Your guide: John Dexter
Photography has been John’s passion on and off for 40 years but in the past four years, he has been concentrating on developing his own ICM technique, kickstarting his passion for photography again. To see more, visit his website and see @johndexter photography on Instagram and YouTube for video tutorials.
ICM (intentional camera movement) photography has changed my life – it is exciting to be able to create unique art that cannot be replicated and to see the world in a new way through your camera. In this feature I will explain how I create my ICM images, as there are many aspects to this technique that can be used. I hope to inspire you and send you in the right direction so that you can eventually develop your own style of ICM photography too.
Take lots of photos
First and foremost, unlike conventional photography you are free from rules and you can shoot in all weather, any time of day. Good light will sometimes help in your creation of an image, but just work with the light you have. This freedom is what makes it exciting and allows you to create unique art. However, this does not make ICM easy; quite the contrary.
With rules you have guidelines on what makes for a good image, with ICM it is all down to practice, vision and creativity. Take lots of images of the composition that you have chosen. As a rule I will take anywhere from 200 to 500 shots if I think it will make for a good final image. ICM is very random in its results, however proficient you get, so be prepared to have a massive throwaway rate. If you get one good image from this number of shots you are doing well and sometimes you will get nothing. Just remember with digital it costs you nothing to press that shutter. After taking the shot, look at it on the camera screen and assess if that is the look you are after.
If not say to yourself, what do I have to change? It may be your camera settings, camera movement, a longer or wider lens, or a slight movement to improve the composition? I find they always look better on the camera screen than they will do on your computer. Very often after viewing my images on the computer and finding one that I like, I think it can be improved so I will return to where I took the shot and retake it, adjusting my settings or movement.
Getting set up
You don’t have to own an expensive camera or lenses for ICM. After all, we are not after pin-sharp images here, but if you are thinking about selling or exhibiting your work, better gear will pay off when enlarging your images. Best of all you can leave the tripod at home! When it comes to lens choice, the composition will determine the focal length lens you will need, whether it be a wideangle or zoom, but always focus on the subject as you would if it was a conventional shot. A neutral density filter is highly recommended and a worthwhile purchase.
These can help you control the length of the shutter speed in varying lighting conditions. When it comes to selecting your camera settings, I recommend shooting in shutter priority mode for full control over the shutter speed. The required shutter speed for this technique varies between 1/3sec to 2 seconds. This is dependent on the time required to move the camera and the look you’re after. For example, bigger movements will require a longer exposure.
If you find you can’t achieve a slow enough shutter speed owing to bright ambient lighting conditions, that is when you will need to attach a neutral density filter. Typically these filters come in a range of light-reducing strengths.
I find that a 6-stop ND filter works well in most scenarios. Exposure is unpredictable with ICM. Learn how to read your histogram so you can see if you are clipping your highlights or shadows and then adjust your exposure compensation accordingly. White balance is not so important, as we can tweak the colours at the editing stage, but I will use anything from sunny, cloudy or even auto. Choosing a composition A good starting point is to look for colours, structures and shapes and experiment thereafter. If it helps, look at other photographers’ work for inspiration. As this technique is so experimental, keep shooting and you’ll soon get a feel for what works for you and after time you will develop your own unique style.
On my ICM journey I’ve found that certain camera movements suit particular compositions. This is only a guide however, remember it is all about experimenting and seeing what works for you. The most important thing with any type of ICM movement, is to try varying shutter speeds and degrees of movement to the camera. Look at your composition and decide what you want the image to look like. In time you will learn what movement to use to achieve that result.
Panning vertically and horizontally
These are the most commonly used movements in ICM photography. A vertical pan is typically used for trees as it follows the line of your subject(s) or a horizontal pan for seascapes and landscapes to emphasise the horizon and separation of elements such as the sky and ground. In these examples, the image below shows a vertical pan – from bottom to top – to capture some moored boats.
If I had started the movement from the top of the composition, the masts may have disappeared from the top of the frame. My other image (below) is the same scene and I decided to ignore the natural vertical lines created by the masts and instead I’ve panned the camera horizontally.
In this case it makes no difference if it is left to right or right to left but creates an interesting effect.
A subtle shake
This technique requires a subtle shake of the hand, almost as if you can’t hold the camera still. I occasionally will use this for people or if I just want to soften the image, such as a landscape with trees in the scene.
This movement involves pulling things into the image like clouds (above) or sunsets. For the latter, I focused on the ruins, pressed the shutter and then moved the camera into the sky, pulling the ruins into the sunset. Another example of this is pulling water over rocks to give the illusion of waves breaking.
This involves twisting the camera with a flick of the wrist and moving it left or right, up and down, all at the same time. I don’t use this movement very much but this example (right) is an example of the results – this technique can produce very abstract images and is worth experimenting with.
Create a curve
For this image example of Stonehenge (below), I have moved the camera in an ark shape from 11 to 1 o’clock to add another dimension to the scene.
A moving subject
All the other examples show how to add a sense of movement to static subjects. In this example I’ve allowed a moving subject to do some of the work for me. All I’ve done is give the camera a little shake to soften the background and it’s produced a wonderful result.