Intentional Camera Movement Photography, Part 3: Approach, Subjects, Inspiration
By Todd Vorenkamp | Fri, 06/03/2022
Welcome to Part 3 of our journey into the world of Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) photography. In this final chapter of the 3-part series of articles, we voyage back into the mental aspects of creating ICM art, as well as take in some tips for some of the more common ICM subjects and finish with inspirational words from some of the masters of the craft.
Above image © Morag Paterson
Because ICM eschews many of the lessons we have tried so hard to learn in photography over the years, the approach and process are very different to almost every other type of image capture.
A Lot of Clicks
“ICM is not for you if you are worried about the shutter count of your camera,” says Charlotte Bellamy. “In an hour, I can easily shoot over 300 ICM images if I am feeling the location and enjoying myself. That sometimes means from a morning, I add 1,000 images to my shutter count without even thinking about it.”
Maryland-based photographer Lori Lankford (@photography_lori) says, “Often I will take 25-50 photos at one location and have one or two that I keep. Every shot taken with ICM will be different. Adjust your settings as you work with the scene.”
Doug Chinnery says, “Make many images—and by many, I mean hundreds. Remember, ICM images always look better on the camera’s LCD screen than they will when you get them home on your computer. So, make many more than you think you will need and be prepared to discard the vast majority. It is far better to shoot more than you finally need than to return home and find all your shots fall just short of what you had hoped for. I usually hope to process around one or two images out of every hundred I make.”
When it comes to post-processing large numbers of ICM images, Beth Buelow says, “When I have hundreds of images to sort that have a similar baseline of color or exposure, I speed up my image review by processing one image enough to be able to tell if there’s potential, saving those settings as a preset, then leaving my cursor over the preset so that it previews each image I scroll through with those settings. That enables me to quickly flag or star images with potential, delete the rest, and then go back to the chosen ones with a more detailed eye.”
While many ICM images have motion physically imparted by the photographer, it is also a technique you can use when shooting from a moving platform—be it a car, plane, boat, skateboard, etc.
Panning is a common movement used in ICM and few photographers pan better than Camden Thrasher. He discovered the creative outlet of ICM in the late night/early morning hours of a 24-hour race when he decided to add additional camera movements to his long-exposure shots. Deprived of sleep and discovering that he was creating the occasional unique and compelling image, he has since “focused on honing his [ICM] skills to make the results repeatable and more consistent.” As his subjects vary from race cars doing faster than 100 mph to jet aircrafts doing several hundred miles per hour, Thrasher says, “I need to pan with the cars long enough for them to register in the image and then I can add other movement. To get the effect I am looking for, I try to make the movements repeatable and then adjust as needed—looking at the shots and then figuring out if I need more movement in one direction or another—more tilt up or down.”
Starting the Shutter
ICM photographers sometimes disagree on when to open the shutter—before or after your movement has started. Eileen Sklon says, “Start moving your camera before you press the shutter, like in golf you start swinging before you hit the ball and follow through. This allows a smoother image where you can’t see the starting point and allows room (sky, grass, etc.) in your image so you have room to crop in post-processing.”
“Pink Tulips”Eileen Sklon
John and Lisa Merrill often take a different approach. “When panning action we start moving the camera before we press the shutter. With still subjects, very long exposures (2-4 seconds) enable us to create a ‘multiple exposure effect.’ We keep our camera still for the first part of the exposure, and then shake, zoom, twist, or swirl for the second part, creating an image in which a sharp and recognizable subject is enhanced with fluidity and movement,” says Lisa.
Move in the Direction of the Subject
Lori Lankford recommends, “If you are new to the ICM technique, start with moving the camera in the direction of the subject. For example, if shooting a landscape scene of trees, move the camera vertically to smooth out the lines of the trees. If you are shooting water, move the camera horizontally. Start with small micro-movements as you press the shutter. Then you can increase the size of your movements and the speed of the movement.”
