Adventures with intentional camera movement

Blue gate, flowers, intentional camera movement

I’ve been playing this week, which is something I don’t do nearly often enough.  I’ve tried taking photos using intentional camera movement before, but always as a bit of an afterthought.  They’re not easy to do well, but I got one or two that I liked one day, by chance, and that gave me the idea to try this technique in a more deliberate way.  This is the image that started the whole thing:

Flowers, Newark Cemetery, with intentional camera movement

The flower beds at the entrance to Newark Cemetery are a riot of colour, but too regimented to be interesting to me in their natural state.  I moved the camera horizontally for this shot, and it worked pretty well.  When I converted the RAW file, I remembered that I could move the Clarity slider in the opposite direction to normal, to smooth and blend the colours, and this turned out to be surprisingly effective.

Using the same technique transformed this image into an abstract blaze of summer colour:

Summer colours, intentional camera movement

Today I took a walk round the garden to see what else I could come up with.  The two previous images were created just by using a small aperture/slow shutter speed, but this time I armed myself with a Polaroid filter, which cuts down quite a bit of light (therefore giving a slower shutter speed), and intensifies colours.  Although not a sunny day, the light proved too bright for even this to give me long enough shutter speeds so I dug out something I’ve had for ages but never really used – a ten-stop filter.  It’s quite nifty – it screws onto the end of the lens and you can then twist it to increase or decrease the light coming in.

The results were pretty mixed and I deleted lots of the resulting pics.  It’s not easy to get this right and it takes quite a bit of experimentation to find just the right shutter speed and movement to give a good result.  I’ll put some of the more successful images at the end, but before I do that let me pass on what I learned:

Movement: generally speaking it’s best to move the camera in the direction of the dominant lines in the image.  Eg, trees usually look best when you move the camera vertically up or down, and sea or open country if you move horizontally.  However, I found that the flowers in close up demanded something different.  Straight lines didn’t work very well, even diagonal ones, so I tried moving in circles – you can see the effect in one of the images underneath.  This was better but still not quite what I wanted.  In the end I found that jiggling the camera had the best effect – imagine you’re freezing cold and shaking and shivering and that’s the movement you make.

Shutter speed: it’s impossible to give hard and fast rules on this because it will vary so much depending on the lighting, but most things seemed to come out best at around 1.5 seconds.  If your shutter speed is longer and you move more, you risk losing all shape and form and ending up with pure colour – it can be nice, but I wanted a little more definition.  If your shutter speed is too fast, there isn’t enough time to make sufficient movement.  The best combination was a longish shutter speed (approx 1.5 secs) combined with quite slow but definite movements.  Moving slowly worked much better than moving fast.

Aperture/ISO: obviously the aperture needs to be small to increase the shutter speed.  Most of the time I found f22-f29 about right and because this gives you considerable depth of field, it allows for some definition in the image, too.  ISO was kept as low as possible – ie, ISO 100 – again, to reduce shutter speed.

Filters: to get the shutter speed slow enough, I first tried a Polaroid filter – which reduces the light by two stops – and then a 10-stop filter.  The 10-stop filter was much better for this as I could simply twist it to increase/decrease the effect and watch the shutter speed change till it hit the right number.

Composition: this was quite difficult – probably the most difficult part of the whole thing.  I cropped most of these images into squares because at full size they included areas that spoiled the overall effect.  To get enough movement blur, you need to move beyond the edge of your normal framing and that means you tend to end up with bits you don’t want.

Colour: these images are all about colour – none of them would work at all if you took the colour away.  That’s not surprising, really, as colour is always what interests me most.  However, I think you could work this technique by concentrating on texture rather than colour if you wanted to go down that route.

Post-processing: I didn’t do much post-processing – the thing I did most of was cropping, and cloning out sensor dirt (but you shouldn’t have to do that if you keep a clean sensor).  The one thing that made a huge difference was the Clarity slider in Elements’ Raw Converter – moving this the ‘wrong’ way (ie, to make it less sharp) improved more than a few of these, and saved one which I would have otherwise discarded.  The colours are as they came out of the camera – I haven’t enhanced them in any way.

Success rate: abysmal – be prepared to delete most of what you take!  But it’s a lot of fun to do something with an element of uncertainty and serendipity.

And lastly: when you’re shooting with a tiny aperture it really shows up any dirt on your sensor.  Because I normally shoot with quite large apertures (which hide sensor dirt) I didn’t realise I had several huge lumps of the stuff stuck to my sensor and I had to spend ages cloning them out.  Probably a good idea to clean the sensor before you start.

I had a lot of fun with these, even when restricted to my own back yard.  I’d like to find some more open, panoramic shots to try and also some urban street shots with people in them.  I’m thinking I might make a little project of it.  I’d also like to do a series spread over a year, where I concentrate on showing the changing colours of the seasons in abstract form.  It’s wakened me up a bit to try something different – feels like it’s been a while since I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Summer colour, intentional camera movementThis one didn’t work at all until I used the Clarity slider on the Raw file to soften it, as it looked rather harsh initially.  I think it just about succeeds now, and I like the vibrant colours and the touch of red.  The movement here was vertical, which I found didn’t work so well for flowers.

Blue gate with intentional camera movement

Blue gate, intentional camera movementThese two, plus the one at the top of the post are the most successful of anything I tried.  The colours work well together – the blue gate, red/orange brick, magenta flowers and white stems add up to a very satisfying colour blend.  I tried moving the camera in a variety of different directions, and found that either an up and down movement, or a kind of jiggle, were most successful.

Summer colours, intentional camera movementI don’t feel this one quite makes the grade – the large pink geraniums dominate a bit too much.

SONY DSCI like the way the leaves have come out on this, but the composition could be better.

Pots of ivy, intentional camera movementI really can’t make my mind up about this one.  I look at it one minute and think it works, and then I look again and think it doesn’t!  It looks like a double exposure but there are actually two pots of ivy.

Summer flowers, intentional camera movementI moved the camera in a circle for this one – no other kind of motion seemed to work very well.  I do like the way that the small white flowers are still quite distinct, and I think the colours are great.

Flowers, intentional camera movement, blending modeFinally, this is the same picture as above but with a duplicate layer added and Linear Burn blending mode applied, giving an altogether different effect.