artful dodging

 filter pouch

In this day and age of digital SLRs, Isure youheard the endless arguments for carrying a set of ND grads to "get it right in-camera" and the other for dispensing with them in order to just blend two exposures in your favourite editing package. Personally, I fall within the former bunch of photographers who prefers filtration in order to minimise time spent in front of the PC. After all, it leaves more time for the actually taking pictures which is surely what we prefer?

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. With grads they can show a distinct area where they cut into trees and buildings if pulled down too much or the horizon is not distinct enough. Conversely, the practicality of a perfectly exposed image in-camera is always satisfying when it pops up on the back of the LCD screen. Digital blending can allow you to capture a bigger range of tones within an image, but if you happen to be shooting in windy conditions then there is the possibility of the camera, or subject, moving between the two exposures.

But what if I were to tell you about a third technique which has a twist? Itnot completely infallible but itanother trick that you can add to your method of capturing images in camera.


What I am about to describe is dodging in camera, which is an old darkroom technique used for holding back a sky when developing a print. The difference is that we are going to do it directly within the camera using handy things you might find lying around, such as a filter pouch or piece of card.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few advantages and disadvantages to every technique and the slight Achilles’Heel of this one is that you either have to lengthen the exposure with a very dense neutral density filter, or you have to ensure that the light is sufficiently low enough to allow for those long exposures. The minimum exposure time that yoube looking at is around the eight second mark, but Iexplain this in more detail as things progress.

So how do you go about using this nifty technique and calculating those all important exposures? As with anything photographic there are various ways to skin a cat. By far the easiest method of determining the difference between the sky above and the foreground is to set your camera on multisegment metering, take a reading from the ground, then a reading from the sky and calculate the difference between them to see how many stops difference there is. The reading from the ground will be the exposure you set on your camera.

Simple isnit? But how do we dodge in the sky? This is where you take a piece of card or a filter pouch and hold it in front of your lens while making sure you cover the sky until the exposure needed for it comes around.

For sunrise and sunset images, youfind on average that the difference in exposure between the two readings is three stops.

 piece card

This is where the eight seconds exposure for the foreground comes into play, because three stops of light less for your sky exposure is one second. If you try holding a piece of card in front of the lens for anything less than a second you are likely to see it when your exposure is finished.


There are a few options available when using the card, filter pouch or whatever else you use for your handscape. Firstly, you can hold it in front of the sky for the desired exposure needed for the foreground, then quickly take the card away for the sky or you can slowly bring it up to reveal the sky. The latter will give a softer effect much like a soft grad.

The other relies on having a base exposure time of at least 30 seconds. If your sky needs a four second exposure then you can actually periodically hold the card in front of the lens at four one second intervals throughout the 30 seconds.

Now all you need to do is go out and practice!

1) Use a tripod. With such lengthy exposures ita must for sharper images.

2) Put the camera into Bulb setting so that you can see the seconds counting away. I find it easier when seeing how long I have held the card in front of the lens.

3) Cable release is a must as it will keep your hands and fingers away from the camera, which can introduce camera shake.

4) Use Raw imaging and turn off the long exposure noise reduction (LENR). If you end up doing an exposure of five minutes then the LENR will ensure you wait another five minutes before seeing the image.

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