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When You Don’t Have the Time or Budget to Shoot, You Can Still Turn Photos Into Videos. Here’s How.

Okay, you’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal—it isn’t hard to turn photos into videos. Slideshare, anyone? PowerPoint recordings?

But those aren’t the kinds of videos that people want to watch, or share on social media.

So maybe the question should be, how do you turn photos into effective videos?

Turn Photos Into Videos

How can you add visual interest and production value when you don’t have the time or budget to shoot original footage?

As I’ve said many times before—there’s more than one way to tell a story. And yes, you CAN tell stories effectively using only still photography.

So…here are my three favorite storytelling techniques for turning photos into videos.

Alfred Hitchcock practically invented the rules of visual storytelling

#1. Parallax

Parallax is a visual effect where the background and foreground move at different speeds.

For example, out-of-focus foreground elements move faster than the background, creating a sense of depth.

Believe it or not, you can achieve the same effect with photography. The video above is a good example.

 Here’s how it works:

First, you outline the hero elements (the part that’s in focus) in Photoshop, and save it as a transparent PNG file. Then, create a separate background layer—use the Clone Stamp Tool to  cover the hero part, or use a different part of the photo.

Now the fun part: you can edit the elements back together and add motion. Since the layers are separate, you can zoom in at slightly different rates, or even add blur.

The result is much more interesting than just zooming in on the original photo.

#2. Layered Images

Another effective way to use photography is layered images. Instead of just one photo, you can combine photos with typography, graphics, and even animated backgrounds.

Here’s an example—a promotional video for the GCAC Basketball Championship. Like Parallax, the hero images were outlined in Photoshop and saved as transparent PNG files.

Only instead of the photo backgrounds, I used separate graphic elements—in this instance, a looped stock video.

One of Hitchcock's best rules of visual storytelling was about how to frame each shot

#3 Ken Burns Effect

The most widely used technique is known as the “Ken Burns Effect.” Simple but effective, it involves zooming into or panning across photos to add subtle movement.

Named for filmmaker Ken Burns, the technique was used extensively in his historical documentaries “The Civil War,” “Jazz,” and “Baseball.”

The secret to success here is engaging photography. Great images by definition add visual interest.

Also, the images need to be large—at least 3500 pixels wide. When zooming in or panning across, you never want to exceed actual size. Anything more than 100% will be blurred or pixelated.

Why Use Photos?

While all three of these techniques can be effective, they are not my first choice. As a rule, moving images and video clips will usually be more engaging.

So why would you ever turn photos into videos? Things happen. In the Parallax example, the photos are from a project for Relay Graduate School of Education. They weren’t comfortable shooting due to Covid restrictions.

And in the GCAC example, the HBCUs simply didn’t have footage we could use.

When those things happen, isn’t it nice to know that photos can work as a Plan B?


Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions. Before starting his business, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.

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