Image Focus

Virgo Haan | Black is Back

Sometimes the simplest images are the most effective. And simplicity is really important for cinemagraphs. These images, which live in the space between stills and video, need careful consideration and precise construction, but they can delight the viewer like nothing else.

The coolest cinemagraphs are ones where you don't expect something to move. You think it’s a still and then the motion catches your eye. Because they’re so surprising, they’re great for marketing and lots of companies use them because they really pop out from a newsfeed. This one, ‘Black is Back,’ was made as part of the Villeroy & Boch Bath PhotoArt exhibition. The product in this cinemagraph was a black and white bath, which led me towards the almost monotone colouring.

person sitting in a bath wearing a hat

© Virgo Haan | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/160s @ f/2.8, ISO 320

Creating the cinemagraph in my studio with makeup artist, Janika Slepnjov, the model, Kseniia Satarova, was body painted so that we had this layered look. Every object was supposed to contrast, black against white. Even the shadow on her neck is painted to add contrast. I didn't want to show her face, because I thought it would take too much attention, which is why she has her back turned.

When working on the final cinemagraph, I had to think about how the still and moving elements – the assets – would combine in software. I used Adobe After Effects, and there were three assets here; the still of Kseniia in the bath, and two clips, one showing the black water moving, and the other with the steam rising above her head. You need constant motion in a loop, but in a simple composition like this one, it’s easy. You just take the clip, cut it in half, then layer the first half on top of the second. When you fade its Opacity from 0 to 100 it will look like it’s going on forever.

The main thing is that everything needs to be still and that the composition, the colour and the exposure don’t change between the assets. I had my Sony Alpha 7R III set up on a tripod, shooting in manual exposure mode with settings of 1/160sec at f/2.8 and ISO 320. When I had a still I liked, I just switched to the camera’s movie mode and recorded the moving water, so it all lined up perfectly. Of course, Kseniia had to stay still, too! It’s great to have just one camera that can switch so easily between high quality stills and video.

I find that sometimes you do some tricky technical stuff, it doesn't get a huge amount of attention, but when you make something simple and effective, everybody likes it! Technically, this wasn’t a really difficult cinemagraph to do, but it’s definitely one of the most striking and popular from the series. So while it’s amongst the easiest I’ve made, its impact has been the greatest.

You can view the original cinemagraph on Virgo's website here

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Virgo Haan

Virgo Haan | Estonia

"I give my best to create works bigger than everyday life"

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