Evan Cobb says, “Look for Lines. Look for definitive lines in a landscape and then maneuver yourself into a place to accentuate these natural lines. A quick twist with the camera during an exposure can shift a simple scene into a frame filled with motion and energy.”
Charles Cody (@charlescodyphotography_color), based in Alexandria, Virginia, adds, “I look for settings that would be conducive to using ICM, but also include lines as well—the edges of a tree, the horizon in a beach or ocean photo, or perhaps sand dune fences on a beach. I then move the camera in the direction of the lines, so the photo has an abstract look to it, but it also includes clean lines.”
“Seek out elements within the scene that you can use to enhance the visual effect of movement,” says Australian-based photographer Lisa Michele Burns (@the_wanderinglens), “Leading lines always work well and I love working with coastal landscapes and beach scenes in particular. The shoreline, waves, and skyline work together to blend and blur when panning from left to right.”
Lisa Michele Burns
“Those looking for steady shots with sharp, straight lines should consider a tripod with panning capabilities,” suggests Jonathan Colbert.
Vary Your Movement
“A lot of people only move the camera linearly, be it up and down in a forest or left and right looking over the ocean. Experiment with other controlled movements such as rotation, following subjects in the frame,” says Andrew Gray.
Andrew S. Gray
Doug Chinnery adds, “But try pushing and pulling the camera towards and away from you. This creates a different effect and is ideal where you want objects in the frame to remain recognizable (trees, buildings, etc.). Often, small movements are enough to create a painterly effect.”
“Storm over Etive”
Eileen Sklon adds a “wiggle” to the tops of trees when creating ICM images, while Megan Kennedy uses “rocking and twitching.”
“On Fire”Eileen Sklon
John and Lisa Merrill often add a “twist” and “swirl” to their images. “For the twist, pretend there’s a laser beam running from your sensor through the center of your lens to your subject. After focusing, smoothly rotate your camera as if it were a steering wheel, keeping the laser pointed at one spot on your subject. For a fun swirl effect, hold your zoom lens barrel still with your left hand while smoothly rotating your camera with your right hand during a long exposure. With this technique, the focal length changes and the sensor rotates relative to your subject, creating an image with spiral movement. While most of our ICM work is handheld, we enjoy creating swirls on a tripod with lenses that have a tripod collar,” Lisa says.
Natalie Truchsess describes her self-named Remodel by Camera Movement (RCM) technique: “In the abstract ICM photographs, I move the camera in different layers during the shot. For example: diagonally from top to bottom and toward me at the same time. This leads to the fact that different parts of the photographed objects merge into one picture, in which the original motives are no longer recognizable. I therefore call this technique ‘RCM.’ It is analogous to the ICM technique because I create new abstract images with this type of photography. Here, too, I make sure that no reflections of glass, porcelain, or lacquer create white light traces of the camera movement.”
Many modern digital cameras have double-exposure capture built into the camera and easily incorporated into ICM images. Alternatively, allowing for relatively sharp multiple captures in a single long-exposure frame can create the effect. Claudia Freyer employs a double-exposure technique: “Personally, I also work with double exposures directly in the camera (no subsequent composing). This can produce interesting images. I also use structures often found in the environment (such as a frozen puddle or a sign with peeling paint) as a second exposure to add dimension to the photos. I also photograph these structures in motion, but in such a way that at least a basic structure can still be seen.”
Lisa Merrill adds a bit of strobe to some of her shots. “We enjoy photographing dancers at festivals and outdoor performances by fire and light artists and add on-camera TTL flash with ICM to freeze the subject against a blurred background. We use rear or second-curtain sync to ensure our flash fires at the end rather than the beginning of the long exposure—this creates more natural-looking movement trails behind versus in front of our subject.”
Apply ICM to Any Genre of Photography
Trees and seascapes are ICM favorites, but any type of photography can have ICM techniques applied to it. “ICM can be incorporated into all photography styles and used at any location. If you shoot landscape, street, documentary, or even macro photography, adding ICM can give you a different perspective of the subject you are capturing,” says Lori Lankford.
