How-to: Get Moving (aka ICM)

As in moving your camera.

I recently held a photo walk that revolved around intentional camera movement, also known as ICM. As we practiced ICM, it occurred to me why it is sometimes difficult to get going with ICM.

As photographers, our quest is to produce sharp, clear images. We exercise proper form by holding our camera with our arms close to our bodies. We practice holding the camera as level and as steady as possible. We are very aware of our breathing. Hold your breath, stay still, and hit the shutter. We are cognizant of keeping the shutter speed high enough to freeze a moment while it is in our grip. We love the vibration reduction our cameras and lenses feature to further mitigate movement. We place our camera on a tripod or firm surface when using a slow shutter speed. We use a shutter delay or external shutter release so we don’t introduce movement to our tripod-perched camera. Our images must be protected from movement at all costs.


Then you try moving the camera while tripping the shutter. On purpose. Using a slow shutter speed. It feels foreign and oh, not good. Your brain starts screaming this is wrong, I can’t do this!

But you can and you should.

ICM is a very creative photographic technique that basically breaks every rule that is pounded into your head the minute you embrace the art of photography. ICM is all about the transmogrification of a scene or subject.

Nikon D850, 28-300mm lens. Single frame. ISO 100, f/22, 1/5 second

Mastering and then breaking the rules is important in order to make your art your own. Practicing ICM helps because it shakes the rules up and loosens you up as a creative. The start of working with ICM is hard but it is worthwhile. ICM allows you to break down defined shapes into a pallet of colors. It is similar to the splendor of reflections. ICM conveys mystery to the viewer. It lets them use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Using ICM takes the mundane out of a scene. A boring, non-descript scene or subject suddenly becomes sublime with ICM.

ICM is not new. It has been around for decades. The technique creates beautiful abstract and impressionistic images. Check out the works of Ernst Haas and Freeman Patterson. In my opinion, the pioneers of this art form.

I like to think of my camera as a paintbrush. It can paint a scene accurately or it can stretch shapes and blur colors.

Using ICM can make a scene “work”. Sometimes I am unable to get a shot that is satisfactory. No matter what I do, or what angle I take, it just doesn’t capture what I am perceiving. ICM can harness it. The image above was shot in a garden. The garden was large, lush, and colorful. No matter how many flowers I shot, or angles I used, I couldn’t “get” it. So, I slowed the shutter down and moved the camera. The image above managed to capture the garden as I felt it. It captured the essence of it.

Nikon Z9, 70-200mm lens. Single frame. ISO 64, f/5.6, 1/8 second

ICM can create painterly images that are vague whereby the viewers are unable to determine what the subject was. It can also produce images that are an abstraction, based on familiar scenes, like the glassy “Emerald City of Oz” feeling of the skyline of Boston.

Nikon D850, 28-300mm lens. Single frame. ISO 500, f/13, 1 second

There is a multitude of ways to use ICM. Just like a paintbrush that has no limit to its application, the same applies to your camera.

How to use ICM To dip your toes into ICMs, start with a shutter speed of 1/5 second to 5 seconds, depending on your exposure and also your subject. Start with ISO 100, and increase the aperture to achieve a slow shutter speed. Use an ND filter if necessary to help slow it down. Keep an eye on your histogram. Zoom lenses work well with ICMs although any lens is appropriate.

As you press the shutter, try the following:

  • Swipe sideways
  • Swipe up or down
  • Swipe diagonally
  • Zigzag the camera
  • Zoom in or out (or both ways)
  • Set the camera to multiple exposures and turn the focus or lens at each exposure.
  • Change up the shutter speed and note the changes it creates.

So what to use ICM on? Pretty much anything. Trees, flowers, water, landscapes, lights, buildings, people. You get the drift. Each frame is unique, so keep moving and taking shots. Change the technique and work it. You may end up with 100 images to delete and one gem. And that’s okay. It’s one of the wonderful features of digital photography. Keep in mind, like anything we learn it requires practice. Just because we are moving the camera while the shutter is open does not mean we will create something fantastic right off the bat. The more ICM you work on, the more you will discover about the art form and yourself. Remember the “intentional” in ICM. Like all photography, you learn how to construct an image. As you practice ICM you will discover that good images created with ICM are made with intent and are rarely accidental.

Nikon D810, 28-300mm lens. 8 frames rotated in-camera. ISO 100, f/22, 1/5 second

Nikon D810, 28-300mm lens. Single frame. ISO 100, f/5.6, 2 seconds

Nikon D810, 28-300mm lens. Single frame. ISO 100, f/8, 10 seconds

What is your thought about ICM photography? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

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  1. […] Practice intentional camera movement (ICM). Use a slow shutter speed and zoom in, zoom out. Turn the camera while you zoom (keep lens fixed but turn the camera body) and see what magic happens. If your camera has the ability, try in-camera multiple exposures. If it doesn’t, stack individual images in post. See what happens when you do ICM with the filters on, then off. Your camera is registering light, so you never know how the ICM paints the light on the sensor. You can do this on a tripod or handheld – I’d recommend shooting both ways. As always, keep an eye on the histogram and shoot at low ISO. Learn more about ICM. […]

  2. […] While the shutter is open, try zooming in and out. This creates a spirograph effect, especially on the Ferris Wheel. Learn more about ICM (intentional camera movement) in this post. […]

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