Cinemagraphs: Living Photos in Advertising

Reilly Megee
Mar 22, 2016 · 8 min read

A cinemagraph is a still photograph in which one small element has added motion. Think: a landscape photo where only the leaves on the trees are moving, or a woman on a beach, completely still except for her dress blowing in the wind. They’re striking photographic displays that lend motion and life to the static and mundane — and they’re cropping up all over the place.

You can thank Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck for inventing this new artistic craze back in 2011. From the elegant “coffee and a newspaper” shot below, to a breathtaking shot of the sparkling Eiffel Tower, the pair undoubtedly have an eye for injecting life into photos.

And we’re not the only ones to notice — since the cinemagraph’s inception, they’ve worked with big brands like Facebook and Tiffany & Co., helping to pave a new road in the advertising industry.

Created by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck

So how do they do it?

Burg and Beck shoot each piece on cinema cameras in 6k, transforming them into GIFs for easy viewing across tech platforms, as well as HTML5 video files and high-quality looped video files depending on the cinemagraph’s purpose. To break it down: film a video, load it onto a computer for editing, and export as a GIF for all your internet-viewing pleasures. Want a step-by-step tutorial? Check this out.

“Ok, cool,” you might think, “but the process sounds pretty complicated.” While this dynamic duo makes cinemagraphs from scratch, there’s a way for the average joe to get in on the action.

Cinemagraphs for Beginners

Flixel, a Toronto-based startup company who hangs their hat on cinemagraphs, makes it easy for you to create a living photo with their software, Cinemagraph Pro. The process is a simplified version of Burg and Beck’s innovative — and time intensive — workflow. First, users shoot a short video and upload it directly into the Flixel program. Next, you highlight the part of the video you want in motion. In the below screen capture, only the jazzy instrumentalist will be moving. The rest of the content remains as a static image and voilà, you‘ve created your first cinemagraph!

Source: Flixel

Growing popularity

Flixel’s reception by the art and professional worlds has been impressive, with photographers, videographers, and recreational artists alike expanding their work into the cinemagraphic realm with zest and ease. The company currently has a corner on this emerging market, although competitors like Microsoft Research BLINK Cliplets are attempting to break in. We’ll see how that battle plays out.

This increased accessibility to cinemagraphs has inspired big companies like Doritos, the Emmys, and Panasonic to utilize living photos in their ad repertoire. From online banner ads to email newsletters, the types of media on which cinemagraphs have been featured continues to expand. A&E followed this route to create hype for their show, Bate’s Motel, instilling a creepy feeling in viewers that perfectly reflects the show’s mood. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that rocking chairs moving on their own are the epitome of eery.

Creative direction and execution of this shoot: Dylan Coulter with the help of Flixel CCO, Mark Homza.

Cinemagraphs in Advertising

It’s a simple idea, a crossover between photo and video, but it has an inexplicably gorgeous and seemingly revolutionary impact on the viewer — and more and more, the commercial world is starting to realize this.

“People can’t stop staring at them,” Burg states. “Isn’t that what advertisers want?”

Cinemagraphs are being implemented in fashion expos, food showcases, social media campaigns, and more. Advertisers who are ahead of the curve have let their imagination run wild, prompting the question: into what media platforms will cinemagraphs expand next? The hardest part, however, is learning when “new” isn’t always “best.”

Why choose cinemagraphs over photo or video?

A great question. The answer? Sometimes, you don’t. Like all creative conundrums before this, you choose the medium that will best showcase the material. When you need subtle elegance, drama, or a little added life, however, the cinemagraph is the way to go. They truly transport the viewer into the scene, evoking emotions that videos and still photographs fail to do at a consistent rate. Not to mention, their production cost is minuscule compared to their video counterpart.

Maury Postal, a creative director at Social@Ogilvy, put it best. A big part of cinemagraphs’ effectiveness is that they’re “as beautiful as a still image, they’re as captivating as a still image, but they’re not as [demanding of a viewer’s time] as a full video or full film.” They answer the question:

“How do you captivate people using motion in a way that entices them to go into the brand more, to go into the scene more, or stop and actually notice? Because that is the toughest thing to do in the ad world now: to get people not just to look but to actually see something.”

Cinemagraphs are different. They’re not what people expect to see. That alone will cause people to stop, pause, and notice, and that kind of attention is both rare and hungrily craved by brands.

