One of the things we try to get across in our workshops is the importance of having a good, sturdy tripod to keep your camera nice and still and those images nice and sharp, especially when working with the longer exposures that we inevitably encounter as landscape photographers. However, once in a while it’s good to throw caution to the wind, take the camera off the tripod and get creative with intentional camera movement to make some really interesting abstract images.
The key to this sort of image making is being able to recognise the kind of subjects that have the potential for making great abstract images. A patch of colourful woodland in spring or autumn with some well placed parallel tree trunks make the most obvious choice and can work really well. Silver birch trunks (above) can be particularly effective. Here I’ve set a slow-ish shutter speed (1/8s) and taken a meter reading by pointing the camera roughly at the frame I want to capture. Then I used exposure lock (half depress the shutter release and move the camera) to point the camera upwards and then move it rapidly downwards whilst releasing the shutter. It requires quite a few practice shots to get a decent image, but it’s fun to experiment (though passers-by may wonder what you’re doing!).
The thing I like about this technique the most is that it removes all of the fussy detail from the landscape – compare the standard tripod-mounted shot of pine forest in the Lake District above with the intentional camera movement version below.
In the abstract version we’re just concentrating on colour and shape – and it’s amazing how much the colours seem to come to the fore – such as the mossy tree trunks and the lilac colour in the bark in this case.
Of course you can still use the camera on a tripod if you wish, if you have a pan and tilt style head where you can move the camera in one direction (horizontally or vertically) only, which can be useful if you want to keep a straight horizon such as in the summery image of Blubberhouses Moor above where a fast left to right pan of the camera has been used to lose the detail of the late summer bracken and heather and produce a completely abstract result, which is still evocative of summer moorland.
However, I prefer to work hand-held with these images as, although I need more attempts to get the image I’m after, the freedom of using the camera in this way allows me to experiment more – in the seascape image at Whitby above I’ve again used a left to right pan but I’ve moved the camera up and down a bit too, imitating the movement of the waves and producing an almost Turner-esque result.
Waterfalls can also be suitable subjects for intentional camera movement, despite the fact that even with the camera on a tripod we’re already working with movement and producing abstracted images, depending on shutter speed. On one occasion at West Burton Waterfall I opted to take the camera off the tripod and move the camera at well. The obvious choice was to make the movement with the flow of the water in the falls, but I tried side to side movements as well, perpendicular to the direction of flow of the water, producing an even more abstract criss-cross effect.
One final tip is that you need to be bold with the movements you make with the camera – which doesn’t come naturally at first as we’re always taught to keep the camera still! But, if you’re tentative with the movement it can look like a mistake – just a bit of camera shake – so just go for it and have fun experimenting! Oh – and if your lens or camera has image stabilisation, don’t forget to turn turn it off!
We try to have a break from the tripod and have a go at this technique on some of our workshops – particularly Bolton Abbey, so come along if you’d like to give it a go…