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Werrikimbe blur

November 29, 2016  •  3 Comments

I like playing with intentional camera movement (ICM) to 'abstractify' natural landscapes. The technique simplifies a complex scene and imbues a lyrical quality. Well, that's at its best. At its worst, the technique creates a mess ripe for the <delete> key!

This post describes the basics of my technique supported with a slideshow of a few images captured recently at Werrikimbe National Park. Below the slideshow I give a nod to some wonderful ICM images created by my friend Robyn Mussett—three from Werrikimbe and one from Western Australia.


Generally, instantaneous photographs are captured with shutter durations of 1/30th of a second or shorter, mostly shorter. ICM photography involves moving the camera, to create blur and/or erratic traces of the scene, while the shutter is open. In my practice, this means using shutter durations of, say, more than a half (½) second up to several seconds or even minutes. While the shutter is open, the camera can be: panned (sweeping the scene from side to side; tilted (vertically 'panned'), panned and tilted, vibrated, jiggled, or waved erratically to produce combinations of vectors in the final image. You can try whatever takes your fancy and enjoy the process of discovery. No rules.

The camera can be handheld or steadied, to an extent, with a tripod. How do you get ICM when a tripod is used? One method is to lift one of the tripod's legs and pivot on the other two during the exposure.

I've made exposures with the camera fixed on the tripod for a portion of the exposure and then snatched off (with the aid of a quick-release plate on the tripod head) and moved organically with my muscle work for the remainder of the exposure. Why do I do that? To have a recognisable, focused ghost of the scene visible in the final image, suffused with blurred traces of it. 

Tree fernTree fern1.5s @ f4.5 & 270mm ISO 100. Camera held still for half of the exposure then tilted and jiggled.

If I want to achieve smooth pans, or tilts, I'll mount a fluid video head on my tripod. I used the fluid head to photograph the trees at long range (800m) in the slideshow, tilting the camera with the video head's handle. Some of the other images were created with handheld ICM.

The appeal of ICM

Just about anything is possible in post-production using software like Photoshop. Granted. There are various filters that can produce blur effects. However, these algorithm-based effects don't look good to my eye. They are computer generated. They don't look real. They look 'perfect'—mechanical. On the other hand, the organic movement controlled by the human hand is capricious and I believe that makes for a more artistic result. No two images are the same. It's impossible to perfectly replicate an effect from one exposure to the next, particularly as I age.

The slideshow repeats. After it starts you can intervene and access controls (e.g. <pause>) by mousing over it. The soundtrack is "Firefly", by Ali Handal, one of the free soundtracks available to Zenfolio subscribers.


Images by Robyn Mussett
Robyn has a physical disability, a tremor, that requires her to use fast shutter speeds or a tripod for most of her photography. She's a wonderful photographer with a sensitive eye. I learn about subtlety, grace and nuance by studying her photographs and the way she works in the field. Robyn has turned her disability into an asset for ICM imagery and approaches her work with tenacity. There's something to be learned from that by photographers of all abilities.

Robyn at workIntentional Camera Movement (ICM).

Click on any of Robyn's images to link to that image on her website.

BELOW: "Along Fenwicks Road" by Robyn Mussett    4s @ f22 & 62mm ISO 1000

BELOW: "Across the creek" by Robyn Mussett    4s @ f22 & 84mm ISO 100

BELOW: "Gold tipped" by Robyn Mussett    4s @ f18 & 108mm ISO 100

BELOW: "Gimlet Forest" by Robyn Mussett    1/6th @ f10 & 164mm ISO 200 Shot from a moving vehicle

"It's a hit and miss affair, Rob. Every now and then the experimentation produces a sublime result—part serendipity, part giving yourself the chance to capture something amazing. Casting your net. This is such an image. I think that the highest compliment one photographer can pay to another is to say something like..."I'd be rapt if this was mine. Forget what the 'experts' say, this moves me." That's how I feel about this image; such a wonderful and evocative story about the mystique of Australian bushland. ®" Comment posted on Robyn's site.

Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realising one's sensations — Paul Cezanne


Thanks you, Giang and Chris. I'm gratified that this post has inspired you to explore the world of ICM photography. Enjoy opening your (Forrest Gump) boxes of chocolates! ®
Chris Prior(non-registered)
Again, thanks for sharing.It allows me to expand my photographic brain and I must try the techniques on my own chosen subjects. I actually did one the other day in fading light quite by accident where with camera braced on a log, I was on aperture priority and thinking I would get a relatively short exposure but when the shutter opened and I realized after half a second it was not going to close anytime soon, I hung on for dear life but some slight unintentional rocking of the log over the next ten seconds or so resulted in a real surprise and an image worth keeping and studying and this started a thought process which has now been exacerbated thanks to your latest post. PS: Love the simplicity of Robyn's 'Gold Tipped' so thanks for sharing that as well.
Giang Duong(non-registered)
Hi Rob,
I have thoroughly enjoyed this post. Your eloquent writing style and great generosity in sharing knowledge with others are so inspirational. I have read many times, and the videoclip of Robyn and her stunningly exquisite and artistic images give me so much joy and motivation to experiment more with ICM. I also feel so proud to have Robyn and you as my mentors. Thank you, Rob.
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