ICM photography: How I use Intentional Camera Movement to bring scenes to life

ICM tutorial
(Image credit: Future)

Long exposures can do more than just provide illumination – by physically moving the camera while working with longer shutter speed, familiar scenes can be presented in a fresh light. The recorded movements add a level of abstraction to an otherwise realistic photograph.

This technique, called Intentional Camera Movement (ICM), allows photographers to create images that showcase their creativity and artistically manipulate the shot. Here, the emphasis is not on sharpness but on artistic blurring, which brings out colours and textures while highlighting the lines and patterns. ICM allows us to create unique and captivating images that tell a story and evoke emotions.

Pro advice

On the move

With ICM, there are no rules, so no need to stay in your rigid photographer’s pose. Try some different movements as you shoot, such as moving the camera up and down, sideways or even shaking and turning it. Another artistic effect is created by zooming in and out of the scene.

With ICM, the challenge is to expose the image correctly. As the shutter is open longer, more light enters the sensor and this may cause an overexposed image with blown highlights. To prevent this, an ND filter is helpful. This reduces the amount of light reaching the camera, allowing us to control the exposure. ND filters come in different strengths with higher stops blocking more light and allowing more motion blur. Another option is a variable ND filter, where the strength can be adjusted.

Before and after

Before: Still life The flowers were shot with a traditional photographic approach, showing a realistic reflection of the subject (Image credit: Future)

Final: Artistic blur  Due to long exposures and camera movement, the scene is alive with motion and artistic colours and structures (Image credit: Future)

Shooting steps

1. Choose location

(Image credit: Future)

The perfect location does not have to offer a lot of light, however, it should provide a variety of colours and structures. Popular places to try creating powerful ICM scenes could be city lights, forests or a sunset at the beach.

2. Shoot in M mode

(Image credit: Future)

As the ICM technique is only effective with longer shutter speeds, shoot in manual mode to gain control. Select the lowest ISO value and an aperture not wider than f/11. A shutter speed of 0.5sec is a good starting point.

3. Activate manual focus

(Image credit: Future)

To prevent your camera from searching for a focus point while you are moving it, deactivate the autofocus. Also, don’t forget to turn off the image stabilisation on both the camera and lens to optimise the effect of the ICM.

4. Work with a filter

(Image credit: Future)

Due to the longer exposure times, more light will enter the sensor. The danger here is that the photos may be overexposed. An ND filter helps to control the light coming in so you will be able to expose the scene correctly.

5. Create test shots

(Image credit: Future)

With this technique, it is important to understand how the camera captures the scene in combination with shutter speed and your movement. Take some test shots and analyse results to get a feel for this technical interplay.

6. Move the camera

(Image credit: Future)

The results depend on the speed and direction in which you move the camera. Move it up and down or sideways and change your speed and also the shutter speed of the camera from time to time to vary the intensity of the effect.

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Kim Bunermann
Technique Editor

Kim is the Technique Editor of Digital Photographer Magazine. She specializes in architecture, still life and product photography and has a Master's degree in Photography and Media with a distinction from the FH Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences in Germany. While studying, Kim came to the UK for an exchange term at the London College of Communication. She settled in the UK and began her career path by joining Future. Kim focuses on tutorials and creative techniques, and particularly enjoys interviewing inspiring photographers who concentrate on a range of fascinating subjects including women in photography, the climate crisis; the planet, its precious creatures and the environment.

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