Roxanne Bouché Overton
USING LINES AND SHAPES to COMPOSE for ICM PHOTOGRAPHY
When we shoot blur, we are taking away that element most people rely on when looking at photography – sharpness. One of my favorite ways to compose ICM shots is using lines and shapes as guides for my movement. They also provide elements of clarity or sharpness that make the image much more relatable than an image that is 100% blurry. Just a little sharp focus here or there – following a line or shape within the frame – adds reality to a shot that has been altered by movement.
If we add a spot or two of clarity, we get a wonderful energy of contrast between sharpness and blur.
The shot above was planned around the window shape which would serve as a frame within my frame when my walker passed through. I also liked the echo of the rectangular case on the right as well as smaller echoes of the same shape on the left. Reflections would add strength. Most importantly, I chose a quick vertical motion for the camera to gather time and blur along that axis. The result was an image with strong verticals almost perfectly sharp contrasting the softness of blur.
Reflections of shapes are an added pleasure when I find them.
In this shot, long wooden fishing poles pierced the sky and the hut was nicely mirrored in the water. The rich colors of sunset were why I was there but it was these shapes that led me to choose this particular spot to shoot. I knew I would follow those vertical lines to find some sharpness. It doesn’t take much – just a spot here or there to let the viewer rest their eye. It’s subliminal but important in most ICM shots.
Chicago was filled with wonderful buildings and I wanted to capture a couple of favorites a bit differently. I walked around until the perspective lined everything up the way I wanted.
I used the lines again to project my motion. My perspective allowed me to show the lines and shapes clearly, in blur. It was worth taking time to plan and execute the shot. I knew I wanted the shapes to maintain their integrity so the motion was held in check - just enough to elongate the blur but not so much that I lost the distinction between the buildings.
Driving at sunset – racing to find a foreground – netted this shot of an old silo along the railroad track.
The rails were gleaming in the reflected sunlight and were perfect vanishing lines to the silo which had a great shape to contribute to the shot. Vertical motion gave the rails more substance while I elongated the building and picked up shape in the sky. A good sunset is always worthy of a great foreground.
These boats, with their masts reaching into the sky and falling into the water were a natural draw.
The motion followed the masts and was kept minimal because I also wanted to get the details of the rigging. Reality is altered here only slightly. It’s enough though to cause a viewer to lean in and see things differently.
I was drawn to repeating ridges as they layered on the horizon. I knew I wanted a longer exposure to gather echoes and whispers.
I swept along the ridgeline horizontally slightly back and forth to emphasize the ridges and multiply their shapes a bit. The back-and-forth motion also kept the sun from blurring completely into the surrounding sky.
ICM photography has to have excellent bones. A poor shot only gets worse in blur. Successful ICM work has to be founded on photography that has excellent composition. Looking closely at what you are shooting – what the lines and shapes are telling you – makes the decision on the timing and motion much more likely to be successful.
If you are just starting to play with ICM, keep things simple. Find a subject and stay awhile. Keep your shutter at 1/13th second as it will be more controllable. As you try different moves, you will see the results and learn what is possible. You will be training your eye and muscle memory to help you plan more successfully as you progress to new subjects and expand your shutter speed and different moves.
Shooting ICM makes you pay attention to details and composition. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. It’s this mindfulness that spreads into all of your photography – making any genre you shoot better than ever.
I have two books on ICM that give much more detail on how to achieve the results you want.
• Catching My Peripheral Vision
• Advanced ICM Techniques
are available through my website. Clicking on a book cover will get you a sneak preview of what’s inside.
CRITIQUE - A PATH TO CREATING EXCEPTIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY
I was given a helping hand at the beginning of my photographic journey. I was taught the value of critique and more importantly, how to use it to advance my skills. It is my compass. My own journey would be less rich without it. And much less successful.
Critique – it means to criticize right? Actually, no. It means to analyze and when done properly, the emphasis is on the positive. It’s a surprising way to grow photography skills
Every once in a while, we see a photograph that commands us to stop and look and perhaps even see. You know, that photograph that make us look again. Perhaps it causes us to gasp in wonder; cringe in horror; be dazzled by beauty; makes us smile, or even laugh out loud. What is there about these photographs that prompt such diverse feelings? Do they have a common denominator? And if so, can we bottle it and become the exceptional photographer that we want to be?
