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An interesting thing about digital photography is that it has led to the rise in use of techniques that are more difficult to carry out with film cameras. It’s all down to the ability to view your images on the camera’s LCD screen after you have taken them. It’s a simple feature, but one that has made a profound change to the way some photographers work.
Regardless of what you may read about ‘chimping’, the LCD screen lets you see if your technique is working, and make adjustments on the spot if necessary. It’s one of the reasons that professionals don’t use polaroids to check their lighting setups any more. It also makes techniques like long exposure photography much easier – what was once something that was just done occasionally by landscape photographers has turned into a new genre.
Another technique that has gained in popularity is that of introducing intentional camera movement (also known as ICM on photo sharing sites like Flickr) into the image. Panning, one way of doing that, has been around for decades. But recently some adventurous photographers have started pushing intentional camera movement in new and interesting directions.
If you’re not familiar with the intentional camera movement technique, then I recommend that you take the time to look at the work of some photographers that are proficient with the technique. One of the best known is Chris Friel – an artist turned photographer who pushes the boundaries of what is possible with intentional camera movement (you can read my interview with him here). Doug Chinnery is another.
Intentional camera movement fascinates me because it is a method that can create some beautiful, ethereal images. When it works, it works beautifully. Yet when it doesn’t, it just looks like camera shake. Some people will say all intentional camera movement photos are just a form of camera shake. Ignore them if you want to try it out – like many areas of photography it’s a subjective call and not everybody will like it.
Like long exposure photography, the idea behind intentional camera movement is to use a slow shutter speed to introduce blur into the photo. The difference is that with long exposure photography you use a tripod so that part of the image remains sharp. With intentional camera movement, you deliberately move the camera during the exposure so that everything is rendered as a blur.
Intentional camera movement is carried out with a hand-held camera. It works with shutter speeds from around 1/4 second to four seconds in length.
Get started by finding a landscape that lends itself to intentional camera movement. You can get the idea by looking at the work of the photographers mentioned earlier. Coastal scenes tend to work well. If you are inland try looking for forests, lakes or rivers. Whatever scene you are working with, search for something that is relatively simple and has some strong graphic shapes (that’s why seascapes, like the one above, work so well). The best time to try these techniques is at dusk. The light is beautiful and the low light means that it’s easy to obtain the slow shutter speeds required.
There are two basic types of movement you can use. The first is panning – moving the camera from one side to the other in a more or less straight line. It works well for photos like this one, which I took on the beach after sunset.
The other type of movement is more of a random movement. Jiggle the camera around slightly during the exposure and see what happens. This is where keeping the composition simple helps, as it means the subject is still recognisable even when blurred.
If the exposure is long enough (say around four seconds) you could try holding the camera relatively still during the first three seconds, then moving it for the last part. This can produce some interesting results.
The key is to experiment, and to keep looking at the results on your camera’s screen. This shows you how well your technique worked, and you can adjust accordingly. You may find that you need a shorter shutter speed (or a longer one). Or that a different type of movement produces different results. Keep looking and adjusting as you go along and hopefully the results will improve.
Be prepared to create plenty of images that just don’t work. That’s okay – they are just stepping stones along the way to creating something special. It’s fine if you take a hundred photos and get just one good result – the random nature of intentional camera movement means you are always going to create images that just don’t work.
How do you know whether you got a good intentional camera movement image? That’s an excellent question. These types of photo are highly subjective. If you like it, and you created a moody image that evokes the atmosphere of the location you’re in, then I think that’s a success. Your eye for what makes a good intentional camera movement image will improve the more you use the technique.
My ebook Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to photography and helps you make the most out of your digital cameras. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to master intentional camera movement photography and take photos like the ones in this article.