We’ve heard plenty about the death of the humble photo as video proliferates. But photography is still far more accessible than video, often because video editing is still so time intensive. Instagram introduced video more than a year ago yet it is still predominantly a platform for sharing still photographs. But all that could be about to change. Last month I shot video as Flixel partnered with Lindsay Adler and saw something very interesting take place that got me thinking - could we be about to usher in a completely new era for photography?
Before I shot the video for Lindsay’s shoot with Flixel, I’d had limited experience with cinemagraphs, mainly seeing them as something fun to create on a mobile platform.
Things have certainly changed.
As AdWeek reported last month, cinemagraphs have already been used by top tier brands like Balenciaga, Chanel and Armani. Facebook is hoping that their accessibility via autoplay for videos and Instagram’s new ‘auto loop’ feature for video will provide greater engagement for users on those platforms. Berg and Beck, two NYC based photographers have been incorporating cinemagraphs into their work for some time, working with top fashion clients and models for editorial and campaign work.
The main thing here is that the selective motion against a still image background element really does capture the attention and makes cinemagraphs fundamentally different from a GIF, photo or video.
Check out these examples below from the shoot with fashion and beauty photographer Lindsay Adler. This was the first time I got to see how Flixel's products worked first hand and the process behind creating these images. Watch the eyes on the model on the 3rd image down - it's so subtle but when you see her blink, it's engaging stuff!
Who Is Flixel?
Flixel is the company that has developed Cinemagraph Pro for Mac users, a piece of software that allows users to produce ‘living photos’ (Flixel’s name for cinemagraphs) quickly and easily. The software was pretty damn impressive and in fact last year won an Apple Design Award. Quite simply, you create a still photograph from a frame of video, using this as the “top layer”, then selectively incorporate motion through masking, and bringing in the motion from the video which plays "underneath" the top still image.
Cinemagraphs have been around for a while, but Flixel is really the first company to take the concept and make the process accessible and intuitive. Their software is becoming more and more integrated with Adobe Creative Cloud and Behance (see below), all of which gives the solid platform and concept some strong foundations for carving out something meaningful in the market - and if we're talking about longevity of new technology, this is critical.
Lindsay talks more about her experience with Flixel on her blog, which is well worth a read - and if you’ve ever wondered just how many images a full time photographer and photo educator sees on any given day, she’ll give you a staggering insight!
So How Does It Work?
The process is actually really simple - you shoot a portion of video where you decide what you’re hoping to animate (so in the instance of the balloons image, Lindsay decided she simply wanted some air blowing on the balloons with the model remaining ‘frozen’).
Lindsay shot a number of short video clips until she felt she had the right motion. These files are then imported straight into Flixel’s software and very quickly you simply pick out a section of video that has the motion you want, and mask that motion in – everything else remains as a static image.
You can see more from the process in the video I shot here:
and some stills that were captured from the shoot:
Interestingly we were shooting 4K video form the Panasonic GH4 and it worked really efficiently and quickly. No rendering required or lag on the 4K files – pretty impressive stuff.
Who Else Is Using Flixel?
It’s actually pretty impressive how deep the penetration for Flixel’s ‘living photos’ has gone. Here’s some very creepy examples from A&E’s new Bates Motel TV series - the image of an empty rocking chair moving against a backdrop of a 'still portrait' is particularly creepy, and really adds way more depth and engagement than a simple still photograph could.
Partnering With Adobe & Behance
Partnerships can make or break new technology companies and Flixel seems to be on the right path here. Adobe, the number one player in the creative space for photographers and videographers alike, has become an important partner for Flixel. Flixel's integration with Creative Cloud, as well as Behance support for Flixel HD and 4K cinemagraphs, shows just how well they have worked to get integration with key creative partners. Critically, integration with the Adobe Creative SDK means Flixel is able to provide updates to their mobile user base on iOS devices.
With Cinemagraph Pro’s Creative Cloud integration, you can now work between Photoshop for image adjustments and technical touch ups, and Cinemagraph Pro for the creation of their living photos.
For me, this integration with Adobe is key and says a lot about what Flixel is looking to do and how they are growing. Developers absolutely need to get on board here if they are to stand a chance of setting a strong foundation for their success in the market place.
Additionally, Behance, the large online creative network, has added support for the Flixel iFrame. This enables those using Flixel to post their cinemagraphs to Behance in full HD resolution and avoids the need to degrade their work as a poor-quality GIF. Flixel Cinemagraphs will now display on Behance in millions of colors at the quality originally envisioned by the creator.
You can read more about these partnerships on Flixel’s blog here. The bottom line is the industry is moving swiftly to incorporate Flixel and cinemagraphs into it's portfolio for creatives to tap into - more signs that this could be ushering in a possible new era of converging visual media.
I spoke briefly with both Lindsay on her thoughts about what living photos can do for her work, and she had this to say:
A Flixel Cinemagraph helps taking my work into another real of surrealism. I can create unusual sets or concepts and bring them to life with a hint of movement in a still frame. We are constantly bombarded by imagery. As a photographer it is a challenge to get our images to grab a viewer's attention.
I also chatted with Mark Homza, Co-Founder and CMO for Flixel. Mark reiterated the desire Flixel has to help drive story telling for photographers:
One must always select the appropriate medium to convey their particular story. In some cases that may be a photo or a video, in other circumstances, a living photo is the perfect fit. As visual storytellers, we’re always looking for new ways to effectively communicate with our audiences. Cinemagraphs are a new and exciting visual medium in today’s digital landscape that need be considered as part of one’s visual messaging strategy.
As we move forward, with the accessibility and affordability of 4K video capture and the rising interest for hybrid photography in the advertising community, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have already begun embracing the medium, recognizing its high Click-Through rates and increased engagement among users. We live in an age of digital screens, with more and more digital displays replacing static or print displays. Cinemagraphs now have a home and relevance in the offline world as well.
We feel Flixel’s Cinemagraph Pro for Mac is an effective editing software that empowers the photographer to create beautiful hybrid photos with ease and intuitiveness.
As the boom and demand for mobile video continues, there is no denying that there is an increasing desire to see more motion-based content. Video or film making has and always will have more post production associated simply due to the time intensive nature of editing that work.
What Flixel has shown me is it provides accessibility to the relatively unexplored territory of the middle ground – video that is essentially frozen like a still frame, and then selectively “injected” with motion through simple to use software. It engages a user like only motion can, but comes with a far less intensive post production work flow.
As with anything new, whatever we as professionals and enthusiasts personally think of cinemagraphs is pretty much beside the point – the market and social network take up will ultimately decide.
As creative visual media creators however, we all should look at this as another potential tool to differentiate and add a new layer of depth to our work. Flixel's partnerships, particularly their integration with Adobe, an essential service provider we all rely on, paints a strong picture for future growth and wider accessibility.
For all of us, while we ultimately wait to see what the market will do and how users will respond, Lindsay perhaps sums it up most succinctly when it comes to her thoughts on this technology:
A Flixel living photo is yet one more tool available to us for differentiation and to allow our images to draw attention in a visually crowded market.
What do you think of Flixel cinemagraphs or living photos? Can you see a market for these? Do they make you stop for a second longer than a normal photograph does? Let me know in the comment below.