By Chris Upton
We photographers often agonise over creating images that are pin sharp and which reflect reality. However, the old adage that “rules are meant to be broken” is never truer than with the creative technique of Intentional Camera Movement or ICM.
It was none other than Henri Cartier-Bresson who said that “sharpness is a bourgeois concept” and who are we to argue with him! Photography, whatever the genre, is all about emotion and there is no better way of demonstrating that than with using ICM.
ICM essentially means that you physically move the camera during the exposure. This of course means that nothing is sharp and therefore flies in the face of more conventional photography. However, it allows us to express our creativity rather than adopting a more technical form of expression. This technique is, of course, not new in art as the impressionist painters such as Monet, Renoir, Degas and Turner removed detail to communicate feeling and mood to viewers.
The great attraction of ICM is that it changes the way we see reality and can be used to create powerful, truly unique images, something that is difficult to achieve nowadays with more conventional genres of photography. Images are much more about shape, colour and pattern. Our brain usually looks for sharpness and detail in an image, however when this is absent, we default to seek out emotion and mood, opening up our imagination. Another advantage of ICM is the fact that you don’t need perfect weather. Sure, golden hour lighting will enhance your images but it’s not a critical factor.
So, what sort of subjects work well? Typically, it’s those where we can record shapes, patterns and colour, so it’s important to previsualise the image you’re trying to create. Woodland and trees, especially in the autumn, are great subjects as are coastal scenes, rivers or streams, architecture and people. Cityscapes at night can also work well particularly if you can utilise reflections after there has been rain.
Any camera can be used to create ICM images providing you can control the shutter speed. Lens selection is not critical either though you may find something in the 18mm – 35mm (APS-C) range most useful.
Many people will appreciate the fact that you don’t need a tripod for this technique. I find it quite liberating to go out with one camera and one lens to create my pictures, using it freehand to create more abstract results. However, you might choose to use a tripod if you wanted to keep vertical or horizontal lines straight.
Because of the need to utilise a slow shutter speed, low light conditions are often best for ICM photography. On a bright day, even with a small aperture it can be difficult to achieve a low shutter speed and this is where you will need to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor by using filters such as a Polariser and or a Neutral Density filter. These ND filters are an overall dark filter as opposed to a Graduated ND filter which fades from dark to clear. When light levels are low a 3 stop ND will be fine but during the day a 6 stop ND will reduce a shutter speed of 1/125 second to 1/2 second. On a sunny day you will need a 10 stop filter, though you can, of course, combine the ND with a Polariser to reduce the exposure further giving you more flexibility.
The FUJIFILM X100F is a great camera to shoot ICM with. Its 23mm focal length and really useful, inbuilt, 3 stop ND filter is much more convenient to use (and saves you money, too). The smaller filter thread means that any CPL or ND filters are also cheaper!
The first thing you need to do is select the shutter speed by switching the camera to Shutter Priority or Manual. Remember to set your ISO to the lowest (200 ISO) to achieve a longer shutter speed. The aperture is largely irrelevant as the resulting image is going to be blurred in all areas anyway. You can use Auto Focus but I prefer to have more control by focusing manually on a still shot before introducing movement. The shutter button is then only firing the camera rather than first asking it to focus.
Typically shutter speeds of 1/20 or slower can be used for ICM though it depends on the effect you’re trying to create. My preferred range is between 0.5 and 2 seconds as this produces soft, dreamy effects.
Take a test shot at your selected shutter speed, holding the camera still, to check the exposure. If it’s too bright or too dark then you’ll need to change your aperture, ISO, exposure compensation or filter strength to achieve a correctly exposed image whilst maintaining the required shutter speed.
So how do you move the camera? Well the beauty of this technique is that there are no hard and fast rules; anything goes. Try moving the camera up and down, side to side, diagonally, in and out and “jiggling” it around. I’ve also used a technique of “throwing my camera in the air” (holding onto the strap!) in the woods to achieve completely random images – as I said anything goes. It takes a little getting used to but once you’ve got the camera movement and shutter release co-ordinated you’re away! You can even try shooting using the cameras CH or CL setting to continually take images as you wave the camera around.
The choice of shooting JPEG or RAW is a personal one but my preference is always to shoot RAW for more control in post processing where I will typically make changes to exposure, white balance, contrast and saturation.
However, if you do shoot JPEGs you have a plethora of wonderful Fujifilm Simulation modes to choose from where you might find Velvia ideal for recording punchy colours.
For even more creativity why not try combining this ICM technique with Multiple Exposure or combining multiple ICM images in post processing?
The fun in this technique is that you never quite know what you’re going to achieve and you certainly can’t recreate the same picture, it is very much trial and error. Be warned though, you will need to take plenty of shots to find a gem. A ratio of 1 in 20 is not uncommon to start with, so don’t worry if it takes you a while to capture a movement and composition that pleases you. Yes, composition is still important in ICM photography, just because the blur looks good it is not enough. Look for the arrangement of shapes and tones in your picture. You will find the technique addictive so make sure you have a fresh storage card to hand.
One of the more conventional forms of ICM is panning, moving the camera in time with a moving object such as a car, bike or people. The trick here is to select the appropriate shutter speed to keep the subject sharp, or almost sharp, whilst rendering the background blurred. For best results follow the subject as it moves across the frame and continue to keep panning after you’ve pressed the shutter. It’s difficult to give precise shutter speeds as it depends on how fast the subject is moving but, for cars, I suggest you start at 1/60 second and for people walking around 1/15 second.
ICM is an opportunity to get your creative juices flowing and produce truly unique images. Yes, they might be “Marmite” images that polarise opinion but a well exposed, skillfully composed image with just the right amount of blur will be a stunning addition to your portfolio.
If you’ve not tried this technique before, give it a go you’ll have hours of fun!
More from Chris Upton
Excellent information about this creative technique.
Thank you Jane, much appreciated
This is great, as I had been trying this technique recently and these hints are very helpful. I have tried combining ICM along with multiple exposures for flowers (even taken on a windy day) and the effects are interesting. I think experimenting with so many different ways to get different results made it fun. I admit it’s hard to remember what I did to get the effect I want, so much of this is a “one-time” lucky event.
Thanks Chris Upton. Will give this a try in the near future. Good to get the info of where to start in this type of photography.
Thank you for this excellent article.
I am in a creative down after decades of pressing the release button.
This will be a up swing for me
Here my experiments (Digital Fuji X-T20 and Analog Pentax Me Super)
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