Intentional camera movement – creating an impression

Windy Day

Windy Day

The exploration of a more abstract approach to landscape photography is a pre-occupation of mine at the moment. ‘Intentional Camera Movement’ (ICM) as a creative technique is part of my experimentation.

My interest in ICM increased after watching a series of three videos produced by the on-line magazine, ‘On Landscape’. In that series Doug Chinnery (a British photographer)talked about creating images using ‘intentional camera movement’ (ICM) and ‘multiple exposures’ (ME). Examples of his work and others can be found through these links Doug Chinnery and Valda Bailey (British photographers – http://www.dougchinnery.co.uk and http://www.valdabailey.co.uk) and Claudia Muller (a German photographer – http://www.flowerpics.de). Chris Friel is also known for his ICM/ME images (www.chrisfriel.co.uk) and is quoted by both Valda Bailey and Doug Chinnery as an inspiration for their exploration of ICM/ME. Chinnery says that he also found inspiration for creative photography (which includes ICM and ME) from the work of Chris Tancock, Paul Kenny, Takishi Shikama and Susan Burnstein. Links to their work can be found on his website http://www.dougchinnery.co.uk under ‘Inspirations’.

Cost is a particular issue when experimenting with ICM. Doug Chinnery, is an experienced user of intentional camera movement in landscape photography, he averages about 10 useable frames from 300 and might only fully process 3 of those frames. With film, this rate of return would be impossible for most of us to support financially; another confirmation of the way digital photography has opened up the ability to experiment.

I have always had an interest in the details you can find within a landscape and have tried to use them in compositions to create interesting patterns, textures or colour schemes but my images have been more ‘extractions’ rather than ‘abstractions’. As you can see from the example below of a part of the trunk of a dying beech tree, it is possible to determine the exact nature of the subject and anyone visiting that location could re-create the image.

One of the fascinations of ICM photography is the abstract results it can create, to the extent that it can be difficult to identify the subject. An image such as ‘Windy Day’ is therefore impressionistic and has to rely on its colours (the interplay between them and their position within the frame) and the graphic structure of the image to make it work. An experienced photographer well known in the North East of England said that she also looks for ICM images to have some element of a story to make them work for her. ‘Windy Day’ doesn’t exactly tell a story but it aims to engage the viewer of the image by trying to capture the feel of the wind and convert it into a visual impression of that feeling. I’m not sure it would win any competitions but I am pleased with the impressionistic nature of my first attempt at ICM.

A source of creative excitement but also frustration is the virtual impossibility of re-creating an ICM image. Using ICM in landscape photography has a connection with the changes seen in landscape painting in the late 19th century with the realism of the naturalistic movement going through a metamorphism to give birth to ‘Impressionism’. The book ‘Landscape paintings in the collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza’ (2006, p.59) describes ‘Impressionism’ as, “The last stage in the evolution of nineteenth-century naturalistic landscape art.” In 1874, Jules Castagnary, an art critic of that time, gives an insight to how that change was perceived by saying, “They are Impressionists … in the sense they take leave of reality and enter fully into the realm of idealism’. In this sense I take idealism to mean a move beyond the constraint of documenting the view seen by the eye towards capturing the view seen by the ‘mind’s eye’. ICM has a similar role in photography. The digital age of photography releasing an exploration of the photographer’s ‘mind’s eye’ but without the resulting costs associated with film-based ICM.

As a result of watching the videos through ‘On Landscape’ and reading more about the art of Turner, Monet and Renoir I was encouraged to try and create an impressionistic image using ICM. The resulting image is of an Oleander bush taken in my garden on a windy day (so a combination of ICM and wind movement). The shot was taken with the camera hand-held at arms length using a Canon 5D Mark 3 and a 24-70mm zoom lens set at a focal length of 70mm. The camera was in shutter priority mode (Tv) to prioritise the longer exposure and because depth of field is less relevant with ICM. The focal point of the lens was set roughly on the distance to the bush although focus is also fairly irrelevant when you consider the amount of movement going on. Exposure was 2 seconds at f5.6 with an ISO of 100 using a 10 stop neutral density filter.

Pointers for ICM photography

From an article on creative photography and a video on ICM from online magazine ‘On Landscape’, I have pulled together the main points of interest for me as Doug Chinnery outlined the key elements of his approach to ICM.

  • ICM forms part of the general set of creative photographic techniques. It is a creative technique that combines composition, colour and movement to create an image that the photographer has to see through is ‘mind’s eye’ since the finished result is difficult to predict. ICM creates an abstract image from the reality and therefore potentially provides more ‘artistic space’ for the viewer to think about and explore the image.
  • The emphasis with ICM is on details (so a form of intimate landscape photography as defined by Eliot Porter and others) rather than grand vistas because ICM doesn’t require iconic landscape locations, it can be used in urban locations and not just in the country-side.
  • Neutral density (ND) filters are an essential part of the ICM photographer’s kit bag. A 10 stop ND filter is suggested in bright sunlight (has it was on the day I took the ICM image for this post. 2 and 3 stop ND filters along with a polariser are useful accessories to have in the kitbag.
  • Focus is virtually irrelevant because the camera is being handheld at arms length with an exposure somewhere between 1 and 5 seconds so worrying about depth of field or the exact focal point becomes a redundant part of technique.
  • ICM tends to soften lines so in black and white the image becomes more of a study of the light but with a hint of a landscape beneath it.
  • There is scope to experiment with white balance to influence the colours within the image. It is suggested it is best to shoot on ‘auto white balance’ and then experiment in processing.
  • Images are general composed using the Live view screen f the camera.

Experiment and have fun

Perhaps the best advice given by Doug Chinnery on ICM is to “get out, experiment, play”. I enjoyed messing around with the camera without worrying about a tripod or subject movement (it was a very blustery day) and will certainly experiment again. I like the resulting image.

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