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Creatively Incorporating Photography into Filmmaking: A Tutorial from Stillmotion & Kessler

Stillmotion Photograph StorytellingChances are that if you’ve ever tried to incorporate still photography into your filmmaking, you’ve most likely used what has become known as the “Ken Burns Effect” wherein you keyframe various properties of the photograph in order to make it appear as if the camera is panning and zooming with the photo. While this is certainly a helpful tool when using photographs in your film, it’s not particularly exciting in a visual sense, and it’s been done so much that the technique itself is somewhat trite. Because of this, using large amounts of photos in a film presents a bit of a creative challenge, a challenge that our friends at Stillmotion encountered and tackled head-on for their recent feature documentary, #standwithme. How’d they do it? Stick with us to find out.

In the past few months, we’ve talked several times about the unique ways in which the fine folks at Stillmotion have approached this project. Here’s a full recap. However, for the purposes of this post, I’ll just throw the trailer for the film below:

In the case of #standwithmestill photography was an instrumental part of the project from the very beginning due to the fact that one of the primary characters in the film is a photographer who aims to shed light on the issue of modern slavery through her work. Add to that the fact that still photography was a must for telling the story of how young Vivienne started on her astounding journey, and it was clear that photos would play a large role in the creation of the film. The question then became, “How to incorporate these photos in a visually stimulating way that enhances the story?”

Here’s Patrick Moreau with the Stillmotion approach to storytelling through creative integration of photography with the filmmaking process:

What I love about this tutorial is that every element of this “photoscape” technique is grounded in pure storytelling. From the movement and speed of the slider, to the background on which you place the photographs, to the sound design that you place on top of the footage, it’s all there for the reason that inherently enhances the story that they are telling, which plays into the core philosophy of how Stillmotion is run.

Beyond the inherent storytelling value of the technique, it’s an extremely simple one to accomplish with a little bit of forethought. It doesn’t necessarily require a fancy motion control rig, such as the Kessler Stealth, which is prominently featured in the video. It can be accomplished either with a basic slider and some consistently steady hands, or you can combine the Ken Burns Effect with the various techniques shown here to create a similar aesthetic, although physical movement is almost always better. Then concoct some worthy sound design, and voila, a unique photoscape!

As of right now, the Stillmotion filmmakers are making their way across the county with #standwithme. Be sure to head on over to the film’s website to see if they’ll be stopping by your town any time soon to premiere the film and run their Storytelling With Heart workshop.

What do you guys think of the “photoscape” technique? How have you creatively incorporated still photography into your film projects in the past? Let us know down in the comments!

Link: Adding Movement to Photography with Stillmotion — Kessler University

[via planet5D]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 53 COMMENTS

  • The cutting between images at the same framing works for me; it’s when he jump cuts in to the same photo with a different framing that it stops working. It takes me out of the video even more than the Ken Burns effect does. Very jumpy, whereas the other bits are smooth

  • OMG LOL and LMAO. That is like the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen a Kessler Crane used for. Most of those photos – which in fact did take me out of the video – could so easily have been done in After Effects or probably a lot of other programs. It’s only worth it when it adds depth to the picture – like in the museum for example. And about the “if you cut the photos out it won’t feel like such a low resolution” part… enlarge the damn images in Photoshop and it’ll seem blurry, not pixelated, and if that’s not good enough, add some grain or noise. It’s pretty simple. This video is simply stupid.

    • What’s the point of your comment Jesper? Still Motion takes the time to share a unique idea to creatively tell a story and just because YOU don’t like it, you have to belittle them. There are lots of ways to do things.. some people will like them and some won’t. Instead of expending your energy with your demeaning comments, why don’t you upload a tutorial on how to do what you were saying in as an alternative and give Still Motion praise for sharing all this information to us free of charge.

      • What’s the point of my comment? I believe it’s called discussion. I say my opinion, other people state theirs. If we agree that’s cool. If not we use arguments to further explain our opinions. Instead of questioning the existence of my post, perhaps you should argue against it and correct the lies I tell. Worst case scenario you might win me over, and agree with you. And for the record, it’s in no way unique when you can do the same thing in more then one way.

        And I’ll tell you why I won’t spend my energy on a tutorial: Because I already explained all the difficult aspect of which there were non. People on this site knows how to do such a thing, so why should I bother? My ideas were no worse then theirs – and free – so why wouldn’t you appreciate that? Is it because I sound mean, angry and bitter?

        • You brought absolutely nothing to this discussion. While I do agree with you that this effect could have been done easier and cheaper in software but you resorted to insults. Also I wouldn’t just assume everyone knows how to do something. Bring value and show us a tutorial or better yet how you achieved a similar effect in your own body of work.

