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Creative Reasons to use Intentional Camera Movement

One of the earliest lessons you likely learned as a photographer was the importance of keeping your camera steady and stable. You wanted tack-sharp focus, so you learned to tuck in your elbows and support your camera properly. But why limit yourself when there are so many creative reasons to move your camera?

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Try Intentional Camera Movement or ICM

ICM is the abbreviation for Intentional Camera Movement, a term that covers a wide range of photography situations. What brings these different situations together is the fact that rather than remaining still, the camera itself is moving while the photograph is being taken. This creates a wide-range of creative effects and abstract images, like the sunrise image above.

In order to capture recognizable blur, you need to shoot at a slow enough shutter speed to capture significant motion. A quarter to a half-second or longer is a good place to start. Shooting in Shutter Priority mode allows you to set a longer shutter speed, and your camera will choose an appropriate aperture. If the picture is too light or too dark, you may want to consider dialing in all of the settings in Manual mode. You can also achieve ICM style shots with a point-and-shoot camera in darker situations, where your camera will select for a longer shutter speed. (Both of the panning shots, below, were taken with a point-and-shoot camera in Program mode.)

Try Panning

Panning is one specific type of intentional camera movement. Rather than being random movement when panning, the movement of the camera mimics the relative movement of the subject. This results in an unusual composition where a moving subject appears frozen and the background of the image becomes blurred and conveys the sense of motion.

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Panned at 1/4 of a second – if you want less blur use a slightly faster shutter speed like 1/30th

The tricks behind panning are in the focus and the follow-through. A moving subject and a moving camera can confuse your camera’s autofocus, so you will get better results if you use back-button focus or pre-focus the camera to the right distance and then switch it into manual focus mode. Either technique will keep the camera focused at the right distance, and you will not waste time waiting for your autofocus to lock on to your subject.

The second trick for panning is in the follow-through: both before and after you take the shot. Just like in golf or baseball, the smoothness of the swing comes from continuing the motion before and after the point of contact (hitting the ball or hitting the shutter). If you want smooth motion blur in your panning image, you need to be moving and following your subject both before and after hitting the shutter.

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Panned at 1/8th of a second

The best way to get a feel for the mechanics of panning is to practice the movement without actually hitting the shutter and taking a photograph. Practice keeping your subject in approximately the same place within your viewfinder as it moves past you. For example, if you are trying to capture a panning shot of a car, begin by locating the car in your viewfinder when it is a short distance away from you. Swing the camera to follow the motion of the car as it approaches, passes, and zooms away from you. Once you have been able to successfully track a few cars and keep them in the frame, try repeating the same process but press the shutter button midway through the motion. Continue to follow the car with the camera as the shutter closes, and you will find you have a much smoother feel and flow to the final image.

Shooting a few successive frames using High Speed or Burst mode can help get a successful panning image also.

Try a Zoom Burst

A zoom burst is another specific type of intentional camera movement. Rather than moving the entire camera, during a zoom burst shot you move the lens and zoom it in or out while the photograph is being taken. The more focal lengths covered by your camera lens, the greater the zoom effect will appear to be.

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18-270mm lens, 4 seconds at f/13, ISO 100 on a tripod

The bright points of light on a Christmas tree provide an excellent subject for a zoom burst shot, as each individual light renders as a bright streak across the image, making for a feeling of achieving warp speed and rocketing forward into the photograph. This shot had a shutter speed of four seconds and was taken hand-held, with one hand holding the camera and the other rotating the zoom lens during the shot. The slight bumps and jumps in the lights are a result of the movement of the camera body due to camera shake and the added motion from zooming the lens.

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10-24mm zoom lens, ISO 100, 1/25th at f/22

Zoom burst shots can be of any subject, not just bright points of light. Here, the variations in color of the fallen leaves provide a colorful backdrop for the motion and lines of the zoom burst effect. This shot also demonstrates that you can achieve a zoom burst effect with a smaller range, as this image was shot hand-held using a 10-24mm lens.

Conclusion: try Intentional Camera Movement

There are many, many ways to use Intentional Camera Movement to capture creative and unusual shots, and these different techniques are just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t let yourself be locked in to only stable, tack-sharp photographs.

intentional camera movement, ICM, blur, motion, abstract, sunrise

ISO 100, 0.6 seconds at f/11 done hand-held by rotating the whole camera when shooting (took several tries to get that smooth)

Experiment with intentional camera movement, and you might surprise yourself! Share your results in the comments below.

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Katie McEnaney
Katie McEnaney

is an educator and photographer from Madison, Wisconsin. Read more tips on her blog, Boost Your Photography. Her first eBook, Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR, is now available for Kindle on Amazon.

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