Using Intentional Camera Movement In Your Architectural Images | Photography Unfolded

Using Intentional Camera Movement In Your Architectural Images

 In Tips + Tricks

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) is not a new concept but it’s not something we often see with architectural images. I get that it can sometimes feel a bit gimmicky but it can be fun to play with from time to time. And can offer a creative way to see your subjects. Whether with cityscapes or tighter architectural shots.

First, ICM works best in dimmer light because you need somewhat slower shutter speeds, somewhere between 1/10 – 1/30 of a second for best results. However, you can trick your camera a bit either by decreasing your ISO and/or stopping down your aperture (f/16-f/32, for example). Or you could use Neutral Density filters. We’re not going to get into filter details here but it is an option.

Let’s get started with cityscapes. Given these are most often shot during sunset or blue hour you’ll be all set with those longer shutter speeds. Most often you’re shooting on a tripod for shots like this, so we’ll start with different types of motion you can utilize on a tripod. In the first 3 shots, I was using my 24-70mm zoom lens. Starting either at 70mm or 24mm, I simply zoomed my lens slowly and steadily to create the light rays. How fast or slow you move the lens during your exposure and how many lights are in the scene will affect the degree of abstraction that results. It can be bold, subtle or somewhere in between.

intentional camera movement for architecture intentional camera movement for architecture

intentional camera movement for architecture

Using a longer lens, my 70-300mm, and starting a bit more zoomed in on the city you achieve greater abstraction and layering of the elements within the city. It feels a bit more chaotic but it can be an interesting interpretation.

intentional camera movement for architecture

Another way to zoom the lens is to, instead of a smooth, steady zoom, intentionally start and stop the zooming during your exposure. Zoom in a little, pause, zoom in more, pause, etc. This creates an effect akin to multiple exposures instead of light streaks.

intentional camera movement for architecture

If you begin out of focus a bit, as I accidentally did here,  you get some nice bokeh during your zoom.

intentional camera movement for architecture

If you’d prefer not to use a tripod during the long exposure you can handhold, which creates less stabilization in all directions. The result is squiggly lines instead of the straight beams of light we’ve seen so far.

intentional camera movement for architecture

Moving away from the cityscape view and onto some details in the urban environment, you can utilize the same concepts. Zooming on a tripod… Here it creates a nice gradient of tones and elements in the city.

intentional camera movement for architectureZooming handheld…

intentional camera movement for architectureHandheld but instead of zooming, panning vertically…

intentional camera movement for architectureintentional camera movement for architecture

Here I’m using a circular motion while handholding the camera. On the left, you see the steady shot, on the right that circular motion. Which works well given the movement in the staircase. I think the circular zoom creates a more dynamic shot.


Now for a couple of greater abstractions. The first is just a really tight zoom and crop on a tripod with the steady zoom we’ve been discussing.

intentional camera movement for architecture

In this final shot of the Louvre Pyramid, I was handholding and irregularly moving the camera to create this abstraction.

intentional camera movement for architecture

As you can see there are a number of ways to utilize ICM:

  1. steady zooming with a tripod
  2. zooming without a tripod
  3. circular motion (no tripod)
  4. panning motion: vertical, horizontal or diagonal (no tripod)
  5. irregular motion (no tripod)

We’d love to see your shots with these effects so please share with us either on Instagram: @photographyunfolded or in our Facebook Group. Have fun!

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