Photo by Scott Webb / Unsplash

GIFs have migrated away from social media content into a new and mesmerizing art form simply called GIF art. Referencing a variety of past, minimal art forms like micro-animation, micro-cinema, stop motion photography, and cinemagraphs, GIF art is an experimental, digitally-generated medium that harmoniously blends film and visual art into a work of infinite motion.

Though GIFs are often in the form of computer animations, they do not have to be limited to digital renderings and can include real world objects in the animation process. With some items you have on hand, you can even create your own GIF projects in any studio environment.


We’ll be taking a stop motion approach to make your GIFs within a photo studio. The first step in executing a successful GIF animation is having all of your resources ready to go. Some major resources include:

Having a finalized sketch of your storyboard.

If you need some help coming up with some ideas on what your GIF should be about, check out this post on creative exercises.

  • It can be helpful to draw out your storyboard onto some storyboard templates.
  • Think of each frame of the storyboard as one frame of your animation. Try to make each frame contain some element of transformation or movement so viewers can clearly distinguish what is happening throughout the entire GIF.
  • This storyboard template shows an apple transforming into an orange, then back into an apple.

    Collecting or creating all necessary props.

  • This includes any objects, from household items, actors, or other additional material you want to use that will be the main subject of your GIF, along with the tools needed to photograph each frame of the GIF, such as a camera, phone, tripod, table, lights, backdrop, tape, etc.
  • Having a tripod is essential before a shoot. You’ll be able to have consistently framed shots and avoid taking blurry photographs.
  • Also, think about what kind of backdrop you want for your GIF. Having a simple backdrop can put more focus on the the subject you’ll be shooting. Also try to stick with plain, single-colored backgrounds as to not distract the viewer from the focus of your project.
  • During the Shoot:

    Now that you’ve organized and collected all your production materials, we can dive into how to shoot your GIF project. We’ll mostly be referring to using DSLR cameras, but you can apply some of these techniques with your phone too!

    As you set up, here are some things to consider:

  • Using a tripod, make sure objects/actors/subject in your shoot is in a consistent place. Try to avoid moving around the tripod and your props around too much (sudden movements can cause jumping which will make your end product look choppy.) Consistency in composition, lighting, to camera placement help to create fluid, seamless animations.
  • You can use the rule of thirds to create stronger compositions.
  • As you’re photographing one frame of the GIF at a time, make sure to check each photo to see if the subject is in focus.
  • Use at least 2 lights: have one key or main light (brings light to the central parts of a subject) and another fill light to make shadows appear less harsh. These two lights can be placed across from each other as seen below.
  • Position your fill lights on both sides of the subject to reduce the appearance of shadows.
  • Set up your camera to take high quality jpegs at a medium or larger resolution. To find out more about adjusting your camera’s resolution, take a look at this article.
  • Set your camera’s exposure setting to Manual (turn off Autofocus) so you can control the aperture and shutter speed. Camera Setting Recommendations:
    1. Set your Aperture to F8. This setting helps to create sharp, crisp images, with an average depth of field.
    2. Set your Shutter Speed to 1/15. As the shutter speed deals with light exposure, increasing the shutter speed to 1/30 or higher will make your image darker and decreasing your shutter speed to 1/8 or lower will make your image brighter.
    3. Set your ISO to 400. The ISO controls how sensitive to light the camera’s digital sensors are, so an ISO 400 would be a good setting for indoor/flash indoor shoots.
    4. Set white balance to Daylight or Tungsten, don’t use Auto WB. The white balance should match the source of your light, so set your camera to Tungsten (light commonly found in indoor lighting has a yellow/orange hue, which helps take away excess yellow lighting in an environment) or Daylight, which is good for average, natural daylight settings.
        GIF project by student Christian Jones.

        And it’s as simple as that — you’ve made your first stop motion GIF! It might take a couple reshoots to get it right, but experimenting which shots you should string together for a cool GIF is part of the fun. Remember, a GIF concept doesn’t need to be complex — a simple, well-executed idea can make for an exciting and creative final product.

        This content comes from Session 3 of the course Introduction to Motion Design: Animated GIFs by Ringling College of Art and Design. To learn more about techniques for motion design, enroll in the course below:

        Motion Design: Animated GIFs

        Motion Design: Animated GIFs

        Ringling College of Art and Design

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