Intentional Camera Movement Photography, Part 2: Gear and Technical
Welcome to Part 2 of our deep dive into the world of Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) photography. In this second part of the three-part series of articles, we look at the kinds of gear that ICM artists recommend, as well as the technical side of the art including camera settings and techniques.
Above image © Ceri Herd
Gear is not a limiting factor in exploring ICM photography—you can even use a smartphone, provided you have a way of controlling the shutter speed. For repeatable, deliberate results, you will want to have a camera that allows manual exposure control since most ICM stalwarts use either shutter priority mode or full manual mode (more on that below) when creating their art.
Lens Focal Length
Neil Broadway says, “Experiment with different focal length lenses. Quite different effects can be obtained with a 50mm lens compared to a 200mm lens. Also, experiment with different types of ‘lenses.’ A different feel can be brought to images by using pinhole or, my particular favorite, zone plate ‘lenses.’ Zone plates can impart a soft, ethereal effect to images.”
Because the relatively slow shutter speeds of ICM require tiny apertures, keeping your sensor clean of dust is an important step in the process. The combination of movement in the frame and apertures make sensor dust much more noticeable. Dust removal is always going to be a part of an ICM-shooter’s post-processing workflow. “Keeping your camera, sensor, and lenses clean and free from dust particles is essential for all long exposure photography, ICM included. Tiny, little specks that would otherwise not show on a regular photo will end up front and center in your ICM photos,” suggests Tampa Bay, Florida-based Jonathan Colbert (@jrc_photo2).
Power and Memory
ICM photography is rarely about stopping, taking a single image, and moving on. Every photographer I spoke to talks about how many images are required to come away with a single magical photo. Beth Buelow says, “Set out with a full battery and an empty, high-capacity memory card and refrain from deleting ICM images in camera. Many ICM images only come to life in post-processing, where you can adjust clarity, texture, exposure, etc. Shoot raw so that you have as much data as possible to work with.”
Image Stabilization and Focus
UK-based Doug Chinnery (@doug_chinnery) says, “Turn off image stabilization on your lens—you don’t want it fighting against your camera movements.” He adds, “Turn off autofocus. With it on, the shutter might not fire until focus locks, which is often not at the point you want when waving the camera around. By turning it off and pre-focusing on your desired subject—because even though you are making a ‘blurred’ image, you still usually need recognizable objects to hold some definition—your shutter will fire the instant you press the release—so you have more creative control.”
Robert Beauchene counters, “It sounds crazy, but I also use autofocus all the time—this creates a ‘sharpness’ to some aspects of my images, and I sometimes like that.”
Charlotte Bellamy advises, “Don’t forget the basics. It’s easy to get wrapped up in making ‘an ICM’ image—but the most captivating ICM images are those that still contain a balance, good exposure, a point of interest, and good composition. So don’t throw away everything you have learned from other photography genres—use the awareness of these elements to create an ICM that grabs the viewer and asks for their attention that little bit longer.”
Andrew S. Gray seconds Charlotte, saying, “My images are predominantly landscape vistas so I have to adhere to traditional landscape photography compositions to make pleasing images, but even abstracts will benefit from good composition.”
Look for Contrast
Charlotte Bellamy continues, “My ICM images are all about looking for contrasts—this could be light/dark, hard/soft, straight/wiggly, color/black-and-white, and opposing colors on the color wheel. I look for these elements in what I am photographing and then concentrate on bringing these contrasting points to the fore in my images.”
Kaisa Sirén adds, “Always look for a strong contrast, in both light and color, in your ICM subject.”
Watch for Bright Areas in the Frame
One potential downside of contrast is overly bright areas in the frame that create bright streaks in an ICM image. Natalie Truchsess (@natalietruchsess), based in Germany, cautions, “When shooting ICM landscapes, I usually move the camera in one direction during the shot and try to make sure that I don’t get any strong incidences of light on the image—for example, from the sun behind trees or strong reflections on the water. This way, I avoid white light trails that indicate the direction of the camera’s movement, and thus focus more on colors and moods.”
