Create a Stunning Moving Picture to Share With the World

Christian Bonilla 23-12-2016

In a world where most forms of visual media move, doesn’t sharing still photos seem somewhat bland? Not anymore! Using only Photoshop Learn Photo Editing in Photoshop: Get the Basics Down in 1 Hour Photoshop is an intimidating program—but with just one hour, you can learn all of the basics. Grab a photo you want to edit, and let's get started! Read More , you can turn any picture into a beautiful and cinematic video in minutes.


The effect behind this Photoshop marvel, dubbed the 2.5D effect (otherwise known as a parallax effect) uses clever Photoshop zoom functions to create a realistic parallax effect from your still photos.

parallax effect
Image Credit: DigitalLeaves

A parallax occurs when an object in the foreground moves at a different relative speed to one far in the background. This effect is meant to emulate visual effects commonly seen in film.

Finding Manageable Images

An optimal photo for this effect has a clear contrast between subject and background. Take a look at the example below, taken directly from the Unsplash website.

Man in Forest Looking Up
Image Credit: Eris Setiawan via Unsplash


Note that it has a clear foreground, along with a blurred background. Stock photography websites are riddled with examples. Below is another prime example which is ripe for the 2.5D effect.

Sunset Silhouette Photo
Image Credit: Sue Huan via Unsplash

This effect isn’t limited to clear foregrounds and background. With clever use of this effect, you can make any still picture come alive in a matter of minutes.

Achieving the 2.5D Effect

Here’s the simplest way to achieve the effect on your still photos.


Step 1: Crop Out Foreground From Background

With your Pen tool, begin outlining your foreground subject. It doesn’t have to be very exact, but take your time to outline the subject as precisely as possible. The closeness of the path to your subject will dictate the general quality of your effect. Once the subject is outlined, click on your first point to close the path.

pen tool photoshop

Right-click on your closed path and select Make Selection. In the following window, there will be a Feather Radius parameter. Keep your value between 0px and 5px depending on your accuracy. Press Ctrl + C and the Ctrl + V on your keyboard to copy and paste the selection into a new layer.

You should now have two layers.


two layers photoshop

Double-click your bottom layer. In the following New Layer window, click OK. This will allow us to edit the layer.

Step 2: Fill Background

Now that you’ve separated your foreground from your background, you will have to fill the space taken by your foreground object.

Ctrl + Left Click the thumbnail from Layer 1 to outline its shape. Then, head to Select > Modify > Expand. In the Expand Selection window, enter 10–15 depending on your image size. Then, select OK. We have to expand our selection so there aren’t leftover remnants from the foreground in our new, filled background.


expand selection photoshop

To fill in this space, ensure that you have selected your second, background layer. Then, head to Edit > Fill. Change the Contents parameter to Content-Aware and check the Color Adaptation option.

content aware photoshop

Click OK and wait for the Fill feature to modify your background layer. Once finished, click on the eye icon beside your first layer to check how well Photoshop filled in your background layer.

fill background photoshop

This fill is not perfect. Yet, it does a great job of quickly filling in a selection for most, if not all, photos.

Step 3: Move Your Files Into a 1080p Project

Since we’re creating a video of your picture, it’s best to create another project with a 1920 x 1080 resolution Graphic Display Resolutions - What Do The Numbers Mean? [MakeUseOf Explains] Display resolutions can be a rather cryptic business, with multiple standards used to describe the same display resolution in 10 different ways. All of those technical terms tend to change based on the display's purpose... Read More so you have a crisp, high-def video of your parallax effect.

Head to File > New and input 1920 for Width and 1080 for Height.

New Project Settings in Photoshop

Select both layers from your original project (Ctrl + Click) and drag them into this new project. Then, right-click on each of your two layers and select Convert to Smart Object.

Finally, with both layers selected, press Ctrl + T on your keyboard to resize your image. Proceed fitting the image to your canvas.

Step 4: Begin Video Creation

Once you’ve fit your image in the canvas, it’s time to finalize our effect. Head to Window, and then Timeline. This should open up an additional Timeline panel. The panel allows Photoshop to edit GIF images and videos in much the same manner you would edit an image. Ensure your panel is set to Create Video Timeline. Click on the parameter to activate the Timeline panel.

timeline window photoshop

Click on the drop-down menu beside Artboard 1 to view your layers. Proceed to delete any extraneous layers you may have by clicking on the layer and pressing Backspace on your keyboard.

delete timeline layer photoshop

You can increase or decrease the length of the video by moving the end of the clips forward or backward. Because these are images, there is nothing lost by increasing or decreasing the length of your playback.

Step 5: Enable Zoom Effect

This is where the thrust of our effect is achieved. Begin with your topmost layer, your foreground. If you want the image to grow over time, simulating an approaching object, you will first shrink and then expand the image.

To do this, click on the drop-down menu beside your foreground layer title. Three options will appear: Transform, Opacity, and Style. Click on the stopwatch beside Transform, ensuring that your Timeline cursor is set to the beginning of the clip. Once you’ve clicked the stopwatch, a small, yellow keyframe should appear at the beginning of your clip.

keyframe stopwatch photoshop

Next, press Ctrl + T on your keyboard and shrink your layer. Then, move the Timeline cursor to the end of your clip by clicking and dragging your mouse along the topmost end of the timeline.

topmost timeline photoshop

There should be a slight blue streak along the space you dragged over. Now, press Ctrl + T again and scale the image up slightly. Proceed to press play on your video. The first play through should be choppy, as the video must finish rendering before a smooth playback can occur. Afterward, your image should smoothly transition from small to large, resembling a camera close up.

expand photoshop

Repeat the same process with the background layer. Instead of smarting small and ending large, thereby increasing the size of the image over time, start large and end smaller. This contrast in movement is what creates the thrust of your effect.

background zoom photoshop

Both your foreground and background layers should now be transitioning smoothly, finalizing your 2.5D effect.

Step 6: Exporting Final Video

Now that you’ve reached the desired outcome, it’s time to export your video. Click on the Settings button to the right-most of your timeline and select Render Video to open export options.

render video photoshop

You don’t have to modify much in the following Render Video window. Ensure that your settings reflect the ones in the following example.

render video settings photoshop

Finally, click Render to save your vide0. Photoshop will begin exporting your video to the desired location.

Final Products

Here are some quick, over-dramatized examples using the methods shown above. For best results, only increase and decrease the size of your layers slightly for a more subtle effect.

parallax one

Here is that same video as before, with an added lens flair to give the illusion of camera movement.

parallax one lens

This effect doesn’t only apply to foreground/background subjects. It can also be used to draw attention to a single object in a picture. You don’t even have to follow the shrinking background, expanding foreground technique. The effect works if you expand your layers at different rates as well, as is the case in the following example.

berry berries

Another great use for this effect is creating dramatic landscape videos from still photos.


Feel free to play around with the settings, sizes, and layer options using this effect. After all, image editing using Photoshop isn’t a race. It’s a journey.

From Still to Cinematic

This effect is simple, quick, and easy to achieve. Not only this, it’s a great way to stretch your Photoshop muscles for family and friends. If you’d like to make your still photos into cinematic experiences, give it a try for yourself! Simply look through a free stock photo repository The Top 15 Sites for Copyright and Royalty-Free Images Here are the best stock photography websites that will ensure you always have access to copyright and royalty-free images. Read More , pick your favorites, and get shopping!

Do you like this Photoshop effect? Which others would you like to see explained? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Phil N
    December 23, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Very interesting. I taught myself how to do this back when I first saw in in the How I Met Your Mother intro but this uses some of the newer tools that didn't exist back then.