One of the key problems with shooting long exposures is that you have make a best guess (or calculate) what the exposure time should be. Digital cameras have made this much easier than film cameras because you can assess the results on the back of the camera and shoot again if necessary.

Nevertheless, it can be trying when you’re shooting exposures measured in minutes. Consequently, Olympus came up with two modes to help, Live Bulb and Live Time mode.

In these modes you can see the image build-up on the screen throughout the exposure. So rather than guessing when the shot is right, you can see it.

Olympus Live Bulb vs Live Time mode

In Live Bulb mode the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter release (on the camera or a remote release) is held down. In Live Time mode the shutter is opened with one press of the shutter release and then closed with a second.

In both cases you determine the length of the exposure just as you would when using Bulb or Time mode on any other camera but you can see when the exposure should stop.

One thing to bear in mind with Live Bulb and Live Time mode is that the screen can’t refresh constantly or an infinite number of times. Consequently you need to think about the frequency of the refresh and set it via the menu. The option is located in the Custom menu (E2 on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II).

Under Live Time you’ll see that at the lowest ISO setting the camera can refresh the display up to 24 times. The selection box lets you set the refresh frequency to between 0.5 and 60 seconds in whole stops. If you make a 24 minute exposure and set the frequency of the refresh to 60 seconds the on-screen image will refresh 24 times, once every minute. If however you set a frequency of 30 seconds, the display will refresh 24 times over a period of 12 minutes and it won’t refresh again during the last 12 minutes.

What is Olympus Live Composite mode?

Another issue often encountered when making long exposures with moving elements such as starscapes, fireworks, traffic trails and painting with light, is that some areas burn out well before you’ve got the movement that you want.

Olympus addressed this problem with the introduction of Live Composite mode with the OM-D E-M10. Subsequent cameras including the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, OM-D E-M5 II and OM-D E-M10 II also have Live Composite mode.

In Live Composite mode the camera shoots a series of images continuously with the same exposure time.

The camera combines all the images together into a single composite, however, only the first image is used to record the ambient exposure of the background or foreground. After that, only the brighter pixels in any following images are used.

This means that while the sky or an illuminated building won’t change, the bright lights from traffic will be written onto the composite image.

As the camera uses the electronic shutter there’s only the briefest interval between shots and moving lights appear as a continuous streak.

As with Live Bulb and Live Time mode, you can watch the image build up on the camera screen and close the shutter when you’re happy with the exposure. Exposures can be up to 3 hours in total and the screen refreshes every time a new image is captured.

Olympus Live Composite vs Live Time mode

The difference between Live Composite and Live Time mode is that in Live Time (and Live Bulb) mode the camera takes one single long exposure. In Live Composite mode the camera makes a series of exposures with a set time of between 0.5 and 60 seconds.

At the end of the exposure the camera composites the images using the first exposure and the brighter parts of any following images to create a single picture. It’s like using the ‘Lighten’ Blend mode to merge stacked images in Photoshop.

Buy the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II with 14-42mm lens

How to use Olympus Live Composite mode

  1. Mount your camera on a tripod and then focus and compose the shot. If you use autofocus mode, switch to manual focus once focus is achieved to prevent it from changing when the shutter release is pressed again
  2. Set a low sensitivity settings such as ISO 200 and your desired aperture and take a test shot in aperture priority or Live Time mode to assess the base exposure time that’s required. This is the time required to make the background/foreground look as you want.
  3. Set the camera to manual exposure mode and adjust the shutter speed, lengthening it until you go past 60 seconds to Live Bulb and Live Time mode before you reach Live Composite mode.
  4. Press the Menu button and set the exposure time to the base exposure that you found in step 2. The settings available run in 0.3EV steps from 0.5sec to 60seconds.
    Olympus Live Composite mode screen
  5. Press the shutter release to take the base exposure.
    Olympus Live Composite mode screen
  6. Press the shutter release again to start the camera shooting continuously. It will shoot in silent mode using the electronic shutter at the shutter speed you set in step 4 (the same as the base exposure).|
  7. Keep an eye on the screen on the back of the camera and press the shutter release to stop the exposure when you’re happy with the image. The camera composites all the shots into one image – as usual, there will be two versions if you shoot in raw and jpeg mode simultaneously.

Buy the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

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