Intentional Camera Movement

In this post, I share my love of ICM: Intentional Camera Movement, as a technique for abstracting landscapes and other mostly natural subjects. Conventional wisdom has it that the shutter speed should be short enough to avoid any blurring of the subject, but by using a slow shutter speed and  moving the camera while the shutter is open, you can get some interesting results, as I hope to show you.

I didn’t realise my early and not always successful experiments in moving the camera during a long exposure already had precedents amongst some highly regarded photographers, for example, William Neill in the USA and Leeming+Paterson this side of the pond. But having seen their work and that of many others online, I decided that it was an avenue I wanted to explore further, in addition to my straight landscapes and seascapes.

Just like when I had my first digital camera, this technique has opened up a whole lot of new creative possibilities for me, and has rekindled my love of getting outside with the camera.

Many readers may be familiar with the ‘trunks in a forest’ theme from photo sharing web sites – probably because the upright shapes lend themselves to smooth camera movements and help to simplify the chaos of a woodland that can often overpower a sense of composition. It’s important to make sure the scene is correctly focused, even though the result is blurred, otherwise you tend to get a foggy mush.

Pines, backlit

By choosing interesting light, you can overcome the lack of striking trees in England – we have no aspen groves or redwoods to use as subjects! The above image and the two below were both taken in a local pine plantation at different times of day. By varying the amount of camera movement, I can choose how much detail to preserve, to give a more painterly look.

ICM has unpredictable effects (part of its charm for me), although the more you practise, the easier it is to control. You still need to take lots of shots to get the best results, which is why a digital camera is ideal. (For straight shots, I am a big believer in pre-visualisation rather than blasting away in the hope of getting a good shot, but with ICM, you do have to be prepared to discard quite a high proportion of the results!)

Smooth movements give a silky look to the image, whilst more random ones can give a more jittery, edgy finish. I use exposures anywhere from about 1/10th to 1 second, to get different results, and try out horizontal, vertical or circular and wavy movements – the thing is to try lots of different things and see what you like! An ND filter might be necessary during bright daylight to lengthen the exposure, but the beauty of ICM is that it’s something you can do at twilight without needing to lug a tripod! In fact, it works better in the gloom, as patches of bright sky in the frame tend to spoil the delicacy of the results.

You will probably be surprised at the richness of colour that can sometimes result – somehow, the movement intensifies and brings out colours that are hardly perceptible to the naked eye – like the indigo blue of the twilight leaves below.

Woodland floor at dusk

All the above images were taken a few minutes’ walk from my house in Uplyme – but I like to explore other locations too. Dartmoor is a special place, and the dwarf oaks at Wistman’s Wood, with their foundation of mossy boulders, worked quite well, I think. Bluebell woods make a good subject too: the intense blue is especially photogenic.

You don’t need to spend your time in the woods of course: I have seen very successful seascapes, distant landscapes, urban buildings, and crowd scenes – and even the garden can  provide some interesting colours and textures: I have been making the most of this year’s autumn colours with a recent series of close-ups, one of which you can see here:


Post processing is generally fairly minimal. I always clean up any dust spots or hot pixels first, as they will be very evident if you forget. Then I usually adjust the contrast a little, either using the curves, or by stacking a couple of layers. I may alter the colour balance if it’s really off, but the abstract results aren’t intended to be realistic, so it isn’t often necessary.

I hope I have given you enough information to have a go yourself if you are interested – it will only cost you some time and a bit of battery charge!