When area photographer and artist Steve Stearly moved back to the Emerald Coast in 2019 – after having spent the last twenty years in the Air Force – he was on the hunt to find the perfect way to grasp the wild, unpredictable beauty of Northwest Florida in his images. This search, stemming from Stearly’s lifelong love of wildlife and natural areas, took him from the constraints of traditional photography into the abstract, exciting world of ICM photography.
“It’s more like making broad strokes with a paintbrush,” the professional shutterbug said of the form. ICM – or intentional camera movement – photography offers quite a departure from traditional photography’s hard and fast rules, often comprised of long set-ups, camera adjustments, and meticulous planning. Conversely, ICM requires slower shutter speeds – usually 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8 of a second – and steady-handed camera movements to streak the exposed light, resulting in striking images more akin to painted canvases than staged photographs.
“With ICM, you’re constantly moving and adjusting,” Stearly said of the style’s autonomy of movement. He said this freedom, often resembling a live performance, and the calming images it creates led him to the medium in the first place. “You have one chance to get it right. An ill-timed wrist flick, one glint of light coming the wrong way off of a wave, and the moment’s gone,” he said of the medium’s challenges. “You can’t replay a wave,” the artist joked.
“Still, I get lost in the shimmer of blues and pinks of an Emerald Coast sunset and just don’t think about it. It’s very calming, and that’s what I’m looking for in my finished piece at the end of the day.”
Over the last half year, Stearly has been working hard, networking within the community, and finding new homes for his photography. In that time, he has had ICM pieces featured in Downtown Pensacola’s Quayside Gallery and numerous local businesses such as Lovelock Healing Arts, Disko Lemonade yoga studio, and Pilates Core Training. Most recently, Stearly has had work accepted at the Coastal Arts Center Gallery in Orange Beach, AL, and is currently working with Abbott Martin Group leasing his art to help with staging properties for real estate.
“I got pretty excited when I realized there weren’t many photographers dabbling in ICM on the Emerald Coast,” the photographer said about finding his niche. While the form is well-established nationally, with a lot of quality work coming from California and other areas, Stearly hopes to make a distinctive Gulf Coast style, focusing heavily on the area’s pristine, natural areas. “I still do traditional photography but have put more emphasis on expanding my abstract work, which seems a perfect fit for our subject matter here.” Typifying Stearly’s love of nature, a portion of all proceeds from his work goes to the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida, a cause close to his heart. “I do monthly raffles of 11×17 metallic prints and other things, but I’m just six months in.” While Stearly does have plans to expand to new shooting locations in the future, expressing interest along the Alabama Gulf Coast and other places, the raw, natural glamour of Northwest Florida is where his inspirations truly lie.
“My overall vision is one of a clean, healthy Emerald Coast,” he said, remarking on the importance of preserving natural areas for future generations. Stearly’s hunt to best showcase this magnificence, made from a kinetic blend of rolling waves, ocean breezes, and dynamic weather, led him to ICM photography – a genuinely unique way to express the sense of getting lost in nature.