The Moving Portrait: From Holograms to GIFs to Boomerang

The Moving Portrait: From Holograms to GIFs to Boomerang

Although video dominates much of the media landscape, the simplicity of the photograph perseveres. Ironically, throughout much of the history of photography, photographers (along with editors, designers, and publishers) have continually explored limited motion. The portrait, in particular, has been a ripe target for the integration of motion. Unlike the video portrait, the moving portrait is typically shorter and length, often with an endless loop – perhaps inspired by the animated GIF.

Motion brings about a level of dynamism, and can induce emotion in a way that a static image cannot. Throughout much of the past 50 years, technology has helped influence the direction of the moving portrait.


The lack of a screen hasn’t prevented publishers from trying to simulate movement in print. Two major technologies have been utilized to create the moving portrait: holograms and lenticular printing.


In 1984, National Geographic released its first holographic cover, a bald eagle, to showcase the nascent technology. Altering the viewing angle of the cover gave readers a limited 3D perspective.

The magazine followed up with a larger hologram of a skull in 1985 and a full holographic cover of a globe in 1988. The covers provided relatively high fidelity movable images in the hands of consumers.

More recently, Empire magazine published a full holographic cover for a Star Wars: The Last Jedi subscriber cover.


Lenticular printing uses lenses to change an image based on the viewing angle. Although the technology has been around for over 100 years, lenticular printing became popular starting in the 1950s when companies like Vari-Vue produced consumer products like trading cards.

Artist Rob Munday visited fashion designer and icon Karl Lagerfeld to produce a series of 50 images, some of which formed the lenticular cover for AnOther magazine’s 15th anniversary issue in 2016.

Wired UK partnered with Sky TV to create a full-wrap lenticular cover in 2016 promoting the product launch of Sky Q.



The ubiquity of internet-connected devices on our desks and in our pockets has been a critical piece of the visual age. Aided by rapid technological advances for capture and display, the popularity of the moving portrait has been fueled by the fact that anyone can create one.


Early animated GIFs were small and cartoonish in nature with restricted color palettes. Limited bandwidth from dial-up modems imposed practical limits to how the technology could be used. But GIFs provided motion (e.g. a flag waving in the wind) at a time when the rest of the web was dominated by text against a gray background.

As video technology progressed, the animated GIF was largely perceived as an antiquated technology. Yet rather than die, the GIF saw a resurgence as a part of the lexicon of the Visual Age, even with an 8-bit color palette. Animated GIFs became popular as visual reactions, leading to the meme-ification of many well-known video clips.

The looping nature of the moving portrait has made it popular with comedic intent. But as the medium has matured, we’ve seen an expansion of the emotional content.

As a part of a brilliant marketing campaign, Converse converted clips of Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown into reaction GIFs and made them freely available for consumers.


Professional GIF artist Kate Bones combined photos from a 1980s 3D film camera to create stereoscopic GIF portraits from Glastonbury’s NYC Downlow festival. Bones told Marie Claire, “GIF is an old format going through a renaissance. What’s happening now is unchartered territory, but I believe GIF is the perfect visual medium for social media.”

Kate Bones

The New York Times tapped John Yuyi to create a series of moving portraits for a piece appropriately titled “Welcome to the Post-Text Future.”


Esquire integrated both still and moving portraits taken by Kat Pisiolek in a feature piece on YouTube star KSI.

Photo by Kat Pisiolek


Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck coined the term Cinemagraph to describe a moving image with localized looping like this image created for Chanel which features one loop on the sparklers and another loop of the eyes. Although the resulting image can be saved as a video file, a cinemagraph can also be exported as a GIF format.

After several years of producing tintypes at the Sundance Film Festival, Victoria Will blasted 140 years into the future by adopting the cinemagraph into her arsenal.

Photo by Victoria Will


Low frame-rate animation separate the moving portrait from video. Boomerang started out as a standalone app from Instagram to add looping image capabilities, but has subsequently been integrated into Instagram itself.

Unlike the traditional animated GIF, boomerangs loop forward and backwards which adds a comic element to the motion. Los Angeles Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin has used the technology at Comic Con and Sundance to the delight of his subjects.


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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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