Luckily for us the answer is yes!
Most photographers never to do a critique of their own work. I’ve been told that I can’t critique my own work - it isn’t right. The people who tell me that really don’t understand what critique is or how to use it.
How can we expect to improve if we don’t know why we like something? Even in our own work, when we are happy with what we have, doesn’t it make sense to understand why? If we critique often, we will find patterns of what appeals to us personally and that information plants seeds in our brains. Those seeds grow and incorporate the things we like into how we shoot.
It’s really pretty simple. You may not know all of the accepted parameters of how to present a critique but you can certainly tell whether you like a photograph or not. You are used to determining whether you like an image every time you look at one. When you see a photograph you either look at it and maybe smile or you pass by to look at something else.
That’s a critique. Short and simple. It’s your first impression. Most people don’t get any further than that in their review of a photograph. They look and then move on - either thinking that it was pretty cool or pretty boring or pretty awful. They are missing the whispers.
When pass by, we don’t learn anything. Sitting and paging through a photography book, or scrolling through photographs on a computer screen is a passive activity. We aren’t exercising much but the hands and fingers we use. We aren’t engaging our brain. A simple reaction - nice, or wow, or yuck, doesn’t teach us a thing.
We are passing up a great learning opportunity. In fact, we are passing up valuable information by the best teacher you could ever wish for to develop your own inner photographic vision. Yourself.
Let’s get practical and take a look at some photographs. Here are three. What do they have in common?
I see many relational aspects. Each of these images uses color effectively. Our eye is drawn immediately to the light. There are prominent storytelling aspects to each shot. None of these photographs were taken at eye level - they use perspective well.
They are technically well done. The color balance in each is well rendered and adds quality to the photograph. The focus is appropriate - our eye is drawn in and easily finds the focal point where it can rest during exploration.
These images have good balance.
The composition in each has used strong elements. They all have well defined shapes and lines. Each has a clear center of interest and everything else in the photograph contributes to the center of interest and makes it more powerful.
Now, pause a minute – choose your favorite above. Imagine seeing it as you scroll through one of the photo apps on your phone or computer. You might have paused a moment and thought nice or cool. What did that reaction teach you? Go back and read the three paragraphs above and imagine that YOU thought about the photograph in those terms. What did you learn?
Note that the images above are all different genres, yet the critique works equally well on all of them. They are very different and yet they are also the same in terms of what makes them good.
Can Critique Really Help Us Shoot Better?
Here’s an example of how critique works in the field when you are shooting. I find myself pointing and shooting when I should be thinking and planning. I think photographers are incredibly lucky people. We look at things differently - we see things in intended ways. We watch the light, consider all the surroundings, look at depth and color and details. We look for the story.
Unless we don’t.
Below is an example of a shot I took in Burma at Shwedagon Paya. It’s a wondrous place; so expansive that it becomes hard to isolate individual pieces. The whole is so intense with colors, scents, noise and atmosphere that it overwhelms the senses.
I did what every tourist with a camera does. I started pointing and shooting. Everything. But then I caught my breath and took a moment to calm down. Took a moment to quiet my brain and let myself just stand there and be.
Then I looked at the last shot I had taken and I did a critique. I was appalled. I went back and looked at another shot and critiqued again. The same result. Terrible shots of a wonderful place.
Here is that first shot I critiqued. Look at that lovely light she isn’t standing in. My depth of field was poor. Take a look at the man in the yellow shirt because he will end up being one of my main focal points. This photograph clearly shows a story taking place but it shows nothing of the emotion of that story. It is a flat two-dimensional tourist photograph.
In the time I took to evaluate what I was doing, the sun moved downward in the sky. The man in yellow found his friend. I changed my camera settings and serendipity sat on my shoulder as they stepped into the light. In truth, the fact that I had found a wonderful spot and had the patience to wait also needs to be factored in.
This photograph has both a visual story for you to read but I also think it evokes the magical and reverent moment. It is the result of a critique done moments before. I knew what I wanted and what I had to do to get it. I had settled down and moved into the moment.
