Sigma quattro sd-h

A Guide To ICM Photography

I have been getting quite experimental with my photography this year and recently stumbled upon ICM, or Intentional Camera Movement photography. I fell into the work of photographer Andy Gray and was immediately blown away by the painterly feel of his images.

An ICM photo of Hornby Lighthouse in Sydney, Australia, my first attempt at the technique.

An ICM photo of Hornby Lighthouse in Sydney, Australia, my first attempt at the technique.

Thankfully, Andy has a wonderful YouTube channel where he breaks down step-by-step his entire process, from capture to post-processing. I definitely recommend checking it out to see just how much work goes into each image.

An ICM photo of the Sydney Opera House. Another ICM image of poppies from the Botanic Gardens has been used as a second exposure layered over the first.

An ICM photo of the Sydney Opera House. Another ICM image of poppies from the Botanic Gardens has been used as a second exposure layered over the first.

What’s required? Well, a camera, though megapixels don’t really matter given the abstract nature of the finished product, and also an ND filter. It seems something between a 6-stop and a 10-stop is what work’s best, allowing exposures within the 0.5-1.5sec  range during the middle of the day. If you wanted to skip the filter, I suppose you could shoot closer to sundown and sunrise where the exposures would be longer handheld. Like everything with this technique, however, there are no hard and fast rules. It is all about experimentation.

I opted for a 6-stop in 77mm to suit my Sigma 50mm f1.4 and also 24mm 1.4, a wider lens being the preferred option. At around $100 AUD, it’s not a terribly expensive way to get into ICM, plus you can use the filter for more traditional purposes.

The Sigma SD-H itself probably isn’t the best choice of camera. It buffers slowly and the RAW files are tedious to process when you get back home, requiring you to be somewhat picky when it comes to post-processing. Expect to take a lot of photos.

Another ICM image of Hornby Lighthouse. This one reminds of the famous aerial shots of Shark Bay in Western Australia

Another ICM image of Hornby Lighthouse. This one reminds of the famous aerial shots of Shark Bay in Western Australia

As for the process, if you watch Andy’s videos you’ll get an idea of the movement required. I set f11 and around 0.5sec, starting with a shaking motion and then a longer, whipping motion. I slowly worked up to longer exposures, trying to follow lines within the scene. It’s very much like painting… with a very expensive brush.

If there are people around, note this: You are going to look like an absolute idiot. One guy suggested ‘I don’t think that’s how you use a camera, mate’. I simply smiled back, not able to dial up a suitable comeback in time. I found the best results were when I really got into it, almost violent in the movement in able to create the required textural effect.

It’s also important you start with a regular composition in mind, just as you would if you were taking a traditional landscape. You need a prominent feature or point of interest the abstraction works around. So, frame up the scene as would normally and then go to town. I don’t have any castles or ruins nearby like Andy, but I do have Sydney Harbour and its many wonderful icons.

Another important point is to beware of highlights. It was an extremely bright day when I first tried this. Any small highlight source within the frame can easily ruin a shot by basically slicing it up with pure white. It’s a little hard to explain, but if you think you see specular highlights that are going to be blown out, avoid them in your movement.

This animation shows how the image at the top of this post was created using layers within Photoshop.

This animation shows how the image at the top of this post was created using layers within Photoshop.

Into post-processing and I simply looked for frames that stood out where the movement seem right and balanced, or the texture was right. From there it’s into Photoshop, stacking up the layers and running through masks and blend modes to find an initial base to work from.

Once the initial image has started to come together, it’s into Analog Efex Pro 2. Here, Andy uses a variety of tools to help further abstract and shape the image, but notably vignette, double exposure (inverting the image) and film effects. I found it also helped scrolling through the factory camera presets within Analog Pro 2 to see if anything worked, especially the ‘Motion’ cameras. Andy also uses Vivuza for spot adjustments, but I didn’t feel the need myself. As they say, there are lots of ways to skin the cat in Photoshop.

