You’ve probably spent months perfecting the ability to get tack sharp focus in your photos.

While this is an admirable and important skill to have in your photography tool box, today we’re going to throw sharp focus out the window, so to speak.

In the spirit of having fun, let us now play with “ICM”, Intentional Camera Movement. ICM is freeing – no photography police looking over your shoulder or need for perfectionism here. ICM is about embracing blur, experimentation, impressionism, and maybe even abstraction. With this blur and impressionistic representation of our world also comes the added possibility for engaging subjective emotion and viewer interpretation.

Just like play, ICM doesn’t come with a whole bunch of rules or technical directives, but there are a few elements for us to consider. Basically, ICM depends upon two main ingredients, slow shutter speeds and camera movement.

using intentional camera movement in your photo by Anna VanDemark

Lensbaby Sweet 35, 1 second, ISO 100

Slow shutter speeds

A slow shutter speed allows us to record camera movement, something we typically try to avoid, thus softening, duplicating, and blurring form. The easiest way to get slower shutter speeds without overexposing your photo is to choose a small aperture – high f/stop number, such as f/20 or f/22. You’ll also want to start with your lowest ISO setting.

Alternately, you may decide to add a polarizing or neutral density filter. Besides slowing your shutter speed, with the polarizer or ND filters you should have the opportunity to use a bit wider aperture which will affect the recorded depth of field. You’ll also find low light situations (dawn, dusk, dim interiors) can provide some ready-made slower shutter speeds, too. As a final shutter speed note, in looking at ICM artists around the web, their slow shutter speeds generally ranged from about ¼ second to 4 – 5 seconds.

pink abstract picture by Anna VanDemark

Lensbaby Double Glass, 0.5 second at f/8, ISO 100

Camera movement

Next, let’s look at camera movement. How many directions can you move your camera? Let’s see… sideways, horizontally, up and down, diagonally, all around in a circular motion, and away from or towards your body. Plus, with an extended shutter speed like when using Bulb Mode, you’ll be able to walk around with your camera while the shutter stays open until you close it. That’s a lot of possibilities with many different resulting looks. This is where experimentation becomes a necessity. Thank goodness for digital cameras!

Regarding camera movement, I’ve found it’s often successful to mirror the dominant directional form of the subject with your camera movements. Thus, with trees use vertical camera movement, on a lakeside view use horizontal movement, angled foliage calls for diagonal movement, etc.  Also, remember that if you’re on the faster end of the slow shutter speed spectrum, your camera movements may need to be quicker.

green foliage in motion photograph by Anna VanDemark

50mm, ¼ second at f/22, ISO 100

ICM tips

In my ICM journey thus far, I don’t have any no-brainer prescriptive formulas for you to use, but I have learned a few things along this path.

  1. Design framework/composition is just as important in an ICM image as it is in a sharply focused photo. Look carefully for leading lines plus interesting tonal and color arrangements, along with variety in subject shape and size.
  2. Some ICM artists shoot in Aperture Priority Mode, but I often use Manual Mode and Live View, hand-held.
  3. Bulb Mode can be helpful in ICM work, as well as Continuous Shooting Mode (Canon).
  4. You’ll need to take LOTS of images to get a few “keepers”. The Erase Button is your friend!
  5. Subject movement can add another dimension of movement to your image and can be a perk – think wind or moving humans, animals, etc.
  6. Smooth camera movements often work best, with a gentle movement towards or away from the subject creating the subtlest ICM-look.
  7. Be bold and experiment! Take a few shoots, review, analyze their success (or lack thereof), adjust your movements or camera settings, repeat-repeat-repeat ☺
  8. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the process!!!
blue abstract photo by Anna VanDemark

Lensbaby Double Glass, 0.5 second at f/8, ISO 100

Please feel free to share your ICM experiences in the comments.