An artist carrying a couple of pots of paint across his studio slips on a carelessly placed paintbrush. He goes one way, the pots of paint go another and paint goes everywhere. Picking himself up he looks down on the mess he has made, first in horror, then in amazement as he begins to realise that the moving paint has created a dynamic all of its own. Grabbing another pot of paint, this time he deliberately throws it down to join the mess. Then he does it again. Once the paint has dried he cuts up his newly decorated floor, decides what to call his new creation, talks a gallery into exhibiting his ‘art’ and sells it for a ridiculous amount of money.
The photographic equivalent is to accidentally press the shutter release while walking along. The resulting mess inevitably end up being thrown away, but sometimes there may be a hint of something worth keeping – but only a hint. Yet moving a camera during exposure is an idea worth exploring and if applied with a little bit of intent, rather than relying on pure luck, an amazing array of likeable images can be produced.
I find that dragging a camera like this works best with an exposure time somewhere between 0.5 and 1.5 seconds. Any shorter and there isn’t enough movement, any longer and it becomes difficult to keep control of what is happening, especially if you use a ball head like I do instead of a pan and tilt. Linear subjects also make the best raw material; trees with straight trunks naturally lend themselves to this technique and are by far the most popular subjects.
After that it’s simply a matter of giving it a go, figuring out what you do and don’t like, and then fine tuning your technique until you are satisfied with the results. One good thing about this technique is that you don’t need a top quality lens or camera to achieve a good result, just your own unique vision and the willingness to practice. Is this a creative exercise? Yes. Is it Art? Some love it, some loathe it and so it may be. Is it photography? I’ll let you decide.