          I am currently working on a documentary and would love see alternatives to the “Ken Burns Effect”. If anyone has any other methods I would love to see them.

          That being said the effect achieved is very good and If I could afford the set up I would probably use the technique.

          • I AM the discussion. I brought the tip that this works the best when there’s depth added to the picture. I suggested (heavily) how to do it in an alternative way. I even explained how something that was explained in the video could be further improved. I never insulted one single person, all my negativity was aimed towards an idea and a video presented to us by a company


            Here’s your video. Took me 10 minutes, it’s that simple. And I already explained why I wouldn’t do a tutorial.

          • My god that’s terrible, Jesper.

      • I’m with Jesper. They didnt do this free of charge. Its a paid add for Kessler. Short moves across photos dont need a slider, pull the tripod back a bit and… wait for it… pan! Its a very short distance and there will be no arc. As for repeatable speed thats easy to match speed with a pan close enough by hand over and over. No need for motor controllers.

    • Jesper, I think you missed the comment policy ;-)

    • Your comment is everything I hate about the comment section on this, and every other, filmmaking site rolled into one single comment.

      • You hate the truth?

        If you take a closer look at the commentary policy on this site, you’ll find that unlike you I actually do follow them. My criticism IS constructive as I DO try to improve the approach by explaining an actual (and cheaper) alternative. And my criticism is NOT personal unlike yours. I approach an idea presented in a video made by the Kessler Crane company, a piece of gear which I otherwise find to be great for many things. You confront ME and my opinion, which I’m entitled to as well as you are of yours, but you bring hate into the equation and point your finger at me – if that is not personal and non-constructive criticism, I don’t know what is. If there’s anything you don’t like about my post, it’s probably my attitude. But I don’t see no commentary policies about that.

        I guess none of you seemed to notice that this was in fact an advertisement for the Kessler Crane. A naive and poor one if you ask me, but maybe people DO think this is the smartest way of using a Kessler Crane?

        • Coty criticised your comment, not you yourself, which is precisely what you say you’re doing to Stillmotion’s idea, so I don’t know why you would accuse him of personal attacks. And I suspect you’re right about people taking issue with your attitude, because it isn’t an admirable one. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to have it respected it if you choose to present it in a disrespectful way which, with all the LOL, LMAO and OMGing, (not the mention constructive gems like, “This video is simply stupid”) you most certainly did. You could have contained your critique within the bounds of suggesting this could just as easily have been done in AE (I don’t agree that it would have the texture and novelty of the physical method presented here, but that’s just my view) and left it at that, but you chose to go out of your way to be abrasive. It’s silly to get defensive when people take issue with that. Attitude does matter, whether it’s explicit in the comment policy or not.

    • Agreed
      Beside, I think it’s a cheap and ugly solution.
      I prefer insert a still in the movie. It’s simple and beautiful.

  • Great! Thanks for sharing!

  • That sentimentality makes my stomach turn.

  • Hey guys,

    Thanks for sharing and checking out the piece.

    We found this technique to be super helpful for us and #standwithme. We’ve always struggled with how to incorporate images into our work and now, as we see it roll out on theaters, I am certainly really enjoying how it fits into this story.

    My hope is that this tutorial and these ideas help some of you in the stories you are trying to tell. Whether you apply the technique, build on it, or do something completely different – my hope is that it contributes some solid ideas to the industry that we want to build.

    I’m sure there are other ways to do this, including After Effects, but that certainly isn’t our specialty and we always try to get things in camera whenever possible. I wouldn’t take away from that approach, we just certainly can speak to the approach or it’s strength.

    Thanks all


    • Patrick, much respect to yourself but seriously, you start out saying you want to find a more engaging way other than the ken burns effect to use photographs in your story only to produce a left to right ken burns effect? I’m all for doing it in camera but this is a waste of time and energy. You could be shooting more of the doc, editing earlier or taking this moment to find a truly dynamic way of showing these photographs.

      A C100, Kessler motion controlled slider, the lens, the lighting and time is a hell of a lot of work and investment just to have someone spend time in post to put together an in camera 1080p ken burns move when they could have been creating the exact same thing with 36mp elements from a rented D800, not to mention the control you would have over these story elements this way.

      Thanks for the video but this really is a waste of time that could be spent on other elements of the production and man, smooth out the jump cuts if you can, unless you’re left with them now that you got all this in camera.

      • I sat through the video and I was like.. huh?
        This really didn’t make any sense.

        The motion photo tutorial (you know the slight movement of elements of a still photo) posting is worth your time more than how to spend a bunch of money on a motion control system to do what you could do in AE.

