GIF Gardens: How to (Easily) Animate Your Plant Photos

Photos by the Horticult

Having come of age in/around a mall during the late 1990s, I’ve always associated the term “glamour shots” with soft focus, Cinnabons and feather boas. But perhaps not anymore. Because we’ve been getting lavish with our photos lately — all in the name of capturing the innate fabulousness of flowers.

Over the past year, Ryan has begun taking our plant shots a step further by turning them into GIFs. (A file type that stands for Graphics Interchange Format.) In their animated form, GIFs are embeddable clips usually lasting no more than a couple seconds. Across the internet they also serve as a window into the human condition — in which puppies, pop stars and toddlers express the inexpressible and empower you to get absolutely no work done today.

So far, we’ve made a few GIFs of our own: fields of L.A. wildflowers swaying in the breeze, Donna Summer overlooking a moving turntable (yes, it was garden-related), me dancing in bot’ socks, and us hamming it up around our newly bloomed cactus flower. You can make a GIF from video or still images; all of ours have been created with the latter.

Sensitive-Plant-Mimosa-pudica-thehorticult

Capturing the closing of a sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica).

Garden-music-playlist-thehorticult

See what’s moving next to the zamioculcas?

Chantal-socks-thehorticult-garden

Socks covered in cactus flowers=reason to celebrate.

dance-party-art-alive-2014

The dancefloor at Art Alive (also known as “plant prom”).

WildfloweringLA-GIF-thehorticult

The floral bounty of Wildflowering L.A.


Above, venus flytrap footage found on Giphy.

Giphy is a search engine dedicated to this art form. Search for anything plant-related, and you’ll encounter pollinators, time-lapse footage of blooms, windblown tulips and a determined Venus flytrap (above).

Tumblr, Google Plus, Imgur, Pinterest and GIF mecca Buzzfeed are also excellent sources for GIF-spiration. (Alas, Facebook still does not support fully animated GIFs; Twitter only somewhat, with a baroque workaround.)

Would you like to create your own garden GIF that keeps on giving? You can do it using photos or a video. Here’s our guide.

Ryan-shooting-GIF

Hellooo, Dahlia!

Gather:

– A subject or subjects. The limitless possibilities include: Pollinators (bees, birds, butterflies, moths, et cetera) doing what they do best with plants; a flower or flowers in the breeze; a time-lapse of a blossom blooming, or a plant germinating/growing; time-lapse of a vine climbing; folks doing something crazy in/around your garden.

 A camera. Your phone, compact or DSLR camera could work. Desired features include the ability to shoot in continuous or rapid-fire mode, which allows for you to snap multiple shots when you press and hold down the shutter release button. For most phone cameras and compact cameras, you’ll need to repeatedly hit the shutter release. You’ll need video capability if you’re doing a vid-based GIF, and interval timer mode is highly recommended if you’re creating a time-lapse GIF.

chantal-giffing-on-iphone

It’s very difficult to hold the camera steady without using a tripod. Minimizing background movements not only makes the GIF smoother, it also reduces file size.

– Tripod, monopod or steady surface. Essential for a time-lapse; nice to have for other footage.

RMB_3004

– GIF-creation program. Buzzfeed has a guide to programs right here. In a nutshell, GifMaker (free) is a clean, easy, online-based program exclusively for images, Make a Gif (free) lets you GIF-ify photos in addition to YouTube, webcam and uploaded videos, and the recommended Gif Brewery ($5 and Mac-only) lets you create GIFs from video with precision. Ryan, who eats layers for lunch, uses the slightly more complicated Photoshop method. The benefits of Photoshop are automatic background stabilization, group image cropping and great control over file quality and size.

passion-butterfly-gif

A gulf frittilary butterfly visits our passion flower. For this shot, Ryan hand-held the DSLR in continuous shooting mode at a shaky 200mm zoom, and then used the auto background alignment feature in Adobe Photoshop CS5. You can grab a tripod in order to freeze the background, but the butterfly might not have time for that!

DAHLIA-NIGHT-BLOOM-OPEN-GIF

Our dahlia opening up in the evening. We used interval timer mode and took shots every 30 minutes through the entire evening. The camera was in manual focus for a consistent focal point, and aperture priority to assure consistent focus. We only used about half of the 20 images captured to build the GIF, in order keep file size low.

Chantal-Peony-GIF

The only appropriate response when someone brings home a bouquet of peonies…

Method:

1. Photograph your subject or record it on video. If you’re doing a time-lapse, set your camera to interval timer mode, and select the amount of time between shots.

We had the shutter go off once every 15 minutes for 12 hours for our epiphyllum blooming shot. (Check it out at the end of this story.) More gradual progressions, like climbing vines, veggies sprouting from seeds or flowers moving with the sun, will require you to set up or camera and leave it for a day or more. Of course, make sure the battery is full, you have plenty of memory and there’s no rain in the forecast!

If you’re shooting something in the moment, just snap, snap, snap. Most importantly, try to hold the camera steady in order to freeze the background.  This is best done with a tripod, but resting the camera on a stationary object can also work. After shooting a burst of three to ten photos, you can preview your GIF by quickly scrolling through your images on your camera.

1A. A note on DSLR settings. You will want to shoot your garden GIFs on aperture priority mode, if applicable.  This mode locks the depth of focus on your subject through multiple shots at different lighting levels, which is especially important with time lapse photography and when shooting macro photography GIFs. If your camera does not have this aperture-priority mode, keep your subjects at a distance.

1B. Another DSLR note. Use manual focus: important for interval timer shooting (time-lapse), putting your camera in manual focus assures that your subject stays in a consistent focus as lighting levels change throughout the day or night.

2. Process your photos/video with the program of your choice (see above). Play around with clip length, canvas size and animation speed. Tinker with that GIF till it sings! Try not to use more than 10 frames as this will drastically increase the file size. We like to keep our files at 650-pixels wide or tall, and not too much larger than 1MB. We recommend scaling your images to the desired size before combining and animating the images.

Dahlia-faceplant

Face…plant.

3. Send it to your favorite people. Or just watch it obsessively on our own. Or both. Or post it on Imgur, Tumblr, GooglePlus or Pinterest for the adoration of millions. If you’re on a Mac, you might notice that GIFs open up in Preview as static frames (boo, hiss); to play an animated GIF, simply drag the file into your internet browser.

Would you like your garden GIF to be featured in The Horticult’s “GIF Garden”? We’re working on a collection of our favorite animated plant clips to be featured on the blog in the near future. So, lend us your GIFs! If you’ve got one or more to share, please send it our way to chantalandryan@thehorticult.com and make sure to include your name for credit. Please make the longest edge at least 650 pixels and the file size no larger than 1.5MB.

Happy animating!

—TH

impatiens-wind-gif

Our Impatiens flanaganae (which started as the tubers Warren Keller sent us) nods in the breeze.

EPIPHYLLUM-BLOOM-GIF

Time-lapse of an opening epiphyllum.