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The Magic Cloth Technique – DIY Graduated Neutral Density Filter

I came across the magic cloth technique a few years ago when researching graduated neutral density filters but never actually got around to trying it. Recently a friend linked me to the stunning work that Tony Brackley-Prower had achieved by using this technique and was itching to try. The technique is a DIY neutral density filter that costs you nothing to try.

What are Neutral Density Filters?

Most photographers (myself included) use neutral density filters when shooting seascapes. These filters normally come in a rectangle size with black/dark at the top and clear at the bottom. Photographers use these filters when there is different levels of brightness in a scene. This is common when photographing seascapes on sunset where the sky can appear slightly brighter than the surrounding foreground. If photographed without filters this can result in the sky being over exposed as the camera attempts to compensate the darker foreground. We use neutral density filters to avoid this problem by placing the darker part of the filter at the top of the frame to capture a more even and natural exposure. Most neutral density filters are expensive with a Cokin set and a Lee kit . I was curious to how the magic cloth technique would compare to these more expensive neutral density filters.

Fast forward to December this year when I was visiting family and friends in my home town of Hobart, I gave the technique a try at Park Beach with some long exposures.

Magic Cloth Technique

The technique is appealing as it’s so simple and costs nothing. No surprises that the technique is based on using a cloth or even as Tony suggests, you can also use a sock, wallet, or cap. Really the possibilities are endless but the most important thing is finding an object which you can easily hold over the front over the camera to cover a certain part of the image. Once you’ve found a suitable object to use for the magic cloth technique, you’re now ready. The technique is best used for long exposures as this gives you greater control and flexibility over the image.

It is suggested to meter the image in your camera around 2 stops over exposed when using the technique to get the best possible exposure. Begin by starting the exposure and covering the lens with the object. Over time, gradually move the object up (towards the sky or the top of the frame). The slower you raise the cloth results in a darker grad. In simple terms this means your sky will receive less exposure and be considerably darker. If instead you raise the magic cloth faster, this will result in a less darker grad and brighter sky.

And really that’s all there is to the magic cloth technique. Experiment with the technique and you will slowly get a feel for how it works and how it might be beneficial for certain scenes. Now that I’ve tried the technique with seascapes I’d love to try with photographing waterfalls up close to avoid sea spray going all over my lens and to capture greater detail of the surrounding foliage areas.

You might also be interested in my waterfall photography guide. A thorough guide that covers waterfall photography, the ideal weather, equipment you’ll need, visual examples of how shutter speed works and other bits.

If you’re new to long exposures, my guide on daytime long exposures might also be of interest.

Hopefully this was helpful! 🙂

 

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Tasmanian Sunrise

I was lucky to get home over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend to spend some time with friends and family. After moving to Melbourne earlier in the year, I’ve been a little lazy picking up the camera so it was nice to get out.

Originally I’d hoped to drive further but after sleeping in and almost missing the sunrise, I was limited for choice and had to make do with something close to home. This was captured from the Hobart eastern shore looking towards the city.  On a clear morning Mt. Wellington is beautiful for sunrises as the light briefly hits it and gives a slight orange/purple colour like in a previous photo from Lindisfarne Bay.

For some reason my camera auto white balance was very cold which explains the blue tinge to the image but I actually quite like it.

Photographed with a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40, tripod and Cokin Z-Pro neutral density filters (.6 and .9)

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Waiting – South Arm, Tasmania

One from an hour or so ago. I’ve had this on my to do list for a while but keep forgetting. As I took this photo, people were standing up the beach watching. Who knows what they thought was going on as I ran back and forth from the dunes taking the photo and counting out the exposure in my head “1 Mississippi.. 2 Mississippi..” and so on..

This is a 30 second exposure at f.14 with the B+W 110 neutral density filter.

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Tasmania Stream – Daytime Long Exposure Photography

30 sec exposure / F9 /Canon 5D Mark II / Canon 17-40 /  B+W 110 neutral density filter

A nice little running stream found on a recent drive down southern Tasmania.  It’s always nice to stumble across something by complete luck that hasn’t been overly photographed. I spent an hour or so with an umbrella above my head firing photos off without interruption. As this was captured in the middle of the day, it was still quite bright which meant I couldn’t get the exposure times I was after (5-30 seconds). For this reason a B+W 110 neutral density filter was used which allowed me to have a decent daytime long exposure.

In case you haven’t noticed, I recently changed my blog theme over to something a little more developed with photographers in mind. Better? Worse? And have also implemented Commentluv which is a plugin that rewards users who comment by removing the ‘nofollow’ as automatically added by WordPress. This is beneficial to you as it adds a link back to your blog or website which adds value to your Google search ranking. Obviously this can be abused so commenting for the sake of it to get your link out there will be marked as spam as per usual.

Two links that caught my eye this week..

Martin Pot has recently written a great article on understanding shutter speeds. I’ve always wanted to write an article about understanding shutter speeds but am hopeless at explaining things. This article sums it up perfectly with pictures to help guide your understanding. For anyone interested I too have written a small guide on what equipment I recommend for daytime long exposure photography.

And something quite irrelevant to this post, DIYPhotography posted a helpful guide on making a  DIY follow focus unit for your HDSLR on the cheap. I love playing around with video mode on my Canon 5D II, especially changing the focus whilst recording. However have found changing focus without any devices to aid in the smoothness leaves the clip looking quite average at best. I’m now rather tempted to put together something similar to this guide.

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Roches Beach, Tasmania

Haven’t taken photos for a few months now with my last semester of uni in full swing and it has been killing me. I couldn’t resist the decent sized swell that came through this week exposing otherwise quiet beaches.

All photographs taken with a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40 and Cokin Z-Pro filters. EXIF data attached to images.