        If they wanted to impress me they should have done a shot with motion in the background maybe some slight foreground elements and then have their pictures in frame of the environment that is actually in motion taking advantage of the face of having a moving image…doh!

        A chalkboard – really? Shezz might was well took a high rez photo and AE all the photo passes you want :)

        • You guys are missing the point that shooting it in camera has spatial perspective with the movement. Not something you can to in post (not easily). This technique is not a new one. We were doing it before NLEs were invented and it goes back decades and decades but good to mention it here as its new to many. Myself I’d do it with a high frame rate handheld like 180fps which allows you to pivot the camera on its Z axis as you move over the photos, when played back at say 23.98 its super smooth and looks like its on a jib!

          • Almost everything in this video could be done better with AE or Motion using multiple elements, he’s shooting a chalk board with a photo attached to it, please don’t talk about spatial perspective. There are no depth cues, it is flat against the background and the camera tracks from left to right, seriously think about the lesson you have learned here?

  • I’m sorry but this is a lot of work to achieve nothing but low resolution compositing. Apart from the lemonade bottles in different shots everything else could be created with Apple Motion, high resolution stills of the backgrounds (like the chalk board) and the story stills them selves would achieve the exact same thing giving you the time back to shoot more if the story or to wrap earlier.

    Seriously, a Kessler motion controlled C100 on a lit set on location to achieve nothing but a ken burns effect is overkill.

    • +1

      You could actually do a much better and more interesting job in After Effects / Motion.

      Also – using the Kessler slider at a set motion would be perfect to do some really creative blended transitions from one shot to the other. Why the jarring jump cuts?

  • I think Kessler asked them to do this as a way of showing additional options in how to use the stealth in various ways for documentary production, hence the extensive setup of motion control and battery, ect. And for production houses that can leverage this sort of equipment cost I think its a good instructional video. They are putting out an educational piece to their customers and this one is clearly geared towards the novice user, which is necessary in order to reach the full range of their customer base.

    But here’s my thing…here is a filmmaker, SHARING HIS KNOWLEDGE….FOR FREE. And for someone like me that is an enormous gift for which I am extremely grateful for. Your going to show me how you did something in your film…for free? um, THANK YOU!?!?!

    Yes, you could do this in after effects, but you know what…it will look like you did it in after effects. If that is what you are going for then perfect, but I appreciate this option as well.

    Do I need to drop 10 grand on gear to do this? no. I can do this with my 5dmk3 and a 99 dollar slider I got at a yard sale, but whats important is that they showed us HOW to do it, they shared knowledge and asked for nothing in return….and thats what I take away from this video.

  • Oah people, it’s just a technique. It might not fit your project but new things are always good…

  • Thank you for this link!
    It made me think abouth new ways!
    Maybe my computer could do it better – ahhm, or … maybe not, but without my ideas he’s really useless.

  • Christian Anderson on 02.7.14 @ 12:06PM

    I’m with Jesper. This seems little more than marketing. There is absolutely nothing innovative about this method.

    Don’t get angry about my opinion. You’re welcome to your own.

  • Oh come on people, this is just overkill. Someone mentions it’s good for a novice, what novice would be using this kit and not know of the ken burns effect but more to the point what camera operator really needs to know the ken burns effect? This is the compositiors job and any compositiors would rather have this shot there’s to make with multiple high res elements not fixed 1080p video!

    And please stop it with all the shared knowledge love bull. This is driving traffic to there site, brand, persona etc no I don’t think that’s a bad thing or that it makes them the devil, far from it but please, this is not a new or even efficient use of this technique, it’s expensive, time consuming, inflexible, low in resolution/colour, an extra media management job and to too it off has the wrong person in the production chain doing the job. This is a compositiors job not a camera operator’s who could be shooting more b-roll or interviews and could if used the Kessler rental/purchase money for better lights, location time, archive footage etc

    Drop the filmmaker bull as well, there is no role on a film set or person capturing a documentary that is called a filmmaker, film, docs are a collaborative effort in film making, no one is doing it by themself.

    • Anthony, I agree with your opinion about this technique (although I don’t think it’s necessary to word it so harshly).

      But I don’t agree with you when you say there is no role called a filmmaker. Often I collaborate with other crew members on a job, and we each have prescribed roles. But sometimes I conceptualise, write, produce, direct, shoot, edit and distribute my films myself. Just me, my camera and sound kit, and some far-flung parts of the world. What role is that? Well, I think “filmmaker” sums it up quite nicely and accurately. “Writer-producer-director-cinematographer-editor” just sounds stupid.

