Chris Crisman Adds Motion to a Single Image

butterfliesBy Anne Telford
Photography has evolved over the decades to the present moment when it’s even possible to introduce motion into a still photo. Imagine a girl sitting on a rustic wooden fence in a forest while blue butterflies swirl around her. Your eye is captured and drawn into this magical scene. How is this possible?

Known for insightful portraits and landscapes that seem lifted from a cinematic masterpiece, Chris Crisman is at the forefront of this new direction in photography.

“We’ve been working for quite awhile now with the idea that everything moves,” the Pennsylvania-based photographer says. “It’s been about a year that we’ve wanted to put that idea into motion. Some might be more like short movies. It’s a pretty big jump; the big idea is that all types of creative visuals can live in the same place, and the same frame. That opens up the door.”

Behind the door is a collaboration with post production studio, PXL House. “The goal is to create a space where everything is alive, [and in] great depth, not just in X and Y axises. “Why can’t these actually live and move, why can’t it happen in real time?” Crisman asks.

He is in the process now of going back to previously constructed photographs and giving them a new life in the world of motion. In some cases he is using animated CGI paired with the many layers of the original photograph, in other cases he is using video selections layered with stills. “On the surface there are a lot of complexities to what we’re doing, but since we have so much experience with complex still and CGI work, putting our assets in motion was as simple as asking ‘why not’?   It’s amazing how things here are growing and changing,” he says.


“I think what we’re showing is a unique view of the world and how I am able to tell a story. With this new layer of creativity we can take a campaign and create every visual asset that an agency might need for their client. You will be able to achieve some really special visuals even if the budget for motion might not be as great,” Crisman explains.

What is this photographic process called? One answer is a cinemagraph. According to Wikipedia, “cinemagraphs are still photographs in which a minor and repeated movement occurs.” The term was coined by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck who used the technique to animate their fashion and news photographs beginning in early 2011.


One client that has embraced this new style is Caitlin Peters, Deputy Photo Director at AARP / AARP Media. “I first met Chris when I was working at Field & Stream magazine. Whenever I think of portrait and nature combined, I think of Chris. He knows how to meld the two perfectly,” Peters states.

AARP wanted to honor our National Parks in this centennial year of the National Park Service. “It was Chris who proposed doing a cinemagraph for this because he thought it would work well with the subject,” she says. That story is releasing with AARP magazine this week on their iPad edition.  “It’s a little something extra that will make our readers stop and take in a new technology,” says Peters. “This was not something we had ever tried before. We try to push it a little bit with our digital edition and show our readers something fresh.


“The most recent cinemagraphs I had seen before Chris proposed the idea, were ones that Esquire did at Sundance of actors with one element that moved. For these, because of the pure nature of the photography and the setting it lent itself to give Chris’s images an extra boost and sparkle,” Peters says.

In creating these cinemagraphs the serendipity of nature assisted the shoot by providing both rain and snow on separate occasions. While the weather might have disadvantaged a normal shoot, it added elements perfect for this technique. “It was a gift,” she adds.  “Everyone has had the same reaction, ‘Oh my god they are beautiful’. It’s a fun surprise and an extra for our readers,” Peters says.

What is the value of these images in the commercial world? For one thing, the budget is far less than for a traditional broadcast motion shoot. “We like that with concepts like these,  we can add motion to any of your digital media needs.” Crisman explains. “Even if you don’t have the full budget to do multiple day broadcast or video shoot, we can still create a wide array of assets that can fill your needs for far less.”

Any content you create needs to have stopping power,” Chris adds. “People are moving through their feeds so fast, two seconds, five seconds at most. And to be effective, it must be something that moves without a play button so as to catch their attention,” he says.


How you create the association between the art and the actual image requires conversations early on in the process.  How are the images going to live as a moving still? Or, as a living object not just a printed object?  “Since it takes a different kind of creative process it requires a different conversation.  In fact, we are aiming to make that part of the initial creative conversation on every project now.  There are a lot of ways of building motion into the image so it is crucial to collaborate early on with the agency and client teams. In the case of [the images of] butterflies and paper airplanes, we were able at the point of conception of the picture to plan out what that motion might be and plan accordingly.

“We’ll get there!” Crisman says with enthusiasm.

To see the rest of the cinemagraphs in his collection please link here.


One thought on “Chris Crisman Adds Motion to a Single Image

  1. Pingback: Shrinking Your Comfort Zone by Chris Crisman, featured in Communication Arts | Notes From A Rep's Journal

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