Intentional Camera Movement – ICM. What is it, and is it a valid form of photography or is it something that people with no real artistic talent just mess with and then call it art? As always, the answer isn’t a straight yes or no, especially when it comes to personal interpretation of just what is and isn’t art. For many years after all, photography itself struggled to be recognised as an independent art form and even today you will find ‘purists’ who insist that photography must be a true representation of what the camera sees, photo-realism. You will find other photographers (check out Doug Chinnery or Erik Malm as just two great examples, there are many more) who are producing amazing new abstract work based on camera movements, imagination and what one could call photo-unrealism.
At this time of year when the fall colours are bursting and turning the Ontario landscape into a riot of reds, oranges and yellows, we see hundreds if not thousands of images of the stunning leaf canopies at their very best and most dramatic. There are many beautiful images among them, and we’ve all taken them. In fact, if you go to the top of the Lookout Trail in Algonquin right about now, you and a thousand other people will be taking the same picture of the same view, and the same view that similar people have photographed for many, many years.
So what’s my point? The colours are striking, the landscape is memorable and the pictures will likely be treasured. Some might even make it off the computer and be printed. But everyone has them and today with the technology we possess, everyone can take them. As a photographer I would guess that most of us want to demonstrate, if only to ourselves, that we can go beyond the normal view, beyond the postcard shot (although I have recently been looking at the work of the classic British postcard photographer John Hinde, and it is subtly spectacular as well as important) and produce something that is original, something more creative and therefore, I argue, more personally satisfying. Well, I do anyway.
Which brings me back to ICM. Intentional Camera Movement. The practice of moving the camera to an unspecified degree in an unspecified direction (or more than one) for an unspecified length of time (the exposure) and seeing what you get. To the classic exposure triangle of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed we are now adding a fourth variable, Motion or Direction. We are deliberately moving the camera while the shutter is open and our motion will determine what the image looks like. At the simplest, we can pan vertically among the trees and produce what is now becoming the classic ICM image.
As we introduce more complex movements we might add some horizontal, diagonal or circular movements, we can also move ourselves instead of the camera, or as well as the camera. The key creative point is that the camera is not standing still, it is moving in any number of directions during the exposure and that bring unpredictability and a distinctive, unique, one of a kind (I know, that’s really what unique means) image that cannot be exactly replicated.
And it doesn’t matter what camera you have and what gear you use. I have used full frame DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, cropped sensor cameras and I’ve used my phone. Prime and zoom lenses, ND filters or apps. As long as the shutter can held open for long enough then you can create an image. The image below, On Our Street, is literally that. It’s a picture of a tree on a typical suburban street in Brampton, Ontario. If this was a ‘normal’ picture you wouldn’t look at it twice but by abstracting the structure and removing the identifiable shape, it becomes a more powerful image of the seasonal colours. It could have been taken in a forest, in the backwoods of Ontario, but it wasn’t. It’s from one of the busiest suburbs of Toronto.
Post-processing is the same as for any other image. Crop, adjust contrast, adjust colours if you wish, all to your own personal taste. You will often find that a touch more contrast starts to introduce more texture to the image. Some of the images here were taken on my phone where my technique was to hold the camera facing a single focal point while I walked forwards. This forced me to turn the camera as I moved in order to keep the central focus and gave me completely different results than I could expect from moving the camera more aggressively. It’s up to you how you realise your vision.
The images above and below here are the same bushes, taken within a few seconds of each other with exactly the same exposure, but the difference in motion ensures that the results are unique. The second image has more definition in the plants, the first is more suggestive of the idea of plants, displaying the results of greater movement around the bushes. One is not better than the other and both appeal to my personal taste.
So go on, next time you see some striking fall colours – or anything that grabs your attention – try it. Try moving your camera, open up the shutter speed, close down your aperture and move. You might not like the first few results, or even the first hundred, but then it will come. You will create an image that no-one else has and no-one can duplicate. It’s all yours.