5920106867_b1649eaac9_zStill photos can be used in motion pictures very effectively.  This post tells several ways how.  But first, let me say that as a filmmaker I’m glad I spent a couple years concentrating on basic photography skills, like getting proper focus and exposure, and composing my shots well.  Now I use these skills almost instinctually as I shoot films, and that’s great, because with filming there is so much more to attend to, like movement and sound.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about using still photos in motion pictures:


  • They can be used with or without superimposed text to introduce a new section of your story.
  • If their content is symbolic, they can communicate an idea or feeling instantaneously and dramatically.  (Psychologists have discovered that still photographs can leave an indelible impression, which is not so much so with moving pictures).
  • If you have undesirable video moments that you don’t wish to show, but you do want to run the audio portion of that clip, a still photo can be substituted for the video portion you choose to omit.
  • If you don’t have sufficient clips to tell a story you want to tell, still photos can be used to fill out your available visuals.

When you use stills with video, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your viewer will get used to a certain cadence.  If you hold a still too long, you will frustrate the viewer’s expectation instilled by the prior rhythm, and the flow of your story will suffer.  So, be mindful of the rhythms you establish by your editing, and make the duration of your stills fit in with them.
  • You may want to use panning and zooming in your stills to give the illusion of movement, a technique used by Ken Burns in his epic four-part TV Civil War series, told entirely with stills, and now dubbed the “Ken Burns effect.”  Follow your video app’s instructions for panning and zooming.  For zooming, make sure that you use high resolution photos that will look clear on the screen when you zoom in on them.  If you use too small a photo, when you zoom in the content gets fuzzy.  This is particularly noticeable when the film is projected on a large screen.  If possible, use the original size of stills in your films  Don’t downsize them.  This will help to insure that you have adequate resolution for zooming.
  • Pay attention to the sequencing of stills and the positioning of subjects within them.  In the video below the man holding the camera was not photograph8ing the little pirate who follows.  By the way, that little pirate was raising his face to enjoy the warm sun, not posing for a picture.  I thought I could use his adorable uplifted face to go with the other photo, provided his position was correct.  In my original photo of him he was facing the right side of the frame.  I flipped the photo over to have him facing left, toward the photographer in the previous photo.  Thus, I set up an interaction between them which didn’t actually take place, illustrating a filmmaker’s theatrical license.

One thought on “Using Still Photographs in Motion Pictures”

  1. Hey, Tom:
    Just looked at your pirate’s day video. Wonderful! The music was good, the inclusion of stills into the video was super, and I liked your explaining how to do those things within the story line.
    Wonderful video.

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