How to create a cinemagraph: the simple edition

Cinemagraph - Pinterest

If you’ve ever wondered how to fit an elephant into a jar, you’re in luck. This is what I’ll be covering in this blog post. That, and more generally how to create a cinemagraph from your phone the simple way, without having to invest in expensive apps or spend your entire day on it.


Oh, what’s a cinemagraph? You know, one of these cool video-within-a-still-pictures that are slowly but surely invading Instagram:


Why would I want to learn how to do that?


Fair question my friend. You see, while technology, the internet and the world of social media have helped us in uncountable ways (can anybody still work out a tip without their phone?), they also brought all sorts of new problems into our lives, such as:


  • How to style a flat lay with just the right amount of mess in under 5 hours
  • How to beat the dreaded and slightly mythical algorithm (I am counting on Louis to grow into a nerdy enough teenager to help me with that one)
  • How to choose a man according to his photographic flair and potential to be turned into the perfect Instagram husband
  • And of course, how to create partial movement in your still pictures, à la Harry Potter.


(Whatever did our parents do with all their free time?)


As an avid Instagram user, I naturally wanted to jump on the cinemagraph trend. And having been asked repeatedly how I create my cinemagraphs, I am guessing I am not the only one who considers adding a bit of magic to Instagram a priority.

My first attempts however proved a little more challenging than expected:


  • While there are brilliant apps that make the process a breeze, they are unfortunately way above my minimalist Instagram budget
  • There are, thankfully, more affordable apps out there, like Lumyer and Plotagraph. Both are excellent budget-friendly options, which I regularly use (Here is a Plotagraph example and a Lumyer example). I find however that they’ve slightly been overused of late, which makes the result almost too instantly recognizable and the final effect somewhat diluted.
  • Sometimes, I just want to insert an entirely different scene into my picture, which the above two options don’t cater for.


So after some trial and errors, I came up with a simple enough process, which gives me a little more creative freedom without requiring tons of time and money. I see I got your attention there!


How to create a cinemagraph without pulling your hair out


Now that we all agree your Instagram life will not be complete until you master the art of cinemagraphs, how can you create an original cinemagraph like this one without losing your mind? Scroll along my friend, for all shall be revealed.



Step one: composition & storytelling


You first need to have an idea of what story you want to tell, and which part of your picture will be animated. If the still photograph you’ll be using as a background lacks clear, simple composition, your end result might look a little off. 


Try and think of contrasting elements, to make the end result more impactful. In our example, I wanted to illustrate the idea that African elephants are endangered and need protection, while talking about our minimalist choice to donate Louis’s birthday gift money to an elephant orphanage (and before you scream “child abuse”, we did get him a bicycle for his birthday – this applied to gifts coming from friends and family). I knew I had a video of an elephant by the river from our recent trip to the Lower Zambezi in Zambia, so I thought of putting my elephant into a jar, for striking contrast (Giant animal in small object / wildlife contrived in a sealed container / outdoors vs indoors).


Step two: Still Picture Background


The still picture will be used as the “background” of your cinemagraph.

Note that the more detail there is in your video, the simpler your “background” photo should be.

You can either take a picture straight from your phone or import one from your camera if you want a more professional result. For the sake of keeping things simple, I took this photo on my iPhone.

I always start by doing some basic editing in Snapseed (crop, rotation, white balance, highlights and shadows)

I then apply a light filter in VSCO (I used the J1 “minimalist” filter) and saved it on my camera roll.



Step three: Video overlay


As mentioned earlier, I already had a video ready to use.

In an ideal world however, the video should have been recorded using a tripod – I took mine from a boat so it is a bit shakier than I’d like, but I really wanted to use it so I compromised on stability (and to my utter shock nobody died!).

It is also a good idea to think of how you’re going to use the video before you shoot it to decide whether you need to shoot landscape or portrait. I’ve made that mistake before, which caused unecessary complications!




Step four: Get the app


I used an app called Videoleap for this cinemagraph.

I find it incredibly easy to use and it has a free version which I am currently using. You can upgrade to a pro version for unlimited layers, effects and more editing tools, but  I haven’t felt the need to upgrade so far.


Step five: Put it all together


Here’s where the real fun starts! Import your still photograph as the first layer in Videoleap. This will be your background. Adjust the length of your clip to the desired duration (this should be the length of your video).



Using the “mixer” tool, import your video, resize and place it where you would like it to appear.



Apply a mask (in our example I used a radial mask, which I faded slightly around the edges)



Blend it – here I used normal blending at 80%



Save it to your camera roll, ready to upload



Et voilà!


The entire process must have taken me 10 – 15 minutes. It may take you a little longer the first few times you fiddle around with the apps, but trust the fact that it is not as difficult as it may look. You can do the entire process from start to finish on your phone.


Have you tried to create cinamagraphs? What apps / techniques do you use?


  1. Katharina says:

    This is so cool Marie! I will certainly give it ago :). Thanks for sharing!! Kiki xx

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