Are you in a photography slump and desperately want out? Or perhaps you are a photographer who is interested in learning a technique that will help you shoot creative natural landscapes?
The technique that can help with this is Intentional Camera Movement; which has the potential to get you out of a block, and simultaneously will enhance your repertoire of creative photography.
This blog will introduce you to an art that is known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). First of all, you can take ICM images of pretty much anything. However, this blog specifically outlines ICM for nature and landscape photographers. Ideal subjects for practicing this skill are flowers, trees, plants in general, forests, rivers, lakes, seascapes; all of these serve well for ICM practice. Any type of viewpoint that lets you see a horizon line works great for this type of photography. Most of the time you want to try and capture a certain mood, or a pattern that catches your eyes, lines that you find appealing, and shadows that stand out to you. The best way to start is to pick an environment or subject that you like and/or have easy access to. This blog will cover the basics and explain what I am doing in the field and then part of the process is for you to practice your newly acquired technique. For me, seascapes at sunset and dusk are among my favorite scenes to work with and therefore I included my best coastal images to demonstrate ICM photography from my perspective.
Here is what I usually do :
- Find my subject
- Shoot handheld
- Pick a lens, and start with an initial shutter speed of something around 1/20 of a second and lowest ISO setting
- Look through the viewfinder of my camera (and continue to do so while I take the photograph)
- Reach for the shutter button
- Push the shutter button and hold it
- Use any of these movements: pan, zoom, rotate, jiggle, etc.
- Follow through
- Release the shutter button once I am done with my motion
- Now I change from looking through the viewfinder to checking the image on the camera display
- Start readjusting
I admit, in the beginning you might have some setbacks with this art, but just know that this is totally normal. The real fascinating thing is that over time and with certain acquired movements, you will be able to control the outcome of your images significantly. Any type of lens works, however, wide angle lenses can create some unwanted distortion. Panning your camera vertically or sideways, other motions include zooming, rotating the camera, jiggling in small circles, etc., and that all while exposing. Whatever motion you pick, in the end, it all comes down to how you handle the details of this concept.
An often overlooked factor:
Not only do I adjust shutter speed, ISO, or aperture, I also match the speed of my particular motion. For example, it can vary from quick panning to slower, smooth panning until I figure out what fits the scene or subject in front of me best. Once I determined my settings, and whether I need a filter, find an appealing movement speed, and know that I won’t move around much anymore, I will often switch my lens from autofocus to manual focus. I put it back into autofocus after I change my shooting position and to occasionally recheck focus. Depending on the amount of light, I will readjust shutter speed, ISO, and aperture during the course of a shoot.
It is important to use slower shutter speeds in order to obtain blurry images. I shoot ICM in Manual camera mode only, and I pay close attention to shutter speeds. Below the sample images of this blog you will find the exact settings, camera movements respectively, and what lens I used, to help you understand the concept of this method. I love to shoot at the beach, because I find the movement of water powerful and intriguing. My experience with moving and non-moving subject is this: Your shutter speed is determined by the speed at which your subject moves. With this in mind my approach is different every time when I am at the beach. I start every shoot with observing the water and its particular movement. The light, the mood, and especially how fast the water is moving will determine my settings and shooting position.
There are simply no strict rules to follow, no guidelines that could possibly mirror your imagination, and no absolute settings to work with. In the field, you will need to dial in the camera settings so that the results look compelling to you. The amount of light available to you plays the most critical role. Practicing ICM photography in the field, goes hand-in-hand with learning about your camera and manual settings in a playful way. Let me just mention here that of course you can try to shoot in Shutter Priority mode, but I will not provide any info on that since I only have experience with shooting in Manual mode. If you are still not convinced that there is no exact shutter speed reference to start with, then I recommend you look at the work of Deborah Hughes, Chris Friel, and Michael Orton and just dive into the beautiful world of ICM photography. Generally speaking, each ICM photographer has their own unique style, and as far as I am concerned, you will find stunning work with shutter speeds ranging anywhere from 1/30 of a second to several seconds.
It is a fun and creative process in which you learn how to juggle camera settings back and forth until you find the golden middle or something that suits your taste. Really, I can’t stress this point enough, it is absolutely up to you and what you like. In addition, you can use your already acquired knowledge about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, rule of thirds, and leading lines to play around with this type of photography. What you will see on your LCD will simply blow your mind.
Unfulfilled expectations, more than anything else, can create some blocks in your creative process. ICM can get you out of those blocks, simply by seeing things, scenes, and subjects in a new and different way. Patterns, shadows, colors, and lines will beautifully merge together into unique exposures. I hope you feel as I do, that we as photographers love to capture memorable moments and also like to use photography as a powerful creative outlet to tell stories the way we see and experience the world around us. In other words, we love to create images with an emotional connection. I can only recommend you try this exciting photography technique and simply be fascinated with its striking results.
