I love visiting art galleries and wandering around the impressionist paintings by artists such as Turner. I’ve almost always lived by the sea and so I find seascapes very relaxing. There’s something about the movement in a painting that is difficult to replicate in a photograph.
Difficult, but not impossible. With long(ish) exposures and deliberately moving your camera in different ways, you can create some beautiful abstract images which, with a little experimentation, might even be worth hanging on your own wall.
I spent a couple of months living by the beach and I used my time to experiment a little with shooting seascapes at various different times of the day. I wanted to try out some different panning and zooming techniques with long exposures to see what I’d end up with, and after a good bit of experimentation, I was very happy with the results. Here’s what I discovered to make the most of this deliberate camera movement.
What sort of environment makes a good setting for this type of photography? Well, anything with strong lines (vertical or horizontal) because you’re essentially reducing the image to a series of coloured bands or textures. Skyscrapers, forests and bodies of water where you can clearly see the horizon and shoreline all work well.
Additionally, anything with strong contrast and strong colours will work. You’ll also find that you’ll get different results at different times of day and during different weather. My favourite time was actually just before sunrise at the beach. I live on an East facing coastline so around 30 minutes before the sun popped over the horizon created some amazing different colours. Each day was different.
I experimented with different lenses and focal lengths. I tried a 105mm, a 50mm, a 35mm and a 15mm lens. I liked the 50mm best because it had the most natural amount of compression and depth of field. The longer lens I felt compressed and blurred everything a little too much, removing all texture from the waves. The 35mm and wider had too much detail for my liking.
The shutter speed I preferred was around 1/4 of a second, with the lowest ISO possible and an aperture of f11 to f16. I also used an ND filter where necessary, particularly for the times of day when the sun was brightest. I tried to focus on the horizon for the seascapes, and on the tree trunks for the forest shots.
There are several different movements that you can try, all of which create different effects. Have a go, experiment and come up with some of your own. The movement generally needs to be short and sharp as opposed to slow and smooth I have found for best results.
Pan (side to side)
Panning from side to side best suits landscapes with horizontal lines, such as coasts, lakes, and seashores. I have also seen some beautiful shots of fields of tulips using this sideways pan technique.
For best results you want to move your camera in a sideways motion, parallel to the ground, rotating at the hips. As I said above, the motion can be quite abrupt. Try to avoid any up and down movement and keep it totally along the horizontal plane. Try out different speeds of movement with different shutter speeds to create the effect you’re after.
Tilt (Up and down)
This is very similar to the side to side pan but is moving in a vertical direction. This suits shooting trees very well, particularly if you have some nice fall foliage, and you can create some very nice abstract images with this.
For this movement, I tend to move from the wrists in a short sharp tilt, as opposed to the pan. I just find this creates the right amount of movement. Again, this is much less a science and more of an art and experiment, so just try out different moves and see what works best for you.
As you can see in the images below, the fall colours help the effect a lot, but even then you’ll find that different movements and speeds will yield very different results. Pointing the lens at the tops of the trees was quite different to pointing it at just the trunks.
This is a fun one and you can create some spectacular circular images with this. I try to start with my arms twisted, and then once I press the shutter I rapidly untwist my arms. It’s easier doing it this way than starting with your arms untwisted and string to turn them fast enough.
The zoom in or out technique is a classic and can yield some slightly trippy results. You want to find somewhere that has leading lines or a strong perspective from the centre of the image towards the edges, or again something with strong colour contrasts.
Once again, begin with your hand in the most uncomfortable twisted position, and then rotate the lens during the exposure as fast as you can. You actually don’t need much movement to create some interesting results.
Shooting like this is admittedly not for everyone, but for me, it can be an interesting way to pass an afternoon, trying out different things with your camera and creating some unusual results. I rarely need to do any post-processing to any images I like, although I will admit that for each scene and camera movement I do come away with a lot of duds, and only a handful of images that I’ll keep.
I must warn you though, it is strangely addictive once you try this!