How to: Create an ICM abstract image

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If you’ve ever seen those dreamy shots of coasts that turn the incoming waves into lovely strips of colour, you might be wondering how to do it yourself.

Image: Mike O'Connor

The reality is it’s a simple technique that can bring something different to your seascape captures, and the results also make for great arty photos when printed and framed on your wall.

1)    Choose your location

First, you’ll need a beach with nothing in either the foreground or distant horizon for best results. Avoid locations with distractions in the water like moored boats or surfers as these will distract from the minimalist effect this style of photography is known for.

Compositionally, try to have the sea occupy about 2/3rds of your frame as this is where all the action is. A longer lens will allow you to isolate the water from any distractions in the foreground – I’ve used my 85mm lens here.

As with all seascape photography, you’ll find you get the best colours at either just before sunrise or just past blue hour.

2)    Set up your tripod

Although you can do this technique handheld, a tripod allows for a consistent pan and will help reduce wavy lines throughout the duration of your exposure. Set your tripod up on the shoreline and lock down the legs.

You’ll want to have all but the panning knob tightly locked to allow controlled movement.

3)    Stop down

Set your camera to Manual and step down your aperture to f22 as a starting point.

Although you would generally avoid using such a narrow aperture with most landscape photography (due to diffraction), for an abstract ICM shot like this it won’t affect the result as we are deliberately trying to remove all detail from the end result. The narrow aperture will let you choose a longer shutter speed which is key to the blurred water effect.

4)    Add filters if necessary

You’ll want to aim for a shutter speed of around 0.5s and your ISO at its lowest setting. If you’re finding you can’t achieve this, you may need to add a ND filter to reduce the amount of light coming into your lens and extend the exposure time.

5)    Set up your remote shutter

With your camera and tripod setup, get your remote trigger ready. It’s important the camera doesn’t wobble during the exposure to get consistent flat ‘rows’ through your frame.

If you don’t have a dedicated shutter release on hand (like me), many mirrorless cameras offer companion apps that will allow you to do the same thing, or you can set a shutter delay of 3s.

6)    Start shooting

The capture technique is simple. Gently and slowly start panning the camera from left to right or right to left and as the movement starts, fire the shutter so that the exposure occurs while the camera pan is underway. You’ll want to avoid stop/start movements and maintain a consistent panning motion.

The technique may require a little trial and error to get the technique right, but when done correctly it should create straight lines in an otherwise abstract blurred frame. 

Image: Mike O'Connor
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