How To Make a Cinemagraph Using Only a Still Picture

I was going through some photos I took of an abandoned cinema (that was originally a vaudeville theater) in my home town and thought some of them would make fantastic cinemagraphs (I should change this to a site solely about cinemagraphs since it seems to be all I’ve written about lately:-). A couple of weeks ago I made a cinemagraph using only a still photo which was challenging for me since I’ve only used video to make cinemagraphs and wasn’t sure how to use the animation features in Photoshop with just one picture. After some browsing and experimenting I was able to figure it out and after I posted the cinemagraph, I had a few people ask me how I was able to add animation to a still photo so I thought I’d share the process I used to make the GIF at end of this post.

For this cinemagraph, I decided to use this picture of the projector room in the abandoned cinema.

Projector room of the Regent Theater in Springfield, Ohio

I’m not sure why but I love scenes like this. I’m fascinated by the effects of time on an unused building. One day when I’m wealthy I’ll buy old buildings like this just to walk through every once in a while. Anyway…Because I was working with a photograph instead of a video, I had to decide what I wanted the action of the cinemagraph to be and begin planning on how to modify this picture in Photoshop to create that illusion. My initial thought for this project was to have the light above the window sway back and forth, then I noticed the slightly opened door behind the projector and thought that would be a good place for the action since it’s right next to the focal point of the picture. When I explore the abandoned places, a part of me always hopes that I encounter a ghost. It hasn’t happened yet so I decided to add a ghost walking across the doorway as the animation of the cinemagraph to simulate the experience.

I wanted the apparition to appear to be walking rather than floating so I did a Google image search for “man walking animation” and found the image below:

I opened this image in Photoshop and deleted the white background using the Color Range selection tool. Then I used the paint brush tool and painted black over the bare spaces in between the arms and legs of each figure so that each one was a solid black. This is how the image looked afterwards:

Background Removed - How to turn a still photo into a Cinemagraph

Next, I opened the photo of the projector room in Photoshop and using the Polygon Lasso Tool, I made a selection around the doorway as shown:

Doorway selected - How to turn a still photo into a Cinemagraph

I went back to the image of the walking figures and copied it to the clipboard, then I switched back to the projector room photo and selected Paste Into from the Edit menu. This placed the image into the selection I made around the doorway. I then resized the image so that the height of the figures in the image matched the height of the door the way a person would. Finally I set the opacity down until the images of the figures were transparent and ghost-like:

Image inside doorway

Now here’s the part that frustrated me at first, which was figuring out how to animate the figures to create the illusion of fluid movement. Once I figured out how the animation frames worked it was actually very easy to do. Basically, each frame in the Animation Window displays the layer arrangement set when that particular frame was selected (hopefully, this will make more sense as I continue explaining the process) First I opened the Animation Window and with the initial animation frame selected, I hid the layer containing the image of the figures so that only the picture of the projector room was visible since this is how I wanted the cinemagraph to begin. Next I clicked the Duplicate Selected Frames button in the Animation Window which, of course, duplicated the initial frame. With the second frame selected, I made the layer containing walking figures image visible then positioned the image so that the leftmost figure was barely past the open doorway. Next I repeated the process of duplicating the selected frame then I positioned the image so that the second figure from the left was slightly past the leftmost figure in the previous frame. I continued the process of duplicating the frames and moving the images until each figure, from left to right, had been positioned all the way across the doorway. Here is how each frame looked when I was done:

The image I found was perfect since it showed the sequence of someone walking. After some color adjustments and duplicating frames to adjust the timing of the action, here is final result:

Of course this is just a simple example of the kinds of cinemagraphs that can be made with just a still photo. This process can be used to animate flashing lights or subtle movements without the need to take video. Someone with great photo editing skills can do incredible things with this method. I’m really happy I found this method of making cinemagraphs because I’m no longer bound by what I am able to capture on video.

I hope you found this brief overview informal. If you have any cinemagraphs that you’ve made with a still photo (or even with video) please leave a comment with a link, I’d love to check them out.



One thought on “How To Make a Cinemagraph Using Only a Still Picture

  • May 14, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    This is Jack Hutslar, SHS Class of 1957. Now living in Virginia. Started the SHS Scholarships Program. Just watched your video blending old and new photos of Springfield. Really neat. Posted it on my FB page. My grandfather Noah Hutslar and his brother in law Frank HIll were ticket takers at the Regent, State and Fairbanks. When they were there, my cousins [Danny and Nancy] and I got in free. [Shhh!] About the Fairbanks … It was famous for cowboy movies with Roy Rogers, the Durango Kid, Gene Autry, Lash Larue, Sunset Carson, Hopalong Cassidy and others. The entrance and lobby was on the corner, I think. Upon going into the theater area, the screen and seats were on the right with the screen perpendicular to Main Street. We always tried to sit in the front row. For 45 cents, we could ride the bus downtown and back for 10 cents, pay 15 cents to get in, buy a coke and popcorn. If we walked, we had an extra 10 cents. This time period was 1951 and later until we started driving. Other theaters were the Princess. Ohio. Majestic, Hippadrome [I think] and another theater right across the street from the Fairbanks. Its name was ??? will think of it later. What great memories your video created. Thanks . . . jack


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