A little over a month ago, I was tasked with capturing a temporary outdoor art installation called “Prismatica” for my client, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. After some creative play and thinking, I realized that utilizing shutter lag and movement techniques would get me the best and most unique outcome.

I’ve long been a fan of trying to creatively photograph art installations. But “Prismatica” was a challenge for me. I initially went into the assignment thinking I would capture long exposures as the prisms spun around. I quickly learned, however, that when you take a bunch of colors and spin them … they turn a white/gray color.

A traditional long exposure, like this one at 13 seconds, wasn’t going to cut it.

And white definitely was not want the client wanted. “Prismatica” was a colorful, fun-filled art piece — and that’s what needed to be captured.

So I had a little fun myself, and instead of spinning the prisms … I generated movement from the camera.

Embracing camera movement

I stumbled upon this technique quite by accident, when I tried a slightly shorter exposure, ranging between 1-4 seconds. I simply moved my camera just a hair. And when I looked on the back of my camera’s screen, I was surprised with what I saw.

The colors were perfect. While the picture wasn’t in focus, it gave me a better idea — to physically move my camera in hopes of creating different shapes that would surround the prism.

I made everything from circles to hearts to weird geometric shapes that I can’t even begin to describe. And it totally worked.

Camera panning

I applied the same principles and decided I wanted to pan across one main prism, with others in the background. With a 4-second exposure, I simply panned my camera from left to right, and back again.

What I got was a photograph that encapsulated the feel of spinning — something that the prisms were known for when they were installed.

I also tried a vertical pan, which worked well, too.


Another technique I tried was focusing in on a prism and then zooming out while the shutter was open. There were a few angles where small Christmas lights were located behind the prisms, and this allowed for a really cool view.

Let your mind wander

What’s the lesson here? Sometimes you simply overthink a photo. With the “Prismatica” photos above, I went out three different times, because I kept on coming up with new ideas to make for even cooler effects. I let my mind wander, and let the fun I was having take over the technical details that I typically enter a photoshoot thinking about.

To add to the fun-ness of these photos, for some I used my Olympus 8mm fisheye lens, adding the feel of another dimension.

Photoshoots like this are perfect to experiment new techniques with — whether you’re prepared and ready to go, or simply stumble upon them by accident.