Photography isn’t just a medium made to represent reality. The word photography itself literally translates to “drawing with light”, a translation that perfectly defines the technique we’re looking at in this article: ICM photography.
This genre, or technique, is the polar opposite of what most of us are used to from standard photography; forget about the tripod, forget about sharp shutter speeds, and embrace camera movements.
ICM takes photography beyond the literal and reveals a new world invisible to our eyes.
Keep reading and you’ll learn exactly what this technique is and how you can get great results already today.
What is ICM?
ICM, or Intentional Camera Movement, is a technique that combines the use of a slow shutter speed and intentional movement of the camera.
Moving your camera while it’s exposing an image means that the elements within the frame won’t be frozen in place. Instead, they lose their natural appearance and start floating around the frame, giving a painterly effect.
The longer the shutter speed is, the more obscure the elements become.
Unlike traditional long exposure photography, we aren’t looking for motion just in naturally moving elements such as water or clouds, but in the entire image.
Required Camera Equipment for ICM Photography
ICM photography is a low-cost technique to get started with. Besides a camera with manual functions, you don’t need anything else. Here’s the full list of equipment that can be beneficial:
- Camera with manual function
- Mid-range or telephoto lens
- A tripod (optional)
- Neutral Density filters (optional)
A camera with manual functions is essential. I’d argue that this is the case for photography in general but in this case, you need full control over the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
A mid-range or telephoto lens. This might be a personal preference but I prefer longer focal lengths for ICM photography. I’ll come back to this a little later but simply put, zooming in helps eliminate clutter and create more pleasing results.
Neutral Density filters are another optional accessory. In dim light, they won’t have much use but you will find them beneficial when photographing in broad daylight. For those that don’t know, Neutral Density filters are dark filters placed in front of the lens in order to lengthen the shutter speed.
The tripod is not essential for this technique and, in fact, it can do more harm than good in some cases too. I tend not to use one but some find that it helps with controlling the movements (i.e., moving the camera in a straight horizontal line)
What camera settings to use
As with most genres of photography, there isn’t one correct setting for each and every situation. ICM photography is a creative expression where it’s up to you to find the settings, movements, and subjects that convey your vision.
That being said, there are some guidelines that you can follow when you’re just getting started:
1/4th of a second should be the very quickest shutter speed you use. Any faster than this and the motion won’t become significant enough. The shutter speed is more flexible in the other direction but I suggest staying within a couple of seconds.
A shutter speed that’s too slow can result in too much motion, in which the technique might lose impact.
The aperture is less significant than in other genres of photography but it somewhat depends on the scene you’re shooting. It matters more in scenarios where you only use slight movements (i.e., quicker shutter speeds) than when you use a slower shutter speed with more movement.
The ISO is dependent on the circumstances but, generally speaking, you want to keep it at a minimum. A high ISO leads to a quicker shutter speed which is the opposite of what we want to achieve in this situation.
Recommended Reading: Introductions to the Fundamentals of Landscape Photography
How to shoot ICM
The technique itself isn’t particularly difficult and most photographers will be able to achieve this painterly look already on the first try. What takes time is perfecting the movements and, more importantly, finding the subjects to photograph.
To capture your first ICM photos you start by following the guidelines above to find the ideal camera settings. Let’s start with a shutter speed of 1/2 second and adjust the aperture and ISO accordingly.
The half-a-second shutter speed is a good starting point and after a couple of test shots, you’ll see whether you need to shorten or lengthen it.
With your settings applied, press the shutter button as you simultaneously tilt the camera downward (or use any other shape of movement you’d like)
Now take a look at the image preview. This is your first ICM!
With the image preview displayed, you can now make the decision to change either your shutter speed, the camera movement, or both. Keep in mind that even the slightest change will have a big impact on the outcome.
What Subjects to Photograph
That’s the short answer.
Personally, I find certain subjects to be more suitable for this technique than others but it wouldn’t be right to say that you can’t photograph other subjects. I’ve seen incredible images of trees, mountains, people, pets, rivers… you name it.
Your creativity is your only limitation.
5 Tips for ICM Photography
Now that you know what ICM photography is and the camera settings ideal for doing it, let’s take a look at some actionable tips that will help you get started with this fascinating genre.
#1 Shoot with Intention
A common misconception is that lengthening the shutter speed and quickly tilting the camera is all that it takes to create a beautiful ICM photograph.
That’s far from the truth.
It’s a more difficult technique than many believe. In fact, the success ratio is quite low. It’s not uncommon that you need dozens, or even hundreds, of attempts before you get a good result.
Not every scene is suitable for ICM photography either. So don’t believe that this is an “easy alternative” to get “something cool” when the grand landscape isn’t too interesting.
Instead of chasing the shots, slow down and shoot with intention. Try to visualize the result. Search for subjects that will work.
#2 Experiment with Camera Movements
Personally, there are certain movements that I tend to prefer over others when doing ICM photography.
Even a slight change in movement can potentially make a huge difference in the final outcome. That’s why you’ll see big differences from image to image, even when you feel like you’re making the same movements.
A straight lateral movement is most common but I encourage you to experiment with other methods too. Try moving the camera horizontally, swirly, bumpy, or even adjust the focal length while you’re taking the image.
These can all lead to interesting and unique images.
#3 Don’t Settle with the First Attempt
As mentioned, even the slightest change in movement or shutter speed can make a big difference in your image. That’s part of what makes this a more dynamic way of photographing than what we’re used to from static landscapes.
Capturing the perfect ICM photo takes dozens of attempts. Perhaps even more.
#4 Search for Contrast (in Luminosity or Color)
ICM photography tends to be more on the abstract side. That means that subject plays less of a role than in other genres (in the sense of the viewer doesn’t recognize a mountain, building, or landmark)
But while the subject is less important, the contrast is even more. Whether it’s the contrast in luminosity or contrast in color, it’s something that’s extremely important in this case.
#5 Less is More
It’s a bit cliché but less is more when creating abstract ICM photography. Too many elements will be distracting and fight for your attention.
Try instead to eliminate elements within the frame. This is also why image previews play such an important role; analyze the preview and identify anything that’s negatively affecting the image.
Recommended Reading: 5 Compositional Guidelines to Know in Landscape Photography
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ICM photography is a technique that’s easy and budget-friendly to get started with. Perhaps that’s why it’s regained so much popularity during the past few years. A quick search online and you’ll find hundreds of photographers creating mesmerizing work using this technique.
It’s important to remember that the best images are intentionally created. ICM photography isn’t a fallback or an excuse when you accidentally use the wrong settings and fail to get a sharp image. It’s a creative proccess that can result in unique and wall-worthy images.
As you hopefully have realized by now, getting started with ICM photography is quite easy. But, as with any genre, it requires practise to master. So, are you ready to give it a go?