Intentional Camera Movement (or ICM) is a photographic process used to create impressionistic images by moving the camera intentionally whilst the shutter is open.
I want to take you through a brief learning process where you literally “Rock” the ICM technique.
All of the photographs here were taken with one exposure, no stacking or multiple-exposure techniques were used at all.
The key principles of ICM photography are as follows:
- Use slow shutter speeds (long exposure)
- Limit the light that hits the sensor using small apertures (high f-stop) and low ISO
- Move the camera
You do not need any special equipment to attempt this technique, most cameras will allow long exposures up to 30 seconds which is plenty to get a really ethereal/dreamy effect. On a bright day, the addition of some neutral density filters would be a bonus if you have them. Otherwise try when it’s overcast and everyone else has gone home!
If you read my previous article where I explored Mausoleum Woods near Great Limber, early on a spring morning you’ll be aware that the conditions were very dull that day and I was not able to get the colourful sunrise I’d initially set out to capture.
Often you will find photographers are disheartened by dull overcast days and pack up and go home. I thought this particular day would be a great opportunity to try out the ICM technique.
As I was surrounded by woodland and based on some of the advice provided by Ted Leeming, I attempted to make an exposure moving the camera up and down in a vertical motion.
I set the camera up for an exposure at 30 seconds f22 and ISO100 (it was still quite dark at just after 6am)
Attempts at doing this at arms length were not great. I soon discovered the best way for to do this was to hand-hold the camera in my left hand and rock the body (vaguely around the sensor axis). Here’s the “rock” from the post title :)
Continually moving the camera for the whole exposure produced some nice abstract images but I wanted to get the impression of the trees.
Experimentation is very much order of the day here and I found if I hold the camera relatively steady for part of the exposure, I would get the result I was hoping for.
Time moved on as it does and the sun got higher in the sky meaning I would need to change my exposure settings to a shorter exposure by increasing the shutter speed (the lens I was using has a max. aperture of f22) to prevent the images being blown-out.
A move to a different location and composition and I got this result by increasing the shutter speed to 15 seconds and continuing with the approach I’d discovered to keep the camera still during part of the exposure:
Exploring the Technique Further
Now my confidence using the technique was building, I decided to try some more experimentation. I started by using the vertical motion I mentioned earlier for the majority of the 15 second exposure (say 12 seconds or so) and then rotated 90 degrees and held the camera relatively steady in the direction of the Mausoleum.
The resulting shot was something I’m quite proud of and gives a lovely abstract view of the composition that probably has not been done before – the only post-processing involved here was to add contrast and do the black and white conversion:
As I continued my experimentation and walked back to my car, the sun was fully above the horizon now and if I wanted to continue building up my confidence with the technique I would only be able to do so in the shade of the woodland.
Luckily the woodland floor at Great Limber is fairly open and there are carpets of spring flowering plants underneath. This would add some colour to my otherwise monochrome attempts so far.
Similar exposure settings were used as before and I employed the same technique of holding the camera steady for part of the exposure to add some sharp elements to my pictures.
My focus now moved away from purely getting the technique correct but onto composition and creating a visually pleasing image. Here are the final two images I ended up with:
After playing with this technique on and off for around an hour, I found it an absorbing and really enjoyable creative technique that is well worth experimenting with further. Next time I will try more different types of motion and different subject matter (maybe a beachscape?). Flash might also be a useful tool to freeze parts of the image if triggered by a helper.
Tips for successful ICM Photography
- Start at very long exposures (30 seconds or above) to practice moving the camera and observing how different movement patterns effects your results
- Stop down to small apertures (f22 or thereabouts) to keep your exposure balanced (use the histogram on your camera display if it helps).
- Shoot at low ISO – this also helps preventing over-exposure but also reduces noisy images
- Having a set of neutral density filters may be beneficial in bright conditions to allow you to use slow shutter speeds without over-exposing your images.
- Try a variety of subject matter – start with rocking the camera in linear fashion, either up-and-down (trees) or side-to-side (beaches) depending on your composition.
- Experiment! the beauty of digital photography is that if an image doesn’t work, you can repeat as many times as you want until you like the result.
Why not have a go? Feel free to comment back asking any questions. I’d love to hear from you and see your results!
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