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ICM - Intentional Camera Movement

Typically, many photographers are concerned with sharpness in an image.  Reviews and articles tend towards delving into how sharp a particular lens is compared to how sharp another lens is, or various techniques in improving sharpness.

However, for what it’s worth and in my humblest of opinions, sharpness (as the most salient aspect of an image) is overrated.  There.  I said it.

That’s not to say sharpness cannot add or even be important to an image within context.  However, if you look at images by influential photographers such as Saul Leiter, Don McCullin, Elliott Erwitt or Gordon Parks, sharpness is not the key feature of their images.  Or in other words, the emotional response their images elicit stems from their content and creativity – not the sharpness of the images.  Ansel Adams is known for his pin-sharp, crystal clear, black & white landscapes.  But again, people respond to the natural beauty in his shots, not the degree of sharpness.

I’d maintain, the people mostly concerned with image sharpness are other photographers, not the viewing audience.  And with this in mind, one might argue that unsharp or undefined elements in an image can be as essential, intriguing and emotionally evocative as well focused elements.  Think of bokeh in portrait or product shots.  Not only that, but intentionally using unfocused and blurred elements creatively can produce artistically interesting and arresting images.

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) is a simple technique that can produce wonderful and creative images.  The name of the technique does what it says on the tin – you move the camera and you press the shutter to create movement in the images.  If you search the technique on the internet or social media you are guaranteed to find some truly inspiring and breathtaking images.  The images are reminiscent of impressionist and watercolour paintings, with abstract, dreamlike or otherworldly qualities.  Check out @my_beautiful_scotland and @icm_community on Instagram for some wonderful examples.


The technique of ICM is pretty straight forward.  If you research it, you’ll find a number of ways and techniques.   For myself, I usually start with the following

  • Set camera to Shutter priority mode

  • Select a shutter speed around 1/10s to 1/20s

  • Set shooting mode to continuous

  • Select aperture (I usually start shooting at f4, for no particular reason, and usually leave it at that)

Point the camera at the subject, and as you press the shutter slowly move the camera.  And that’s it!


You can review the images and start making creative decisions whether you wish to move the camera slower or quicker, and in which direction, and how much movement is going to get you closer to your artistic vision.

In terms of movement of the camera, as a guide I’ll use the leading lines in the scene or subject to start.  With subjects such as trees or building I’ll start moving the camera vertically.  Subject such as uncomplicated landscape I’ll start by moving the camera left or right.  With subject like fireworks or lights I will try everything – vertical and horizontal movement, swirling the camera, or shaking it.  

There are no rules! Let your whim and creative indulgences be your guide! Stand in the middle of the woods or the middle of the street with your camera at arm’s length swirling, spinning, jiggling and generally looking like a loon on day release!  But what the hell, that’s part of the fun.  Everyone needs to embrace their will to be weird anyhow!

So get out there, try ICM yourself.  Be creative and step out the usual boundaries. Release your inner abstract artist you didn’t know was there. Most of all, enjoy it and have fun. 

Below are some of my own ICM shots. Look forward to seeing yours!

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