I no longer had that frantic feel - that pressure to shoot. Instead, I relaxed and became part of the scene. I let my calmness direct my work. The real bonus is that my enjoyment of being there, in the moment, made the visit to this amazing place even more meaningful. I wasn’t an observer. I was participating.
It doesn’t matter whether I am in an exotic location, shooting ICM or doing macro work in my own backyard. If I go out to shoot and if I’m frantic to get photographs, they often don't turn out well. Instead, I need to step into the world I’m observing. I need to see what I am looking at. I need to feel the environment and become part of it. And I need to plan my shot so that it includes the elements that will make it good - the elements that matter to me. Light. Color. Shapes. Patterns. Emotions. Balance. The story.
If critique interests you, I have a book that teaches critique and how to use it to improve your own work. It’s called: Critique – a Path to Creating Exceptional Photography. It is filled with examples of photographs and their critiques. It also has an easy-to-use chart that has references on what to look for as you analyze impact (hint, it’s not the subject of your shot), technical aspects and composition. That chart is posted to my wall right next to my computer monitors and I refer to it often.
You can find more information on my photography on my SlickPic website: roxanneoverton.com. I have several galleries, more blogs and information on my books that teach photography. My latest work can be seen on Instagram at @roxanne_overton_photography. I post almost daily. Each shot has to pass a critique before I am willing to show it. That process and the discipline of posting has grown my photography in ways I could have never envisioned.
ICM - Intentional Camera Movement
All of my life I’ve been chasing what I see out of the corner of my eye; those elusive visions, slightly blurred and a bit magical. But when I turn and focus on them, they disappear into ordinary. I wanted to learn how to capture that state of blur. It’s what caught my eye in the first place – I think it’s worth chasing.
If you stop and think about it, most of what is in our field of vision is out of focus. Our eyes are only able to focus on a very small area. Our true focus has no depth of field. I think that’s why many of us are fascinated by photographs without clarity – or how our eye finds clarity within blur.
I’ve actually trained my eye not to focus so it can explore scenes looking for what catches my eye. Only then do I focus in and see what I have found. Then comes the challenge of capturing it in all it’s blurry beauty.
A few years ago, I got an app for my iPhone that easily allowed me to capture those images in their magical and unfocused state. I could leave the phone shutter open one second or two and I could watch an image build and morph on the screen. I was transfixed. The phone became an obsession as I studied what was happening and learned what was possible.
The next step was to take that knowledge and transfer it to my digital camera. I had to figure out how to get the right settings and the correct motions to fix those moments in time onto my sensor. It was incredibly challenging because unlike the phone, where I could watch a photograph emerge, I had to work blind within my camera.
That turned out to be a bonus because through trial and error – lots of error – I made new discoveries and learned. My limited expectations began to expand and they continue to expand to this day.
This journey into capturing my peripheral vision is still a work in progress. I hope it always will be. But I’m far enough along now to share what I have discovered – what I have learned. Here are a couple of tips and hints.
When shooting blur, it is important to follow some kind of line that will maintain clarity. Our eye needs a place to rest and it doesn’t rest in a state of blur.
Subjects for blur can be anything we see – or don’t see clearly. The first step is to start paying attention to what catches your eye. We never find a subject to shoot in clarity that hasn’t entered our consciousness in a state of blur. In your next ‘aha’ moment, back up and think … what caused me to look at this? What caught my eye? Be mindful.
The next step is to identify if you want to try and capture that moment before clarity. If the answer is yes, then your journey has begun.
Blur photography happens with a longer shutter speed. My favorites are 1/10 – 1/13th for most subjects but I also have other subjects that do well with one or two seconds. I started with the shorter exposures and worked hard on camera control. I personally do not use a tripod – I sort of dance with my camera. Without a tripod, steady hands are important.
Here are two examples of camera settings. One short and one a bit longer. These are Lightroom screen shots.
Think Before You Shoot - Bring Home Photos You Love!
Travel photography always creates a sense of urgency in me. When I arrive at a new place I can easily be overwhelmed with awe. Sights, sounds, smells and fatigue all conspire to overpower my brain. My urge is to try and capture it all, and it takes conscious effort to slow down and organize my thoughts.
