Let me tell you a story.
What I did last summer (stay with it folks)
I had a goal in mind, checked the sunrise, got on the road at 4 am and arrived at Cornwall's St Michael's Mount about an hour before dawn.
I'm on the beach with the first light starting to spread across a sky with just the right amount of cloud. The conditions are all promising and I'm utterly alone on the foreshore at Marazion. Feeling special - being the only one here, the only one with the drive and foresight to be get here, now. Or have I got this all entirely wrong. I need coffee.
Feeling quietly excited I fumble a lens cap and drop it in the sand. Tripod out, filters on, composition sorted (lead lines: check, rule of thirds: check, foreground interest: check).
Another photographer looms through the darkness and goes through the same routine.
Time slows. The atmosphere thickens and I start to feel uneasy.
"ND filter?" he asks, his accent thick with Germanic efficiency.
"6 or 10 stop?"
Reality smacks me in the face and then knees me in the groin for good measure.
"That .." hisses Reality forgetting all this time that he is but a metaphor on a dark beach with a single German tourist to act up to "...that is for taking yourself too seriously and being so willfully naïve."
Exit Reality, beach left. No bear, not even a seal - just a parting haymaker and a mutter of disappointment. "And that's for being lazy - you dickhead wannabes with your DSLRs."
The point is made. I pack up and head back, do some tarting up in post and stare at the hundreds of identical images on flickr. Identical. I-DENT-I-CAL. Getting up early guarantees nothing and my journey through photography smashes head long into an abrupt and impotent nadir.
Just for completeness here’s the shot. It’s sort of OK. Amateur. Technically a longer exposure would have smoothed out the water a little but by this stage I'd run out of filters to further extend the exposure time. The real trouble is it’s an also-ran.
And that’s my point. If I’d not been so naïve and done my research (like 20 seconds on a smart phone – duh) then I could have foreseen the need to challenge myself a little and done something about it with some creative forethought - for which we have Absinthe. As it is when I stumble upon this image in my Lightroom catalogue it makes me feel positively queasy.
There are so many photographs taken these days that a static image, like this one, will have been done before. In 2014 1.8 billion images were uploaded to the web every day. In 2015 Facebook users alone shared 2 billion images. Every single day. This must be true – it's on the internet.
Get creative (or think long and hard about the why of it all)
One may be lucky with a cloud or a flower or some evening light but generally it’s all been done. If like me you prefer to create something unique then you have to get creative. And that’s where ICM comes in. Intentional Camera Movement. Find it on Flickr, Google, 500px, Pinterest and holy cow you can overdo this little puppy. But I love it.
There are many ways to get creative. This we know – wander around those same websites and you’ll find a thousand creatives doing their thing. And let’s face it if an image has an eye in it then it’s also likely to be unique. Get a couple of strobes and some remotes and the worlds your lobster, set light to some steel wool and go light painting. But ICM is something any photographer can do anywhere. And the news gets better than that. ICM is abstract so there are no rules. No-one can judge you. You my photographer friend are free of Reality.
Intentional Camera Movement 1. Reality 0
So fast-forward, this time to a sunset. We’re on the river bank at Frampton on Severn overlooking the river and then onwards to the wooded slopes of the Forest of Dean. As ever the world is refusing to be moved by one of my sunsets. Reality is (metaphorically) hovering over my shoulder with a (metaphorical) cattle prod and threatening my (real) plums.
Switching to ICM changes the atmosphere immediately. A 1/15 second exposure, panning with a 400 mm lense on a tripod. It doesn't take much - and just chimping on the camera back is making me smile. Reality doesn't seem to mind it either – he gives me a grudging harrumph and goes off to find someone with a selfie stick. It’s not that Reality prefers to delight in the irony of beating the crap out of anyone with the bent remains of their own selfie stick. It’s more philosophical than that. Reality can’t judge abstracts. And I too am free.
Go get your camera.