Intentional Camera Movement

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) is a technique of photography in which the photographer deliberately moves the camera during an exposure. This movement creates an abstract image, very different from the same scene photographed had the camera remained static. It is a method that is steadily growing in popularity amongst photographers wishing to explore a more creative side of their photography.

I have been interested in long exposure photography for the past few years, fixing my camera to a tripod and opening the shutter for an extended amount of time. ICM works very similarly – instead of relying on the movement of elements within scene, for example  water, clouds, etc., the camera and its sensor move. I was aware of ICM for some time but I only recently attempted it while I was photographing long exposures of landscapes. I simply removed the camera from the tripod, and while taking an exposure, panned the camera from left to right. While I would usually use a shutter speed of anywhere above ten seconds for a ‘traditional’ long exposure, using this new technique I discovered that a shutter speed of approximately 1/2 second was giving me the desired results.

ICM is a process of trial and error. By its own nature it lends itself well to digital photography as the photographer can bin as many shots as he or she desires without the worry of wasting film. At the beginning I found myself deleting the vast majority of images as I viewed them in camera. However, over time I became more reluctant to delete an image so hastily, I began to see potential, be-it colours, textures or compositions that I could possibly enhance in post production.

Generally speaking, the amount of motion used will determine the level of abstraction. Personally, I like to push the image beyond recognition. Im also mindful not to create an image that appears to have been accidentally blurred by failing to use the correct shutter speed.

Depending on available light conditions a neutral density (ND) filter or a polarizing filter fitted to the front of the lens can help in reducing the amount of light entering the camera, resulting in a slower shutter speed. In addition to this, a small aperture and a low ISO is also recommended. Lens selection is less important, any focal length will suffice but a good starting point would be 50mm.

To achieve more control, I use a the cameras self timer function, set to 2 seconds. This eliminates any unwanted camera shake caused by my finger pressing down on the shutter release button. The use of a tripod can be useful in isolating the movement of the camera in one direction.

The actual movement of the camera may be made in any direction, and at any speed, although the subject matter will help to determine this. For example, a landscape with a horizon might look preferable using a horizontal movement while a scene of horizontal structures such as trees or buildings might benefit from a vertical movement. The camera may also be rotated, pushed forward, pulled back, or in fact moved in any possible way!

In Lightroom, I adjust Blacks and Whites to gain better exposure. To enhance the silky textures created by motion blur I usually experiment with both the Clarity and Contrast sliders. In terms of colour I tend to address each colour individually within the Colour Saturation palette. Finally, I add some sharpening and noise reduction. An interesting idea, which I have yet to try, is overlapping multiple images in Photoshops Layers.