Cinemagraphs are magical loops or clips that combine a still image with a moving video component. When they’re done well, they appear to be seamless animations that mesmerize us into watching them for extended periods of time.
Creating a cinemagraph can actually be done pretty easily, as long as you know what you’re doing and have a good idea for your clip. Below, we’ll go over how to make them in both Premiere Pro and After Effects, because the process is very similar, and because the planning and shooting is all the same.
Two of the most important things you need for making great cinemagraphs are a tripod or solid base for shooting and a solid or locked-down subject. When you’re figuring out what to shoot, try to keep it simple and make sure that there’s very little overlap in the moving objects in your frame, because it makes masking them that much more difficult later on.
Also, large movements from the subjects can take away from the overall impact of the piece, so emphasize subtlety.
Lock down your camera and start shooting your subject, being sure to get 10-20 seconds of footage. If you’re combining multiple shots together in post, be sure to keep them identically framed. Frame rate, aspect ratio, shutter speed, and ISO change the look of your footage, so whatever style you’re going for, just make sure it’s consistent throughout the shot.
Your depth of field should be pretty shallow; these are cinemagraphs, after all. Having your subject be the only thing in focus can also make it easier to mask, as well. That said, you can shoot with a deeper focus if you prefer.
Capturing a clean plate isn’t 100% necessary for every cinemagraph, but it will help you a ton if you want to do more complicated shots or suspend a subject in the air with a pole, tripod, or other mount. Get another 10-20 seconds of the scene without the subject and/or any moving parts and you can use this later.
Alternatively, you don’t even need to shoot something new. You can simply take any piece of footage (like any of the millions available in the Pond5 marketplace) that was shot on a tripod with a stationary subject and get the same effect when you put it in your editing/compositing software.
Editing in Premiere Pro
Make a new sequence with your footage, either by dragging it to the New Item button or by placing it in a new created sequence. Duplicate the clip by holding the Option or Alt key and dragging the clip into a new track above, then put the current time indicator (CTI) at the frame you want to use as a still image (which could be the very first frame).
Right- or Control-click the top clip and and select “Add Frame Hold.” It will become a still image at that frame through the remaining clip duration. Cut off any part of the clip before the frame hold, then extend it to match the bottom layer.
Now go to the top layer’s effect controls, click the pen tool in the Opacity section and draw a mask around the area that you want to keep as the still frame. You can click and drag to create bezier/curved points, or just click to keep them straight-edged.
Once your mask is drawn on your frozen layer, essentially creating a hole in the still image, the moving layer should play underneath. You can also draw the mask and invert it, making everything outside the mask be in motion, instead. Set the sequence in and out points around these two clips at whatever total length you prefer (more on this in a bit), turn on the looping playback button in the program monitor and play it back to see how it turned out. If it looks good, proceed to exporting in your chosen format.
Incorporating a Clean Plate
If you shot a clean plate — for instance, if you’re suspending the moving object in mid-air with a string, rope, or by using a stand or other support to be masked out later — put the clean plate on the bottom layer. Add the video layer above the clean plate, duplicate it, and turn off the visibility on the uppermost layer. Mask out the stand on the middle layer and invert it. The clean plate will fill the hole created by the mask!
Next, create frame holds on both of these layers to make them still frames, and turn the visibility on the top layer back on, making it the moving layer. Create a mask on this layer around your movement, just like before, and invert the mask if necessary.
If you like the result, proceed to exporting!
Tweaking, Adjusting, and Refining the Cinemagraph
If it needs a little more work at the edit point, you can ease the transition with a dissolve. Cut the clip somewhere in the middle, then swap the sections on the timeline. There will now be a jump cut in the middle of the clip, but the loop from the end to the beginning will be perfect. Set a cross dissolve over the jump cut in the middle, or use the morph cut effect for even better results. The clip can be any duration if you’re using it for stock or in a video project, but typically cinemagraphs are around 2-5 seconds if you’re planning on making a more web-friendly GIF.
Experiment with the dissolve duration to see what looks best, and once you’re happy with the result, it’s time to export either in Premiere Pro or send it to Adobe Media Encoder.
Start by matching your export settings to your final usage. For instance, if you plan to sell the cinemagraph as stock video or use it in a video project, you’ll want to keep it as high quality as possible. But if you want it to loop infinitely and be a more web-friendly size, you can make an animate GIF using Premiere or Media Encoder.
Exporting a GIF
Premiere Pro (and/or Adobe Media Encoder) allows you to make a GIF in the export settings, so click on “Animated GIF” for the format and go. It will now loop infinitely.
If you want some more control over the GIF settings, however, you can always change them to match your preferences or even add a watermark. Everything else aside, the main details you may want to change about the GIF are the resolution and/or the frame rate, which drastically change the file size. 5, 10, and 12.5 frames per second (FPS) look more “GIF” like, but you can make them 20, 25, or 50 FPS if you want to experiment and see what you like.
Editing in After Effects
If Premiere Pro isn’t your primary software of choice, good news: you can make a cinemagraph almost the exact same way using After Effects.
To start, import your footage, create a new composition with it, and duplicate the footage layer. Move to the frame you want to use for the still image. Right- or control-click on the still layer and click Time > Freeze Frame. Trim everything in front of the frozen frame on both layers, then create your mask and invert if necessary. The biggest difference with After Effects is that you have to have each clip (or clip section) on a separate layer, so dissolving works differently.
If you’re using the dissolve method from above, you need to duplicate the moving layer and add an effect called “Fade Out Over Layer Below” over your jump cut on your moving layer. Overlap the end of the top moving layer above the second moving layer and the clip will be faded automatically over the duration of the overlap, creating a nice transition. The more you overlap, the more gradual the transition.
When you’re ready to export, if you want to create a GIF, you need to send the file to Adobe Media Encoder and export like above, because AE doesn’t do GIFs directly.
Making cinemagraphs is surprisingly easy, and you can have a lot of fun when setting up shots that are not only entertaining to watch, but have the potential to show off your creativity.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our curated collection of Cinemagraphs on Pond5: