A beginner’s guide to creating cinemagraphs

I love making films. They’re more challenging to master than still frame photos, but somehow even more satisfying when you put one together that works. It just brings that moment to life so much more.

I discovered cinemagraphs a while ago through Jaime Beck, who coined the term with her partner and is very much a master of cinemagraphs (borderlining art.) It wasn’t until I got part way through Xanthe’s Make Films course that I felt confident enough to experiment with them myself.

To put it simply, a cinemagraph is a still photograph in which a minor and repeated movement occurs. It’s used as a way to bring a photo and the story within it to life.

I’ve only made four so far, so I really don’t profess to be an expert. But I thought some of you might be beginners like me and would find a guide to how I’ve created them a useful way to get started.

What do you need?

• A camera or phone camera with filming capabilities. I have a Canon 6D and an iPhone 6S.
• A tripod (ideally) or a very steady hand. I have this one (which fits in my handbag) and this one (to use at home) for my DSLR. I use this one for my iPhone 6s.
• Film editing software like iMovie (helpful but not essential as most phones let you edit films anyway.)

Where to start?

You’re looking to capture a picture that has a small moving element to it that could play seamlessly in a loop. The most straight forward examples (and the best place to start) is pouring or stirring. Once you’ve grasped the concept then you can experiment with different things.

Here’s how I create a cinemagraph:

I have done all of mine at home as you need time to set up a steady filming spot and it typically takes longer to figure it all out when you’re a beginner.

You need to factor in all of the same things you would with photography, with your main priority being plenty of natural light. Ideally, you want soft light (ie a cloudy day) to avoid shadows and it is usually better to the side of where you’re filming. In this case the light is directly in front of the camera and results in some overexposure, but I liked this effect and it helped highlight the steam from the boiling water. It’s always worth experimenting and moving around, taking still photos to see what the scene looks like first.

Next up, you can start filming! For a pouring cinemagraph, all you need is about 5 seconds of steady pouring. You need to keep your pouring vessel and the water flow in the same place for this period to make it easier to create your cinemagraph. If I moved the kettle up and down or wobbled left to right in this clip the cinemagraph wouldn’t work very well.

Edit your footage first

Before I use a cinemagraph app, I edit my footage first by downloading it into iMovie on my MacBook. This is because I tend to use my DSLR over my iPhone, so you if you’re using your phone you could do it all in one place.

I usually just shorten the clip to the part with the pouring in it and remove sound so that I don’t have to do this in the cinemagraph app, but you could also slow down or speed up the motion in the video. I tend to save the footage in a smaller pixel format (just 720 dpi resolution) for the purpose of downloading a smaller sized file to my phone.

Using the MaskArt app

I use MaskArt app on iPhone, it’s not 100% reliable but it is easy to use. It’s not on Android but hopefully if you search for a cinemagraph app, you’ll find one that’s free and works for you. I’d assume that the principle features are the same so hopefully you’ll still find this guide useful.

Step 1 – Download the app and choose the video you’ve just made.  It’s worth watching the clip in the app to identify where you want to isolate and release the motion in the video.

Step 2 – Select the still frame tab.

Step 3. Choose your still frame, you want to choose the whole scene that you want to keep still.

Step 4. Select the brush tool to isolate and release the motion by highlighting the area with your finger.

Step 5 – You only want to highlight the motion you want to release, so if it’s a small area you can zoom in and change the size and hardness of the brush to make it easier.

Step 6 – You can use the eraser tool to remove any unwanted motion. The trick is to try to match up the still frame to the motion. I’ve only highlighted the cup and the pouring because I wasn’t able to keep the kettle and my arm that still and it adds to the cinemagraph effect. If I’d have highlighted part of the kettle I’d start to see shadows of the movement behind it, which you don’t want.

Step 7 – Press your finger on the screen to see where you’ve isolated and released motion.

Step 8 – To help with movement shadows moving into your film, you can trim your clip in the app to isolate the exact period of motion that works for your cinemagraph. This also helps to create a more seamless loop as the shorter the clip, the more seamless it is likely to be.

Step 9 – Finally preview your cinemagraph and if you’re happy, tap next and save.

 

Here’s the finished cinemagraph:

 

Finding inspiration

Jo @CandidsbyJo started #CinemagraphSunday last year, which offers great inspiration about the different types of cinemagraphs to experiment with. I’ve shared a few of my favourites below.

Obviously, try not to fully recreate any of these images, but if you do please make sure you credit the individual using their social media handle.

A post shared by Jo Yee (@candidsbyjo) on

A post shared by Charlotte Hu (@charlottehuco) on

I hope that was all clear and gives you a good starting point. Do let me know if you share any cinemagraphs after this by mentioning me in a comment under your film @thiscitylifeldn.

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2 Comments

  1. February 19, 2018 / 8:38 pm

    Oooh very handy – I’ve admired yours and others before but had no idea where to start, so thank you!

    • ThisCityLifeLondon
      February 20, 2018 / 9:26 pm

      Oh I’d be so glad if it helps get you into creating them! Once you start you find other ideas quickly come to mind!