Cinemagraph 101 :: How to create a cinemagraph with an iPhone

I was captivated by a cinemagraph many years ago. I can’t remember what it was of, only how it made me feel: enchanted, like I had just discovered that magic does exist as I fell into a mini trance lost in the rhythm of subtle movement. Though I now know how to create moving still images the notion of Potter-esque magic behind this visual medium still fascinates me. Done well a cinemagraph makes for a great storytelling device with the ability to draw a viewer’s gaze and bring a photo to life.

Stirring batter cinemagraph

A few weeks ago I started #cinemagraphSunday, a personal project on Instagram where I share one cinemagraph every Sunday and extended an open invitation for others to join me on the project. While cinemagraphs have been around for a while technology has only advanced in the last year or so in bringing the capability to enthusiasts. In order to spur others to create their own moving still images I thought I’d put together an introductory tutorial on how to create a cinemagraph with an iPhone using only free apps for beginners to dip their toes in.

What is a cinemagraph?

Simply put a cinemagraph is a moving still image. It captures a moment in motion while the rest of the image stands still.

Or as Wikipedia defines it: cinemagraphs are still photographs in which a minor and repeated movement occurs, forming a video clip. They are published as an animated GIF or in other video formats, and can give the illusion that the viewer is watching an animation. 

Characteristics of a cinemagraph

A good cinemagraph loops seamlessly. Unlike a GIF the movement is usually more subtle and refined. A key distinguishing characteristic is that a good cinemagraph would also make for a good photograph, careful consideration of lighting and composition will add to its success.

Tools you’ll need

The great thing about creating cinemagraphs with an iPhone is that it does not require much equipment. All you need is a stable tripod, a phone mount and your iPhone.

A tripod is essential in isolating movement in a cinemagraph. Any old sturdy tripod will do and even a handy Joby GorillaPod can work. What you’re looking for is stability or else you’ll run into issues later on in the editing process.

I have an old Manfrotto tripod similar to the one in the image when I travel; it’s compact enough to fit in my luggage. The difference is that my tripod is a carbon fibre frame making it lighter to carry but of course the downside is that carbon fibre frame tripods are pricier than their aluminium counterparts. This Manfrotto 190XPRO (with aluminum frame £159 vs carbon fibre £395) is particularly handy because the center column extends out for horizontal shooting (think flatlays). Don’t forget to pick up a ball head in order to attach a camera or phone mount and make sure the size of the thread (the part where you screw the mount to the ball head, standard size is 1/4) fits.

Phone mount holder
A phone mount is another essential piece to filming cinemagraphs because it helps to secure the phone in place. I can’t stress enough that stability is key in creating moving images! I use the Zacro 360 Degree Rotation Mount holder because I like the ease of being able to rotate the phone for different compositions but any phone mount holder should do the trick, they are relatively inexpensive ranging from £4 to £7.


Cinemagraph iOS Apps

There are two free apps I use to create cinemagraphs. The first one is the video function on the iPhone Camera app (the one that’s installed in every iPhone) to film the scene. The other app is MaskArt which lets you upload the video, isolate motion and turn the clip into a cinemagraph. Make sure you have these two apps downloaded before you start working on your cinemagraph. (Note: This tutorial only covers iPhone/iOS capabilities in creating cinemagraphs. Hard as I tried I just couldn’t find a good enough app to use for Android.)

5 Steps to creating a cinemagraph on iPhone

1. Decide what motion you want to capture and isolate. Remember movement should be something that will allow for seamless looping. Some examples include pouring tea/coffee or blowing bubbles. Record the scene with your phone secured on an iPhone mount and tripod. I recommend shooting for 10 to 12 seconds so that you’ll have a bit more material to work with when selecting the final 3-6 second clip that is most suitable. At a minimum you will need a 3 second clip in order to post to Instagram but no longer than 6 seconds or it will not loop on Twitter.

2. Open MaskArt and select the clip you shot. Review the entire clip to look for the best in and out points. What you’re looking out for is a good start point (slide the purple bar on the left to the right to position the start point) and an end point (slide the purple bar on right to the left) that will transition seamlessly back to the start point for continuous looping – refer to the screenshot on the left. It bears repeating that the trimmed clip will need to be at least 3 seconds long in order to post on Instagram.


3. Now you’re ready to isolate motion on your clip. (Refer to image on the right) Tap on the brush icon and the brush size and hardness options will appear. I usually only adjust the size of the brush depending on how big the area of motion is. With the brush tool selected use your finger to brush over the area you want to reveal movement. In doing so any other motion in the rest of the clip will now be frozen still except for the area you brushed. In the example on the right you’ll notice the cup of tea is the only area that is not tinted in purple. This means the only motion that will come through in the clip is movement in the tea while everything shaded purple will be still. To the right of the brush tool is the eraser tool in case you over brushed and want to undo the selection.

4. Once you’re happy with isolating movement in your clip click “Next” (top right) which will take you to the preview screen where you can review the clip. Select “Video” if you intend to use the cinemagraph for social platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter since these platforms will automatically loop our clip. Select Gif format for website use. (Refer to image on the left).

5. Make sure audio is muted before tapping next. In the next screen you are given an option on where to share the cinemagraph. I usually save it to my gallery and upload in the native social media platforms.


Tip: There are very limited options in adding filters to a cinemagraph on an iPhone. My work around is to apply an Instagram filter (adjusted to my liking) and saving it to my gallery to be used on other platforms.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful. If anything is unclear or if you have questions please let me know in the comments below so I can make adjustments to improve the quality of this quick and dirty tutorial. It is my first time offering tutorials on this blog so any feedback would be much appreciated.

For those who are interested in taking a deeper dive into the world of creating cinemagraphs on iPhone I am working on an online workshop that is inline with what I taught at the CFG Creative conference complete with video demonstration, key tips on what to look out for when shooting video for a cinemagraph, troubleshooting advice, inspiration and prompts along with a downloadable video demo to practice with. The proceeds from the online workshop will be donated to Breaking Barriers, one of three Creating For Good charities. To register your interest email me at and I’ll add you to my mailing list for news and updates.

Last but not least, I’d love to see your cinemagraphs! Post your creations on Instagram with the hashtag #CinemagraphSunday so I can spot them.


Note: the two cinemagraphs I used in this blog post were shot with a camera but you can find a few examples of my iPhone shot cinemagraphs here, here, and here.

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