Not much more than a century ago, the term “motion picture” was coined in an attempt to illustrate the jump between photography and emerging cinema—in the same way Old English poets had called the sea a “whale road” and the sun a “sky candle.”
Since then, filmmakers haven’t rested much. It seems like every day brings a new modern hybrid—the talkie, the GIF, the vine, the vlog, and now the cinemagraph: an emerging hybrid of photography and digital animation that makes GIFs look so last century.
The brainchild of visual artist Kevin Burg and photographer Jamie Beck, cinemagraphs are essentially animations that begin in-camera and are then looped to create isolated movement. Minus the magical roots, they’re not all that different from the bewitched newspapers you see in Harry Potter films. However, instead of Sirius Black’s full-motion mug shot, you see only the shake of his hair—while the rest of Azkaban remains frozen in print:
Burg and Beck’s original inspiration was to capture living moments in their fashion photography, but the format has evolved into an art form of its own applicable to any genre.
Why It’s Not a Standard GIF
You’re probably familiar with animated GIFs, those crazy moving photos all the kids are posting on Reddit, but cinemagraphs are different. Think of them as the GIF’s more refined older brother—the one who went to art school, listens to obscure jazz (on vinyl, of course), and drinks only single highland malts. While your standard animated GIF, an acronym of Graphics Interchange Format, can be created in seconds, cinemagraphs begin in-camera and require both patience and expertise.
Perhaps more importantly, while animated GIFs seem to exist primarily to make jokes and emote pop culture references, cinemagraphs have the potential to make photos more lifelike—and more artful. They also bring several new characteristics, namely isolated motion and an insane level of precision that makes them appear to move perpetually without “resetting” after a set number of frames.
What Do I Need to Make One?!
As with most tasks in post-processing, there are a number of ways to make a cinemagraph—all of which require simply a steady tripod, a camera, and some type of photo editing software (e.g., Photoshop).
As for the specific recipe, Photojojo has one of the better cinemagraph tutorials out there if you’re interested in experimenting—and we have a full library of stock footage that’s waiting to be transformed into moving pictures.
If you do make a cinemagraph from our footage, we’d love to see it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can pay tribute to your hard work.
Adam Gillikin writes about stock footage, pictures that move, and film for VideoBlocks.