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How to Make Photos With Intentional Camera Movement

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In this tutorial, we'll look at how best to create ICM photos, and give you some subject inspiration.

What is Intentional Camera Movement?

Photographers, we often go to great pains for a steady shot, so you might be forgiven for doing a double take when you hear about intentional camera movement, but it can create some really interesting and unique results.

As it sounds, ICM is the deliberate physical movement of the camera during a shot, to create a pleasant ‘motion blur’ effect. How well this works has quite a bit to do with what subject you choose, plus the settings of your camera, in particular shutter speed, aperture and ISO. The technique usually works best with things that will look good as an abstract: flowers are a popular subject, as are sunset/sunrise skies, but you can try it with anything that you think would look cool.

ICM can actually expand your idea of what might make a good photograph. If you think about a landscape that might be quite cluttered, or a seascape that might be a little plain and boring – in both of these situations there could be a more interesting abstract piece that you can bring out with some camera movement.

Types of ICM

Any type of movement while shooting would count as ICM but there are three popular methods:

Horizontal or Vertical Pan

Moving the camera up and down or left to right.

Example

Photo by iseenit_rubensPhoto by iseenit_rubensPhoto by iseenit_rubens
Photo by iseenit_rubens

Zoom

Zooming your lens in and out while keeping the positioning of the camera the same.

Example

Flowers with a zoomed out movementFlowers with a zoomed out movementFlowers with a zoomed out movement
Flowers with a zoomed out movement / Marie Gardiner

Rotate

Rotate the camera around.

Example

Image by RushayImage by RushayImage by Rushay
Image by Rushay

In each of these examples you can see different effects caused by the varying movement. Also in each, you can still see a defined subject, even though the result is very abstract. If someone were to ask you what the subject was you'd likely be able to make a reasonable guess in each instance.

Your images don't have to follow this, they can be completely abstract, but in which case you should think about patterns or colours in the photo, so there's more about it than just blur.

Subject Inspiration

The great thing about ICM is that you can use longer exposure times without needing additional light, so try experimenting indoors: vases of flowers, unusual ornaments, even running water, could all be potential inspiration.

Image by rachel_rossImage by rachel_rossImage by rachel_ross
Image by rachel_ross

People don't often feature in ICM images because for obvious reasons they're usually not a great subject, but this image above by Rachel Ross shows that with the right movement and setting, people can work really well in these types of photographs.

Another selection tip is to look for scenes that have repeating patterns or interesting blocks of colours. 

Image by vinnikavaImage by vinnikavaImage by vinnikava
Image by vinnikava

How to Photograph with ICM

Settings and Available Light

Ideally, shoot in Manual mode. If you’re not comfortable doing that, then Shutter Priority will work too, but switch off your Auto-ISO.

Usually, we're balancing enough light with a sharp focus point, but with ICM it’s a bit different. You need to prioritise your shutter speed to be long enough to create the level of blur you want, and then balance how that will affect your exposure by adjusting your aperture and ISO.

The great news is that shooting in low light becomes much easier, but conversely, shooting outside in bright daylight may be more difficult, and because it's easy to over expose. If you’d like to shoot outside, it’s probably worth taking an ND filter with you.

The ‘right’ shutter speed will come with experimentation, but try starting at about 1/3 second and then gradually make it a longer exposure if it isn’t working. Remember to balance your ISO and aperture as you do this (if shooting Manual) to give yourself enough light. Your DOF won't matter much, if at all, because most of the image will be deliberately out of focus.

Focus

You should manually focus to prevent your camera from ‘hunting’ for focus as you move and it’s also wise to turn off any image stabilisation.

If you'd like your subject to still have some definition, then start with something clearly in focus, hold for a beat and then make a bold movement in whichever style or direction you've chosen.

If you're going for something entirely abstract then you don't need to worry too much about focus at all!

Movement

Your movement can’t be ‘wrong’ but there are certain methods that work better than others. Earlier I mentioned zooming, panning or rotating and whichever your preferred style, you should try to keep it consistent and smooth, but still with strong movement. If you move too little while the shutter is open then your photo might just look accidentally blurry rather than intentionally so.

Image by hokietimImage by hokietimImage by hokietim
Image by hokietim

Hand-held obviously works really well with ICM but that’s not to say you can’t use a tripod either if you wanted to. If you’re photographing trees and you wanted to keep the trunks recognisably in focus, you might put your camera on a tripod so you can drop the centre column and make your movement smoothly up and down, to keep the trunks in the centre. Same premise if you wanted a straight horizon line in a shot of the sky and were panning across.

Moving in a 'jittery' way can make a scene look like running ink around the edges of defined points (trees for example), following the natural progression of something in the landscape like a path or mountain range, can make a smooth abstract 'painting' effect, still recognisably that landscape but remade in swathes and swatches of colour.

Summary

Intentional Camera Movement is a fun technique to learn and it's also a great one to help you get to know your camera a little better as you're forced to shoot in Manual or a semi-auto mode, but quite often without the frustration of getting unusable images.

That's the joy of ICM, there is no 'wrong' way to approach it, though if you want to get aesthetically pleasing results then it's worth trying some of the more popular types of ICM (pan, zoom and rotate) before moving onto more complex movements.

Here are some of the key things to remember:

  • Shoot in Manual or Shutter-Priority
  • Turn Auto-ISO to Off
  • Use manual focus
  • Turn off any image stabilisation
  • Start with around 1/3 second exposure
  • If shooting outside in daylight, take an ND filter
  • Try hand-held but you can use a tripod for more precise movement

Absolutely anything has the potential to make a great ICM photograph, so search around for inspiration, plan out your shot and the most important thing... have fun with it.

Why Not Try These New Photography Tutorials?

About the Authors

Marie Gardiner wrote this. Jackson Couse edited and published it.

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