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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

A beginners' guide to Intentional Camera Motion (ICM) photography

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

An ICM photo of a bluebell wood  by Devon photographer Gary Holpin Photography
An ICM photo of a bluebell wood

If you follow me on social media, you will hopefully have seen my ICM shot of an autumn woodland (see photo below). ICM is not to everyone's tastes (you either love them or hate them), but they are great fun to try, and because every time you try to do it, you will move the camera slightly differently, every ICM photo is unique!

So, here is a quick step by step guide to having some fun with ICM, that you can try with any camera which has a Shutter Priority mode....

1 Set your camera to Shutter Priority

Set your camera to Shutter Priority mode. This is normally found on the main mode dial and is denoted by 'Tv' on Canon cameras and 'S' on Nikon cameras. You will also need to discover how to change the shutter speed; this is normally simply by rotating the dial on the top right of your camera; you should see the shutter speed (in seconds / fractions of a second) change on your display.

2 Find a suitable location and light

Although you can experiment with ICM anywhere, subjects that work particularly well are woodlands (for vertical ICM, where you move the camera up and down) and beaches for horizontal ICM (where you move the camera left to right or right to left).

The most important criteria however (if you DON'T have Neutral Density filters - see later) is that you find somewhere where the light is low enough to enable you to get a long enough shutter speed for ICM to work. Examples of when light will be sufficiently low will be in a woodland on a cloudy day, a beach at dusk, or perhaps the lights of a Christmas tree at night. At other times when the sun is up, you will struggle to get your shutter speed long enough (~0.3 seconds) for ICM as there is too much light.

3 The technique in a nutshell

Once you have found a suitable location and low enough light, and set your camera to Shutter Priority, you can now start playing with ICM! Dial in the slowest shutter speed your camera will allow, whilst still giving a well exposed image; this needs to be around 0.3-1.0 seconds.

Note that your camera might allow you to keep increasing the shutter speed, but the shutter speed on the display might start flashing and / or the image on the display might be bright white. This is your camera telling you that too much light is coming in and your image will be overexposed. Either decrease your shutter speed, or use a filter to reduce the amount of light (see below)

Hopefully in low light you should be able to get to a shutter speed of 0.3 to 1.0 seconds without over-exposing. Once you camera is set, you now need to take your ICM photo: if you are taking a vertical ICM then start with your camera pointing slightly down, and start angling it slowly upwards. At the same time, press the shutter button to open the shutter; keep moving the camera upwards until you hear the shutter close. For a horizontal ICM, simply start panning the camera whilst you press the shutter button. You should now have an ICM photo!

4. Ideas to experiment

  • Try moving the camera more slowly / quickly whilst the shutter is open and see what the effect is on the photo

  • Try different shutter speeds (longer / shorter) and see what difference this makes

  • As well as moving the camera vertically or horizontally, why not try moving it diagonally, in a circle or even a zig zag? You can even keep the camera stationary and zoom in or out with the lens instead whilst the shutter is open (this works really well with Christmas tree lights at night - see the second photo below)

  • Try different subjects - and remember, as well as perfecting the technique, you still need to consider composition too!

5. Use a Neutral Density filter to give yourself more flexibility (Pro tip!)

If there is too much light to get a long enough shutter speed for ICM, then the simple solution(as long as your lens has a screw thread on the front) is to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter to block out some of the light. As you only need to get to 0.3-1,0 seconds, a relatively weak ND filter such as a 3 stop (ND 6) filter should allow you to do ICM on a bright day. Simply screw it onto your lens (or if you have a square filter system, slot in the ND) and now you should be able to increase your shutter speed long enough to do some ICM photography.

Want to learn how to take photos like a pro?

If you want to learn more, why not consider one of my one-to-one courses, or if you're not local to Devon, one of my highly rated weekend residential workshops for beginner photographers or for intermediate photographers?

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