Ongoing experiments in intentional camera movement as part of the learning journey

My daughter Jessica had asked for a camera to celebrate the arrival of her sister Sophie.  As she said; “Sisters are special.  Sisters can buy you ‘born gifts’.  I would like a camera.”  Being a soft touch, I complied and she’s making good use of a seemingly bombproof Nikon S33 – for example.

As she makes headway with that I’ve set myself the challenge of teaching her to shoot.  Moleskine/Milk have a neat promotion to offer a free photo book to Getty Contributors, and I thought I would use my free credit to create a “how to take photographs” book for Jessica.  In beginning the process of writing that book, I’ve been reminded of some of the reasons I shoot and – resonating with what I’ve taken from the inspirational David duChemin – have come to realise how much harder I could be pushing the envelope in terms of creative photography.

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Full moon and late autumn trees, 2 second exposure, spiraling movement

Intentional camera movement has stood out to me as part of that for a couple of reasons.

For starters, it offers benefits in terms of being an initially low pressure style of photography that can be practiced in brief moments, and is possible at night, without significant kit, whilst offering an infinity of new subjects within even a minute’s walk from the house.  I’m also enjoying the more poetic quest to shoot “how it feels” as outlined in this original post.  And I’m also seeing how intentional camera movement or ICM resonates with the core principal of my photographic style.

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Silver birch with mid-autumn leaves, 1.6 second exposure, jagged shake

More and more my literal photography is feeding my stock library at Getty Images.  There you’ll find those shots I consider well taken, technically sound images of scene or objects that I found interesting or thought might be salable.

The kind of photography I consider “mine”, and the kind of photography I’m trying to teach Jessica, is based on the idea of making the mundane appear fantastical.  So far that’s taken a couple of branches.

The first, and longest standing, is long exposure and light painting.  Shots like the following where by compressing time and adding light one can take a dull night scene and conjure something a little more magical, something one step left of reality.

 

The second path is one of shooting street portraits of strangers, usually with a dash of adding light from a reflector or strobe or more, with the aim of taking an average person from the street and elevating them to a Vogue style icon.

 

ICM seems to offer another path on that journey – expressing an element of fantasy from everyday scenes, like the trees above, or from leaves on a pavement/sidewalk.

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Mix of leaves on hedge and sidewalk in rain with reflected headlights, single second exposure, horizontal looping movement
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Streetlight on last leaves and white plastic bag caught in tree, 2 second exposure, held for a moment, then vertical drag and waving motion

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Apple tree at night, single second exposure, tight, rapid loops

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Slightly out of focus trees at sunset, 1/4 second exposure, slow vertical sweeping movement

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Autumn beach leaves in sunlight, 1/5 second exposure, fast vertical sweep

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Jessica’s first ICM shot, autumn trees in sunlight, 1/4 second exposure, 1/4 second exposure
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10,000 Mistakes – “Play” in learning photography

A couple of years ago, I was struck by a neat Zen quote; “The difference between a master and a novice is 10,000 mistakes.”  It was around about the time I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, sketching the general requirement for one to invest 10,000 hours in mastering a cognitive skill, and so it particularly struck.

As a result I shot a few left of field experimental shots, for example; spraying water in front of a street lamp and blossom during a long exposure, stacking filters to make a 19 stop ND (for a ~500,000 multiplier to exposure times) and shooting images of our cat’s backlit fur with a £5 extension tube on a 50mm 1.8.  All good fun, and a great way to embed lessons about light, exposure and photography in general.

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In shooting these, however, I was always looking for a shot to add to the portfolio.  Little by little, I realise, that experimental has fallen away.  I’ve recently started listening to the awesome Martin Bailey Photography podcast, and stumbled across this interview with David duChemin about his ebook The Visual Imagination.  You can check it out here – it’s fantastic, like all of Martin’s podcasts, and like every interview I’ve listened to with the relentlessly inspiring David duChemin.

They explore the idea of play in practice.  Taking shots to practice, to learn, to enjoy, to play – without any express intention to catch any lasting portfolio shots.  The notion resonated with what I used to do, but have increasingly formalised, so I thought I’d head out to play around with a flash and some subjects on my doorstep – using a bareflash and streetlight on some early summer blossom, a big white shoot through umbrella on a pole over some dense cow’s parsley and then flashing a scene with a nylon sheet over a clothes horse, before swooping my 24mm TS-E off the tripod and down towards a bare white LED buried in bright green leaves (or messing around with focus/shift mid-exposure).

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Whilst I’m not about to add any of the shots to my portfolio overnight, it was incredible fun and massively overdelivered in terms of learnings.  I’d 100% recommend checking out the podcast, have downloaded the ebook (superbly priced like all Craft & Vision products) and look forward to shooting practice sessions with greater freedom, without the burden of expectation and coming to know the tools, craft and possibilities of photography all the better for it.

Hope you’re well and having an incredible week so far.