      • Well said Richard! I have been so confused the last years of what to call myself. Filmmaker is the closest in general, but in certain projects a very fixed role.

      • Richard you answered you’re own question, people that do a jack of all trades job in this industry will sum up there contribution as film making but even then they should be a little more specific in what they do as you can’t possibly specialise in everything and who wants to dumb down what we do to a jack of all trades standard?.

        TV personalities that interview directors will sometimes introduce them as a film maker’s but there is no “Role” in film called a film maker – the only person who could be considered with this title is a producer, they capitalise on a great script or an opportunity to work with a famous director or actor and they literally take on the role of making the film happen but then that’s what producing a film entails and hence why they are called a producer and not a film maker. Have you not noticed that camera operators who dabble in narrative or self shooting directors are the only people calling them selves Film makers? I’ve never heard an art director, sound guy/gal, script supervisor, set manager, make up artist, gaffer or even a 1st AD call themselves a film maker, it’s always the chump with the camera that does that and do you really presume he or she can honestly take on everything thats involved in creating a film on their lonesome?

        Even if you’re by yourself in the middle of the jungle documenting something for a documentary film that you will produce you are still not in charge of what happens in front of the camera and can not take full credit for what this documentary film ends up being.

        Do you call yourself a film maker when speaking to people outside of the industry? that would be understandable but if we was at a networking event and you just labelled yourself as a film maker what would you expect me to take away from that?

        Be confident in what your role is and what you want to be, i introduce myself as a Gaffer and aspiring DP, i mention my history of Live Broadcast, Sports video capture and editing when asked how i came to be where i am or why i do what i do but never say i’m a film maker, at best i will say i am a film “Collaborator” as what say’s more about me than saying i can realise someone else’s vision, that i can work as a head of a department in my specialist field? i guess i should just call myself a film maker and hope they know the specific goals i want to achieve while they hopefully don’t presume that i do little videos of a beach by myself and call it film making out of some ridiculous notion that doing it by myself somehow says i know it all and should be in charge of everything?

        Yes i know what i have mentioned is over the top, of course it is, I’m trying to convince someone of a role in film that doesn’t exist. Maybe i should just ask you to find an award for Filmmakers that doesn’t get handed out to a producer or director, then we will know what it is these mysterious people do

        • Yeah, okay, you make some fair points. When it comes down to it, I’d never actually put my credit on a film as “filmmaker” – it’ll always be director, or producer, or DOP, etc. And personally, I try to never put more than two credits for myself on a film, even if I’ve done more roles. It’s a rule I heard from Steven Soderbergh, I think, and it makes sense – because as you imply, to be called a “jack of all trades” is also usually to be “a master of none”.

          However, we all know that for smaller, independent productions, pretty much everyone on the crew is going to have to perform multiple roles. Having enough crew for super-niche job roles on set is a luxury, and in my field (documentary filmmaking), that’s a luxury that pretty much doesn’t exist. So I stand by the opinion that “filmmaker” is a very useful term to describe a person who is skilled at multiple high-level roles on a film, and these roles may change on a per-project basis (as opposed to something like “writer-director” which may be someone’s constant job title). Actually, I suppose “documentary filmmaker” usually implies multiple roles anyway. Should someone want to continue the conversation, I’d give them more detail about the work I actually do.

          But my point is: it’s simply useful shorthand, and doesn’t relate to the credited roles on a film. However, I agree with you that being a gaffer or art director or editor doesn’t fall under the umbrella of “filmmaker” – a person who combines multiple roles in the origination of a project (producer, director, writer, possibly DOP) can perfectly justifiably fall under that banner though.

          Think of it like being called “a doctor” – you might be a paediatrician, you might be a surgeon, you might be a urologist. You’re still a doctor.

  • Richard Wilcox on 02.8.14 @ 10:14PM

    I enjoy this site a lot. There’s lots of articles that introduce me to new ideas and techniques. I’m also a big Kessler fan and own several thousand pounds worth of Kessler equipment. That said, I find the argument and assertions in this video to be pretty dubious. It surprisingly misses the mark for them. Quite simply, there is nothing wrong with the technique of using digital moves on digital images, which are just a simpler way of getting smooth rostrum moves. I’m not saying the techniques proposed in the video aren’t valid, it’s just that suggesting they are superior to digital moves in this instance really just comes over as patronising and frankly unhelpful sales patter. Kessler, we know there are lots of situations where your kit is invaluable. You don’t need to diss digital techniques that work just fine, to justify owning your kit. A misifre.