Charles Cody follows that, saying, “For ICM photography, you’re not limited to any particular subject. The only limit is your imagination! My first tip is to let your imagination run wild! Once you get the basics of ICM photography down, it’s so much fun to be able to shoot various subjects and see what effect you get. I personally tend to gravitate to ICM for seascape and tree/forest photography. I like the abstractness of taking a photo of a beach or trees in a forest, but still have clean lines in the photo.”
“Trees and horizons make great ‘starter’ subjects,” says Beth Buelow. “Practice with panning (up/down, left/right) to get familiar with how different settings and movements affect the outcome. Then start mixing it up by changing the speed of your movement and where it starts and stops. It’s a great way to get some satisfying results early in your ICM journey!”
Charlotte Bellamy elevates the capture of trees to a higher sensory experience. “Respond to your environment,” she says. “ICM is all about bringing a little something ‘extra’ to my images—I like the ICM to bring a feeling of the location or object I am photographing. Before I even pick up my camera, I ask what was it that drew me to want to pick up my camera. It could be a color. It could be the way the light was falling on the object. It could be a movement. I use all my senses and note anything that I have noticed. For example, the sound of raindrops on leaves or the feeling of the wind blowing my hair. I then have a good idea of what I want my ICM image to portray, and I can then tailor the movements of my camera to try and recreate this. In the autumn, it’s all about the colors of the leaves, and the slight rustle they make on the branches. My movement aims to hold the tree trunks in the woodland solid and straight with still a fair amount of detail, then I do a small flick upwards to add a feeling of movement in the leaves—to capture their movement and sound.”
Erik Malm shares his thoughts about trees with ICM, saying, “The most common technique is to pan vertically with the camera so that tree trunks are gently smeared. However, this type of result is so common that I have tried other types of results through many years of practice. Here I have kept the camera still for a while before I started moving it, in slightly different directions, speed and size and thus create a painterly result.”
“Spend time watching to see where the light is hitting the water, when the waves are breaking, then set the camera to create enough movement that the scene is visible, but also beautifully abstract, thanks to ICM. Breaking waves will add a pop of white within the frame, whereas if you start panning just before the waves break, it’ll produce a watery weave of ocean tones,” says Lisa Michele Burns.
Wilmington, North Carolina-based seascape photographer Julia Berrio (@the.saltypineapple) adds to the technique, saying, “I typically only shoot the ocean and I have become quite familiar with the points I need to focus on. Wave height, cloud coverage, and tides are what I mostly focus on when I plan out my ICM shoots. I like to make the ocean my main focus, so I try and go when clouds are minimal, the waves are flatter and typically a lower tide. I prefer a lower tide so I can include layers into my shot—sand, water, and the sky. All those factors can really change the outcome of your photo. A lot of my photos have flatter water with minimal movement but some days I like to show off the wave form more.”
On the opposite coast, Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist Scott Strazzante (@scottstrazzante) brought ICM technique to his Pacific Series of images. “I photograph at California beaches in the final hour before sunset. I use a 400mm lens on a tripod set to f/32 at ISO 100. I usually begin around 1/4-second exposure and then adjust to slower speeds as the sun sets. I first began photographing only waves, but as the project evolved, I started including surfers and beachgoers. My number one tip is to shoot into the sun. Backlighting the images adds an extra dimension of color and mood.”
From Beach SeriesScott Strazzante
Regardless of what kind of photography you favor, trying out ICM when shooting your next landscape, portrait, or street scene can creatively shake things up and might result in a memorable and unique image.
Kaisa Sirén says, “Not only does ICM work as a battery charger for the photographer, but it also leaves more interpretation for the viewer and maybe a mindfulness moment for them, as well.”
