I’ve been asked by a number of people how I create my cinemagraphs and how I get their unique look, so I put this together to give away the techniques I use. In essence it’s not complicated and what I’ll show you here is very easy to learn and reproduce yourself, particularly if you use my recommendation for the Cinemagraph software from Flixel Photos called Cinemagraph Pro along with texture packs from Mextures and plugins from Film Convert for endless finished looks.
Up the top is a folder of the files in Dropbox if you want to give this a go yourself. One file is the project folder for Flixel Cinemagraph Pro software which I use, it's Mac only and you can download a free trial to give it a go (see further below). For downloading the project is packed in a zip container - so extract the entire folder itself not only it's contents once downloaded. The trial of their software just adds a watermark to anything you export. If you like it see below for a discount code to purchase it at up to 20% off! I've also included the original video file (after the grading process shown below)... I'm not going into Photoshop/After Effects methods of creating a cinemagraph file in this tutorial but if you want to give it a go with this video feel free. Please don't share these files/videos online without my permission.
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Flixel have been good enough to give me discount codes for everyone to use. Yep I get a little kickback when these codes are used too!
What is a Cinemagraph
I like to describe a cinemagraph as an image that has selective areas of looping motion while the rest remains still like a photo. To do this we are capturing a video clip to begin with.
My Camera Gear
Ultimately you can shoot on whatever camera shoots video but I’d recommend a minumum 1920 x 1080 (HD) format… right up to 4K which Cinemagraph Pro can handle as well. I use either my Panasonic GX7 or a GH4 along with a bunch of my favourite LUMIX/Leica prime lenses. Personally I’ve always preferred prime (non-zoom lenses) because it forces me to work and think a little harder to get the framing. I like the GH4 because it has a really nice Cine-D profile in-camera which flattens the colours and tones initially but allows me to really play with them in post editing which I’ll explain later.
I’m going to get into creating the actual cinemagraph first because that’s ultimately what makes this style so special and many of you won’t be delving into the colour grading etc.
So if we jump to the last stage first, I’ve now done all the colour grading which we’ll cover at the end, I now have a video file that is ideally around 10 seconds long and contains motion that you can easily isolate from the other areas of the image which will remain still.
The following video tutorial is a great introductory look at the basics of creating a cinemagraph in Cinemagraph Pro, it’s part of Flixel’s Learning Lab containing basic to advanced video tutorials so there’s no point in me trying to recreate this… have a watch.
From this video you’ll see just how simple the idea is and once you grasp what kind of video footage you need to shoot the creative opportunities become endless. Once your eye becomes accustomed to shooting for Cinemagraphs you’ll never see the world around you in the same way again, it plays with your perception!
Tips for better Cinemagraphs
The best way to learn everything from masking to looping is to watch some of the Learning Lab tutorials over at Flixel and to browse the galleries in the app or website to see what other talented artists are doing. But to list some tips to get you started…
Use a tripod! Because you are masking an area of the image to remain static while the other areas move, you need the entire frame to be absolutely still… otherwise you’ll see the join between those two areas and it destroys the illusion. Even a bit of camera shake might not be noticeable at first but as soon as you try to mask it in Cinemagraph Pro it stands out like a sore thumb. I use a simple light weight tripod but if it’s windy I weigh it down by hanging my camera bag off the hook on the bottom of the tripod. You can of course just put the camera on any flat surface when you need to.
Shoot a little more than you think you need. In Cinemagraph Pro you’ll often cut the final loop down to only a few seconds depending on whether you use the repeat option with crossfade or the bounce option. To choose which few seconds works best give yourself at least 10 seconds worth of footage to import, but when you’re shooting I’d record about 20-30 seconds and do a few takes in case of camera shakes you don’t notice till later.
Make sure the object or area of motion doesn’t have something else moving behind it… i.e. if you want to show someone standing on the street and have their hair blowing back and forth in a loop while the cars and people are still then make sure the segment of video you choose doesn’t have a pedestrian walking behind a wisp of hair of you’ll suddenly see them disappear into the masked area. However with some tricky techniques you can make motion work behind a still area which looks really amazing but that’s for an advanced tutorial!
Treat it like a photo! Don’t just shoot something because it has motion that could loop well… unless you’re just practicing. If it wouldn’t have made a great still photo then chances are it still won’t make a great cinemagraph.
If Cinemagraph Pro by Flixel is the incantation at the end to make the final magic spell work then Mextures is my secret blend of magic herbs and spices to take you into another world.
Mextures create one of the top selling photo editing apps on the iOS app store globally and it’s massively popular on Instagram (search the hashtag #mextures). I began using it purely for my still photography because their app doesn’t edit videos, but I visited the website of it’s creator Merek Davis (www.merekdavis.com) out of curiosity and found that he also sold the same colour gradients and texture layers from the app as high res packs on his site. Designed primarily for those who want to use them in Photoshop for professional work, I suddently realised this might just work in Adobe Premiere too! I bought a few packs and blew my mind whe I layered them up on the video timeline in Premiere to see the result. I was so excited I wrote a comment on his site to which he responded with interest having not seen them used for that purpose before. That lead to a feature on the Mextures website recently and through their Instagram account. It’s possibly the most in depth article on my philosophy and background in photography so feel free to read more here: Mextures.com/Journal
The Mextures high res packs are essentially layers of jpeg images which I can layer on the video timeline and apply Blending Modes through the opacity effect just as you would in the Mextures App such as Overlay, Colour Dodge or whatever suits the image. The options are simply endless and unbelievably fun to experiment with if you’re someone who obsesses with the art of colour and light like me!
One of the great features of editing the video like this is the ability to apply the layers to certain areas of the content by using a mask which you can see is blue line selecting an area of the video frame on the screenshot above. This is particularly important if you want to use layers of Grit & Grain for example… the reason being that if you have motionless speckles of grit and grain over the top of the area that will eventually be in motion it can easily break the illusion of a still photo because it simply looks like a layer over the top instead of being part of the original image. With motion images if there were genuine dust and scratches they would move and jump around with each frame so I mask an area using a large feather to smooth the transition between those areas. It helps at that point to know which area is going to be in motion on the final cinemagraph.
Film Convert Plugin
The other plugin for Premiere I use is called FilmConvert from http://www.filmconvert.com/ – this works great with my footage from the Panasonic GH4 as they have a specific camera profile designed for the GH4 along with a number of other cameras. These profiles are LUT’s (Look up Tables) for colour grading an image custom designed to the image produced by the specific camera. When applied to the video it produces the look of a range of different classic film stocks and it does it extremely well!
Finally this is where we jump back to the start of this tutorial… I export the graded video from Premiere to be imported into Cinemagraph Pro to create the final loop of selective motion.
There’s a great deal more detail I could go into on all these steps but I hope this will give you a good overview of my workflow. Thanks for reading!
I’m a strong advocate for Flixel’s software when it comes to creating a cinemagraph, it’s totally driven the direction I’ve taken as a photographer and helped me to begin finding success with my work. Firstly you can try it out for free, it just embeds a watermark on your exports, but if you want to create a cool looping video profile for Facebook you can do that without buying a license and without the watermark being embedded.
It is admittedly priced for professionals but the time it saves means that for people who can include it in their paid work it pretty quickly pays for itself. But I took the leap before I was producing cinemagraphs commercially and because of what it allowed me to do I started making money because of it!
If you go on to purchase the license, there’s a few different plans but the best value is the annual cloud subscription which I use... they’ve given you 20% off that or 10% off the monthly subsription (or one-time app purchases). You can see more about the plans on the Flixel Website.