Cinemagraph and Live Photos: What is What?

Volodymyr Bahrii
10 min readAug 1, 2019

Could you imagine that one day the pictures would come to life like in Harry Potter movies? Immersing people into the water flow, distant horizon, rustling leaves, and much more.

The popularity of Live Photos and Cinemagraph in social media is rising rapidly. However, it blurred the line between the two not only for casual users but for professional photographers as well.

The goal of this article is clear: to break down the two terms in great detail, highlight differences, and show optimal software solutions for both.

Live Photos vs. Cinemagraph.

Finding the differences between two seemingly identical products has become an issue for humanity a long time ago. Sprite and 7UP, Mirinda and Fanta, or famous Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They have similar taste, and yet an adept consumer can tell one from another effortlessly.

Live Photos and Cinemagraph share the same fate.

The term “Cinemagraph” belongs to Jamie Beck and his colleague Kevin Burg. Two U.S. photographers came up with it in 2011 to animate their news and fashion pictures.

Back in 2016, professional photographer Troy Plota and developer Sascha Scheider founded the first online platform for Live Photos named Plotagraph Pro. Later in 2017, Apple released iOS 11 with Live Photos function. However, these functions have nothing in common but the name, and there’s no sense in comparing them.

Live Photos function on iPhone records 1.5-second video before and after capturing the picture. However, it is not a video file, but a combination of .jpg pictures and a .mov file that consists of 45 frames and lasts for 3 seconds.

The first significant difference of Cinemagraph from Live Photos is raw, rhythmic reiterations of the former. In Cinemagraph, the recording process requires a fixed tripod, while the object of the recording must remain static or limit the movements to a minimum. After laying a mask over the video, we will get the effect of cyclic motion of objects.

Live Photos require much effort and attention to details. The trick is in overlaying. It makes the objects move unnaturally (adding a pinch of magic). To understand how Cinemagraph and Live Photos work, let’s use Photoshop and analyze the methods separately.

Cinemagraph: Main Principles and Implementation

Step 1

First of all, the search for a video on the internet or shooting it yourself is not an easy task. Even the lightest camera vibration can create a plethora of issues in the future. Let’s take this stock video as an example and open it in Photoshop.

A video project in Photoshop

Step 2

Let’s find a piece of the video that we want to loop. Use the slider to find the perfect moment and crop it by moving the start and the end of the video to the slider line.

Cropping the video

Step 3

Copy the video with ⌘ / Ctrl + J or right-click the video layer and select “Duplicate Group.”

Then, let’s rasterize the new video layer using ⌘ / Ctrl + G + E or the upper control panel: Layer — Rasterize — Video.

Copying and rasterizing the video layer.

Step 4

With the help of “Zoom” icon or ⌘ / Ctrl + hotkey, let’s zoom the area that we want to edit.

Press “Add Layer Mask” on the layers panel. Then, select the black brush color to work with the newly created mask.

Mask creation

Step 5

Fill the object that has to move with the brush. Change the brush color to white to edit the areas that are not supposed to be animated.

Then, press Spacebar or the Play button on the Timeline tab to preview the final result.

Highlighting the object of animation

Step 6

After you’re satisfied with the result, save the Cinemagraph as a .gif via Layer — Export — Save for Web or ⌥ ⇧ ⌘ / Alt Shift Ctrl + S hotkey.

Export in .gif

The Result.

By saving the project as a GIF file, we achieve an automatic replay of the animation that creates the effect of a continuous video. Saving as a GIF is unnecessary as most social networks support automatic replay of the videos.


Live Photos: Main Principles and Implementation

Live Photos require a drastically different implementation approach. Let’s create an example using the same video as for Cinemagraph.

Step 1

Unlike Cinemagraph, where the video is vital (most of the times), Live Photos use only pictures. So first things first, we need to rasterize the video into an image using ⌘ / Ctrl + G + E hotkey or the tab on top of the program: Layer — Rasterize — Video.

Let’s use “Quick Selection Tool” in the area we want to set into motion.

Rasterizing the video and preparing the image.

Step 2

Let’s transfer the highlighted area into a new layer using the hotkey ⌘ / Ctrl + J or right-clicking on the field and selecting “Layer Via Copy.” Then, turn off the lower layer and, using the “Eraser” delete the defects of the upper layer.

Layer correction

Step 3

Let’s convert the upper layer into a Smart Object. To do this, we need to right-click the layer and press “Convert to Smart Object.”

Turn on the “Transform” parameter in the “Timeline” tab. Then, put the control mark at the start of the image, move the slider to the end of the image and place the second control mark there. Hold ⌘ / Ctrl + T hotkeys or use right-click and select “Transform Selection”. Then, move the upper layer into the required direction of our future animation and press Enter/Return.

