The first time I ever saw a cinemagraph, my mind was blown away. At first, I thought that I was looking at a normal still photograph. Then, a portion of the image moved. One single leaf fluttered as if a breath of air wisped passed. At first, I thought it was imagination, then I looked again, and sure enough, the leaf was moving.

What I found so fascinating about the leaf moving was not so much that the still image was moving slightly, but more about what that motion can do to the viewer’s imagination.

Photos are supposed to captivate a view and bring him or her into the scene. When covering news for a print publication, the photo could be what grabs a reader to check out the story. Things like a blemished pupil of an eye that is seen on a closeup image of an old man’s face could show that the man has seen his fair share of trauma, and that alone could pull a reader in because of curiosity. Or an investigation scene picture where a person dropped to their death. The body may still be on the ground, but what really could bring the image to life is a detective crouched down next to the body and looking up at the skyscraper the body fell from. It adds depth to an image while also showing the reader that there is more to this than just a body lying on the ground.

In the case of cinemagraphs, a properly organized photo could be enough to grab a reader – online of course and not in print – but when you add a slight motion to the image, the motion adds a story of how that motion occurred. That is why cinemagraphs are excellent tools for storytelling.

Reading & Writing

An editor of mine one told me that storytelling is something anyone can learn – when he told me this, I was becoming a master of writing the news and not telling a story.

When it comes to bringing stories to live through animation, Liz Blazer, the author of the book “Animated Storytelling,” said, “There are no limits. You can break the rules of gravity, toss aside the space-time continuum, invent impossible worlds, and take your audience on a journey simply with shapes, sounds, and colors.”

There are infinite possibilities, yet there are some basics that storytellers should understand to bring the audience to the story.


If a story is not structured properly, members of the audience may become confused. The lack of organization may present holes and questions.

The Three-Act Story Structure is one way to build structure into a story. The first act is setting up that there is a character and conflict. The second act is that the character(s) are working toward a solution to the problem and the third act is when the solution is attained.

Along with the story structure, giving details about who the person is, how they got into the pickle, and why solving the problem is important give depth and a better story.

Then, of course, there are nonlinear structures that give the creator several jumping off points. One of my favorite movies, Pulp Fiction, starts out in the middle of the story, then jumps all over the place until returning to the middle of the story.

Some stories start at the end and bring the characters full circle, back to the end. Then there is the countdown, which is when everything builds to a climax. And of course, mystery fans will know of the puzzle structure which adds pieces until the whole story is complete.


When you come up with a story, putting it down visually is a critical step.

Blazer said storyboarding is “your opportunity to work out the visual elements that best suit your story.”

Picture, at first, a stack of Post It notes, and on each yellow slip of paper is a drawing to tell a segment of the story. Adding onto these slips of paper, the images can be drawn better and then have words added to the pieces of paper explaining what is happening in the image. This helps tell the story.

“Some storyboard artists take the time to create beautifully polished renditions of each frame, but the goal here is not high art, it’s clarity,” Blazer said. “If you are able to capture the action and emotion of your story with little more than scribbles, then go for it, but just make sure you’re able to capture all the detail.”

Once the story is drawn out and clear, it could be time to present them to a small audience for feedback. After looking at something for a long time, it is easy to miss holes in the story.

The slides and how they are structured is almost just as important as the story. Like photographs, the way slides are laid out can make the difference between creating curiosity and having someone walk away out of confusion.

Using methods like the Rule of Thirds, which splits the framed area into a 3×3 grid to keep artists away from centering their antagonist in a shot. Using close, wide, medium, and angled shots to create depth, along with putting the focus on an object in the background and foreground all contribute to an images structure and balance. Ultimately, composition is what brings the audience into the story even more.

With cinemagraphs, it is important to frame the image using proper balance and structure.

Research to Inform

Below are some cinemagraphs that helped me understand the concept of what they can do and help inspire me to create my own.

This image took me a second, but when you hover over it, steam rises from the teacup. It is a subtle change but enough to catch the viewer’s eye.

This image inspired one that I made this week. In the background is a windmill spinning. The leaves are not moving, but in the foreground is a waterfall that happens to be flowing. These motions bring the image to life.

I love the rock structure in this image, even though it is centered. Structures like this represent balance, and despite being centered, there is balance in the image. I also like how the tree in the foreground on the right helps frame the rocks. The water motion also pulled me in and when I look at the picture, I can hear the waves lapping onto the shore in my head.

I love the simplicity of this image. The way the watch is ticking and how the arm reaches in to create a line and take the viewer to a steering wheel possibly?

Image from

I know this was brought up earlier, but I really like it and the picture was inspiration for something I wanted to do but did not. The way the image looks like a fashion cover with two still models – one on each side of the centered model – and the main model blinking. The image uses the rule of third both horizontally and vertically. The blink is enough to freak a person out and get pulled back into the fascination of how it was done.


I wanted to create a little magic of my own by creating three cinemagraph gifs.

The first gif is of a windmill at my mom and dad’s place in Belle Haven, VA. When I initially shot the windmill, there was not much wind and the thing barely turned. But Saturday, the wind was blowing a stiff 10-15 MPH and there was no stopping the windmill.

I mounted my Panasonic Lumix GX85 camera onto a Manfrotto tripod and set the legs at their lowest setting. Then I extended one outward to get low on the windmill. After setting up the shot, I captured 20 seconds of video and imported it into Adobe Photoshop.

From there, I created a second layer for a still shot that I captured of the windmill and trimmed the video in the timeline to roughly 5 seconds. What was important to me is that the windmill blades line up for a smooth transition, so it starts with a blue blade at the top and ends with a blue blade at the top.

I also adjusted the brightness and contrast of the image. You can see water behind the trees and a bench.

My parents have several benches on their property, so the next cinemagraph I created was of my mom sitting on a bench on their dock.

When I took the 20 seconds of video, I wanted to make sure the blue sky with puffy clouds was captured, but I also wanted to show that the wind was blowing the water. So, I put mom in the front of the image to the right to create balance. The video was imported into Adobe After Effects, and I a frame with the wind blowing a piece of my mom’s hair up.

I created a mask over the water to cut a hole out of the still image layer and show the water moving. It is not a lot of motion, but it is enough.

After the mask was put in place, I decided to adjust the brightness and contrast of the image.

While I had mom out on the dock, I shot another 20 seconds of video with her looking out at the water. I placed her on the right side of the image to be able to show more of the water.

I used the same method as the previous gif to create the cinemagraph. The second, third, or even fourth attempt became easier each time.

Where I ran into issues was saving the videos in After Effects. H.264 format was not available, so I had to render both After Effects-created movies in Adobe Media Encoder. Once the movies were rendered, I had two very large files that I needed to shrink from nearly 20 MB to 2 MB.

The images were shrunk down to size by cropping the originals down, changing the image size and sometimes using 128 colors instead of 256. Going to 128 really made the images grainy, but when shrunk down, it is not that noticeable.


I like the idea of using cinemagraphs to help tell a story. Before learning about cinemagraphs, I leaned heavily on photographs to grab the attention of people to read my stories – mainly in print. As more and more publications and companies move online and take on a digital-first mentality, photos may not be enough to grab a reader’s attention. Cinemagraphs and their ever so slight motions can do that, while also pulling the reader in with a state of curiosity.