Animation: Create a Cinemagraph

Intermediate level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop


In this tutorial, I’m going to explain something that many of you keep asking me: What is a cinemagraph? A cinemagraph originates from the union between the concepts of photo and video, resulting in an exciting and amazing combination. In short, the cinemagraph keeps the main element still and animate small elements in order to awaken certain feelings. Some authors consider that the cinemagraph makes the image be perceived as a memory frozen in time.

A cinemagraph can be a .gif or a video loop. In this tutorial, we’re going to learn how to create a GIF in Photoshop, getting a visually appealing result without having to use very complex tools. Are you in the mood?

The image below is an example where you can see how cool and eye-catching this effect is and can be great for sites like Giphy, Fixel, Instagram,...


First Step: Seek Inspiration and Prepare Material

The most important thing when creating a cinemagraph is to think it out and plan it before you start. It’s essential that you foresee issues you may face when editing the cinemagraph. For example, it’s possible that the moving image overlaps the static elements or that the scene is too dark, among other things. (You may need to repeat the scene several times, it’s OK, but it’s better to plan it in advance and foresee some issues).

When preparing the material, besides the camera (mobile, compact or reflex) you'll also need a tripod or some other sort of support to keep the camera still while working. When recording, you can use both the continuous shooting mode or a video. In my case, I prefer working with a video clip. I attach the clip here so you can work with the same as me.

In order to edit a cinemagraph, there’re many different options apart from Photoshop (or even edit from a PC). There are applications and specialized programs such as Cinemagraph Lite or Pro (exclusively for Mac and iOs), Fotodanz (Android) and many others you’ll find in Play Store (or App Store) or directly for your own operating system. 


Start Editing

When your video is ready, let’s get started and edit the cinemagraph. In this tutorial, we’ll be working with Photoshop’s Timeline and other functions that might not be included in previous versions of Photoshop CC.  

Step 1

Open up Photoshop and create a new file with the same aspect ratio as the video you recorded. In my case, my video is 1920x1080px, that is, it has an aspect ratio of 16:9. In order to avoid the device to be slowed down, I’m going to create a file of 1280x720px, that keeps the same aspect ratio. 


Step 2

Go to the folder containing your video and drag the video to the artboard. 


Step 3

Make sure the Timeline panel is open in order to edit the video. So, if it isn’t, go to Window → Timeline.


Step 4

Then, click on Create Video Timeline to enable the functions of the video we selected.


Step 5

Create a copy of the video layer. You can do it by pressing Cmd / Ctrl + J or by right-clicking on the layer → Duplicate Layer... 


Step 6 

The top layer will now cover those moving elements we don’t want to be revealed in our cinemagraph, so we need to turn this video into a still photo. However, you can use the timeline before to select the position you like the most. Once you pause the video on the image you like, right-click on the layer and select Rasterize Layer. This way, you’ll be able to convert the video contained in the top layer into a static photo. 


Step 7

Add a layer mask to the top layer.


Step 8

Select the layer mask we just created, grab the Brush Tool (B) and paint in black over the areas you want to see movement. In this case, the lights. 


Now, perfect and adjust the area until getting the result you’re looking for. In my case, the model was still so it was easy, but ft there’s a lot of movement, be careful when isolating the area to avoid unwanted movements in the surrounding areas. The result you’ll get should be similar to this one:


Step 9 

Clip the video down and keep the middle of it to narrow down the video’s length. In this case, I took as a reference one of the light bulbs, so I made sure that one of the bulbs was on at the start point and the same bulb was off at the end point. In order to clip down the timeline, just drag the ends to the inside of the timeline. 


At this point, we could say our GIF would be ready to be exported. But first, I’m going to make sure my design is perfect by removing unwanted elements like the cable coming out of the sofa.


Improve the Image

Now, we're going to improve the design by removing the cable coming out of the sofa, so don't get distracted as we still have to export the design.  Let's continue!

Step 1

The first step will be to paint with white the mask’s area where the cable is. If you click on the layer mask while pressing the Alt key, you’ll notice that the part where the cable is should no longer be selected.