The places I’ve been privileged to see are wildly amazing and it’s a challenge to bring home images that match my experience. Itʼs also a challenge to bring home images someone else hasnʼt already taken – to find something original at places like the Taj Mahal.
I know my equipment and use it often – not just my cameras, but lenses, filters, flashes, etc. When I buy something, I learn how to use it. My camera must be an extension of me so that my reactions can be instinctively right. There’s a lot to consider when shooting; learning how to use equipment can’t be on my mind.
Before I leave, I sort through everything and decide what Iʼm going to take with me. Next, I start using it. I make time to go out and take photographs. I run through different scenarios that I might encounter and make sure that using my photography tools is second nature to me. I refresh my mind on how things work if I havenʼt been using them for a while. Good examples might be my flash attachment or specialized filters.
Digital gives us many great gifts in photography but the ease of feedback has to be near the top. Live view and software programs give me the ability to analyze and make changes. Trying different settings and approaches broadens choices and helps capture distinctive views that tell my story. I study other people’s images, the ones that inspire me, and figure out how they move into things. I don’t try to copy what they do. I try and learn how they see things and it helps me expand my own vision.
When I happen into a scene that I want to shoot, my mind runs through a series of questions, “What’s the story here? Who or what is the star? Are there leading lines, shapes or patterns I can use? Is there a ‘moment’ about to happen? Where do I need to be?” What is the light doing? I think before I shoot. I may never pass this way again. I certainly will never be back under the exact same circumstances so I want to make what I shoot really counts.
Every photograph I take is the expression of my inner voice bursting to get out. Photography is visual language. When I want to say something with words, I formulate them to get my point across. When things are blurted without thought, often the point of what I want to say is lost. The same is true with visual language. If it is to succeed, thought must go into our photography procedure.
There are many things to consider as we start this decision-making process. The camera flattens what the eye sees in our three-dimensional world and compresses it into two dimensions. Light is one of our most powerful tools to add back part what the camera takes away. Don’t ignore perspective. Most photographs are shot from eye level. When I gain a different perspective, I see the world change.
Travel brings all kinds of restrictions. I think about what I have to work with, not what I wish I had. Embrace constraints – interesting photography happens because of them. I can battle the weather, the light or the wrong lens and go home empty-handed. Or I can embrace the limitations and work with them, finding an image I might never have suspected was there.
I always look behind me. It’s surprising how often the best shots are at my back. Look around and be aware. Look around and see what’s coming. Then move into position.
Good photographs elicit emotions. When I consider the lines, light, placement, framing and all the other choices I have, my images will more likely express not only what I saw, but also how I felt. Photographs speak to viewers because they tell a story. It’s important to choose the correct elements to make that story intentional and evocative.
The choices of how to capture a subject are almost limitless. When traveling in Cambodia, I came across a lady carrying water from a lake. It was sunset. It didnʼt take much thought to frame and shoot the photograph below.
Itʼs a lovely shot. But there were a lot of people with cameras and phones stopping to take the same photograph. Was there another choice to capture the magic of this moment – the swish of the water – a bit of her dance? For me, the answer was yes.
The gifts of being a traveler with a camera are enormous. We see so much more than other travelers. We note details, light and people; we look deeply. Even without our photographs we bring home richer experiences. We don’t just pass through. We become part of the environment.
A photograph is magic. We can capture a moment in time and subsequently savor it for as long as we want. When it’s done well, others are delighted that we share our work and let them journey with us.
As we think about packing our gear, remember the most valuable tool in our tool box is ourselves. Keep your head, think before you click the shutter, bring home photographs you love; and happy shooting!
Fun with Multiple Exposures
Cameras can capture all kinds of fun and my firm belief is that when we color outside the lines – play and not take things too seriously – we learn.
I’ve been hand blending photographs for years. I love taking pictures of a subject from a lot of different angles. This method usually requires that I keep the subject in the middle of the frame and shoot anywhere from three to 20 shots. I load them as layers into Photoshop and then turn everything off visibly except the bottom layer. I then start blending from the bottom up until I get the image I imagined.
One day I was playing around in Photoshop and found that there were other options where I could auto-blend layers. I could give up control and let Photoshop make the decisions. The intriguing thing here was that I didn’t know what Photoshop would envision. I soon learned that the program took my images to places I would have never imagined.
