact to an audience.
Hair Care, 2015. By Josh S. Rose

Appointment shooting.

Here’s the unexpected advantage of doing cinemagraphs: your camera is going to be on a tripod, so you can frame your shot, hit play and then pretend you’re not shooting. Which means people will be even more natural as they pass by. And then there’s the added benefit of being able to choose exactly which frame to use in Cinemagraph Pro. Your options actually increase with this style of shooting. But all of it relies on having your camera on a tripod. It’s a commitment. My suggestion: start by making “cinemagraph appointments.” Keep notes on shots you want to get, then set time to go get them. I had been wanting to shoot a pet store in my neighborhood. They have a fish tank in the window and I wanted a still shot with just the fish moving. The shot ended up being terrible, but on the way back home, I got this guy sleeping in a doorway that I liked. It was the “appointment” to do a cinemagraph which put the tripod in my hands. I’m not going to bring it out every time, but by making appointments, I set up windows of opportunities for cinemagraphs. Add it to your schedule.

Edit before you edit.

Honestly, there’s almost nothing to explain about Cinemagraph Pro’s editing tools. One slider selects your hero image, another your video segment. It’s basically that easy. The masking happens to live video, so you’re seeing it work as you paint your mask. You can also export your image, work on it and bring it back in (although that won’t change the video portion of it, so be careful with that). But that’s not to say that the whole thing is easy. You will quickly find a ton of little things that don’t look right. Nearly all of it is a product of how you shot it.

These are the biggest problem you’ll run into in editing:

  1. An unstable segment of video which causes that piece of video to float around, looking unhinged from the rest of the photo.
  2. Changes in light or color to that video segment. Many objects you’ll shoot are reflective and they will pick up environmental changes. That’s great when the whole thing is video, but looks odd when nothing else around it is moving.
  3. The video segment either overlaps or is overlapped by another moving object.
  4. An object that just doesn’t loop well. To handle all of this, choose your motion segment with attention to its properties as well as its “loopability” (in Cinemagraph Pro you can choose a loop that starts over from the beginning – with a fade! – or bounces back from the end) position yourself where the motion segment is isolated, use a tripod and then shoot enough footage to make sure you have stuff to work with. When shooting the “wiggle” guy, I had another angle that I thought framed the shot better, but it had it overlapping with moving cars, so it just didn’t work.
Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle, 2015. By Josh S. Rose

Be an early cinemagraph innovator.

I think this medium is here to stay. It’s pretty easy these days to be an early adopter, but less easy to be an early innovator. If you can find your own niche in this new medium, you have an opportunity to carve out a place for yourself that just isn’t there anymore in more established media. New creative territories don’t open up that often. If you think there’s something there, don’t just play in it, try to break it and find a new form of expression.

For yourself, for the world. Now is the time to experiment and push boundaries.

josh rose
Chief Creative Officer, Weber Shandwick
Flixel joshrose   Twitter @joshrose    Instagram joshsrose    Tumblr joshrose

One Comment

  1. Love this line:
    "Be an early cinemagraph innovator."
    great read!

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