Videos from your stills, made fast and easy

An online service with huge potential for pro shooters

I’ve always wanted to make a music video using my street photography, but I've hesitated because that would mean buying and learning to use video editing software. I have a specific song in mind: “This Street” by Marshall Crenshaw, one of my favorite underappreciated singer-songwriters. I like this song because it captures some of the spirit of street photography without mentioning it by name. I recently tried contacting Marshall about getting his permission to use his song with my photos, and I’m hoping he responds positively soon, because I finally found a way to easily and inexpensively put the video together.

Meet Animoto

It’s called Animoto and it’s an online service that uses something they call “Cinematic Artificial Intelligence" to match your photos to the rhythm of the song of your choosing against a choice of several dozen animated background. The images move and transition in a way that complements the pacing of the music.  Animoto provides hundreds of songs to choose from, divided into dozens of categories. You can also mix video clips in with your stills.

The results? Amazing. I used Animoto to create a video, which you’ll see at the end of this post, which looks like it should have taken hours to produce.

But it’s incredibly easy. It took me about 15 minutes of preparation time, mostly to organize approximately 50 images for the video and to choose a song from hundreds of choices on the site. Uploading images takes a few minutes and actual rendering of the video could take an hour, but this is unsupervised time when you can move on and do something else.

Best of all, you don’t need to buy any additional software. It’s all browser-based.

If I were creating a video for a client, I might spend a bit more time creating captions and subcategories in the video, but still, production time is a fraction of what it would be when putting together a video with Adobe Premier or some other video editing softare.

Pick your plan

Animoto is available in three flavors: Basic (free; lets you create 30-second videos which are hosted on the Animoto site), All Access ($30 per year; lets you create an unlimited number of full-length videos and download them in lower-resolution) and Pro ($249 per year; lets you produce an unlimited number of DVD-quality videos, gives you access to a library of more than a thousand pre-licensed songs, and allows you to make videos that can be commercially redistributable).


Case study: The Making of "Pedestrian Photographs"


How easy is Animoto? Let me take you through the process I went through to make the video “Pedestrian Photographs,” which you can view at the end.

Choose a background style

There are dozens of animation styles to choose from; some are only available for paid accounts, like the one I chose, Proof Sheet.

Upload images and videos

There are three ways to populate the visuals: Upload still images and videos from your computer, select stock shots supplied by Animoto (useful if putting together a presentation but not so much if you’re showcasing your own work), and get images from another web site. So, if you have photos already on Flickr or some other photo sharing site, you can use images directly from that site.


Here I’ve gathered the photos I want to use into a file on my computer, and highlighted them all. When I hit “Open” they will start uploading.



A progress bar on the right shows how the upload is going while the pictures pop up in the center. At the end of this batch, I added a few more. It took about 5 minutes to upload 50 images. Once the images were done, I could re-order them, add title cards, and delete images I didn’t like using the tools at the bottom of the screen. Helpful tips are posted on the right column.

Choose the music


Now it’s time to choose your soundtrack. There are thousands of songs available if you have a pro account. You can go through the lists and listen to 30-second previews of each song. I liked a song called “Picture Perfect” by Daddy’s the Engine, and chose that one for my video.

Finishing touches


Here you can choose image pacing, video length, check your animation style and make any last-minute changes.  When you’re ready, hit the “Create Video” button.

Wait for the Video


Now comes the fun part: Once you’ve hit the “Create Video” button, your job is basically done. Animoto takes it over, and produces your video. Depending on the number of images, length of video and file sizes, it could take a few minutes or an hour or more. Fortunately, Animoto will email you when the video is ready so you can do something else in the meantime.

If you have a Pro account, you can preview the video in low-resolution but then choose one of several higher-resolution formats. I chose a moderately high-resolution format and again Animoto took some time rendering the new video and emailed me when it was ready.

I downloaded the high-res video and played it on my desktop. Beautiful! Then, because I wanted to share it, I uploaded it to my YouTube account (You can also share your videos directly via Animoto and save a step).

And here’s the result!


Professional applications


While the above video was purely for illustrative and self-indulgent purposes, this one, created by my friend Steve Rosenbaum, shows how this service can be used as a tool for real estate photographers. Also, think about how you can use this for weddings, events, and so on. The possibilities (and income potential) are intriguing!


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