Ok so before I get bashed by the gif gang... I don't hate gifs! They have a place... still. The popularity of Giphy and the ability to hold entire message conversations with gifs alone has firmly placed them in our collective culture forever and their cross platform compatibility can't be overlooked... for now.
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But the future is big for high resolution formats of smoothly looping images in advertising and digital art. More on this at the end.
But first here's some irony... when I originally posted this I embedded my high res cinemagraphs from my gallery on Flixel, which is a fantastic feature and delivers the best possible quality, smaller file sizes and faster loading times. But half the time we're browsing on mobile and this particular blog platform wasn't handling them well, leaving big gaps beneath each embed or not showing them at all via the Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).
So I've made the decision for now to use gifs on here which you can click to see the full res Cinemagraph video via my flixel gallery. It's still early days and the cross platform compatibility of embedded video is improving quickly so watch this space!
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Actually the gif above is also a Cinemagraph, yeah just to confuse you. A gif 'technically' is a file format e.g. file.gif - but it has become known for more than it's file extension. If you ask most people what a gif is, they'll say it's an animated image. Therein lies the crossover to cinemagraphs which are designed to 'appear' as an animated image... but there the crossover ends.
If you ask people what the style of a gif is they'll think of funny repeating loops from movies, quirky animated cartoons or in the early days of the internet annoying flashy banner ads.
WHAT IS A CINEMAGRAPH?
A Cinemagraph in it's broadest sense is an image that appears like a still photo with isolated areas of the image moving in a seamless loop. There is still debate going on about what should be termed a Cinemagraph and what should just be referred to as a video loop or motion graphics. The way I see it, to be called a Cinemagraph there should be at least some part of that isolated motion that has been captured as true video within that scene (or timelapse). That allows the art of cinemagraphs to remain in the realm of photography which is where it started (some brief history coming up).
Meet my wife and baby! This for me typifies the classic Cinemagraph... it's something that on it's own would make a beautiful photograph but it has an element of motion that simply bring it to life and draws the eye if you're scrolling through endless images on social media.
WHAT'S NOT A CINEMAGRAPH?
Other techniques to achieve a similar look are to apply effects, from complex light flickers in Knoll Light Factory to quick and easy effects such as snow/rain over a still photo from one of many mobile apps. That doesn't make it a Cinemagraph. You can add animated graphics to a still photo and say it's an animated photo... but it's not as Cinemagraph. You can add morph effects to the water, hair or steam in a still photo so it looks like it's flowing and moving... but that's not a Cinemagraph (see Plotagraphs).
(This is uploaded to my Flixel gallery but I wouldn't call it a Cinemagraph!)
The image above I call a video or motion loop. I've take a video (you can also see the leaves swaying slightly) and in Adobe After Every Effects I've animated the moon to spin around. Just because I've uploaded it to Flixel doesn't mean it's a Cinemagraph but I used their software 'Cinemagraph Pro' to create the final loop.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The name Cinemagraph was originally coined by a New York photography couple Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck and they still produce some of the best cinemagraphs around for very high end brands. By the time they tried to trademark the term it had already become so popular that the trademark office wouldn't approve it. A while later a startup business in Canada called Flixel seeing the potential of the format developed software to specialise in process of making cinemagraphs instead of the cumbersome process in Photoshop. Flixel were able to successfully trademark the term because it was associated with their software called Cinemagraph Pro. Since then Flixel have really taken the popularity of cinemagraphs to a whole new level. I personally have them to thank for being a big promotor of my work from the moment I started in 2015.
Beck & Burg: www.cinemagraphs.com
WHY NOT SAVE THEM AS .GIFS?
Originally that was the best and only way and even now it's necessary for embedding in email newsletters or when you get compatibility issues with different wysiwyg platforms. Gifs are still universally cross platform friendly. But in recent years html5 has allowed much more control and cross browser compatibility for videos to be used as webpage backgrounds and embedded with autoplay and auto loop functionality. Their only weakness now is mobile which still finds many embedded videos converted to a still frame only. This is all to protect peoples mobile bandwidth (though the browser developers and mobile OS developers were happy to let bloated gifs hog our bandwidth... go figure. Flixel embeds ainto re designed to cleverly detect if they're loaded on mobile and replace it with a pre rendered gif version.
COLOUR RESOLUTION & FILE SIZE
A gif is made up of only 256 colours at the most and the file size of anything bigger than 600 pixels wide and a few seconds long becomes horribly bloated, chewing through your mobile bandwidth and slowing down page loading. Web based video format such as .mp4 and .webm can deliver literally millions of colours and even displayed at 1920 x 1080 pixels can be under 1MB where the exact equivalent as a gif would be well over 20MB. You get the picture! So for photography where colour and sharp resolution count the .gif format is not ideal.
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter amongst others have now recognised this and enabled short videos to autoplay and autoloop... not doubt as a way to alleviate the horrendous bandwidth their networks would get if everyone was posting gifs. Tumblr have even made moves to encourage video loops instead of gifs which have been the backbone of Tumblr feeds for years.
Gifs will look fine in a small box like the few at the start but the moment you want a nice webpage background or to run a Cinemagraph on a digital display screen of billboard it falls apart into a pixelated and banded mess.
NOW IS THE TIME FOR CINEMAGRAPHS
You'll see more in my article 'The future for Cinemagraphs' but already cinemagraphs are being used across the advertising industry but it's still early days for those who want to get in the game both as creators and advertisers. If you want to be the first in your industry to stand out with such engaging content now is the time to do it. It has become clear that cinemagraphs are no longer a momentary trend or fad, their ability to stand up to classic photography and video means it's here to stay... whatever we call it. Innovations such 360 VR cinemagraphs are already happening from big fashion brands like Ted Baker and that's just the start.
Check out this comparison 'Gifs vs HD Cinemagraphs' on the Flixel Blog.
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