Expectations in ICM are very different from traditional photography. The advice – the teaching – is also different. Those of us sharing how to approach ICM to do it differently than traditional photography instructors or group leaders. The process is so very different.
I remember being at photography sites like a waterfall in Yosemite, the Mormon Barn in UT, and a night water scene in Cambodia that were all ‘go to’ spots for photographers who lead groups. In each case, the leaders gave photographers the F stop, ISO, and shutter speed. I’m sure everyone went home with lovely photographs. The settings being given are meant to result in one thing – proper exposure.
They have set their photographers up at winning sites at the right time of day with the correct lighting. If the students follow the simple instructions they are absolutely guaranteed to go home with a wonderful shot.
I can take a group out to shoot ICM and there is no guarantee at all. I can make recommendations but it takes practice to get a feel for them.
One of the biggest obstacles is that traditional photographers have been required to conform. People who have been successfully shooting for a while know the rules and they have most likely spent years adhering to them to get good photographs.
Many of those same photographers are participating members of photography clubs and if they want to do well in competitions, they must shoot what judges want. Those rules are pretty rigid and to win you must follow them.
It is counterintuitive to shoot outside the rules. All those years the point has been to keep the camera still. Tripods and/or steady hands are a must. Now, all of a sudden, you are being told to move that camera during a shot.
It’s a matter of overcoming your mind – your learned muscle memory. It’s a serious conflict and it really helps to be aware of it. It actually helps to just sit or stand and put your camera on long exposure and just shoot and shoot and shoot as you make yourself move. Don’t worry about the outcome – you’re breaking a habit that needs to be broken. It’s just the beginning because you will be a rebel breaking all kinds of rules.
If your lines are not as straight as you want – take some time to work just on shooting linear lines – vertical – horizontal – diagonal if you can find a good diagonal to follow. You can sit inside your home and do this. Find a line with good contrast – a doorway – window – picture frame. Just practice getting the lines – see what kind of blur you get when you try different shutter and movement speeds. This exercise will work on your motor skills. When you can shoot the lines you want – then it will be time to go find the subjects and put your skills to work.
Once we get used to moving – what’s next?
With ICM, we and the camera move. But no one moves the same way and everyone’s sensor catches motion a bit differently. ICM needs good exposure too. But we are working with longer exposures which means we have to compensate for too much light. We can do this with ISO and F stop and ND filters. But there is no formula because we have to also compensate for the amount of light we have and the kind of motion we are planning and that’s always different.
I shoot shutter priority and the lowest ISO my camera allows. That way I can control the shutter speed for motion. I have enough experience that I can alter my motion and get similar results with different shutter speeds – or alter my motion at the same shutter speed and get different results.
I can’t predict in advance what the settings will be. Each camera sensor collects differently. 1/15th of a second with one camera will not net the same movement/texture as a different sensor. The second reason is human motion. We all move differently.
These three shots all have the same shutter speed. 1/50th sec. A much faster shutter speed than I usually use. My current camera allows faster shutter speeds than other cameras I’ve had in the past.
f there had been less light and the setting had been 1/15th sec, I would have slowed my motion and gotten very similar results. Why 1/50th here? It happened to be the setting I was working with on an extremely and glaringly bright day. I’ve amassed a lot of experience by going out and trying things and not expecting perfect results but instead wanting to learn what happens if I move this fast – or this way – or ……
If you had been standing next to me when I shot the above images, you wouldn’t have seen the difference in my motion. All you would have seen was a slight nod of my head. Yet, the degree of blur changed quite a bit.
My friend Bill Hewitt says he thinks yes or no – and whether it’s an enthusiastic yes or no with the camera resting on his forehead. I’m sharing this because it shows his sense of play and experimentation. He does a whole riff on yes and no. ICM thrives in that kind of imaginative and playful environment.
This is why ICM instructors say to experiment and go play. This style of shooting is unique and different for each individual. It depends on your camera – how you move – how much light there is at the time of the shot.
Here’s an example of play. I’m showing you the original image shot still. That one has people in it but I waited for them to exit to start playing with moves. I didn’t have an objective in mind – I just wanted to see how things warped with different motions.
The still shot was shot at 1/25th. One of the benefits of shooting ICM is that you really steady your hands as you learn to perfect motion and can hand-hold at pretty low shutter speeds with okay results.
The next three, the vertical-horizontal, and diagonal moves were done at 1/15th sec. I could have gotten similar results with a different shutter speed by altering my speed of movement.
The last two – a circular motion and then a zoom with my lens ring was done at 1/8th second. These are raw images out of the camera with only a crop applied – no other adjustments.
These shots show what happens when you go out and play. These kinds of activities give your brain feedback if you are checking results after each shot – and you should be. Playing like this is the best teacher of what is possible.
All of the above differences are why I don’t talk much about my settings. There are too many variables. We can stand next to each other with identical settings and come home with totally different results.
It’s not like astrophotography where a website can tell you the settings most likely to work. They know what your environment will be when you shoot – dark without ambient light. Your camera will be on a tripod. The settings they give you will usually get you a well-exposed shot.
It really doesn’t do any good for me to tell you about which ND filter I used on a specific shot either because you don’t know what kind of light I had that gave me the results I got. I could be at the same spot on another day or at another time the same day and need a different filter or none at all – because of light. I do what’s necessary to give me the right exposure. I usually use a 6-stop filter and work my settings around it – if I need or use one at all. When I’m going for longer exposures – 2 – 4 seconds – I use the 6 almost always. The correct filter to use for every shot is the one that gives you good exposure. There is no rule or recipe.
I wish I could give you a magic recipe – but this is art. Think about painting a watercolor. Same brush, same surface, same paint, same colors – and an untold ability to create an unlimited number of outcomes depending on your moves and your imagination.
The only way to succeed in shooting ICM is if you are out playing, experimenting, and having fun. At first, when you get a shot you like, it will feel like a happy accident. But it’s not. It’s the result of working toward your goal.
So, if this genre fascinated you – go for it! It’s challenging but rewards in so many unexpected ways. Go find them!