I think of post-processing in two parts: Colour and contrast, effectively leaving colour until last. I tried a curves layer first, adjusting RGB channels individually, but I couldn’t seem to make it work. Instead, I loaded up a LUT adjustment layer and simply scrolled through all the LUTs I have on file (which is quite a few) until I found something I liked and adjusted opacity from there. The Selective Color and Hue/Adjustment layers were good for fine-tuning.

Finally, I let the images sit there for days at a time, slowly tweaking until I thought they were good enough. It’s very easy to get stuck in a kind of ‘post-processing loop’ with these sorts of images, constantly adding and removing adjustment layers and masks, tweaking and tweaking and circling back on yourself. When I found myself doing this, I would turn off all layers except for the base exposure and add them back one by one adjusting as I went.

The above images show the interesting detail when seen at 100%.

Overall, I think I’m pleased with the results, though they are not what I expected at all. That’s the beauty of a style like this: You don’t know what you’re going to get. I’d love to make some prints and really study them.

I will say it was extremely frustrating at times. The images took a lot longer to process than usual largely in part because so much trial and error is required. It is rewarding, though, when you finally have something on screen that doesn’t look like a dog’s breakfast.

If you’d like to support Andy and his channel, you can do so here. Look out for more ICM work in the future.

An abstract view of Sydney Harbour created using the Intentional Camera Movement technique. Note what happened with the specular highlights on the water in the bottom right, but in this case I think it works.

An abstract view of Sydney Harbour created using the Intentional Camera Movement technique. Note what happened with the specular highlights on the water in the bottom right, but in this case I think it works.

Rattle & Hum Car Show With The Sigma SD-H

Many moons ago I was a car magazine editor. As such, you might say I have a certain appreciation for a fine automobile, plenty of which could be found at the 2019 Rattle & Hum car show at Castle Hill RSL. I decided to go along with the Sigma SD-H and 50mm 1.4 to see if I could hunt down some abstracts. The results came up nicely. Can you guess what models of car these are?

As this was an Australian vintage car show, you might not be familiar with some of these models, but there was plenty of American muscle on hand as well. I’ve found with this style high key-like photography I’m into these days that direct sun on your subject works best when it comes time to process. A subject in shadow can prove difficult to get the effect right on.

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This is something I’ve be keen on shooting for quite a while, so I’m thinking about expanding it out to air and truck shows when I get a chance. If nothing else, it’s a great way to get the kids out exploring what everyone got around in back in the ‘olden days’.

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Here’s the full gallery:

Tin City, Stockton Beach With The Sigma SD-H

I have many fond memories of the Stockton Beach growing up. Located about an hour-and-a-half from Sydney, access is 4WD only. It’s one of the few beaches along the coast where you can drive along the sand and, to a smaller extent these days, the dunes.

Amongst the dunes is a strange settlement of ramshackle structures known as Tin City. At first, rising from the sand, you expect to see a Stormtrooper and a droid, perhaps an Interceptor, but it’s actually the last legal squatters settlement in Australia.

The ‘city’ started in the early 1900s as tin shacks for shipwreck survivors. In the 1930s it grew out to around 36 huts, around 11 of which stand today, and yes, people were here the day I visited. As I understand it, the huts cannot be sold, but are sort of passed down from generation to generation. Since my last visit 20 years ago, many had been repaired and added upon, some looked pretty well sorted! Fishing seems to be the predominant pastime.

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It didn’t stop raining all day, which meant we did have the beach to ourselves, but it did make photography difficult. I was initially disappointed, hoping for blue skies and strong light for the high  key style I use these days, but on reflection I like the way the rain added an ethereal mood to the images. It actually gels very well with the subject matter—lone buildings left out in the elements.

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I also shot some of the dunes, focussing on some timber fencing that had fallen (read: been run) over. I like the minimalist feel of these images and hope to return to take more. Of course, the famous wreck was another shoot hot spot but it was, drum roll, underwater when we arrived. Next time.

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Check out the full gallery:

New Zealand With The Sigma SD-H

I’ve decided to title this latest series Long White (all images here), not after New Zealand itself, but the cruiseliner we travelled on. I was born in Auckland, have returned many times over the years, but I found travelling this way offered a new and unique perspective. It also provided the opportunity to visit many ports and cities I otherwise would never have seen, such as Port Chalmers, Dunedin, Picton, Akaroa and so on.

