Cinemagraphs: a picture sells a thousand words

A photograph never moves. A movie always does. In between the two is a cinemagraph. Picture a photo where one part of it moves while the rest of it stays still. Like below.

Note: Let the page load fully to see the effect.  If you’re viewing on mobile, you may have to tap the image to play.


Gallereplay, a digital graphics agency based in Berlin, Germany, makes its living pitching cinemagraphs to any company that wants to use them as a background for an Internet page.

“[The cinemagraph] is still a young format,” said Marco Woldt, co-founder of Gallereplay. “It has a slightly surreal quality that lures people in.”

“Until recently, we were missing the digital infrastructure to spread this new format,” Woldt said. With the recent rise of Instagram looping video and Google GIFs, cinemagraphs are now easier to access. “This led to a new community being born,” Woldt said. “Within the last 12 months, there has been a significant increase in the number of posts. Brands are beginning to engager and experiment with it.”

Woldt and his creative partner, Lydia Dietsch, could appreciate the cinemagraph for what it was, given their background in graphic design and photography. research into this format uncovered some demand for this photo-video hybrid. “there was no go-to provider in this space,” Woldt recalled. “Why don’t we create this platform?

How to Make Moving Pictures

To make a cinemagraph, start with a camera mounted on a tripod, and be sure to keep in the same place. Shoot the still picture to get the background. “You always need a video file,” Woldt added. So you shoot some video from the same exact same vantage point as the still photo to get the action.

The video file and still photo are treated as separate layers once they are downloaded to a computer graphics program. A portion video file is overlaid on the still photo, thus creating the movement that catches the eye while viewing the still background. That movement can be as simple as the gentle swaying of a few blades of grass against the background picture of a field. But it does get the viewer’s attention.


Cinemagraphs have only been around since 2011. Invented by photographers Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, the cinemagraph relied on a series of GIF files that would be played back as a loop to provide the motion, set against the background of a matching still photo. The motion is continuous and repeated. GIFs are large files, which turn into bottlenecks when they are being loaded on to a web page being accessed by a mobile device, Woldt pointed out.

Where Gallereplay does things differently is at the movement layer. “We deliver it as an HTML 5.0 video file.” Woldt said. That file can be shared as an embed code. “It’s easier to load in a video format, “ Woldt noted. “They are smaller in file size, so they load quickly.”hos

Gallereplay will also run every cinemagraph file through a transcoder, creating a fallback for every type of browser to guarantee consistent playback, Woldt added. Unlike GIF playbacks, however, cinemagraphs are carefully edited so that no jerky edits are noticed when the video file plays back.

Finding the Right Message…and Artist

Right now Gallereplay has crafted its graphic offerings to be embedded within the web site of any client who has personnel with Web design experience. packaged cinemagraphs are optimized for all files, Woldt said. All the client has to do is cut and paste the embed code into their web site. 

The cinemagraph acts as the background. It is up to the web designer to use it to best effect. And this is where Gallereplay differentiates itself. “We both really hate generic stock images,” said Woldt, referrring to his partner Dietsch as well. They have become visual clichés, like the two businessmen shaking hands or the family watching television. Gallereplay wants to get away from those images, all the while looking for standout images.

That means finding standout artists. Woldt likes to go through Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter feeds, looking for those visionaries. “We’re very picky.” he said.

Woldt expects 2016 to be the year when cinemagraphs catch on. More people are seeing this photo-video hybrids and awareness is increasing, he noted. “We talked to a few brands who expressed interest.”


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