The Magic Cloth Technique is a simple way to control the exposure on different parts of your scene. Typically the sky is brighter than the land. Our cameras will find a balanced exposure, but generally this is too bright for the sky or too dark for the land. During the Magic Cloth Technique, the photographer will compensate by +2 stops. If you take a shot with +2 compensation, you will see that the sky is completely blown but some parts of the landscape are very well exposed.
The basics of the Magic Cloth Technique is to use a cloth to cover the blown out areas and thus give them less exposure… this can only be done if you have a long exposure, so a Neutral Density filter or ND is used. You can buy these in different strengths, but I like ND6 – you have to check it is a real 6 stop filter as different suppliers use different numbers… which is very annoying!!
In a typical Magic Cloth scene the sky should be exposed 1/10 of the total time. For example a 10 sec exposure should allow just a second on the sky, a 30 sec exposure should allow just 3 sec on the sky. This is a starting guide and you may want to adjust it to increase or decrease mood and contrast.
I generally expose the sky in one go at the start of the exposure, but you might want to spread the sky’s exposure throughout the total exposure – in short bursts which add up to the 3 sec of a 30 sec exposure.
This night photograph, from Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland, captured Northern Lights and a comet disappearing into the North sky over Iceland.
This is the best place you could possibly stand to photograph the Northern lights. Once you have captured floating glacier icebergs with an aurora reflecting in the still lake, it is difficult to top.