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How to Make Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) Photography

The conventionally accepted definition of a successful modern image has propelled distinct innovations in photographic technology. Optical stabilization, fast aperture lenses, high ISO ratings - all are devices that fend off motion blur. But intentional camera movement (ICM) operates differently. In the space of an exposure, ICM proponents seize the grip and

purposely destabilize the orientation of the camera body for a distinctive, mesmeric effect.

An abstract colour photograph of a landscape using ICM or intentional camera movement

ICM is the manifestation of an artistic physicality that was once solely assigned to painting. ICM involves actively moving the camera during an exposure - as the shutter opens, the camera's perspective is shifted, recording expressive streaks of motion and expansion.

Transforming subjects into compelling abstract renderings, the result of a successful ICM photograph is not dissimilar to the transient paintings of J. M. W. Turner, the internal glowings of a Rothko or the ephemeral Beauty installation by Olafur Eliasson. It reminds us that the potential of a photograph lies in the making of it - but not without a degree of chance. ICM photography is encoded with the photographer's unique experiences and exertions paired with the promise of each new shutter actuation.

A painting by JMW turner with similarities to intentional camera movement
Whalers by J.M.W. Turner at The Met Museum

With a history of minimizing evidences of camera movement at all costs, it's hard to pin down the exact timeline of early ICM photographers. While plenty of historic photographic examples depict subjects in motion, it seems that the conscientious and deliberate movement of the camera body during an exposure came later. Some records suggest that Kōtarō Tanaka (1901–1995) was an early proponent of ICM - photographing fireworks while simultaneously moving the camera. Seen in his 1956 depictions of a bullfight in Pamplona, Ernst Haas (1921-1986) also exploited the impressionistic strokes of ICM imagery to exaggerate bodily momentum. Lights become branches, buildings whirl in place and blades of grass cross each other in waves. ICM explores the nature of seeing - and perhaps, under the camera eye, renders what would be seen in the absence of saccadic masking.

In terms of making ICM imagery, a camera with Manual or Shutter Priority settings are required. Both analogue and digital configurations work, but the immediate feedback a digital camera offers makes it the ideal equipment choice for starting ICM photography. The choice of lens is up to the preference of the individual photographer - but zoom lenses do afford an interesting zoom burst effect. Other optional equipment includes a polarizing and/or neutral density filter which allows for a longer exposure time with less over-exposure. A tripod can also be used to create a more precise ICM effect.

A photograph of raindrops using the zoom burst intentional camera movement technique

Even in the abstraction of ICM photography, there is still favoured subject matter. When seeking ICM subjects, search for bold colours and textures as well as contrast or independent movement. If working without a neutral density or polarizing filter, look for subjects that manifest away from direct light, or aim to work in overcast conditions or in the later hours of the day.

Like many photographic undertakings, determining the exact exposure for a successful ICM execution is often rooted

in a combination of calculation and experimentation. First, secure the camera strap around your neck or wrist. Set the shutter speed to about 1/5s and focus the camera on a subject. Depress the shutter button and quickly (and gently) lift/swing/twist/rock/tilt/twitch/pan or rotate the camera during the length of the exposure. If possible, review the image, adjusting the shutter speed for a balance of detail, blur and adequate exposure. Then, repeat the process! No two ICM images are the same, so aim to make several photographs of a given subject before moving on.

ICM can be done while on foot, or as a passenger in a vehicle. In addition to physically moving the camera, lens zoom can also be used to create energetic abstractions - just zoom the lens in or out during an exposure. Panning, which involves moving a camera in time with a travelling subject to blur the surrounding environment is also included under the ICM banner.

Once familiar with the ICM technique, set the camera to Continuous Shooting Mode (if possible). Then, depress the shutter for consecutive exposures while actively moving the camera. This can allow for a greater greater gestural rhythm than single exposures - just be mindful to carry a memory card with sufficient capacity.

An ICM intentional camera movement photograph of a radio beacon in a landscape

For a long time, photography was viewed as a tool of rigid documentation, a technical undertaking rather than an artform. By the 1940's however, thanks to pioneering photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams, photography shifted to become viewed as an art in America, and subsequently around the world. As the medium progressed, the camera became an extension of the self, harbouring distinct aesthetic qualities and possibilities. While it's hard to say when intentional camera movement truly started to gain traction in history, its unique dichotomy of energetic harmony has made ICM a valuable photographic practice to both experience and create.


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