Pacific Northwest-based photographer Laura Zimmerman (@laurazim) uses these highlights to her advantage. “I’ve discovered that the positions of the clouds at dawn can have a great impact on the resulting images. If there is just one point of light coming through a cloudy sky, you can draw with that point of light, making your own hills, your own mountain range. A larger streak of light through clouds can become a waterfall of gold,” she says.
Light Levels / ND Filters
Blazing-fast shutter speeds are the enemy of sound ICM technique. On sunny days, even stopped down, you might not get shutter speeds slow enough for your ICM images. Eileen Sklon (@eileensklon), in sunny Florida, says simply, “Overcast days are your friend—they’re nature’s softbox. You might need an ND filter on sunny days.”
“Berlin Wall”Eileen Sklon
German photographer Claudia Freyer (@freyer_claudia) agrees, “A long exposure time is a prerequisite for achieving the wiping effects typical of ICM photography. In my experience, ICM shots in good weather can sometimes only be achieved with a (strong) gray filter. ICM photography works best under cloudy skies or in the twilight hours.”
To reiterate parts of what Sklon and Freyer mention, ICM magic can happen on those darker, cloudier, moodier days that many photographers try to avoid. Erik Malm (@erik_malm_photography), based in Sweden, was enjoying Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park when clouds sent most other photographers packing. “It was a day with cloudy weather and flat light. With ICM techniques, I have created a whole atmosphere there. What looks like fog in the valley is information I took from a small patch of snow at my feet. I started pointing the camera at the subject as we see it in the picture. I held the camera still for a while and then redirected it so that the snow spot only affected the lower part of the image. There was dark soil around the snow spot and the rest of the picture was only marginally affected.”
Artificial Light Sources
“Draw light through your frame,” says Lisa Merrill of Seattle-based Merrill Images (@merrillimages). She continues, “While ICM in muted soft light can result in lovely images, many of our favorite ICM photos were created by taking advantage of holiday lights, café lights, neon signs, ornamental glass, and glinting metal.”
Many ICM photographers gravitate to manual mode on their cameras, but some find a shutter speed that works best for their technique and dial up shutter priority to fix that speed. Megan Kennedy (@mk_photodiary), of Canberra, Australia, begins, “ICM is an experimental form of photography, so it can be difficult to know where to start in terms of camera settings. I usually work in shutter priority, starting with the shutter speed set to around 1/5-second. I then take a few test pictures at this setting and evaluate the amount of motion blur and exposure quality, making incremental adjustments until I find an ideal setting.”
ICM photographers seem to have their favorite shutter speeds or shutter speed ranges. The UK’s John Dexter is a fan of shutter speeds of 1/2–1.5 seconds. Eileen Sklon likes to start at 1/8-second but expands to 2 seconds if needed. Kaisa Sirén ranges from 1 second to as long as 30 seconds. Ceri Herd likes to start at 1/3-second.
Finally, Charlotte Bellamy offers this tip: “My favorite shutter speed is 1/4-second. I find this speed gives me enough time to make a movement, but not so long that I bring too much softness into the image. With moving elements such as animals, people, and water, I tend to go a little faster—1/5 or 1/6—because you have the combination of subject movement and camera movement to balance. For architecture, I tend to make slightly more creative movements (such as drawing around the windows) with my camera—and for this, I need to work at about a 1-second shutter speed.”
Secure Your Gear
Last in the technical section, but not least, ICM photographers suggest using your camera’s neck strap as a wrist strap—or use a dedicated camera wrist strap—to allow freedom of movement while keeping your camera and lens secure. Doug Chinnery notes, “Having the strap around your neck restricts movement and prevents larger, more gestural movements with your camera.”
Megan Kennedy sometimes works from a tripod and limits her camera movements to a fixed position in space.
Please click here for Part 3 of this series of ICM articles.