Video Tutorial: Icelandic Waterfall Skutafoss

Skutafoss waterfall East Iceland

East Iceland

This tutorial is a demonstration of the Magic Cloth Technique to add drama to a dull sky.   I was in Skutadalur on the East Iceland Coast.  The valley is rich for nature photography and has waterfalls all the way through it.  For this scene, I set up my tripod near t this low-level waterfall.  I like the way boulders form a shape that frames the tiny waterfall.  It is a grey day and the distant mountains are really washed out.

Test Shot

In the video I demonstrate the Magic Cloth Technique with a test shot.  My test shot has the same settings as my Magic Cloth Photo.  The only difference is that I do not use any cloth.

Over exposed landscape photo with No Magic Cloth


The above image was 15 seconds at f/11, the exposure was 2 stops over exposure. I sometimes shoot this as a test shot to see which areas require the most cloth. This result told me that the whole image would need some cloth, but more cloth over the sky area. 

Dodging & Burning

The Magic Cloth Technique is basically dodging and burning.  The Burning is possible by over-exposing the photograph.  The Dodging is achieved with a dark cloth.

Magic cloth technique at Skutafoss waterfall
In this landscape photograph, the sky has been drastically underexposed, while the foreground and water have been well exposed.

The above image was exactly the same settings, but with the magic cloth over the sky area for most of the exposure. I covered the sky in a fraction of a second to create a dramatic contrast between sky and mountains.  Obvoiusly there is going to be some compromise when you dramatically dodge the highlights.  For example the distant mountains would look right with no texture or details at all. It is a useful comparison to see the same exposure without the Magic Cloth.  When you compare the two together, you can see which parts of the scene were most affected by the dodging cloth.

Private Northern Lights Tours

Magic Cloth Video

This photo tutorial video has become quite popular on youtube and is my second highest viewed video. Demonstrating the Magic Cloth Technique in a video is a lot easier than explaining it in sentences.

Video Text:

“I call this the Scottish Waterfall shot.

Look at this lovely waterfall, the lovely details, the lovely action.

Then we’ve got these mountains in the distance over there.

They are a bit washed out because of the conditions, there is a lot of low cloud.

But lets see what we can do with a little bit of dodgig and burning – with the Magic Cloth Technique.

So here’s my camera, lets have a look at the live view screen.

There’s my live view. Composition with that ‘v’ going down quite strongly in the background there. What I’ll do is to work in these rocks. Here is my foreground with a lovely water movement, lovely curving action going on there.

Let’s have a look at my focus, so there we are, I’m on f/11 (Hyperfocal). And I’m shooting at f/11 – 2 stops over – of course it’s 2 stops over.

So let have a look at the shot (exposure) wich is 15 seconds. I will try the shot without any magic cloth , here we go, 3 2 1 and there were exposing 15 seconds without any Magic Cloth at all.

While were waiting for that, I’ll explain I’ve got a dark filter on, this is a b&w its a 106, which means it’s a 6 stop dark filter – a neutral density filter.

And let’s have a look at the result we get. There you are lovely water movement, beautiful foreground, but of course we’ve lost that whole mountain scene in the background. so what I’m going to do is a bit of Magic Clothing and I gonna have to go down fast. There’s my line, there’s my horizon line, let’s have a look at that on the lens. So I’m gonna go down quite fast and then very very slowly from top to bottom.

like that!

Ok, lets give it a go.

2, 1 go… very fast on the sky there and now I’m just gonna move it very slowly down over the scene, right the way down to the bottom and then very very slowly up again… trying to get it up to that sky area.

There you go then, that’s my shot… let’s just give you a view of that… what do you think!”

Long Exposure Photo Gear

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.

4 comments

  1. Very interesting, thanks for taking the time to demonstrate how you use this. I would guess you typically try it several times to see the results as your speed of moving the cloth around the frame varies.

  2. Gorgeous Tony. I think I’ve seen this Scottish waterfall somewhere here in Iceland, haha 🙂 I have made attempts with a black card. I cut one end not horizontally, but curved. When I move it down I might incline it to the left, and to the right on the way up (for the hills). Seems ok.
    I like to see how you do this!

  3. Hi Tony
    i discover this video with pleasure right now
    i will try ( when i think about it !! 😉 )as soon as possible
    take care
    a French guy 🙂
    Yan

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