I could take multiple images of the bridge moving the camera just a little bit between shots – up and down, tipping this way and that – and then ask Photoshop to do an auto-blend.
Imagine 14 individual shots like this but with each one taken from a slightly different vantage point.
Then I put them in auto blend to see what Photoshop does.
A rather bland hallway seemed interesting and I specifically shot 10 images for auto blend. They were all variations on shots like this:
I did a mix of still shots and those using ICM, intentional camera movement. The result is kind of elegant:
Playing with this is really fun and it’s surprisingly simple to accomplish in terms of using Photoshop. After you’ve played with it a bit, you’ll find yourself looking for good subject and that can get challenging – planning for what you hope. And you will sometimes get it – and other times Photoshop will show you something you would have never dreamed possible.
Load your photographs as layers in Photoshop. You can do this by selecting them in Lightroom and going to edit > add as layers.
Once in Photoshop, select all the layers > Shift A. Then go to the menu at the top and choose Edit>Auto-Blend Layers
The window looks like the following and these are my settings:
It’s just that simple – so go have some fun!
Has Instagram ruined or helped photography? Like anything, it depends on who you ask. In my case, the question speaks to high quality photography – not the everyday snapshots which abound ad nausea.
It used to be that I could pack up my camera and travel near or far and take original photographs. Even if I was shooting iconic scenes or structures, I could do it in a way that made the image mine.
Now things have changed. Everywhere I go there are people taking pictures with cameras or phones. If I go to a well-known site, there will be 50 or 100 tripods set up in a row. Some of the results will make their way on to Instagram and some of the results will be very good. The one thing I can count on is that if I line up with them, I won’t get anything original anymore.
I found myself getting a bit depressed over this. I wanted the shots I took to be unmistakably mine. I wanted them to convey what I saw and felt at the moment I clicked the shutter. It occurred to me that if that was my intent that first, I needed to identify what I was seeing – how I was seeing it – what I was feeling – and how could I convey that?
Tall order. But it has led me down new paths of photography and has resulted in unique photographs – in fact, the most exciting photographs I have ever taken.
It became all about perspective. Not in the usual terms of perspective – but in new terms which gave different results. Traditionally, perspective in photography is about camera level – is it eye level – ground level – up on a ladder – or?
This perspective was more total in its content. It was about what was happening. What was the atmosphere – motion or still – my intent? Everything around my subject came into play. I found if I introduced camera motion with a long exposure, I would get interesting/exciting results.
Another way to photograph in an urban area was to look at my subject from a reflection. That way I could add altered reality to what I was going to shoot. Framing my subject in a different context allowed me to see it in a whole new way.
A simple street photo became very nontraditional.
Plain windows sharing advertising on a reflecting window across the street take on more interest.
And sometimes, just the reflection itself becomes the subject on its own.
Another interesting perspective is multiple exposure. Taking a good look at a single subject from a few different angles is one way to accomplish it.
It’s also interesting to add camera motion to multiple expsoures. An entirely different look and feel shows itself. It’s especially fun and challenging to build these kinds of shots in-camera and not rely on software.
Unexpected results occur when you take some random photographs of a specific area and merge them into a single composite. Everything is related but in a unique way.
An unexpected bonus came from this path. I found all kinds of interesting subjects that I had totally ignored in the past. I was busy looking for that perfect shot – you know – the beautiful, breathtaking image. Now I find breathtaking images all over the place. Common sights seen in unexpected ways net fascinating photography.
Here I worked on capturing the Empire State Building into a meaningful image that differs from what I usually see.
When I get one of those shots, it sends me out looking for more – and they are everywhere!
Experimentation has given me new insights in how I might want to capture subjects. It has given me new paths to explore. In the exploration, I have discovered new ways to see things and my own personal horizons have expanded beyond what had become a bit too ordinary for me.
The New York City skyline has been shot and shot and shot. I wanted to shoot it too.
These new horizons have been exhilerating. Every time I think I can’t possibly come up with a new approach, I find myself seeing some of the same old things in unexpectedly new ways and I figure out how to capture them.
