Magic cloth image focus - Colour Jelly

Taken on January 11, 2017

Location: Jökulsarlon diamond beach

Camera settings

  • ƒ/6.3
  • 24 mm
  • 2.5 seconds
  • 600

Mode: AV mode with + 2 stops over (compensation +/-).
Focus: f/11 hyperfocal mark. This is slightly weighted to the foreground.

Camera equipment

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
  • Medium weight Gitzo
  • 6 stop B&W ND filter
  • Magic Cloth = Black winter glove.

The Canon 5D mark iii Canon 5D
mark III
Canon 5D mark III Recommended for Magic Cloth Photography

The Canon EF-24mm f/1.4Canon
EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM A nice prime lens for landscape.

Colour Jelly


This was mid January on a 3 day photo tour. We hit the beach about an hour before sunrise after a comfortable breakfast. The sky started turning as we were driving. It is tempting to drive faster, but experience has taught me there is no real need to race because the colours will be around for some hours. It was close to storm conditions on the black sand beach. A strong wind was blowing from the North, sandblasting us as we made our way to the sea.

Focal length 24mm is my workhorse for these long exposure beach shots. My 24mm prime works well with the Magic Cloth.

Aperture f/6.3 is my aperture of choice n the ice beach and I usually have it set so that the beach a few feet in front of me is in focus with the depth of field extending to the shoreline. It is quite robust if your know what you are doing and remember to adjust the focal point when you are right on top of your subject (as was this case).


In this scene, I wanted to show the full colours of the sky and the full colours of the glacier ice. I got close to allow the crown to overlap the sky on the left side. I was looking for good proportions of sea, sky and ice. The ice dominates, closely followed by the sky. The shot is all about colour so it is ok to be dominated by large proportions of colour subjects. I paid special attention to ensure there were good textures and details in the frame. Finally a 16:9 crop just to keep the eye on the best aspects of the image.

Magic Cloth

Long exposure = 2.5 seconds.

Due to the nearby ice which allows for light refraction, there isn’t a huge light range in this scene. In AV mode, I was 2 stops over. The photo could have been achieved without any Magic Cloth tricks, but the lower part of the ice in the foreground would have needed brightening in post-processing. Because of the Graduated exposure of the Magic cloth, the lower piece of ice actually needed a reduction of brightness which allows for so many options regarding contrast and saturation without ruining the quality.

This was a karate chop movement (after half a second) followed by slowly raising the cloth during the final 2 seconds. Just half a second on the sky was about right to give enough exposure to the overlapping ice and to retain all the sky colours and the details in the sky.

Post Processing

In lightroom, I merely balanced the distribution of light with a graduated filter to reduce the brightness of the bottom of the frame. This is the opposite of the Magic Cloth filter and was to counteract the extra exposure on the bottom part of the ice. I worked to reduce the contrast so that I was sending a noise free TIFF to photoshop.

In Photoshop, I used my ice beach method to bring back the colours. This is essentially about selective local contrast. The flat file allowed me many options, but this was all about the colours. To be able to produce such fantastic colours without disturbing the quality of the image is the strongest asset of long exposure Magic Cloth photography.

The Magic Cloth Photography Technique

The Magic Cloth Photography Technique is a a clever technique to expose a scene with high dynamic range.

When you need to balance the highlights in the sky with the shadows on the ground like a average sunrise beach, the The Magic Cloth Photography Technique is a useful accessory to have in your pocket.

Magic Cloth Tricks

What you need:

ND Filter: (not at night, only in daylight)

I suggest round filters for damp weather.

Heavy Tripod:

I like to get low down for foreground intimacy so quickly adjusting legs are certainly good options to look out for choosing your tripod. Stabilize your tripod to make it strong. Magic Cloth movemnts can cause vibrations. But, this is necessary for top quality long exposure photography.

Avoid raising the center column unless you really need to. The center column is the least stable part of the set up.

If your tripod has a hook underneath, hang things from it to provide more sturdiness. Many professionals carry a special bag to put stones in to give a better strength which will hold the tripod still – perfect for long exposures.

Some more Long Exposure hints…

8 Tips for Long Exposure Photography

Remote release:

Exposures can be longer than the 30 sec the camera will let you do. Having a Remote release (sometimes called “Remote shutter release”) will allow you to open the shutter: as long as your power allows.

Magic Sock:

Pick a big cloth like a hat, or the same size black card. Has to be able to cover the optics completely. Better to be Black. A dark colour is best. Use any shaped cloth, as long as you can get a straight edge.

What to do:


Begin with a dark filter or darkness for a for a slower shutter speed, then over expose the photograph by 2 – 3 stops.

Exposure time

It is easier to set a long Exposure time. 2-5 sec requires a fast, but smooth action to cover the sky within a split second. 5-10 sec allows for a extra exposure of the foreground.

Magic Cloth Movement

Normally, I use very fast downward motion and slow, controlled upward actions.


Change the Movement to capture many short exposures of the sky, rather than one initial exposure (30 seconds or more exposures only).

Spot meter for the highlights and {multiply that shutter speed by four|then x 4 to get the total shutter speed.

Image taken on our 3 day Jökulsarlon photo tour.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This