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A motion photo is a static image that contains one or more isolated regions of movement. The format is rapidly gaining traction on the web as a compelling way to add visuals to your communications. We asked New York Times photographer Leslye Davis for a lesson on how to make great motion photos like these. Here’s a gorgeous one she made exclusively for Shutterstock, with her tips and instructions for successful motion photos below. (Plus a bonus motion photo at the end!)

The Recipe for a Successful Motion Photo:

  • Use a tripod or rest your camera on a stable surface. This creates clearer definition between the borders of stillness and movement.
  • Search for subtlety. Sometimes the most interesting motion photos are the ones that call for a second glance.
  • Wait for motion to pass through the frame.
  • Shoot like a photographer.
  • Look for a well composed frame with good light and interesting moments.
  • Frame the shot smartly to avoid cropping later in Photoshop.
  • In order for the motion photo to appear seamless when looped, you should search for somewhat matching beginning and end points for the clip you want to animate.

To begin, you need to open Photoshop in 32-bit mode:

Find the Adobe Photoshop CS5 application.

“Get Info” for the application file.

This will open an info box that will allow you to select the option “Open in 32-bit mode.

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1. To get started, you need a short video clip. Choose a clip where the motion can be easily isolated. Attempt to record a movie clip that is both compelling and short. The longer the clip, the more work you will have to do in Photoshop, and the longer it will take your motion photos to load on the Web.

2. Create frames in Photoshop. The program supports .MOV, .AVI, .MPG, .MPEG, and .MP4 file formats. MP4 is typically an easy format to use while editing.

Drag your clip over the Photoshop icon. After opening, it will appear as a single frame. Go to “Window” → “Animation

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3. In the Animation panel, press Play to preview. You can drag the scrub through the video to look for the best portion to use as the animated part of the motion photo.

To the right of the Play button, press Select Next Frame upon hovering. Use this button to help select the desired frames. By dragging the timeline markers, define the beginning and end of the section you wish to use. This will eliminate unnecessary footage around the moment of action.

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Return to the flyaway menu and choose Trim Document Duration to Work Area.

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4. Move the scrub to the particular frame that contains the “still” part you wish to maintain in the video. Go to the Select menu in the top toolbar and select All Layers. Go to the Edit menu → Copy MergedPaste. This will create a second layer: your master frame.

5. You will now use the Quick Mask mode. Access this tool by pushing the letter “Q” on your keyboard.

In the “Q” key-mode, select the paintbrush tool. Use a large, soft brush with black paint to unveil the animation layers beneath. Adjust your brush size and hardness accordingly and use this tool to paint over the areas you wish to freeze.

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6. Press “Q” once more and the selection on your image will be made.

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7. Return to Layers and turn off the visibility on your video frame by deselecting the eyeball icon to the right of “Layer 1.”

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Make sure that you have your frozen layer (Layer 2) selected.

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8. Hold down the option/alt key on your keyboard, and at the bottom of the Layers menu, select the Add Vector Mask option.

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By doing this, you are isolating your frozen areas against the transparent background. When you turn on Layer 2, you will see the two frames working together. Check that you have not hidden any of the desired motion in your frame by playing back the animation. If you have, retouch the mask using the brush. If you paint too far, use white paint to reverse the effect. At this point, you can add any color balance or adjustments to the image.

9. Now you will turn your layers into an animation.

In the flyaway menu, select the option Flatten Frames into Layers.

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By selecting this option, you turn each frame in your animation into its own separate layer. In the Layers panel, you can now delete your two original layers.

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10. If your file is set to Timeline mode, you must open the flyout menu and click on Convert to Frame Animation.

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This will create one frame in your animation panel.

11. To create a frame for each layer, return to the flyout menu and choose Make Frames From Layers.

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Photoshop will create sequential layers for each frame. You can press the Play button to preview.

12. On the first frame, some extra time is added. Click on that time and choose No Delay. You want each frame to say “0 sec.”

When you preview, if the animation is too slow or too fast, adjust the amount of time each frame appears accordingly.

Somewhere between 0 sec and 1 sec is typically acceptable.

13. In the bottom left of the Animation panel, click the drop-down menu and select the Forever option. This will ensure that the animation repeats itself.

Bonus Tip: At this stage, you can also duplicate the sequence and reverse it for a “Bounce back” effect. To rewind the animation, select the first animation frame, and hold down the Shift key. Then, holding the Shift key, select the last animation frame to select all. Right-click to copy and then paste the frames at the end of the animation. Select the newly pasted frames. Go to the right hand corner of the animation bar again. Click and select “Reverse frames.”

14. Now you are ready to export your movie.

Go to FileExportRender Video

From the Render Video dialogue box, choose:

Location: Add the folder and file name you wish to use to save the video.

File Options: Select “Quicktime Exports” and choose “Quicktime Movie” from the dropdown menu.

Click on Settings. This will open the movie settings box.

File options:

Compression Type: Choose “QuickTime movie” from the pull-down menu.
Motion: Choose “23.976 fps” or “30 fps,” depending on the frame rate at which you shot. (This will not largely affect your clip either way.)
Keyframes: Automatic
Compressor > Quality: “High” or “Best”
Press “OK”

Filter:

The filter setting will allow you to add an effect. Unless desired, do not change.

Size:

Dimensions → Current will allow you to keep the movie the same size it was when you originally established it in Photoshop.

You can also make it smaller in this step to allow you to post it to the web.

Press “OK” to exit the movie settings.

Range:

You have three editing options here:

All Frames will select all of the frames in the Photoshop timeline.

In Frame will allow you to select a specific “In” and “Out” frame.

Currently Selected Frames refers to the frames selected in your current work space.

Render Options:

Change the Frame Rate using the pull-down menu. Choose the “Document Frame Rate” of another value.

Now, you can press Render to export the Quicktime movie.

Now go out there and have some fun — and don’t forget to experiment.

Happy shooting!

– Leslye Davis

PS: Here’s a really cool bonus motion photo Leslye made for this project:

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