What I have outlined above has been part of the journey I have been on with my photography in more recent years. For awhile I felt guilty when I went places and only took these non traditional photographs. But not anymore. I let all those people on Instagram do that.
You can see me there as well ;-) @roxanne_overton_photography
Please visit www.roxanneoverton.com — where you will find more photography and information on my instructional and travel series photography books.
Impressionism Techniques in Photography
It’s surprising what we can do with a camera once we quit coloring between the lines and start thinking outside the box.
Whispers are caught as we let time gather on the sensor. In the case above a full second passed while the camera dipped and weaved a bit gathering its data. It takes practice – lots of it. But in time we can sense what we capture, even without our eye to the viewfinder.
The longer exposures allow minuscule amounts of time to stagger a bit – a little more spent here rather than there – as our second collects. It gives more emphasis to some elements and lets other elements leave the barest hint that they were there.
You might think that isn’t possible within a tiny second but if you stop and think about how little motion it takes in intended sharp photography to inadvertently blur a photograph, you soon realize that a full second of time offers a lot of opportunity. 2.5 seconds, even more.
I use ND filers – usually a six stop unless it is very bright. Then I will pull out the 10. It allows me to play in .5 – 2.5 second time ranges as I shoot.
We aren’t limited to landscape photography when we play with this technique. It’s all about shape and color and tone. Any subject that catches your eye will do.
The table umbrella, collapsed and solitary, is a case in point. This is another 1 second exposure. Instead of sweeping the camera in arc type movements, I quickly ‘placed’ the camera three time. Quick movement, stop, move, stop, move – time up!
It gives the appearance of a multiple exposure shot in a very abstract form.
The camera movement we choose has no rule. Nothing is right or wrong in your choice. It comes down to experimentation and preferences in outcomes. And don’t forget all that practice you have to do to learn what works and what doesn’t. All that practice also teaches what’s possible.
The above shot was taken over 1.6 second with a lot of stuttering around. I underexposed to put emphasis on the brilliantly lit sails that multiplied with each slight jerk of the camera.
Another motion technique I use is very slight in and out, or up and down – very quickly. Almost like polishing the pixels in my mind. It blurs things slightly and gives some detail edges in a smudgy kind of way.
The genre of photography doesn’t matter. Think about the great impressionists – they painted everything from landscape to portrait to architecture to battles to seascapes. Anything that caught their fancy was tried. We all have that same latitude. Every shot is an adventure waiting to be interpreted.
If this type of photography intrigues you, put yourself in a dreamy state. And when you spot something that catches your eye – step outside the box. The camera is waiting for you to ask it to dance. The photograph above used that polishing technique – constant motion but not very much.
Each of us will find our own moves that are unique to us. No two of us will interpret the same way. We’ll choose our shutter speeds and play a bit. I usually try several shots – each unique in my approach. I change shutter speeds and moves and often get inspired by snippets of what I see. My goals are known to change depending on where the results of previous shots lead me. It’s truly an adventure.
In this shot I spent time in one area and then less time in the next and the next. It gave me imprints of shape and tone and color slightly out of register. There is no mistaking the subject. The lack of clarity – the impression – gives each viewer the freedom to tell their own story – to fill their own imaginations.
In this day of Instagram, iconic shots are everywhere. People go out and take the same photographs, following the same rules and come back with very similar shots. The photographs that catch our eye are the ones that see things a bit differently.
There is no right or wrong way to interpret what you see. You are shooting the story. It becomes you, your camera and your imagination. Mix that with practice and skills and you can truly make original photography that is unique to you.
Sweep the camera in a bit of a dance – gather the light and celebrate the creation of an original!
Before I close, there is an important caveat to keep in mind. We are blurring things but we cannot forego good shooting principles. We must pay attention to good composition, lighting and extra attention to lines and shapes. If we throw good photography out the window, we will spend our time shooting bad photography. My own opinion is that impressionistic work, any type of ICM (intentional camera movement) must be pristine in its approach. If it isn’t, we will end up with a blurry mess.
The above was shot over 1.3 second and the moves were definitely rock ‘n roll! Now it’s your turn to ask for a dance!
Please visit www.roxanneoverton.com — where you will find more photography and information on my instructional and travel series photography books.