Most photography techniques involve keeping the camera still but there are a few occasions when moving the camera during the exposure can result in more creative images. This technique is catchily titled ‘Intentional Camera Movement’, or ICM for short. Here’s our simple guide to Intentional Camera Movement.

Suitable subjects

There are all sorts of subjects that are suitable for intentional camera movement but it works especially well when there are linear elements. Trees and woodlands are popular subjects with the movement being made parallel to the tree trunks.

This creates blur while capturing the shape and feel of the trees, helping people make sense of the abstract image.

Beaches and coastlines can also work well with the camera movement being parallel to the horizon. This creates streaks of blue, white and sandy yellow on a bright sunny day.

Exposure

Setting the right shutter speed is key to a successful ICM image. You need a sufficiently long shutter speed to create blur as the camera is moved. But it shouldn’t be so long that you have to move very slowly. The longer the exposure, the harder it is to keep a constant, steady speed as you move the camera and failure to do so results in uneven blur. That said, there may be some occasions when that’s exactly what you want!

I’ve found an exposure of around 1/4sec works well with woodlands and seascapes as it allows you to make an easy, swift movement.

On a bright sunny beach you may need to fit a neutral density filter on your lens to enable a sufficiently long shutter speed. However, in a shaded woodland, you’ll usually get away with setting the minimum sensitivity value and closing down the aperture.

Moving the camera

As I mentioned earlier, in most instances you want to move the camera steadily, at a constant speed without jerking it or pausing at any point. I’ve found the best approach is to line up the shot and start the camera movement before pressing the shutter release. 

And just like you’re told with any racquet sport, follow through with the camera movement after the shutter has closed. This helps maintain the smoothest movement during the exposure.

Another issue with very long exposures with lots of camera movement is that all the colours can be reduced to a mush of grey. You want some distinguishing features.

Using a tripod for ICM

It’s fine to shoot ICM images while hand-holding the camera, but a tripod can be useful if you want to keep the movement precisely along one plane. Using the panning movement of a tripod head, for example, ensures the blur is only horizontal. Meanwhile, tipping the camera up or down on a tripod head does the opposite.

Processing ICM images

There are no rights or wrongs to creating and processing ICM images. However, moving the camera during an exposure often means that are no bright highlights or deep shadows. Consequently, you may like to adjust the white and black points to boost contrast.

Colours may also be a little flat and desaturated because they are blurred into each other. A tweak to the Saturation and/or Vibrance settings can bring things to life – if that’s what you’re looking for.

Bluebell wood with Intentional Camera Movement

Simple Guide to Intentional Camera Movement: Summary

1. Experiment with your subject and movement direction.
2. Set a long exposure such as 1/4 sec.
3. Move the camera steadily and evenly during the exposure.
4. The final look is up to you, this is an abstract technique.