  • I like the effect very much and used it in a documentary I produced last year called A Drop of Water (before Stand with me). I was inspired by how I saw ESPN biographies do photo treatments back in the late 90′s by creating a still life that featured a printed photo at the focal point. I’m a little irked that Stillmotion is passing this off as a new technique as if they’re the first ones to attempt it.

  • Jesper, I don’t hate the truth, I actually love it. Hate critique? Never, and what filmmaker or artist will last a day without the stomach for others critiques? Your thoughts are appreciated for sure because they revealed to me another method. However, I have found a truth, there is no expression of creativity that is stupid, there are only different levels of professionalism. I think the struggle people are having with your comment is calling a person stupid for a choice of their own creativity at the level of their own professionalism. That’s like telling your third grade daughter that her crayon drawing is pure b******t. But this is Stillmotion so we expect more? Hey man, read the real Hollywood professionals and you find out it’s all about choices and solving problems. Some work, some don’t. Some choices are poor, but yield a result that introduces a new medium of creativity.

    If you have done just a little bit of reading about Stillmotion, and I would have to assume you have, it becomes very obvious that they are junkies for cameras and stories. Knowing that, their choice is easy to track. Yes we could do it all in post, but we like cameras so let’s do it in the camera because we love to, and not because it’s the quickest or because it’s the more cost effective method. Does it work, um, maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? Not really. Did the story get told? Yes. Did the filmmaker enjoy the process, or just churn out some more drivel that just pays the bills? After reading Patricks post and seeing their work, I rather think they love the process and the equipment and the stories more.

    • I agree that as for creative work, there’s no right or wrong way to things, only the one that suits you and stimulates your creativity. And sure this could be the one. BUT as this is obviously some kind of commercial, that went out of their way to tell us how their product could be used for something different – something that would be like RED selling their Epic for heating a room, I reserve the right to call it stupid – or actually the stupidest thing I’ve seen it used for which is in fact true. People can make it work, but it’s in no way the best suited task. I actually thought the way of incorporating stock pictures into actual video to be good, but only when used with depth (like in the Museum). If I had to sell this idea, I would for example have lined up the photos, so they would move in and out of focus.

      • Yeah, I know what you mean about adding depth or something to make it feel less composited. I did something similar two years ago but when I made the decision to shoot them live action instead of compositing them, I did it with a shallow depth-of-field and purposefully let them catch a little glare off a window in order to make it feel less computer-generated. I did the camera movements with a simple slider. I would’ve used a motion-controlled one if I had it, but it was by no means necessary.

        That being said, I appreciated the ideas of using a fitting environment (which I considered but didn’t use) and adding environmental audio (which is something I didn’t think of but is a brilliant idea).

  • I always wondered who uses those prefab photo board effects in the large post filter suites, and this is essentially the same scrapbooking aesthetic done a little more DIY to nicer effect.

    It’s old hat in TV, and promos, and pretty corny in my opinion, but it gets people creative shooting photos rather than scanning and digitally panning, then great.

  • Pierre Samuel Rioux on 02.13.14 @ 3:55PM

    Interesting if you have a lot of picture. But i will used this only for a transition with 2 subject with low quality picture.It’s more a thing you bring in the concept of your show.
    I used a lot of picture in my documentary must at the time they are included in a subtitle way you not notice it’s a picture and think it’s a video shot.Or i do it a way i want you notice it’s a picture and including the click if i need. It’s all about emotion.
    A direction to left to right it’s normal it’s the way we read… but right to left with a hard picture show it’s not normal and give an other emotion.More you bring to your editor better he will perform, and women editor are more emotional, men are editing with more action… What you want to bring out !

  • What do people feel about cinemagrams? Taking a hi-res still into Photoshop, cutting around it, new layer, filling in some of the background behind it with Clone Tool. Then take it into AE or Motion and put a move on the elements (like skew), and perhaps add atmospheric particles also.

    I love the effect I can create with these, but it’s a painstaking process! Sadly last time I did it was for an anti-elephant poaching campaign so the image was not a very nice one to look at.

    • p.s. i think my terminology is wrong, because I am not talking about looping per se, just a photo turned video by working on certain elements of it to give them artificial movement that was never captured (i.e. a head turn slightly, or an arm movement)

  • Thanks again guys for sharing another tutorial. We used this technique last weekend for one of our beer projects by placing photos in grains and hops. Very effective, almost tangible and nostalgic way to present a photo. Pairing it with some good sound design is a great layer.

    For those who are distracted by the jump cuts, remember, there’s a score that goes along with it that we aren’t hearing and it probably makes that transition a little more digestible.

    I’ll share our example of it when the edits done on and our facebook page

    Thanks again guys!