Simple Magic Cloth Technique

Snow on Vestrahorn
Vestrahorn Mountain with a 24mm Prime lens.

Simple Cloth Technique

Some scenes require only a very basic action.

A basic magic cloth technique would involve simply covering the sky after a short period and working the rest of the exposure over the landscape up to the horizon line. To read about the basics of the magic cloth technique – see here. This very simple technique is the basic for Magic Cloth photography and this video is actually a good starting point for the beginner.

To allow the photographer enough time to divide exposure for different areas of the scene, a long exposure is required. At least 10 seconds is recommended.

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Longer Exposure

A longer exposure = more control

To achieve a longer exposure the photographer might choose a time in the evening or morning when the light is low. If you can’t wait for Low light photography, you can modify your camera with a dark filter (Neutral Density – ND). A 6 stop ND will work in most conditions without bright sunlight. For evening work when the colours are in the clouds, I would recommend 6-stop ND filter + iso100 + f/11 – this should give exposure times between 10 and 30 seconds [IDEAL].

Video Demonstration

The following video demonstrates a very basic technique on the East Iceland coastline at Vestrahorn Mountain.  I am shooting in Aperture Priority (AV) mode. I have a 6-stop Neutral Density Filter.  My shutter speed is 15 seconds. I divide this time by 10 to give me an approximate sky exposure. {15sec/10sec=1.5sec} That means that I wait one and half seconds before bringing the cloth down.

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Photo Results

Test Shot

magic cloth technique
Over-exposure by two stops – just to demonstrate how much extra exposure the sand can handle.

Normally I don’t bother, but the test shot can guide your Magic Cloth action.

In the test shot, you can see which areas need less exposure. Obviously the sky is going to be covered quite quickly, but from the test image I can see that I need slight clock-wise tilt when I expose the area up to the horizon line.

Cloth Shot

Unfortunately the video doesn’t quite capture the Magic Cloth action, but hopefully you see enough to work out that I cover the sky after 1 second and then spend the other 14 seconds moving the edge of the cloth from the bottom of the frame up to the Horizon line.

Magic Cloth Technique
Magic Cloth Technique to dodge the sky dramatically.

Processed Photo

Horn Swell
After photo editing to bring out the highlight colours and add contrast.

Recommended Gear

Camera Equipment

This is the equipment that I used for this photo.

  • Standard DSLr – might be possible on bridge camera – see ‘lens’ below.
  • Lens with a large element 77mm is nice, 55mm is limited.
  • ND filter – Like this: B+W 77mm 1.8 ND MRC 106M Filter For daytime work.
  • Sturdy tripod – important for long exposures.
  • Black cloth or card
Canon 5D - full frame
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 l

Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod
B+W 77mm SC 106 ND
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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.

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