23 Oct 2015 Cinemagraphs in Stock

Many think the future of photography will be in video, where it’ll all be based on shooting 4K or higher footage and then extracting stills or short clips. Today, a new concept increasing in popularity in digital imagery is hybrid photography: media that combines elements from both stills and video in one image.

Cinemagraphs are a type of hybrid photo, consisting of still images with subtle movement. They are animated images where the animation is isolated to one or more elements of the photograph, while the rest of the image remains still. Most of them loop, adding a “living” effect to the animated element. The animation and looping are crafted to provide a subtle movement resembling a “living scene,” rather than an obvious automatic replay.

This concept is not new—creative company Ann Street Studio first introduced it in 2011—but since social media platforms have improved the performance of cinemagraphs, they are now taking off in marketing and advertising.

Termed “micro-videos” or “snack-content” media, they come in different flavors with Apple’s new “Live Photos” functionality in the new iPhone 6s and Instagram’s recently launched Boomerang app.

The sudden popularity of these formats also promises business opportunities in stock photography. Agencies are already supporting cinemagraphs as video files, and one startup agency is specialising in the format. There’s also a huge opportunity for stock videographers to convert their existing portfolios into cinemagraphs.

GIFs vs Videos

Cinemagraphs are sometimes called “fancy GIFs,” “glossy GIFs,” or even “rich man’s GIFs,” but in fact these living photos can be either GIFs or video files. Video format seems to be preferred, since it offers more efficiency at HD quality, doesn’t suffer from the color limitations of the GIF format, and can optionally include audio. But each format handles the looping function differently: for a GIF, it’s a setting inside the file, whereas for a video, it’s the web hosting technology that allows the video to loop.

Alternative Formats

Though not cinemagraphs, Apple has taken its first step into hybrid photography with Live Photos, a feature available only on the new iPhone 6s. These 3-second video clips are captured as a series of photos and then knitted together. They’re stored as JPGs with extra data files, so they will display without motion on any platform, but if the files are maintained as a bundle, they’ll play on supported platforms, which for now is only Apple’s latest operating systems.

The iOS app developers behind Priime (a photo-editing app) recently launched an app that converts iPhone Live Photos into shareable GIFs, a very necessary step towards making Apple’s new format exist outside the walled garden of Apple’s products.

Launched just yesterday, Instagram’s new app Boomerang is a similar product to Live Photos, with extended share-ability. It creates 1-second clips under similar process of taking sequenced images and stitching them together. Their distinction is in the fact these mini videos play and loop forward and backwards –hence the name. Plus they can be shared directly on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and saved for sharing elsewhere.

Supporting Technology

Recently, the major social media platforms started adding functionality for cinemagraphs regardless of format. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Vine now have auto-play features for videos. Facebook and Instagram have added looping video as well, and Facebook has recently launched an animated profile picture feature.  These video products are perfect for enabling cinemagraphs.

Thanks to the new technology in social networks, the use of cinemagraphs in marketing and advertising is growing. Although there are no accurate metrics yet, several big international brands have used or are currently using this kind of media in their social networking campaigns.

So far, content in this format is mainly custom-made. Flixel is one company that took the lead in this space, selling different apps for creating cinemagraphs for both desktop and mobile, and offering professional studio services for the production of tailored content. Their Cinemagraph Pro app for Mac has won an Apple Design Award, named Best App of 2014 and recommended by Apple as a great tool to create cinemagraphs on their devices. They also cite a nice lineup of A-class production clients on their website.

Indefensible Niche

Berlin based startup Gallereplay launched earlier this year, hoping that an early entrance and a quick-built, strong catalog would help them control this new niche.

They accept contributor applications, but they make it clear that they have a very strict selection process, aiming for the highest quality content. The agency strives for an “authentic, natural” styles and wants to stay as far as possible from the “stocky” look. They also offer assignments on the side.

However, big microstock agencies are already stepping into the market as well. Shutterstock has very recently closed a distribution agreement with Flixel. So far, a Shutterstock search for cinemagraphs yields fewer than 150 files, but thanks to this new partnership they’ll be launching a collection of 1000 Flixel cinemagraphs on November 1st.

As stock video contributors start to see sales for cinemagraphs, they’ll start producing them too. There’s really nothing standing in their way, other than learning a few processing techniques that are well within reach for any established videographer, or even just buying Flixel’s OSX app.

How Big will Cinemagraphs Be?

Many people in the industry believe that hybrid photos will become huge. Jack Hollingsworth is very excited about Apple Live Photos, much more so than cinemagraphs. He is already working on a collection of Live Photos for stock.

Cinemagraphs are obviously suitable for use in all visual media viewed on screens and are already popular among big brands. Moreover, with some relatively simple processing techniques, or just buying Flixel’s app, stock videographers can easily produce cinemagraphs from their existing portfolios.  This instantly boosts their earnings potential with no additional production costs.  According to Flixel, individual cinemagraphs can be created from finished footage in around five minutes.

Few doubt that we’ve yet to see the format peak, but will it grow too quickly and turn into a passing fad like selective coloring and retro filters?  Time will tell.

What do you think?  Will you be creating cinemagraphs from your stock footage portfolio?

  • Danil Rudenko
    Posted at 01:06h, 24 October Reply

    Thanks for the article, Lee) It will be also great idea to add cinemagraphs option to Canva, don’t you think so? (making cinemagraphs from videos in an easy online-platform)

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 01:10h, 24 October Reply

      Yes, but there are so many things to do before video. One day.

  • cinemagraphe.paris
    Posted at 06:48h, 05 March Reply

    Hi, thank you for your review.
    As a photographer & artist. i can tell cinemagraph is the greatest thing i ever produced.
    great future !

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