How to create cinemagraph animated GIF images in Photoshop

Described as "more than a photo, but not quite a video", the cinemagraph takes the idea of an animated GIF and cranks the beauty levels up to 11.

Not seen a cinemagraph before? The technique was pioneered by NYC-based fashion photographer Jamie Beck and designer Kevin Burg and cleverly mixes still photography with a moving video element.

The format is essentially an animated GIF and it's amazing what you can do if you employ a little subtlety. Here are some fantastic examples from Beck and Burg to whet your appetite.

Note the skirt flapping in the wind; the model lit by the flickering light of an old movie projector; the man reading a newspaper in the midst of a crowd frozen in time.

These eye-catching effects are surprisingly straightforward to create. All you need is an HD video camera, Photoshop and some patience. About an hour, we reckon.

Creating your own cinemagraph

Here's the basic process for creating a cinemagraph in Photoshop:

1. Choose your subject

You'll need an image with a moving element that you can endlessly loop. In the image above, the office background is completely still, enabling us to animate our subject's arm.

2. Frame your subject

It's important that you have background elements that don't move when you...

3. Capture the scene on video

Film your subject for a few seconds with a video camera. Try a few different angles so that you have more than just one bit of footage to work with. Use a tripod to avoid camera shake.

4. Import your video into Photoshop

Transfer your footage from the video camera to Photoshop. You may have to process it first in video software like Final Cut.

5. Select a clip and choose a still

Isolate a section of the video clip that you want to use in the timeline and choose a frame that will be the main still image. Save this still image out as a separate layer.

Make a mask so that you can layer the moving image onto your chosen still.

6. Make a mask

Make a mask of the moving element in your scene and view it on the still image.

7. Render the movie

Save the clip as a video file and then import the video to layers.

8. Loop it!

Duplicate your frames and use the 'reverse frames' option to loop your video clip.

9. Make a few cosmetic enhancements...

Adjust the timings of your video if necessary, reduce the colours to 256 (a limitation of the animated GIF format) and limit the final file size to make it web-friendly.

10. Save your cinemagraph

Save your creation and admire your handiwork.

For a detailed run-down of how to create a cinemagraph like the one in the photo at the top of this article, see this excellent tutorial on the .net magazine website.