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Many photographic situations rely on keeping your camera as still as possible during exposure for pin-sharp images. You may have practiced hard to develop a steady hand and you’ve probably used tripods, remote shutter releases or image stabilisation to reduce the risk of camera shake. But, is keeping your camera still always a good thing? Every now and again, why not throw caution to the wind, move your camera while the shutter is open, and explore the range of creative opportunities this offers you as a photographer.
Intentional Camera Movement (or ICM for short) is a photographic technique where the camera is moved as the image is being taken. One example is panning. The camera movement mimics that of a moving subject to keep the subject sharp and the background blurred. However, moving your camera during exposure can open up a lot more creative options for you to try out. In particular, ICM can be used to take some truly unique landscape shots. The technique can be exceptionally liberating and, by reducing the amount of sharp details in a landscape, it allows you to concentrate on lines, form and colour in your images. A scene that you may ordinarily consider too cluttered, might just come to life through ICM by letting you blend colours and shapes for an interesting abstract shot.
One of the reasons that I have grown to love ICM is that it enables you to capture a landscape in a unique and personal way that cannot easily be reproduced. It can even breathe new life into overly familiar landscapes, letting you see and capture something new about a location you may have photographed many times before. If you are struggling to find inspiration for your next photographic project, or you want to get your creative juices flowing, this is a technique that you should try at least once. It is relatively easy to take some striking shots, you are sure to end up with a unique set of landscapes and it can also be a lot of fun.
A key factor to get right when using ICM is the shutter speed. It needs to be long enough to capture significant motion blur; anything from 1/3 or 1/2 second exposure times, up to multi-second exposures. Because of these slow shutter speeds, shooting in low-light conditions is ideal for ICM. During the daytime, it may be harder to achieve the required shutter speeds even at the lowest ISO setting and the smallest aperture (highest f-stop number). You may need to use a polarizing filter, a neutral density (ND) filter, or a combination of both. Personally, I prefer to use a polarizing filter as a starting point as this helps to boost colours and cut down on reflections and glare. I will then add a 2-stop or a 4-stop ND filter if the shutter speed needs to be slowed down any further.
When starting out with ICM, it may help to shoot in Shutter Priority mode. Set the shutter speed to around half a second to start, and turn the ISO to the lowest available setting on your camera. Once you have practiced at this shutter speed, you can then get longer exposure times by using a combination of low-light and/or filters. Focus manually and turn off the autofocus to prevent the camera searching for focus during exposure. Also, if you are using a lens that has image stabilization, remember to turn it off.
Once you have taken control of the shutter speed, how you move the camera is totally up to you. Get creative, there are no rules. You could move the camera vertically, horizontally, or diagonally – fast or slow. Alternatively, you could rotate the camera 360 degrees during exposure to create a spiral effect, or change the focal distance on a zoom lens during exposure to create a zoom effect. With practice, you can combine two or more of these movements to create something truly unique. The look and feel of your final images will be determined by the speed, direction, and smoothness of your chosen movements. If you wish, you can use a tripod to control the camera movement. This will help you to capture a smoother movement, which can be useful if you wish to retain a straight horizon line. I prefer to work hand-held when moving the camera, as it offers greater flexibility and provides more opportunities to experiment with different movements.
Bold movements can sometimes be more effective as there is a risk that too subtle a movement may end up looking like camera shake in the final image. Waving your camera around may not come that naturally, and it may result in you getting some funny looks from amused onlookers, but the end results definitely can make it worthwhile.
A good place to begin using ICM in your landscape shots is to look for locations that offer striking colours, lines, or patterns. Woodland is a favourite ICM subject of mine, particularly during the spring and autumn seasons. Clean, parallel lines provided by the trees and vibrant colours of nature (provided by bluebells in the spring and fallen leaves in the autumn) lend themselves to a vertical camera movement. This can be from the top-down, or from the bottom-up and can be a quick or slow movement. It really just depends on the effect you wish to capture, and how experimental you want to be. Seascapes can be a good starting point for side-to-side camera movement, panning the camera in line with the horizon.
Alternatively, in rougher waters, you could try to match the movement of your camera to the movement of the waves for an altogether different effect. Shooting at sunrise or sunset could provide you with a greater variety of colours to work with, and shooting city lights after dark can also offer a wide range of creative options.
Once you have found a suitable location, you will probably find yourself taking multiple shots with various different movements. (I should warn you that this technique can sometimes be quite addictive, and you may find your memory cards filling up quite quickly!) You may find it useful to set your camera to shoot in Continuous Shooting Mode so that you can take a series of shots in quick succession, while moving the camera in a particular direction.
As with any type of photography, images created using this technique are not going to be to everybody’s taste. It is highly subjective and what works for you will not work for others. Just keep in mind basic principles of photography such as composition and exposure – these are still just as important. Also, while this technique will render much of the landscape abstract, you may find it helps to have at least one element of the landscape sharp, or recognizable in the final image.
There is an element of trial-and-error when starting out with Intentional Camera Movement. You should soon find out what works for you and what doesn’t; this will help you to develop your own style. Don’t be too concerned if you do not get an effect you like right away – the technique can be quite hit-and-miss sometimes. Take a lot of shots, and don’t be too quick to delete shots that you feel haven’t quite worked out as you had hoped. There is a chance that, after a few days, you may take another look and see something that you like in there after all.
One of the great things about this technique is that it is all about how you express yourself through photography – think of your camera as your paintbrush. Get creative, have fun, and start seeing landscapes in an exciting new way.
I have included several of my attempts at ICM landscape shots. Please feel free to share your own in the comments section.