Live composite mode is an amazing feature of the OM-D EM-1 Mark II introduced by the OM-D EM-10 and also present on the EM-5. Live composite mode makes it super easy to create long exposures with moving subjects such as star trails, traffic trails, fireworks and painting with light in general.
I’ve always been skeptical of using software features to achieve what can be achieve with traditional photography techniques. But after trying the Live Composite mode I had to change my mind.
Live composite mode is a feature exclusive to Olympus OM-D series cameras. It is an innovative way of taking long exposure images. In Live Composite mode the camera shoots a series of images continuously using the same exposure time.
Here’s an intro to this awesome feature.
Why Live Composite?
Capturing the beauty of a sky full of stars or car traffic lights can be tricky. In most cameras figuring the proper exposure of bright subjects in movement can be a tedious process with a lot of trial and error.
Over exposed areas of an image are often the pitfall of this method.
Live Composite was introduced by Olympus to address this issue. 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.
1. Use a stable platform like a tripod
You need to mount your camera on a tripod or a steady surface and I highly recommend using a remote shutter cable to avoid camera shake.
This is the tripod I use. Manfrotto BeFree
And this is the remote shutter cable. Olympus RM-UC1
2. Manual Focus
The camera will take multiple shots at different exposures. For this reason, compose your scene and set your camera to manual focus so that the focus won’t change between exposures.
3. Take a few shots
Take a couple of test shots in automatic exposure to get an idea of what ISO, shutter speed and aperture are needed.
4. Manual Mode
At this point you want to rotate the mode dial to M, rotate the shutter speed ring all the way left until you select Live Composite. It’s the last setting after 60 sec, Live Bulb and Live Time.
5. Double Check Framing, Focus and then Set the exposure
Enter the ISO and the aperture that gives you the correct exposure. You must have an idea of the values you need from a few steps above. It’s also recommended that you choose the White Balance to have a constant value between shots.
6. The Live Composite Menu
While in Live Composite mode, pressing the menu button you’ll enter the Live Composite menu. Here you can set up the shutter speed from a value of 1/2 of a sec to 60sec. This will determine the exposure time per image. You should know what’s your optimal shutter speed from the few tries you did before. If you’re not sure, go back to the step where I’ve asked you to take a few shots and repeat from there.
7. Press the shutter button
Now to create a Live comp image you’ll need to press the shutter button 3 times.
- The first time it will take an establishing shot onto which all the subsequent images will then be built. It will establish the base exposure.
- Press the shutter a second time and you will start the live comositep process. You can watch the picture build up on the LCD on the back of your Olympus while the camera is shooting continuously in silent mode.
- When you think you’ve got the shot you want, press the shutter a third time to stop the Live Composite working. If you don’t stop the process, the camera will keep shooting until it reaches the 3 hours limit.
8. Live Composite Process
The camera will now stack and compose all the shots together to produce your fantastic long exposure image. So it will take the camera a few seconds to complete the process. Be patient and voilà your Live Composite Photo is ready to be edited in Lightroom.
Live composite is not only really fun to play with. It’s also a powerful feature and it’s the perfect example of what today we call computational photography. It extends the capabilities of the camera using digital computation instead of using optical processes. And it saves you a lot of time when it comes to use techniques that involve exposure blending in Photoshop, since the camera does the job for you.
If you own an Olympus OM-D camera I invite you to play with it and have fun, let me know if you have questions in the comments below and I’ll be happy to help!
If you want to have fun capturing light trails the traditional way, without in-camera software, I’ve recently written a guide for you on how to do it. You can find it at Photography Tips for Photographing Car Light Trails.
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