El primer paso será volver a pintar de blanco la parte de la máscara de capa donde está el cable. Si haces clic sobre la máscara de capa mientras pulsas la tecla Alt, puedes fijarte en que la parte donde esta el cable, ya no debería estar seleccionada.


Step 2

Go to the layer on the top and select the Clone Stamp tool. Remember that the Clone Stamp tool is a destructive editing tool, so I recommend you to copy the superior layer in case you need to go back some steps. Repeat the same steps as before: press Ctrl / Cmd + J and hide the inferior layer. 


After that, it’s important to set the timeline again since, when copying, clips aren't kept.


Step 3

Select the Clone Stamp (C) and start covering the cable. Hold Alt, select the background and start painting. 


Step 4

Improve the clipped area until the cable is fully removed. 


Once you’re happy with the result, let’s move on to the last step, where we’re going to export our final result to share it with the rest of the world. Come on, just one little more push!

Export the Cinemagraph

I really hope you find this tutorial easy to follow and that, up to this point, you haven’t found any problem. In case you have any doubt, use this tutorial’s forum to ask any questions and I’ll try to answer you as soon as possible. Well, at this point, it only remains to properly export our file as a GIF to avoid unwanted issues.

Step 1

Before exporting the file, let’s have a look at some technical issues and interesting tips. I’ve opted for creating a GIF instead of a video since it’s easier to create an infinitely-looping animation with this option. In case our picture is only intended for Facebook or Instagram, we can export it as a video clip because video loops can be used in Instagram and Facebook (if and only it lasts less than 30 seconds). 

Videos are of higher quality because they allow more colors than GIFs (they only support 256 colors), so you need to mull over which option you prefer. After this brief introduction, you may wonder why I opted for a GIF. Well, as I aim to create a Chrismas image to share with everyone on Whatsapp and Telegram, the best option here is a GIF.  

However, in case you're interested in exporting a video file, I explain how to do it below. Those of you who want to create a loop like I did, go to step 3. It’s entirely up to you.

Step 2

Exporting a video file is quite simple. Simply click on the expandable menu in the Timeline panel → Render Video... 

A window will open where you can set the parameters of the render. You’ll see that the size is already set based on the file size, so you only need to make sure the video is in a suitable format (in my case, H.264) and high quality.  


Now, it only remains to choose where we’re going to save it and wait until it’s rendered. Easy, right? 

Step 3

Let’s export our document into a GIF. First of all, it's important to know relevant stuff regarding the format we're going to work with. You should take into account that it's an image format (not necessarily animated) characterized by keeping the quality of images of a maximum of 256 colors. Thus, when the image supports more colors, it loses quality. 

With this in mind, we can start exporting our document into a GIF. Go to File → Export → Save for Web (Legacy)...


Step 4

A panel for web exportation will open. First, choose the GIF format. 

Then, select the color conversion method you want for your image because, after converting the video to GIF, since there will be a loss of quality due to the fact that the clip obviously has more colors than the 256 supported by the .gif format. In this case, I’ve selected an adaptive conversion because it’s the one that best adapts to my project. I recommend you try them all and see which one gives you the best results.


Step 5

Let’s adjust the animation of our .gif. As we said before, we want to turn our GIF into a looping animation. So, go to the Looping Options at the bottom and select “Forever”.


After that, we can save the .gif. If you have any questions about how it would look, you can click the Preview button. Once saved, we can enjoy our GIF!

We're done!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that you found all the steps easy to follow. Don’t forget to share your project on Tutpad so that I can see your amazing result. Without a doubt, this is one of the image techniques I like the most because of its expressiveness, so remember what I said at the beginning: think carefully about the concept you want to represent and go for it. 

Although this technique has been expanding since 2011, it's still something we don't see very often on the Internet, so it can be a good resource to get the attention of your audience or your customers. I’m sure you’ll amaze them. In addition, it’s a good resource since GIFs are lighter than videos (so load times are slowed down).

Thanks for joining me and see you in next Tutpad’s tutorials. :)


What do you think of this tutorial?


Cinema... what? That's the question everyone asks when talking about this simple but unexploited technique. Step into this tutorial and add this new and amazing skill to your curriculum by creating a Christmas project step by step. Did I convince you? Great, so let's get started!

Tut Details

Intermediate level 35m 5,358 views