I have a habit of drawing out my answers but today I'm cutting to the chase.
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The single most important rule is this...
Ignore the moving parts and ask yourself, is it simply a good photo?
Now I'm going to expand on this and falling back on my usual habits of thinking out loud and playing devils advocate on myself!
BREAKING THE RULES
I believe in learning the rules then bending them... to the point of breaking them, to see what works. So can you simply shoot a boring image and make it more interesting by revealing an element of motion within it? Potentially yes you can.
It still won't have the impact of a good image but it will in theory have more impact than the same image without motion to invite your attention. A cinemagraph has the ability to bring some magic into the mundane details of life... to highlight those little moments of the everyday world which pass us by instead of being enjoyed for their pure aesthetic beauty.
Take something as simple as pouring a cup of tea. You could shoot it beautifully but for this example I'm going to use a really 'plain' still photo vs it's cinemagraph equivalent shot on nothing more than an iPhone and quickly edited in Flixel Cinemagraph Pro for iOS.
It's a small moment in a day but the action of pouring a cup of tea is laden with sensory pleasure for tea lovers (same applies to coffee!) - we hear the tea pouring, we smell the aroma (this was peppermint) and we see the sparkle of light playing in the cup as we pour. The visual of tea pouring in a cinemagraph helps to trigger those other senses. No we don't need a trigger, for many of us the still photo will be enough but for plenty of people it takes a stronger trigger to kick the imagination into gear.
I've written about this in one of my earlier posts but the power of harnessing our imagination is greatly overlooked. Advertising for years has been all about spoon feeding everything to you, leaving little to the imagination and now we're seeing a backlash, a craving for subtlety because as humans we need our imagination to breath... it's almost an organ which we cannot survive without.
INSTAGRAM & FIRST IMPRESSIONS
So yes in theory a cinemagraph can improve even a boring image, but it's first impressions that count. Instagram is the perfect testing ground, people will often decide in a split second on a square little thumbnail whether they tap into it. The most common way to get found on Instagram is by people browsing through hashtag feeds or through the discover tab where all they see is that thumbnail. Aside from a video icon on cinemagraphs they don't know it's going to be more engaging than a still photo and some would say that by seeing a video icon they're less likely to click on it... so you are relying on an image with impact and that's it. A plain image motion or not is not going to get noticed.
That's why I try to frame a subject or highlight of the image as central as possible on cinemagraphs intended for Instagram such as Ads... even if they're shot landscape 16:9 they'll be seen as a square preview first most of the time... so make it look inviting.
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