Most of us would like to avoid camera movement, most of the time. A steady camera helps to record a sharp image free from artifacts of motion like smears and fuzzy edges. However, if you have not tried intentional camera movement (ICM), you should give it a shot.
How to and Where to Start
The resulting photographs will be abstracts, so the subject matter is not an issue. You may be interested in creating lines and shapes which may need small light sources that end up as a series of lines. More light sources mean more lines, typically parallel to each other. Although I have done this kind of abstract work, it is hard for me to name typical scenes. I remember the flickering lights on the shore as we were traveling on a ferry in Istanbul. Those lights gave me a few such photographs, but I am sure there are plenty more that I am not thinking of. Bill Clark is the master of this kind of abstract photography. I wrote about one of his exhibits a while ago, but his site has a richer collection for you to enjoy.
If, on the other hand, you are interested in creating colorful splashes, look for the presence of color. This may be sweeping shades of similar colors or a joyful dance of many colors. In the fall, I look for fallen leaves on still green grass or the turning colors of the leaves still on the branches. Yet, this only one example. Keep your mind open! You may want to visit an earlier article about pure abstract photography to see more examples. Tom Reaume does this kind of work exclusively.
How to Expose
The ICM requires a slow enough shutter speed for the camera movement to create lines, streaks, and smears. This may mean setting the camera to ISO 100. Set your f-stop to a small setting, like f-22. Then get the shutter speed to somewhere in the range of several seconds to give yourself a little time window in which to click the shutter and keep moving the camera. Your first shots may not be what you expect. Keep in mind that you may need to process these shots more strongly than your regular frames. Since the moving color sources expose larger swaths of areas, the contrast may be lower. No problem. We’ll fix that in postprocessing.
Then, experiment with different camera movements during the slow exposure. Be aware of how many seconds you have for your move. Start moving the camera and then click the shutter or start the exposure then move the camera. If you intentionally or unintentionally hesitate at any time, the frame may record some recognizable elements. Lingering at the end of the exposure may be difficult to pull off as it may be harder to gauge the time left.
Moving in straight lines will create more linear color streaks, and the speed of the movement may determine the lengths of colors. You can move the camera in waves, circles, angles, and anything else you can think of. Rotating the camera on the lens axis with or without zooming will create spiraling elements.
When you bring these images into Lightroom or Photoshop, you may find that the color streaks may lack contrast and saturation. Be generous with the exposure and presence settings. Experimentation at this stage is also important. The entire experiment is like getting buckets of paint and throwing them on a wall.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way of doing all this. If the resulting colors, lines, shapes create a frame that satisfies you, that’s what matters. Oh, don’t ignore the shelves of your supermarket that are filled with colorful boxes, jars, bottles, … The following are from our local Dave’s Supermarket. For the record, I have permission to take photographs in their store. I encourage you to get permission before taking photographs in any store. You will find them more cooperative than you may think.
Click on images to enlarge.