Setting the direction for the animation layer.

Step 4

In the “Timeline” tab, click on the lower layer, copy it via ⌘ / Ctrl + Jand move it on top of all other layers straight away.

Use the same “Timeline” tab to expand the duration of the layer to match the lower layer. In our example, the length equals 6 seconds.

Copying and expanding the layers.

Step 5

Use “Quick Selection” to select the area that will be static, e.g., won’t contain animation.

Outlining static area

Step 6

Turn the static area into a layer mask by using the “Add layer mask” button on “Layers” tab.

To make the animation cycles transition smoothly, choose the “Fade” functions in the “Transitions” tab. Let’s add two “Fade” effects, one at the beginning and the end of the video. This will provide a smooth fading in transition between cycles.

Preparing the animation layer

Step 7

Use the “Brush” function to adjust the boundaries of the upper layer with white color.

Adjusting the upper layer of the mask

Step 8

Let’s group the animation layer with ⌘ / Ctrl + G. Alternatively, you can select the layers, right-click on them and choose “Group from Layers.”

Next, use the Cmd / Ctrl + J to copy the group five times. We will place the beginning of each of the four copies in the middle of the previous one, before the FadeIn transition.

Thus, half of the fourth group will be beyond the end of the video. Place the fifth group precisely the opposite way — so that half of it stays before the start of the video. This will make the video start with a FadeOut transition.

Please note that the number of groups varies depending on the length of your project.

Grouping and multiplying the layers

The Result

We get a .GIF image that has five identical layers with FadeIn and FadeOut transitions, transformed from their initial state. This manipulation let us create the effect of a Live Photo.

Live Photo

Cross-platform software solutions.

With dozens of photo and video editors that compete with each other daily, it is hard to find something that stands out.

After a thorough examination of the market, let’s see some of the best solutions for each platform.

Cinemagraph Solutions

Windows: ClipletsMac: Cinemagraph ProAndroid: StoryZiOS: Cinemagraph Pro

Live Photos Solutions

Web: PlotaverseWindows: PlotaverseLinux: PlotaverseMac: PlotaverseAndroid: StoryZiOS: Viespire

The magic of one minute

The main target of software for mobile platforms is maximum simplicity and effectiveness.

Let’s take iOS solutions for Cinemagraph and Live photos as an example.

Step 1

Upload a video from your phone into the app. Then, crop it to the size you want.

Uploading and cropping the video

Step 2

Use the eraser and restore functions at the top of the screen to outline the area of animation.

Outlining the animation

Step 3

Use additional functions to level the horizon and set the preferred size of the project.

You can also use color correction or choose pre-built filters.

Additional functions

Step 4

Export the project to the phone’s gallery or specific social media. You can also upload the project to your account in the application.

Project export

The Result

The app is simple to learn and has a simple user interface. While using the free version of the product, your exported projects will have the watermark.

The Result

Step 1

Use the + button in the upper right-hand corner to upload up to 10 pictures from your gallery at once. Use the lower panel to switch between your camera roll and stock photos.

Choose the photo we need from the studio and press the Next (→) arrow in the lower right-hand corner. Alternatively, tap and hold the picture and proceed through a pop-up window.

Photo import

Step 2

Choose the “Animation” function and press the “Animate” button. It lets you place the arrows on the image to set the desired direction of the animation.

Direction of animation

Step 3

Choose the “Border” function, which allows limiting the area of animation. Use the circles of different colors to tell one limited space from another, if you need it. You can move the checkpoints or delete them using the “Eraser.”

Bordering the animation

Step 4

The application has more possibilities that are optional.

Select the “Overlays” function in the lower panel. Choose the one you like the most among a significant number of effects.

“Overlays” panel

Step 5

“Object” panel lets you choose additional objects to place on the image. While you’re at it, change its size, location and rotate the object any way you want.

Additional objects

Step 6

The last step is to export the animated image to the gallery or social media of your choice.

While exporting to social media, the app changes the size of the project to fit that particular service. At the same time, the user can choose the desired zone of export.

Exporting the project

The Result

We managed to create a dynamic image with a pinch of magic. The app can help the user surprise their friends with something unusual.

Not all effects are free in the app, but you are free to try the full functionality of Viespire for free.

Let’s sum up the pros and cons of both methods.


The train to Machu Picchu
  • Pros ( + )
    Objects behave naturally
    Bulk animation
  • Cons( — )
    Stabilizing the video recording
    Objects on the video must be almost completely static.

Live Photos

Dystopia by Viespire
  • Pros ( + )
    Works with any photography;
    Granting unnatural (magical) behavior to the objects;
  • Cons ( — )
    Repetitive object behavior
    Less bulk animation

The only limit for art is right in your head.

Special thanks to Vadym Ivanchuk for the editorship.