Milford Sound offered mood in spades. It’s a South Island must-see.

Milford Sound offered mood in spades. It’s a South Island must-see.

Once more I aimed to look for the unique in the ordinary and seemingly banal. I’m constantly trying to refine my compositions down, to really simplify them to their most essential elements. It was an interesting journey. In fact, I found a lot of material in the ports themselves, the higher vantage point offered by our balcony provided a sort of aerial view.

There was plenty of visual interest in the ports, the cruiseliner we sailed on offering a high perspective.

There was plenty of visual interest in the ports, the cruiseliner we sailed on offering a high perspective.

Of course, a cruise is also the perfect way to see the sounds of the South Island. We travelled through Milford, Dusky and Doubtful. They are, as you would expect, extremely scenic, especially layered in mist and cloud, the sun breaking through sporadically. If you have never been to New Zealand, and especially the South Island, do make it a priority. There’s endless photographic material.

Finding a way to show the scale of Milford Sound and its towering peaks can be difficult.

Finding a way to show the scale of Milford Sound and its towering peaks can be difficult.

Many would say light is the most important element of photography, but I disagree. For me, composition trumps all else, and while great light is nice, it’s not essential to making an interesting photograph. Unfortunately, composition is one of those elements of photography that’s hard to learn, hard to teach and ultimately in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think even in the space of a lifetime you could master it.

My favourite image of the trip, taken in Dunedin. The city itself was full of art and life.

My favourite image of the trip, taken in Dunedin. The city itself was full of art and life.

In terms of equipment, I took the Sigma SD-H with the 50mm f1.4 ART and left the 24mm at home. I didn’t find I had need for a wider focal length, so I think the ‘one body, one lens’ idea will carry through from now on. I prefer it this way, getting used to the one focal length and not having to change lenses, to remove one more barrier or choice, of thinking, during a composition. The more I can minimise my gear and photography to its most essential elements, the better.

As usual, the Sigma performed extremely well. The weather sealing on the SD came in useful. For the first time I had to raise ISO during our trip through the sounds owing to the dark, wet, and windy conditions. It was a real test for both photographer and camera.

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A tight crop of the image above showing the impressive detail the Sigma SD-H is able to capture.

A tight crop of the image above showing the impressive detail the Sigma SD-H is able to capture.

I also find myself watching a lot of film channels, such as William Verbeeck’s, Negative Feedback and so on, and idolising many film photographers as well. I’m still tugged towards film from time to time, the tones and feel, so perhaps the next trip I will take both the Mamiya RB67 and the Sigma SD-H, to compare and try to settle this once and for all.

The colours here really say New Zealand to me, the green and black and white. I think the fact this crop means the word parlour has a sense of ambiguity about it.

The colours here really say New Zealand to me, the green and black and white. I think the fact this crop means the word parlour has a sense of ambiguity about it.

Am I happy with this series? Yes and no. With Broken there was only ever one type of weather: real damn hot and bright as can be. In New Zealand, you could have four or five different weather systems in the space of an hour, the darker and moodier of which don’t work well with the usual post-processing treatment for these images. As such, I worked on the more traditional landscapes as if they were just that.

I guess cohesion is the issue. I wanted a cohesive look to the images, but they seem to be in two camps: modern minimal and LOTR eat-your-heart-out. Still, I’m happy with many of the final compositions. This observational style of photography has really opened up a world of possibility for me, because you don’t need to chase light, so to speak, nor seek out grand landscapes. You’re simply looking for anything of visual interest.

Where to next? I have no immediate plans, but stay tuned. You never know where I’m likely to pop up.

There were plenty of compositions to be found on the ship itself.

There were plenty of compositions to be found on the ship itself.

These striped pedestrian crossing poles are unique to New Zealand (I think), but it took me a while to find a suitable background for one.

These striped pedestrian crossing poles are unique to New Zealand (I think), but it took me a while to find a suitable background for one.

