Intentional camera movement (also known as ICM) has quickly become one of my favorite creative photography techniques. The best thing about ICM photography is that there isn’t a wrong way of doing it.
Intentional Camera Movement is as simple as it sounds… You deliberately move the camera during an exposure to create an artistic and creative effect, often resulting in a unique abstract image.
With ICM photography, you forget composition to some degree, and instead, just focus on the contrast in colors and textures of a scene. What’s more, you don’t need any fancy equipment and interesting photos can be made just about anywhere.
Intentional camera movement photos aren’t for everybody… you’re either going to love them or you’re going to hate them. Personally, one of the reasons I love ICM is that it goes against the conventions of photography.
Instead of well-composed and in-focus photographs, you rely heavily on chance and happy accidents to produce images that are impossible to reproduce. ICM is more about capturing the mood/or spirit of the place through an image rather than simply duplicating it.
ICM photography can be frustrating at times, and there is a lot of trial and error with this technique. The most important thing to remember is not to concern yourself with making the perfect image and to just enjoy experimenting with photography.
I have been practicing the technique for the past couple of months, and I wanted to share my experiences in hope that it might inspire you to give intentional camera movement a try.
In this article, I’ll explain my shooting method and give you a few pointers, so you can avoid the same mistakes I made when first starting out with ICM.
Related: Forest Photography Guide
Getting Started With ICM
Getting started with intentional camera movement photography is easy. All you need is a camera that allows you to control the shutter speed and you’re set. I use an entry-level Nikon DSLR and the 18-55mm kit lens.
Start by changing your camera mode to shutter priority or manual. Generally, exposures of between 1/15th of a second and 2 seconds give the best results but feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.
Next, set the camera to the lowest ISO possible (base ISO, 100 or 200). This will reduce the light sensitivity of your camera and allow you to work with longer shutter speeds.
You may prefer to work in manual mode, in which case you’ll also need to set the aperture (typically your aperture will end up being between F/3.5 and F/16).
One thing to remember with intentional camera movement photography is that depth of field isn’t all that important. Your final image is generally the result of the shutter speed, movement of the camera, and where you choose to focus.
If you have vibration reduction or image stabilization, then turn it off. You should also shoot in RAW, which will give you greater flexibility when editing your images later.
Because ICM photography requires slower shutter speeds, shooting in low-light conditions is ideal for this technique (such as at dawn or dusk).
If you plan to shoot during the day, then you’re going to need to use a neutral-density (ND) filter to get the exposure required for ICM photography. The ND filter will reduce the incoming light, and therefore allow you to keep the shutter open for much longer.
Related article: Abstract Landscape Photography
Finding the Right Subject
Intentional camera movement is great for any type of landscape photography. As I live on the coast, I use it mainly for seascapes but you can use it for practically any situation/or scene.
Below I’ve listed just a few:
- Forest and woodland (trees, flowers, etc)
- Mountains and hills
- Cityscapes and lights, reflections after rain
- Sunrise and sunset
Whatever type of scene you decide to shoot, the most important thing is to look for strong graphic shapes and contrast in colors and textures. It’s also still important for each image to have some form of defining feature. Try and keep your composition simple, so the scene is still recognizable.
Don’t worry too much about people in your frame, as long as there’s not a huge crowd, people tend to just disappear in the blur (the same with boats, cars, or anything else).
One of the other great advantages of ICM is that you don’t need perfect weather (nor light) to capture a great image. Sure, beautiful golden hour light will enhance your photos, but itís not the ultimate key to success with ICM photography.
Okay, so you’ve decided what you’re going to photograph and you have your settings dialed in. The next step is to think about how you’re going to move the camera.
You have two options here: you can either pan the camera or move your camera about randomly.
To pan your camera, you simply move it in a straight line, either horizontally or vertically. What direction is completely up to you, but thinking about your composition can be extremely helpful when deciding.
For instance, if you’re shooting a tree, you can follow the line of the tree trunk in a vertical direction. If you’re capturing the seaside, then follow the horizon or even the flow of the water.
Related: Water Photography the Complete Guide
The other type of movement is random movement. The beauty of intentional camera movement is that there are no rules, and it’s the same when it comes to how you move your camera.
During your exposure, you can jiggle the camera, zoom in and out with your lens, walk forwards, rotate the camera 360, make a cross or if you’re feeling brave, you can even throw your camera up in the air and hope for the best (just remember to hold on to the strap though).
The creative possibilities are endless. Experiment with movements and find what works best for you and your style of photography.
You should also think about how quickly you intend to move your camera. I recommend that the slower the shutter speed, the slower you move the camera. The choice as always is yours.
I always shoot handheld but you can use a tripod too. Ideally, you should move the camera first, then press the shutter button, and keep the camera moving until the shutter closes.
You can also shoot multiple images at once; just keep the camera moving and keep pressing the shutter button until you get the numbers of frames you want (I normally aim for 3-6 at a time).
Good Intentional Camera Movement Photography
How do you know whether you’ve got a good ICM image? Great question. Like most things in life, it’s completely subjective.
If you like the image, then it’s a success. Forget trying to please other people. Photography is about you and how you see the world.
With practice, your eye for what makes a good intentional camera movement image will improve.
ICM photography is a lot of trial and error and you’re going to end up wasting plenty of frames. That’s okay, it’s all part of the ICM process. But all you need is that one keeper image to make it worthwhile.
My own shooting ratio is appalling. On average I shoot probably 500 images a day, of which, I keep maybe 5 images (that’s on a good day).
When it comes to editing my images, I like to keep it simple.
Because I waste so many frames, I first review my images on the back of the camera and delete those images that I know won’t make the cut.
I then import the rest of the images to Lightroom and begin the editing process, selecting only the images that stand out or I feel have potential.
From there, I only make small corrections (exposure, highlights, contrast, and saturation). I then adjust the white balance of the image. I also straighten the image and crop occasionally.
I’m a big believer that if an ICM image takes longer than five minutes to edit then it’s no good.
Then again, there are plenty of ICM photographers that would disagree and spend up to an hour working on a single image in Photoshop. Whatever works for you and your style of photography.
ICM Photography in 12 Easy Steps
- Find your composition: look for lines, shape, and contrasts in color and texture
- Set camera mode: change to shutter priority
- Set the shutter speed: aim for an exposure time between 1/15th of a second and 2 seconds. You may need to adjust the speed depending on how quickly you plan to move the camera.
- Filters: If necessary, use either an ND or Polarizing filter to block light and decrease shutter speed.
- Change settings: set ISO to 100, matrix metering, center focus, turn off vibration reduction
- Framing: double-check and confirm the composition
- Focus: either auto or manual focus on what you want to shoot/or the center of the frame
- Movement: begin moving your camera, either horizontally or vertically
- Take your photo: while moving the camera, press the shutter button
- Multiple images: take between 4-8 images per scene/subject
- Check: review your images and adjust the shutter speed for variety and experimentation
- Repeat: change the angle or find a new composition
There is no formula for success with intentional camera movement. The only way to get good at it is to practice and find what works best for you.
ICM isn’t for everyone, but if you give it a try, you never know, you might enjoy it. Be warned though, ICM can become quite addictive… everywhere you look you’ll see a potential image.
Do you have any experience with ICM photography? Have you tried the techniques above? If so, then we would love to hear about it. Feel free to leave some tips and advice in the comments section.
To see more of my intentional camera movement images then take a look at my abstract image gallery on my website. If you’re looking for more photography inspiration, then check out my blog at Photogpedia.