Create abstract art photographs with deliberate camera movement and slow shutter speeds


I enjoy visiting art galleries and browsing impressionist paintings by artists such as Turner. I’ve almost always lived by the sea, so I find seascapes very relaxing. There is something about the movement of a painting that is difficult to reproduce in a photograph.

Difficult, but not impossible. With long exposures and deliberately moving your camera in different ways, you can create beautiful abstract images that, with a little experimentation, might even be worth hanging on your own wall.

I spent a few months living near the beach and used my time to experiment a bit with seascape photography at different times of the day. I wanted to try different panning and zooming techniques with long exposures to see what I would get, and after a good while of experimentation I was very pleased with the results. Here’s what I discovered to make the most of that deliberate camera movement.


This was taken during a stormy twilight at the beach. 1/4 sec.

What type of environment is a good setting for this type of photography? Well, anything that has strong lines (vertical or horizontal) because you’re essentially reducing the image to a series of colored bands or textures. Skyscrapers, forests, and bodies of water where you can clearly see the horizon and shoreline work well.

This was taken in the middle of the afternoon and has a very different feel to the early morning and evening images. 1/8 sec.

Also, anything with high contrast and strong colors will work. You will also find that you will get different results at different times of the day and in different weather. My favorite moment was actually just before sunrise on the beach. I live on an east-facing coast, so about 30 minutes before the sun appears over the horizon, I created some amazing different colors. Every day was different.


Sunrise, I love the feeling of movement that receding waves give you. 1/6 sec, 50mm

I tried different lenses and focal lengths. I tried a 105mm, a 50mm, a 35mm and a 15mm. I preferred the 50mm because it had the most natural compression and depth of field. The longer lens felt compressed and out of focus to me a bit too much, removing any wave texture. The 35mm and up had too much detail for my liking.

My favorite shutter speed was around 1/4 second, with the lowest possible ISO and an aperture of f11 to f16. I also used an ND filter if necessary, especially for 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 photos.

You can try several different moves, all of which create different effects. Try, experiment and create your own. The movement should generally be short and sharp as opposed to slow and smooth which I have found for best results.

Saucepan (side to side)

Side-to-side panning works best for landscapes with horizontal lines, like coastlines, lakes, and seashores. I’ve also seen some nice shots of tulip fields using this side-panning technique.

For best results, you should move your camera in a sideways motion, parallel to the floor, rotating at the hips. As I said above, the movement can be quite sudden. Try to avoid any up and down motion and keep it totally along the horizontal plane. Try different motion speeds with different shutter speeds to create the effect you are looking for.

Tilt (up and down)

I rather like the way this photo came out, with the trees much darker than the edge of the forest behind it creating a nice effect. 0.6 sec.

This is very similar to side panning but moves in a vertical direction. It works great for tree photography, especially if you have nice fall foliage, and you can create some really nice abstract images with it.

Lots of ghosts in this image on the forest floor. I don’t hate it…0.6 seconds.

For this move, I tend to move my wrists in a short, sharp incline, as opposed to pan. I just find it creates the right amount of movement. Again, it’s much less of a science and more of an art and an experiment, so just try out different moves and see what works best for you.

As you can see in the images below, the fall colors contribute a lot to the effect, but even then you’ll find that different movements and speeds will yield very different results. Pointing the lens at treetops was quite different from pointing it only at tree trunks.


This was taken pointed directly at the treetops and the sky. It almost looks like a reflection in water. I used a 17-50mm zoom for this, 1/6 second.

It’s fun and you can create spectacular circular images with it. I try to start with the arms twisted, then once I press the shutter I quickly untwist the arms. It’s easier to do it this way than starting with your arms untwisted and a string to spin them fairly quickly.


With the zoom technique, you want to make sure that the center of the image has some sort of dynamic detail that will be enhanced by the zoom effect. The tree trunks in this image were already creating nice leading lines away from the center. 0.6 sec.

The zoom in or zoom out technique is a classic and can yield slightly trippy results. You want to find a place that has strong leading lines or perspective from the center of the image to the edges, or something with strong color contrasts.

Again, start with your hand in the most uncomfortable twisted position, then rotate the lens through the exposure as fast as you can. In fact, you don’t need a lot of movement to create interesting results.

Filming like this is certainly not for everyone, but for me it can be an interesting way to spend an afternoon, trying different things with your camera and creating some unusual results. I rarely need to do post-processing on the footage I like, although I admit that for every scene and camera movement I come away with a lot of misses, and only a handful of frames that I will keep .

I have to warn you though, it’s weirdly addicting once you try it!


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