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Outback NSW With The Sigma SD-H

A few weeks I flew out to Broken Hill, driving back through White Cliffs and Cobar. It was clear to see the effect the drought is having on both the land and the people. It’s an extremely unforgiving environment, and I’ve tried to impart that in this series of photos I’ve titled ‘Broken’. It’s also uncompromisingly Australian, and again, I hope that cultural quirkiness shines through.

The lunar landscape that is White Cliffs, NSW.

The lunar landscape that is White Cliffs, NSW.

This also marks a new direction in my landscape photography, one more aligned with why I was drawn to the medium in the first place. It places emphasis on composition and minimalism, influenced by photographers like Christian Fletcher and artists such as Jeffrey Smart. It’s a far more observational sort of photography, turning the trip into a sort of photographic treasure hunt. There’s no more getting up at the crack of dawn or using a tripod. In fact, these kinds of photos work best in the glaring right on the midday sun. It’s almost the complete opposite of traditional landscape photography.

Old tanks at the Junction Mine in Broken Hill. The texture the SD-H picked up is incredible.

Old tanks at the Junction Mine in Broken Hill. The texture the SD-H picked up is incredible.

And I loved it. Every. Moment.

This is the first trip I’ve taken with the Sigma SD-H after my DP1 gave up the ghost. I took the Sigma 50mm f1.4 ART and also the Sigma 24mm f1.4 ART, though I only used the 24mm for a few shots. Both lenses are excellent, as is to be expected, but I did find the 50mm length (which is slightly tele on the cropped SD-H sensor) was better suited to this work and probably all I need.

I haven’t had this much enjoyment from photography in a long time. It’s definitely a move in the right direction.

I haven’t had this much enjoyment from photography in a long time. It’s definitely a move in the right direction.

The 50 1.4, as great as it is, though, is HEAVY. The biggest benefit of the DP Quattros was their small form factor. They are so light and transportable, but the 50/SD-H combo is much more in line with a DSLR. Coming from a Phase One, even the RB67, however, it felt like a feather!

Few things weather well in the Australian outback. This was a disused fuel tank.

Few things weather well in the Australian outback. This was a disused fuel tank.

I was really impressed with the SD-H. It improves on the Quattros in many important areas, notably AF, dynamic range, focus peaking, EVF etc. It’s still a niche product that won’t be useful to 90% of photographers, but for this kind of work it’s almost unbeatable at this price point. It’s not ‘medium format in your pocket’ any more, but it does provide medium format-like results at a fraction of the cost—the detail and tones are just that good.

My main focus these days is minimalism. It’s harder than you would imagine to find clean, uncluttered compositions.

My main focus these days is minimalism. It’s harder than you would imagine to find clean, uncluttered compositions.

Yes, the software still sucks, and yes, it’s slow, but it’s always worthwhile when you open up the files and see all that juicy information on offer. Scrolling around the images at 100% I was amazed how much I’d missed taking the shot in the first place-a treasure hunt within the treasure hunt, so to speak.

The side of a charity clothing bin—Not your usual subject fodder

The side of a charity clothing bin—Not your usual subject fodder

I did start to get overheating warnings with the SD-H, though it was around 38 degrees Celsius in the sun, nor did it probably help I’d left my camera back in the back of a cooking car for a few hours. I haven’t had the same issue since.

Trip-wise, I’d never been to the outback before, so this was a real eye-opener. The textures and colours on offer were wonderful. Even the most banal and mundane subjects provided unique photographic opportunity, and I’m certainly looking forward to finding more in 2019.

See the full gallery HERE.

There were some impressive murals spotted during our road trip. There’s a lot of artistic talent in the outback.

There were some impressive murals spotted during our road trip. There’s a lot of artistic talent in the outback.

This brickwork has such a distinctly Australian feel to it. It’s a common sight around the country.

This brickwork has such a distinctly Australian feel to it. It’s a common sight around the country.

Simple, as they say, is often best.

Simple, as they say, is often best.

White Cliffs offers up an alien landscape perfectly suited to this kind of photography.

White Cliffs offers up an alien landscape perfectly suited to this kind of photography.

This solar farm was once at the cutting edge of solar technology.

This solar farm was once at the cutting edge of solar technology.