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ICM - A Photograph or a Painting?

Techniques for Beginners

Text and Photos by Kaisa Sirén

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By applying controlled camera movement you can achieve images that are like paintings.
Here are numerous tips to use when you begin with ICM.

ICM means Intentional Camera Movement during the exposure, and it has become a standard term in photography. The technique enables us to achieve many kinds of results, but often the images resemble paintings, particularly watercolour, early Impressionism, or Abstract Expressionism. The technique is very difficult and demands much patience and repetition. It also holds an element of surprise in each frame. Achieving the same results with consecutive frames is virtually impossible.

ICM photography is not a random or accidental movement of the camera but controlled movements in order to create the desired image and atmosphere. By nature, the technique is, however, full of surprises because the photographer can control the outcome only to a certain extent. The light, the chosen camera movement, the speed of the movement, and the shutter speed all create surprises.

These two images are taken from an exactly same spot and demonstrate how a vertical and a horizontal movement create a totally different effect.

Experiment with These Initial Settings

Once you have more experience with ICM, you will choose the settings that you know will give you what you want. However, if you are just starting to experiment with ICM, you can choose these initial settings as a guide:

  • Manual settings
  • Shutter speed 0.6 second with the ISO value as small as possible. Adjust the aperture according to the available light.
  • If it is very bright, you may need either a polarizing filter or various grey filters (for instance
    3-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop, etc., ND filters).
  • I use always autofocus, and I shoot without a tripod.
  • The longer your lens, the smaller movements of the camera are required.
  • The wider your lens, the more difficult it is to achieve a calm atmosphere.
  • Extending the shutter speed…[join Network to read full content]

Different Movements Create Different Effects

You can move the camera in many ways during the exposure and, when you use a long shutter speed…[join Network to read full content]

By twisting the camera around its axis you can create very fast impressions.

A very quick shudder/judder movement creates a strong impressionistic feel to the images.

Choosing a Subject is Demanding

Of course, any subject or theme suits ICM photography. However, in my experience, they all should fulfill two requirements. Firstly, the subject should have enough contrast, and secondly, it should have fairly strong geometric forms or lines. Together, contrast and geometry create character and structure in the image. The contrast should consist of both colour and light contrast. If there is no colour contrast, the outcome will be restless with a porridge like texture. If there is no light contrast, the outcome will be a flat surface.

Strong geometric forms and lines create structure and give the photographer hints about how to move the camera…[join Network to read full content]

You Can Focus an ICM Image Even Though the End Result Is Blurry

I always focus my ICM images. Focusing creates…[join Network to read full content]


Applying filters in post-processing enables us to create all kinds of effects. For instance, by merging various layers you can create an impression of ICM digitally. However, that is a form of art in its own right and requires a separate study of it as a creative technique, as well.

I create all ICM images with a single-exposure, in camera, and every time I am fascinated by the surprising outcome. I always have a certain goal in my mind, but I may come home with entirely different results. My post-processing is…[join Network to read full content]

ICM – A Momentary Trend or Here to Stay?

ICM photography has become more popular only in the last five years, but it has a long history that extends to the time when we used film. One of the earliest photographers who experimented with ICM was Ernst Haas in Germany, who used ICM in the 1950s. Canadians Courtney Milne and Freeman Patterson have used ICM since the 1980s and 1990s. The most well known Finnish pioneer is nature photographer Hannu Hautala, who published his legendary book Movement in the Milky Way in 1995. There is not a single sharp image in his book.

Like other creative photography techniques…[join Network to read full content]

In this pair of images the importance of focusing is demonstrated very well.

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