Beth Buelow adds, “ICM is fabulous for when you’re feeling in a creative rut. It’s an opportunity to reimagine your surroundings and find photographic opportunities in the most mundane places. I’ve seen amazing ICM images of people’s closets, bookshelves, and even items on their desk! My favorite experiments recently have involved lettuce, a slinky, and spirals I quilled out of scrapbook paper (not all at the same time, of course!). When looking at the world with ICM eyes, what qualifies as a ‘suitable’ subject is almost limitless.”
Unique Images from Familiar Places
Because of the nature and uniqueness of ICM images, you can photograph the same vista repeatedly. Stephanie Johnson says, “By returning to the same locations, or using the same subject repeatedly, and by constantly looking for new ways to use camera movement to photograph the scene or subject, you push your creative boundaries, and you grow in artistic vision. You don’t need to travel to the far corners of the world to take your photography or your creativity to the next level. You can do that right where you are with ICM.”
In another “before and after” photo, we see Stephanie Johnson’s ICM technique transform this scene in “Palisades Kelper” © Stephanie Johnson
Charlotte Bellamy says, “I often revisit locations in different light conditions, or at different times of the year. Also, in places I’ve previously photographed in traditional landscape style, I love to explore with the ICM technique because you can really put your own design on a location and make it different from everyone else’s image of the same location.”
Lori Lankford adds, “ICM photography works best when you can take your time and deeply explore your shooting location. Then express it with your camera and the movements you make. When I take that time, I create better images that genuinely represent the location’s emotions, colors, and textures using ICM techniques.”
Changing the Photographic Mindset
As you can see, ICM flies in the face of what many of us are taught about photography—and the way we create photographs. Moving your camera intentionally while the shutter is open demands a paradigm shift in the “traditional” photographer’s mindset. We close this series with a collection of quotes from some of the masters of the ICM genre.
“ICM is about emotion. Feel the images you are making. Don’t obsess about slight imperfections. Painters embrace the splashes, runs, and dribbles on a canvas—they inject life and feeling into a piece of art. The same is true of ICM images. It is the unexpected, the imperfect, the serendipitous that makes ICM work so special. Let go. Enjoy not being encumbered by a tripod. Free yourself from the ‘rules’ of photography and see where the images take you. Just have fun!” — Doug Chinnery
“As with all photography, mindset plays a huge role. With ICM it’s especially important to approach image-making with playfulness, curiosity, and patience. A willingness to slow down and experiment will help you create images you love—we recommend creating multiple images of the same subject by varying one or more of the ICM ‘troika’: shutter speed, type of movement, and speed of movement.” — Lisa Merrill
“Having fun exploring the possibilities and being playful with experimentation is all part of the creative process of finding what works and what does not work for you as a unique, individual, creative being.” — Stephanie Johnson
“Play! ICM is an opportunity to step into the image with your own movements being channeled into the image. Use this methodology to explore photography in a new way. Intentional camera movement is much less about accurate representation of a scene/experience, rather, it is about the feeling of a scene/experience. Enjoy the ride!” — Evan Cobb
“ICM is a creative form of photography. The vision you have in your mind for the image is what matters, and this is what you should aim to create. For 99% of the people I teach, they have found and love ICM for its creative element, that they can bring their own personality to the image. I love it for the way you can create images that no longer resemble photographs but are pieces of art in their own right. For me, ICM offers a wonderful immersive experience, this feeling I know is shared by many following this genre of photography, and many are using it as a form of ‘escape’ from the daily life challenges, and a way to give themselves a break from expectations.” — Charlotte Bellamy
Further Exploration: To dive deeper into the world of Intentional Camera Movement, check out ICM Photography Magazine (Instagram: @icmphotomag. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ICMPhotoMag/) and follow #ICM on your favorite visual social media platforms.
I would like to thank all of the ICM artists that contributed to this series of articles for sharing their thoughts, tips, comments, and art.
“Starling Murmuration” in Catalonia, SpainErik Malm
To learn more about ICM, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the series. Are you ready to ditch the tripod (sometimes) and try out ICM? What are your thoughts about the technique and this genre of photography? Let us know in the Comments section, below!