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 trick 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.