A few years ago the following article was published in the Summer/Fall 2011 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada magazine and I thought that it was time to share it with the readers of our blog, many who may not have seen it when it was first published. – Leslie
Sometimes a little motion in your photographs is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is intentional. I have always been impressed with images that evoke an emotional response and ones that show motion often do that for me.
There are various methods to get motion into your images; long exposures on a windy day, multiple exposures of a scene to simulate motion, combining in and out of focus images, and zooming. However my favorite method involves taking the camera off the tripod, and moving it around while I take the picture. Some photographers have referred to these types of images as dreamscapes or ICM (intentional camera movement). These images can be very abstract, artistic, impressionistic, or painterly, in other words have a dreamy look about them.
Creating dreamscape images is fun and easy. The great thing about them is that you don’t need any fancy equipment to create them – any compact point-and-shoot camera or dSLR will work fine. If you only have one or two lenses to choose from when using a dSLR, don’t think for a moment that this will restrict you in any way from making dreamscapes. From my experience I have found that lenses from 20mm to 120mm work best. If you have a lens that is not within this range try it anyway, you never know what might work. There are no rules for creating dreamscapes but I have a few suggestions that work for me.
Composing and Technique:
Like any good photo, the best results have come from thinking about and planning what the finished image will look like rather than clicking the shutter willy-nilly. When choosing your subject keep the scene relatively tight and try not to include the sky. Scenes that include the sky will give you a faster shutter speed because they tend to be brighter and you may not want that, as a slower shutter speed is preferred. Compose the scene as you normally would and look at the scene within the viewfinder to determine the strongest element. Is it horizontal, diagonal or vertical lines? Maybe it’s a shape or curve that is dominant. Once you have determined what the subject will be, then decide what type of motion effect you want to create for the image. By moving the camera in vertical, horizontal or diagonal sweeps or in circles, arcs, swivels, waves, jiggles or rocking motions you can create some interesting images.
The amount of motion needed will always vary. In most cases you only need to move the camera a few inches. How fast or slow the cameras movement is, will give you different results. The greater and faster the amount of motion, the more abstract the image becomes (Waves of leaves in Fall).
With smaller and slower amounts of motion, the more we are able to recognize the subject (Sparkles of Light). How much is too much movement? That’s for you to decide, as it’s your personal visual interpretation. Just check your LCD screen after you take the photo and see if you got the image that you wanted. If not, try again. Usually with any one scene I will try a number of different effects and then decide once I get home and have had a chance to view the images on my computer monitor.
In the images below, I composed the shot and determined that the dominant subjects were the vertical lines of the trees and the pathway through them. Then, making sure I had a slow shutter speed I started sweeping the camera in an up and down motion. Notice that the camera movement also eliminated the distraction of the clutter within the image.
If your camera has “live view” turn it on and let it assist you when creating your images. With live view on you can then hold the camera in front of you and see what the movement is doing, which will influence what motion and speed you choose. By holding the camera in front and away from your face you are able to have a more fluid motion. If your camera does not have “live view” then you will have to use the viewfinder and move your upper body swaying or rocking in different directions, just as if you were a little tipsy. Also make sure that you turn off image stabilizer if your camera or lens has it. With it on the image stabilization may alter the appearance of your image and it will drain your battery faster.
It is really important that when you do finally press the shutter release, do not stop the movement until after the shutter has closed. Continue the motion, following through the same way you would if you were taking a panning image. While you are standing there creating your images, don’t forget to try both horizontal and vertical orientations.
The key to making a successful dreamscape image is having a sufficiently long enough exposure so that you can capture the complete range of motion that you want to add. Whatever mode you like to use – Aperture priority, Shutter priority, or Manual – you will need to use a relatively slow shutter speed. I have found that shutter speeds slower than 1/30th of a second will allow you to get the sense of motion, however slower is better. Shutter speeds faster than 1/30th of a second may not have enough time to record significant motion.
How much light you have to work with will partly determine your exposure. With dreamscape images, because of the motion, you usually aren’t worrying about depth of field. The normal tendency is to use a small aperture number or open up (i.e., f/4 or f/5.6) but you can stop the lens down and use a larger aperture value (i.e., f/16 or f/22) to give you a longer exposure time. Also set your camera’s ISO to its lowest value, as that will give you longer exposures. On a bright sunny day or with a snowy scene, you may need to use a polarizer or a neutral density (ND) filter or both, to give you a slow enough shutter speed to allow blurring in your image. The use of a polarizer will lower the exposure by one to two stops of light and it will help to saturate the colours in the scene. Some models of cameras have a neutral density filter built-in (especially point and shoot cameras), which can be very handy as you then always have one with you, check your cameras user guide.
Whether you choose an overcast day, the early morning hours or just before the sunset when the light is low, know that any time of the day is a great time to create your dreamscapes. So now that you have a few pointers on how to create wonderful dreamscape images get out there and play. Remember that it does not matter what season you are in – there are always dreamscape images to be had. – Leslie