Go Abstract With Camera Dragging (Part 1)

6/16/2012 2:52:22 PM

Open the camera shutter and sweep the scene to create abstract effects

 ‘In the right conditions, the results will produce a painterly fine-art effect’

Description: Get the Green Abstract Lights stock photo

Get the Green Abstract Lights stock photo

The landscape genre is popular with many photographers for various reasons. For some, venturing into the outdoors is an excuse to unwind and escape from everyday stresses, whereas for others it’s about connecting to nature and capturing the beauty of the land. Whatever the reason, next time you’re out and about with your camera take an abstract approach to the landscape genre, and be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Camera dragging refers to a photographic technique, which involves opening the shutter and panning (or dragging) the camera up, down or across the scene. If approached correctly, in the right conditions, the results will produce a painterly fine-art effect. How you move the camera and at what speed will have an effect on the outcome too.

‘Push the creative element and explore alternative shots’

Description: Dreamland Beach in Bali

Dreamland Beach in Bali

The best place to start with this technique is to consider location. There are many places that will work, but none are better than the beach. The coloured layers of sand, sea and sky teamed with landmarks and jagged rocks blend pleasingly together in an image. Wooded areas also produce effective results, as you can pan the camera up and down the vertical trunks of the trees. You should also consider other natural locations such as mountains, hillsides and rivers, or if you prefer to shoot in a man-made environment, then bright city lights provide you with an interesting subject. Alternatively, if you want to create a home setup, then this is also possible. Scarves in bold colours work particularly well and to get the best results place a few in lines and pan the camera along the various textures and colours. The great thing about this type of photography is that you can really push the creative element and explore alternative surroundings and subjects.

In an outdoor location setting you need to consider the time of day. Sunsets and sunrises produce intense colours and you’ll find it easier to keep the shutter open for longer periods of time without overexposing the shot. Daytime exposures also work well and produce saturated results, particularly if you use a neutral density filter to help lengthen your shutter speeds and minimise overexposure.

For this type of photography you need to carefully consider how the composition and colours in the image will work together. Look for complementary colours. For example, at the beach, the blue sky against the orange/yellow sand will mix well together. In a wooded area, the green trees will harmonise with red berries. You’re going to be moving your camera into a space so think about the start and end positioning of your camera.

Description: Woodland scenes

There are technical aspects of your shoot that you will need to think about too. Although you’re going to be blurring the image, if you want to keep the blurred lines straight you should consider setting your camera up on a tripod or monopod. Alternatively if you want the image to have a more organic feel then ditch the tripod and experiment with circular movements of your camera as you take your shot. This comes down to personal preference. For beach and woodland scenes a tripod should be used, as keeping the lines intact works best for these images.

How you move the camera will have an impact on how the image is recorded. Think about whether you want the image to record horizontal or vertical lines, and if you want them to appear smooth or broken. If you want smooth strokes then you’ll need to move the camera slowly with an even motion. If you want jagged and disjointed lines you need to change the direction of drag half way through the shutter release. You can make this easier by keeping the handles on your tripod unlocked.

When out in the field, set your camera to the manual mode and ensure images are recorded in RAW. This will give you the best chance to recover image data at the editing stage if you have overexposed your shot. To capture the best results, keep the shutter speed between 1/6sec and three seconds. Keep the ISO low and set the camera to a narrow aperture.

The last thing to remember is to be experimental and creative with your photography – think of yourself as a painter of light. Research great painters such as the landscape work of Turner and the abstract colours of Rothko to see how they use and mix colours in their palette. Adapt this painterly way of working to your camera and photography and see what you can achieve.

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