G is for GIF
Now I want some peanut butter
Hi, welcome back!
This week, we’re looking at GIFs! GIF stands for Graphical Interchange Format, and the GIF format is one of the older image formats still in popular use. For reference, it was first released in 1987 (compared to JPEG in 1992 and PNG in 1996). GIFs are weird and quirky, they’re limited to a maximum of 256 colors in a given frame, they’re stuck with older compression algorithms so they have fairly large file sizes, but somehow through all of that, they’ve become a staple part of online culture.
GIFs are one of very few media types in web browsers that are given a free pass to play automatically and loop. One of other the limitations of GIFs, compared to more modern equivalents like MP4s, is that they can’t contain sound, so autoplaying them is much less likely to irritate hearing users.
The GIF format has been used since the very earliest web browsers, but the culture of “reaction GIFs” is much more recent. I’ve seen articles point to the 2003-2004 expiration of the LZW compression patents as the beginning of the rise of the GIF, but I also think that the surge in popularity can be attributed to more folks having faster Internet connections, to be able to download these large files smoothly. Finding a GIF larger than 1 MB is fairly common these days, in the days of 56k modems, that would take an entire minute to download, which is unbearable.
If you had asked me what GIPHY, the GIF indexing side, was worth a few years ago, I would have never in my life guessed $400 million (because Google Image Search is much more reliable for getting me the GIF I actually want). However, Facebook thought otherwise and bought it for as much. There is no shortage of GIFs in 2020.
I think the gold standard of GIFs is the seminal If We Don’t, Remember Me (IWDRM) Tumblr blog, home to “cinemagraphs” which are short segments of popular movies, turned into very smooth GIFs that almost feel like pictures that have a little bit of life to them. Some favorites include ones from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Truman Show and Blade Runner. But the whole blog is amazing, it’s a shame it hasn’t been updated in 5 years.
My GIFs are nowhere near that quality, but let’s look at them anyways!
April 2017. Faust Nightclub (Paris, France)
When I went to Paris with Grant back in 2017 (the H is for Hipster Aesthetic trip), we stopped for a drink while we walked back along the Seine. Grant borrowed my camera and took a burst of photos of me. When looking through them later, I realized these two frames made for a great eyebrow raise, so I combined them into a GIF. I had uploaded this one to GIPHY just to try it out, but don’t use it to react to anything.
October 2017. Cazalla Observatorio de Aves Planeadoras (Tarifa, Spain)
Tarifa, the extremely photogenic city in the south of Spain has been in a few issues before. One evening, we up the hill to this observatory to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean. The limited colors of the GIF don’t do this justice, but it was spectacular. Vanessa (pictured) did a cartwheel and I took a burst of photos that I later combined into a GIF. Part of me wishes I had a tripod to be a little more steady. But either way, it was such a fun trip and I have so many good memories associated with it.
September 2018. Pacific Heights (San Francisco, CA)
This was one night walking around near home, and I loved how thick the fog was, that you could see it through the streetlights. This was a Live Photo that I took my phone. Photos app on my computer turned it into a 12MB GIF, and then I scaled it down a bit to fit better in email, this is another image where the color limit in GIF kind of harshes the vibe, but I think some of it still comes across.
September 2019. Guiness Brewery (Dublin, Ireland)
How can you go to Dublin and not have a Guiness at their brewery? This is another Live Photo, I just loved the creamy texture billowing, and it made for a surprisingly good loop too!
October 2020. Alamo Square (San Francisco, CA)
I was running an errand the other day, and stopped and saw this mask hanging off of a staircase like this, waving slightly in the wind. I wanted to capture it, it felt like a very current moment, and then I remembered that a Live Photo was a better way to capture the moment than just a still photo. This used the iPhone’s “bounce” setting for making it reverse and loop, and then I scaled down the image to make it a better GIF for email. I think it turned out pretty well! But this is another one where I wish I had a tripod.
These are all the GIFs I have! Thanks for reading, and see you next time!