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Intentional camera movement (also known as ICM) is one of my favorite creative photography techniques.
The best thing is that you don’t need to go to an exotic location to make interesting photos. You can do it in your local neighborhood using your surroundings as potential subjects.
Intentional camera movement is often associated with landscape photography. But don’t let that put you off if you live in an urban area. It works with buildings too!
The idea of using techniques like ICM is to spark your creativity. It gives you something different to try. Don’t worry about trying to make the perfect intentional camera movement image. It’s more about having fun and trying something different.
Intentional camera movement and digital cameras
Digital photography makes certain photography techniques easier. Long exposure photography, astrophotography and intentional camera movement are all good examples. Lack of feedback makes them all more difficult with film cameras.
If you’re not familiar with intentional camera movement then look at the work of some of the best known ICM photographers. Start with Chris Friel, a photographer who pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with it (read our interview here).
You should also look at the work of Andy Gray, a photographer based in Northumberland.
Adding blur through intentional camera movement
Like long exposure photography, the idea is to use a slow shutter speed to add blur to your photos. The difference is that with long exposure photography you use a tripod to keep part of the image sharp. With intentional camera movement, you move the camera to blur everything in the frame.
Panning the camera is one type of intentional camera movement. Photographers have done that for decades. But now photographers are pushing intentional camera movement in new and interesting directions.
Getting started with ICM
It’s easy to get started with intentional camera movement. All you need is a hand-held camera.
The technique works best with shutter speeds from around 1/4 second to five seconds. You can experiment with shutter speeds outside this range, but they’re a good place to start.
Shutter Priority is the best exposure mode to use as it lets you set a specific shutter speed. Select an appropriate ISO that copes with the light levels and let the aperture take care of itself.
Or you may prefer to use Manual Mode, in which case you need to set the aperture yourself as well.
Find a subject
For landscape photography coastal scenes work well, as do forests, lakes and rivers. Whatever type of scenery you’re working with, look for strong graphic shapes.
The best time to try intentional camera movement is at dusk. The light’s beautiful and it’s easy to get the slow shutter speeds you need.
But don’t let that put you off working during the day. But bear in mind you’ll need neutral density filters to get the required shutter speeds.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with other subjects. I’ve seen beautiful ICM photos of flowers and buildings. Chris Friel even uses the technique for portraits.
In this portrait the model wore a mask and I moved the camera during a 1/2 second exposure to create an impressionist effect.
I also made a series of intentional camera movement photos at an outdoor concert.
There are two basic types of movement you can use. The first is panning, that is moving the camera from one side to the other in a straight line.
Panning works well for photos like this one, which I made at a beach at dusk.
The other type of movement is more random. Jiggle the camera around during the exposure and see what happens. You can try some up and down movement, side to side movement, diagonal movement or a combination.
That creates photos like this one.
Keep the composition simple, so the subject is still recognizable.
If the exposure is long enough you can hold the camera still for part of it, then add movement. This is another way of getting interesting results.
The key is to experiment. Look at the results on your camera’s screen. Use the feedback to make adjustments to the shutter speed or style of movement.
If you’re using a camera with an electronic viewfinder you can set it to display the photo after you make it. This useful feature means you don’t have to take your eye from the camera to check the result.
Be prepared to create plenty of images that don’t work. That’s okay, it’s all part of the process. It’s fine if you make a hundred photos to get one you like. That’s how it goes with intentional camera movement.
Evaluating the result
How do you know whether you’ve made a good intentional camera movement image? Great question. It’s a subjective genre. Looking at the work of photographers like Chris Friel and Andy Gray gives you a feel for what’s successful.
If you like a photo, and you’ve created a image full of mood, then it’s a success. Your eye for what makes a good intentional camera movement image will improve the more you do it.
ICM in black and white
There’s something about intentional camera movement photos that make them ideal for black and white conversion. They tend to have lots of texture, a visual element that makes for strong black and white photos.
Here’s a series of intentional camera movement photos I made of the sea and converted to black and white. It’s a strong series because they’re composed in a similar way, with sand at the bottom (black) and waves at the top (white).
Presenting the results
As we’re working with abstract photos, you can be creative with the way you present them. For example, I made a set of photos of the sea at sunset by panning the camera. I cropped the best images to the square format, then put four together to make a larger square. You can see the result below. If you have a printer it’s a great way to make art for your wall.
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I especially liked the images you shot of the musicians at stage. Whether somewhat intentional or fully unintentional the intentional movement here led to quit fitting unintentional movements in the stage-lights that made them perfectly work as a ghost images of the notes or the score sounding from their instruments. And that just made perfect sense here.