For instance, have a look at the picture of the rose below. That day, my plan to shoot a sharp macro image of a rose was disrupted when the wind suddenly picked up. After a few moments of being bummed, I came up with the idea to use the rose’s movement to create an ICM abstract photograph. Not only did I use the movement of the rose blowing in the wind, I also panned my camera sideways to create the image below. Was I frustrated at first after the wind picked up? Of course. My point though, ICM can offer a different angle and perspective on how to approach a scene, especially when you need to come up with an alternative idea. This type of photography can be a positive game changer.
Filters are very helpful accessories for ICM photography. A polarizing filter is of great help to achieve slower shutter speeds, and is often sufficient for my needs. I like to use a polarizer in general to reduce glare, manage reflections, and help color saturation. It is also possible to use a neutral-density filter (ND filter). This type of filter can be a great choice for bright and sunny days, for example. Furthermore, ND filters provide a wide range of features and are essential for taking longer exposures. When I started to practice ICM photography, I didn't own a lot of filters, and certainly didn't know a whole lot about them. Of course that changed over time as I learned more about shutter speed and how to control it more effectively in various light conditions. Therefore, if you don't have any filters at your disposal, but want to try this technique, simply use the natural low light conditions around sunset and dusk, sunrise and dawn in order to obtain slower shutter speeds. Sometimes, shooting in a forest also allows for slower shutter speeds without using a filter. The image below of a birch grove represents such an example.
A relevant factor for why I love ICM photography is simply the little time I invest in editing my images. For me, ICM images are ideal quick edits. While that’s only true for me, it could be the opposite for you and your edits, depending on how much you like to edit your work.
I like my abstracts the most when subjects are still recognizable, but hey, again, it’s totally up to you and your taste how much blur you want to have in your images.
Sometimes, if I am out shooting with a friend I will snap some ICM images in case the person I am with is not done yet with their pictures. Shooting ICM is a neat way to pass time and at the same time lets the other photographer finish their photography in a respectful way. I use ICM in order to not distract or rush them and to keep myself busy.
ICM is highly subjective, some people might not get the idea behind it and find the look of these artistic images strange. Well, maybe abstract photography is not for everyone, just like riding a motorcycle cross-country is not for everyone either. My best advice for getting over this insecurity is to please your own soul and not others’. Own the moments you create.
This is not supposed to be a complete guide on how to shoot abstract ICM images. I am just a photographer/ICM enthusiast who wants to introduce you to a certain type of art that is different and less prominent all over the internet or the photography world. Sharing my passion for ICM will hopefully spark an interest in creative individuals, and will serve as a starting point to find out about what’s possible with abstract photography.
A little earlier I mentioned the term “emotional connection,” by which I meant the way I feel about ICM is a reflection of who I am and what my life looks like since I left my home country and chose to live abroad. The personal changes accompanied by such a shift embrace a feeling that I describe as a state of being home not home. I love seeing blurry lines in my images, that way I can see things merge and fall into place in a fascinating and beautiful way. Especially when I feel like I want to escape to someplace else. For instance, when I miss my home where I was born and raised, ICM reminds me of how a different perspective can help me keep my head up. When I find lines and patterns merge and become one in my images, then I know that everything is connected and that I should be proud of being able to live in a foreign country, knowing that no matter where I go in life I will never forget where I came from. What I can create with this method is a revelation of a world on its own. As an immigrant I feel strongly about shifts and cultural diversity, of course accompanied by interesting culture shock and reverse culture shock experiences. I feel fortunate to notice how it feels when two worlds meet and connect, and want to appreciate the crazy randomness of feeling misplaced but uplifted at the same time. ICM grounds me in such a positive way, it hits home when I see a blurry and indistinct atmosphere coming through in my art. When I look at my photographs I see parts of myself and know it is okay to go through life with a vision of being and staying a dreamer forever.
I hope this blog inspires you to either try or further your knowledge of ICM and abstract photography. Please share your comments below and let's connect!
Before you jump into action, here are some key points to take with you:
- Don’t overthink it. You need an open mind to gain momentum with this creative process. As you learn about it more you will understand the depths of this brilliant art.
- Don’t expect anything. It will ruin your ability to get to know your visionary self.
- Don’t focus on results while you are shooting, instead be fascinated with the few, yet striking results that will later turn you into a humble ICM enthusiast.
- Have fun, practice, and most importantly, be a dreamer.