We often think of faulty gear as a problem, and of course in most cases it is. My lens is pretty old, well over ten years now. It’s a great lens though; a Canon 24-105mm L series. It’s been through a lot, but still going strong. However, a while ago I started noticing a problem with it, but that problem, I was to discover, would actually be a huge help when it came to trying my hand at a technique known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM), and in particular Zoom Burst Effect.

More than ten years of zooming in and out has resulted in the zoom ring becoming a bit worn and losing its friction. I’ve been meaning to take it in for repair, but still haven’t got round to it. It had never been a problem because it remains fixed when using it horizontally, which is most of the time. Until now I haven’t seen a loss of sharpness in my images.

However, one day when photographing the famous spiral staircase in the Nebotičnik building in Ljubljana it became a problem.

A precarious setup

Obviously when photographing a staircase from the top like this, you need to have your camera facing downwards at a 90-degree angle. As the staircase is inside the only natural light comes from windows, which is great light but also low. This of course means that you need to put it on a tripod by the side of the stairway rail, and run the centre column extender horizontally out over the top. A bit scary when you consider that if it falls, it will fall down 8 floors and no doubt be an ex-camera!

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So ensuring the camera was well fixed, and using a remote shutter I locked in my composition. Of course I had to use a slow shutter speed because of the low light. But when I started taking photos I immediately saw that the zoom mechanism was slipping as the lens was facing downwards, resulting in movement in the image.

At first I was a little annoyed. At ISO 200 and F16 I was getting a shutter speed of 2 secs. I didn’t want to have to increase my ISO to get a faster shutter speed, so at first I kept trying until I got a shot without movement.

Neboticnik spiral stairway without Intentional Camera Movement
Neboticnik spiral stairway without Intentional Camera Movement

Seeing the potential

However, when reviewing the photos I then looked at some of the blurry photos and immediately thought of the technique known as Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). Now this is something I knew about, but had never really tried. It involves using a long exposure and either moving the whole camera in one direction, either up or down, or left or right, during the exposure time. Alternatively, you can zoom in or out to create zoom burst effect.

However, it’s not just a simple case of zooming in and out, because it has to be done in a way that moves the focal length smoothly, but without moving the camera. If you move the camera then you add camera shake which ruins the effect.

At first I tried applying this Intentional Camera Movement effect while adjusting the zoom with my hand, but given the precarious nature of my camera’s setup on the tripod, and the fact that it was fixed on the centre column running out over the stairway, meant that however hard I tried I couldn’t avoid camera shake. It was also very difficult to move the zoom smoothly, as most still camera lenses are not actually designed to be moved while taking a photo.

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Letting gravity do the work

So then I thought, why not let gravity do the work. As my lens mechanism is already loose, it’s already moving on its own.

So for the next half an hour I worked away, taking various shots at 2 second exposures. In some cases it didn’t slip enough, and in others too much. But eventually I ended up with a few that were quite good, and ultimately one which I considered was the best.

If not for this fault, it would have been much more difficult to get this effect. So maybe I’ll wait a bit longer before I take it in for repair……

While this one worked quite well, I felt the zoom burst effect here wasn’t quite long enough.
Neboticnik spiral stairway with intentional camera movement effect, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Maybe a little too much?
Neboticnik spiral stairway with intentional camera movement effect, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
This is my favourite, with just enough ICM.

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