Pizza Hut’s Cinemagraph by Michael Grecco and Flixel Studios USA

As social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram enable the auto-play and video loop features, brands like Pizza Hut are able to integrate cinemagraphs into users’ lives in a more seamless way. When comparing the living photos to traditional video, AdAge notes that “Each image has all the visual punch and immediacy of video, without the barrier to entry of a play button.” Stacking them up against still photos, AdAge claims that they have more virality and 71% more organic reach.

Need more convincing? Flixel and Panasonic did a case study with two banner ads: one showcasing a living photo and the other, a still photo. The former had a 5.6x higher click-through rate, and that, my friends, is no small divide.

The Fashion Industry

From the flow of a gown or the movement of a model’s hand to the gifting of a small Tiffany blue box, advertisers have found a way to capture the luxurious allure of high-end fashion in a moving image. Chopard, Balenciaga, Chanel, and the whole of New York Fashion Week are among the many who have become captivated by the mystique of Burg and Beck’s artistic invention.

Balenciaga and Chanel — Created by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck

The Auto Industry

The Lincoln Motor Company was searching for a way to remind — or rather, introduce — younger consumers to the glories of its past. The brand was once ingrained in the lives of an entire generation, and now, it has turned to cinemagraphs to portray the memories of a heyday decades in the past. The living images have a certain sleepy reminiscent quality that still pictures often fail to convey. Mercedes Benz also utilized cinemagraphs, becoming the first company to do so on Canadian Instagram, to convey a sleek sense of adventure.

The Lincoln Motor Company — Created by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck

The Food & Beverage Industry

Food photographers find themselves on an endless mission to make food appear as appealing in an image as in reality. What would happen if they could inject just a small amount of the dish or beverage’s life into the equation? Among others, Ecco Domani, Gilt Taste, Coca Cola, and Stouffer’s have jumped into the cinemagraphic world, with the latter two implementing cinemagraph-style ads on Facebook.

Ecco Domani and Gilt Taste — Created by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck

The Tech Industry

Tech giant, Netflix, is no exception to the trend. To promote seasons two and three of their award winning show, House of Cards, they took to their mailing lists. Through an email marketing campaign, they reached consumers with an eye-catching and suspense-building cinemagraph, available at the link below.

Looking into the future

We’re seeing cinemagraphs on countless digital displays, and time and time again they draw us in, promising us liveliness without the time commitment of video — but after the initial shock, are we really surprised that a moving image is on our Instagram feed? As gifs, living photos, and short looped videos become the new norm, standing out is becoming harder than ever. Cinemagraphs, for advertisement’s sake, need to take their leap into the unexpected.

The Unexpected

The next step calls for implementation beyond the online and social media realms. Consumers need to be surprised, whether that be by content or method of delivery, and the latter is the living photo’s strong suit.

As digital billboards and store signage advance in quality, we should expect to see living photos all along city streets and roadways. Pedestrians have the ability to stop and stare without the negative consequence of a traffic jam — leading me to speculate that the giant black and white Abercrombie model staring at you as you walk down 5th avenue will eventually have some eye-catching movement involved.

Why stop at purely digital — what about traditional print media?


Transport yourself into the magical world of Harry Potter and imagine: we could have moving images on paper. While “paper” might be a stretch, the technology of a thin and flexible display could eventually be incorporated in magazines and restaurant menus, the latter leaving nothing to chance and the former incorporating a touch of intrigue.

As Postal said, the hardest thing for ads to do is to get consumers to not just look, but to actually see. Cinemagraphs are the future of online advertising, and, if they want consumers to really pay attention, the future of print and display. All we need is a little bit of innovation and a little bit of time — we’ve got to let the rest of technology catch up to us first.

Reilly Megee is a student at the University of Georgia and a connoisseur of 80’s dance moves. A lover of graphic design, she studies Advertising, Sociology, New Media, and the art of baking mediocre brownies.

New Media Photography

Studies from students in 2016 Spring NMIX 4200: New Media Topics—New Media Photography

Reilly Megee

Written by

Graphic designer, pun enthusiast, and an avid lover of all that is not comic sans | Student of advertising + sociology at the University of Georgia

New Media Photography

Studies from students in 2016 Spring NMIX 4200: New Media Topics—New Media Photography

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