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How (And Why) to Add Parallax Movement to Still Images

A parallax effect, (or Ken Burns effect, named after the filmmaker) involves panning and/or zooming on a still image to give the effect of motion or animation, like in a video. Here, we'll look at how (and why) you might want to add parallax animation to your photographs.

1. Why Add Parallax Animation to Pictures

Make Your Stills Engaging

Showing a demonstrative or relevant still in your film is great, and often necessary; but let’s face it, it can be a bit dull, visually. Adding some motion to your image helps to make it more engaging and interesting. It also helps to slightly blur the lines between still and motion, so it’s not really obvious there’s suddenly no movement in your video.

Give Images New Life and Adds Production Value

You can combine your movement with other effects like smoke or sound, so you can really make what was a still image, into something entirely different. This can work particularly well when it comes to demonstrating old archive images which might not be of great quality (video example below). It’s more acceptable to mess around with an image if someone knows you’re not trying to pass it off as genuine footage, it’s stylised and that’s okay.

2. How to Add Parallax Effects

What Images Work Best with a Parallax Effect?

In theory, you can add motion via parallax to just about any image, but there are certain scenarios in which is works best. Here are some things to consider when you’re thinking about adding this effect:

Image choice and Making Selections

Choose a photograph that has minimal background clutter. This way, you’ll find it easier to select or isolate your main subject without the background looking odd. Ideally you want to have at least three layers (though you can do it with two) foreground, middle, background.

When you cut out your main subject, it can be useful to feather the edges a bit to soften them, so they don’t look too sharp. Fill any holes you create with tools like Content Aware and, essentially, use your best judgement to fill in gaps—one easy method is to actually knock the background out of focus, creating an artificial depth of field, which also serves to give it more of a three-dimensional look.

Adding Movement

Movement will vary, but let’s consider at an example of moving something left to right. Imagine you’re travelling on a train—stuff whizzes past the window but the things in the distance move slowly. With your image, everything should move in the same direction, and the foreground moves faster than middle-distance, middle-distance moves faster than back. You should move all the layers, even a little, for the best effect.

Be wary of screen size because the bigger the screen the more exaggerated the movement will be—be subtle about it, less is always more.

3. Add Parallax Movement Using a Template

Templates that help you to add motion can be useful in many ways, whether you’re just starting out and need help creating some basic movement o  more sophisticated animation like bends and twists.

This parallax template, from Envato Market, comes highly recommended:

Photomotion X - Biggest Photo Animation Toolkit (5 in 1) for Adobe After Effects

With Photomotion X you can really take stills animation to the next level. Create movement within the sky, sea and smoke with the Mirage feature, animate faces with Portrait, make cinemographs directly in the software with Glacier, and much, much more.

Photomotion X - Biggest Photo Animation Toolkit 5 in 1Photomotion X - Biggest Photo Animation Toolkit 5 in 1Photomotion X - Biggest Photo Animation Toolkit 5 in 1
Photomotion X - Biggest Photo Animation Toolkit (5 in 1)

Live Photos 3D

Or, as an alternative, try Live Photos 3D, from Envato Elements: mask your image and start the template to bring your photo to life.

More Handy Parallax Tutorials

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