Using intentional movement to produce an abstract effect

One of the earliest lessons we are taught in photography is to get our subject sharp. Infact, I reckon that that’s why it is called the ‘subject’ in an image – the lead character(s) around which the image is created. And, of course, there are rules around subjects, how they should be positioned in the frame, positive and negative space, blah, blah, blah. But have you ever wondered if one can take a contra-view of this to create something a tad different, something that gets the viewer to wonder what you were seeing and thinking when you created that image, something that intrigues, something abstract.

We have all seen images that were blurry, probably shot countless of those ourselves. And most of these would have happened when we had an unintentional camera shake – probably caused by a combination of inadequate lighting, incorrect exposure & unstable camera. Or a moving subject. What if we wanted to incorporate some (or all) of these internationally into an image. Two techniques, the zoom-burst and panning, are probably quite well known. I will talk about a third one here – I don’t know if there is a technical term for this, so I am going to call this intentional movement (IM). Let me also add a disclaimer here that I have tried this only on a couple of occasions, so my learning is limited by lack of adequate experimentation.

The first thing to recognise is that not all subjects will respond well to this treatment. So the choice of subject is quite important and will dictate the plane of movement that one can use. Consider this image that I shot a couple of years back in the forests of Kabini.

This was probably the first time I attempted this and does look quite amateurish. But I will use it to illustrate that the bold lines of tree-trunks work well with a vertical IM. Ideally, bold colours would work well in conjunction with bold lines to create interesting abstracts as well. Similarly, I reckon, that landscapes and seascapes would lend themselves well to a horizontal IM, something that I have not tried yet but will definitely attempt soon.

Two thing to keep in mind when attempting this. One, that there are no competing elements that would work against the movement. So, in the same tree-trunk example, with a vertical IM, you wouldn’t want a horizontal element (say a branch) in the frame as it would work against the movement and not give you the desired impact. Two, the speed of the movement (combined with how slow the shutter speed is) will have a huge impact on how abstract the effect could be.

Here is a more recent attempt I made, using a horizontal IM, on a foraging flock of Demoiselle Cranes at Khichan. The entire scene was in broad daylight and I had to figure out a way of slowing down the shutter-speed drastically so that I could then maximise the impact of the movement. I used a Variable ND filter and experimented with various settings to accomplish this and get the shutter-speed down to 1 sec.

Once that was achieved, it was then some trial & error using a horizontal IM while keeping the shutter pressed to produce this image. I used a tripod to mount the camera so that the movement is smooth and purely only on one plane. One could do this hand-held as well as long as the movement is smooth.

I am definitely intrigued by the possibilities of using this on landscapes, water and the likes. If you are interested, this is a good article to read – the author seems to have worked with this technique a lot and his images span the gamut of possibilities.

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