How to Use Intentional Camera Movement in Your Photography to Great Effect

The presentation of motion in a static image is the subject of this article – a seeming contradiction in terms. This is not the case, and today you’ll discover how to use intentional camera movement to create dynamic images. You’ll learn the techniques you can use during the day and those which you can use at night. So read on and find out how you can make your photos dynamic!

What is intentional camera movement?

How to Use Intentional Camera Movement in Your Photography to Great Effect
This image used a day time zoom burst, and a strong ND filter.

The majority of the time, you’ll be taught to keep your camera still, to avoid blur in your photo. However, what if you moved the camera during an exposure, and you did it on purpose? This is what intentional camera movement is.

Now for this effect to work, you’ll need to use slow shutter speeds. You won’t see any worthwhile results from shutter speeds over 1/100th.

It’s possible to practice this handheld with shutter speeds between 1/50th and half a second. Anything slower than that will require a tripod for the best results.

How to use intentional camera movement during the day

There is more than one way you can apply intentional camera movement to your work. The most well known is probably panning. The following are the main ways you can move your camera, and produce interesting results.

How to Use Intentional Camera Movement in Your Photography to Great Effect
Panning is a technique that tracks movement.

1. Panning

Panning is a technique used to show the motion of a moving object. The aim is to move your camera at the same pace as a moving object and to expose the image for around a third of a second to produce blur in the background.

There are several ways you can refine this technique to produce even better results.

The shutter speed used will also be dependent on the speed of the object you are panning. This is a nice technique to try as there is a clear main subject, which is not always the case with intentional camera movement.

2. Zooming

How to Use Intentional Camera Movement in Your Photography to Great Effect
A night time zoom burst, with light painting across the scene.

Using zoom during the day can also give interesting results. You’ll learn how you can add even more to this technique at night by reading below. The effect is produced by changing the focal distance of your lens, so primes lenses won’t work here.

The following are the steps you’ll need to take to create a daytime zoom burst.

  • Exposure – You’ll need to find a location that allows you to expose at 1/10th second or longer. If you choose to use a longer exposure, you’ll need a tripod.
  • Lens – You’ll need a lens that allows you to manually change the focal distance during the course of the exposure.
  • Filter – Those daytime long exposures will likely require an ND filter to achieve them.
  • Zoom in – The effect will broadly be the same whether you zoom in or zoom out, but for daytime zoom, it’s better to zoom in.
  • Focus – Focus your camera at the focal distance you intend to finish the zoom burst at. This may require pre-focusing the camera, and setting the camera to manual focus for the exposure itself.
  • Location – A location with something overhead like a tree canopy will work best to show the zoom effect. A clear sky won’t show any zoom at all.

3. Intentional camera movement

This type of photo is often very abstract in nature. The goal is to move the camera in such a way it produces appealing blur patterns in your image. You’ll need a longer exposure to produce this.

How to Use Intentional Camera Movement in Your Photography to Great Effect
Circular motion is a type of intentional camera movement.

The best movements are often defined shapes. If you move your camera in a straight line, a circular motion, or perhaps a heart shape, you should get a nice result.

It’s possible to carry out photos like this handheld if the exposure is short, and you keep to a simple movement. An exposure of around half a second would work for this.

4. Using a tripod

It also possible to use intentional camera movement from a tripod, though you’ll be limited to the movements your tripod head will allow. That means you can produce all the shapes mentioned above, you’ll just be pivoting from a fixed position.

The advantage of using a tripod is that the camera will be that much steadier. The next advantage is that if you wish to combine intentional camera movement with a stationary phase to an exposure, this is possible with a tripod.

Techniques you can use at night

How to Use Intentional Camera Movement in Your Photography to Great Effect
Lights from an event like Christmas are great opportunities for kinetic light paintings.

It’s that much easier to practice intentionally camera movement at night. That’s for two reason. The first is it’s easier to carry out long exposure, as the light level will be lower. The second is light sources you’ll see out night will light paint across your scene. In fact by night intentional camera movement might more accurately be described as kinetic light painting. The techniques listed above can be adapted to night photography. Panning is almost the same, so this won’t be discussed any further.

1. Kinetic light painting zoom

Kinetic light painting involves changing the focal distance of a zoom lens, during a long exposure photo. The exposure lengths at night mean you’ll now need to use a tripod to get good photos using this technique.

A key difference with daytime zooming is that it’s preferable to zoom out when practicing this. The reason for this is you want the light paint to zoom outwards across your scene. If you zoom in, the chances are you’ll have light painting across your main subject in the center of your scene. To find out more about this technique, you can read this article.

How to Use Intentional Camera Movement in Your Photography to Great Effect
This photo shows the result of camera rotation, and kinetic light painting.

2. Kinetic light painting rotation

Another type of kinetic light painting is camera rotation. Once again, you’ll need a tripod for this, and you’ll move your camera body while it’s attached to the tripod. It’s a technique that works best where there are tall structures. These can be tall buildings, statues or perhaps Christmas trees.

To make this technique work, you’ll need these structures to have lights on them. To find out more about camera rotation read this article.

Create dynamic images intentionally!

Now it’s your turn to get out and create some images. If you can’t get out and about, try some of these in your yard or home. It’s a great way of adding narrative to an image, or perhaps to create a completely abstract image.

Have you tried any of the ideas mentioned in this article? If you have what were your experiences?

As always, if you have images that display intentional camera movement, please share them in the comments.

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