The Art of the Cinemagraph
by Caroline Jensen
Vanguard Professional Caroline Jensen specializes in black and white portraiture, unique macro work, and colorful landscapes. She is also a CMuniversity Instructor for Clickin Moms.
Cinemagraphs are a study in curiosity and patience. I am generally a still photographer, but the magic of cinemagraphs caught my eye and I dove down the rabbit hole. Today, I am going to give you a few tips and tricks for making successful cinemagraphs.
A cinemagraph is a video that is running underneath a still photo of the same scene. You mask (wipe away) the photograph layer and reveal the bits of motion underneath. The effect can be alarming for the viewer, who may not be expecting the image to move. The effect is best when a small portion of the image moves, versus a large portion, which can make the cinemagraph appear to be a video and therefore the effect is lost.
I use three programs to make my cinemagraphs, although you can use Photoshop alone for a very simple version. My workflow starts by bringing the video into Lightroom for color grading in the library module, then I work with the nuts and bolts of the cinemagraph in Flixel. The still image, that layers on top, can be edited anywhere, but I like to use Photoshop so I can clone any areas that need assistance.
Here are a few tips to consider when making a cinemagraph:
- Plan your cinemagraph in advance. I like to storyboard my images. The image may not turn out exactly like you want, but this step assures that the process runs smoother. First, get an idea of what you want to move in the image. I look for naturally moving elements, like steam, sparkles, water flowing, etc. Be aware that predictable movement, like a stream flowing, is easier than unpredictable movement, like a person wearing a necklace that is moving.
- Shoot the highest quality movie clips you can (I shoot 4K or HD) and shoot longer segments than you think might be necessary. Many of my cinemagraphs are looped movies that are only a few seconds long. I try to shoot at least ten seconds of material at a time though to better the odds a bit of the film will work.
- Isolate the area of motion you want to reveal from the video and make sure that it doesn’t overlap any other area of motion. This is an area where trial and error are necessary. Many a potential cinemagraph has ended up in the trash bin thanks to wayward motion encroaching on the masked area. My biggest tip is isolate the motion against a neutral or dark background. Be particularly careful with living subjects. Tears rolling down the cheek may be a great idea, but if your subject moves, the effect will not work.
- Anchor people in your cinemagraphs. Allow your subject to sit or lean against a sturdy surface so they can hold their breath and brace themselves as you shoot your movie clip.
- Use a sturdy tripod. I use the Vanguard VEO 265CB when traveling and the Alta Pro 254CT with BBH 100BH when at home. It is imperative, as in you guarantee failure, if the camera moves at all. I use a delay timer or motion trigger release to make sure my camera doesn’t lurch when starting or stopping a video.
My final piece of advice is to shoot multiple options in one sitting. Cinemagraphs can be time consuming and it is disappointing to fail only because you failed to get a segment of film that is successful. It is better to overshoot than undershoot!
View more of Caroline's cinemagraphs and more: https://flixel.com/carolinej/