What is a Cinemagraph?

What is a Cinemagraph anyways?


I’ve recently slightly updated the definition of the Cinemagraph. Many people seem to think that artificially stopping some aspect of the picture is necessary – it is not. Here’s a link to our definition. Note that I’ve spoken to or read articles from dozens of Cinemagraph makers, including some people who pioneered this art form, to make this definition.

“Cinemagraphs are still photographs in which a minor and repeated movement occurs, forming a video clip. They are published as an animated GIF or in other video formats, and can give the illusion that the viewer is watching an animation.

Cinemagraphs are made by taking a series of photographs or a video recording, and, using image editing software, compositing the photographs or the video frames into a seamless loop of sequential frames. This is done in such a way that motion in part of the subject between exposures (for example, a person’s dangling leg) is perceived as a repeating or continued motion, in contrast with the stillness of the rest of the image.

The term “cinemagraph” was coined by U.S. photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck, who used the technique to animate their fashion and news photographs beginning in early 2011.”

Cinemagraph Basics

  • A cinemagraph is a high quality gif. It needs a certain resolution (something like Tumblr’s limitation of image widths) and a good colour palette.
  • A cinemagraph is very smoothly looped. There should not be a noticeable “seam” to a cinemagraph.
  • The loop creates a certain quality of motion. This is subtle, but important. The quality of the movement is what defines the feel of the cinemagraph. It should be well crafted, smooth, and natural within the boundaries of the universe of the cinemagraph.
  • A Cinemagraph has an immobile frame of reference. Just like a photograph, the “world” of a cinemagraph doesn’t move.
  • A Cinemagraph is distinct from a Plotagraph. Cinemagraphs typically are sourced from videos and are made by looping existing movement; Plotagraphs are sourced from photos and are made by adding artificial movement.

All definitions include these things; these are the silver (not golden) rules of Cinemagraphy, in that they can clearly help us define what is not a cinemagraph, though they don’t really give us a definitive answer about what is a cinemagraph.

Types of Cinemagraphs

Living Moment Cinemagraphs

These cinemagraphs take a moment and preserve it. The quality of the movement is such that there is no particular part of the cinemagraph that is artificially frozen; any parts that aren’t in motion would not be in motion if the cinemagraph was a video. The difference between this kind of cinemagraph and a video is that the moment has a loop, whereas a video does not; this moment is eternal, whereas a video is transient, i.e.each instance of the video recreates the moment, which moves along a timeline from beginning to end, but the cinemagraph’s timeline is circular instead of linear. No beginning, no ending. One particularity of this kind of cinemagraph is that any one frame of it should be a good photograph. This kind of cinemagraph is popular in IWDRM, but here are some examples from this site:

Isolated Movement Cinemagraphs

These cinemagraphs take a normally busy scene and freeze it as a photograph, and then preserve the motion of one particularly small part of said photograph. This is more clearly different from a video than the “Living Moment” type above; it’s taken a clearer step away from IWDRM, and these types are usually about subtlety. Another clear distinction is that the underlying, unmoving photograph should be a good photograph, but there are some frames of the isolated movement that would be detrimental to an overall picture (not every frame is as equally captivitating, nor does it need to be). F. David Robbins seems to favour this and here are some examples of this kind of cinemagraph from this site:

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