Olympus Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite modes explained
18 March 2017 | Category: Stills
Long exposures have the potential to turn night into day and smooth a stormy sea into a restful blur and thanks to digital photography, they’re an art that has become very popular.
While it’s never a pleasure, an exposure mistake is very annoying when you’re measuring shutter speed in minutes or even hours. Olympus cameras like the OM-D E-M1, however, have some modes that can help you get it right; Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite. The key to their usefulness is that you see the image build-up on the back of the screen so you can stop the exposure when it looks right.
Finding the modes
Olympus Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite mode are available in manual exposure mode and they are accessed by adjusting the shutter speed beyond the 30 or 60-second maximum. As you continue to scroll the shutter speed dial you’ll see the word Bulb, then Live Time, followed by Live Comp appear in place of an exposure time.
What’s the difference between Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite?
In Live Bulb mode the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter release is held down (or locked down with a remote release). In Live Time mode, however, the shutter is opened with the first press of the shutter release and closed with a second.
Live Composite mode is a little more complex as it enables you to shoot a long exposure that’s made up of a series of shorter exposures, each of the same duration (see image at the top of the page).
These images are shot automatically until you press the shutter release to stop the exposure. The camera overlays the images and applies the equivalent of a Lighten blend mode in Photoshop so that after the first exposure, only the brighter areas of subsequent images show up. It’s perfect for shooting subjects like fireworks, traffic trails or painting with light because areas like the sky don’t burn out while you wait for the light trails to develop.
During Live Bulb and Live Time mode the screen refreshes to show the image build up, this refresh can happen for a maximum of 24 times depending upon the sensitivity (ISO) setting. The time between these refreshes is set via the Live Bulb and Live Time option in the menu. Alternatively, the screen will refresh when the shutter release is half-pressed, but be careful of introducing camera shake.
In Live Composite mode the image refreshes after each new image is made, making it’s easier to track the exposure build-up.
How to use Live Composite Mode
1. The first step is to find the exposure settings you need to get the general scene looking right. You can do this by taking a shot in manual, aperture priority or Live Time mode. Then set the sensitivity and aperture accordingly and rotate the shutter speed dial to access Live Composite mode.
2. Next, press the menu button to see the Exposure time settings. These run in 1/3EV steps from 0.5 sec to 60 seconds, select the value you need and tap the OK button.
3. Now press the shutter release button home to take the first shot. This records your base exposure. Once that’s made, press the shutter release again to start the exposure sequence. The camera will shoot a continuous series of images with the same exposure as your first and you’ll see the composite image emerge on the screen.
4. Once you’re happy with the image, press the shutter release again to stop the exposure. The camera will then apply some noise reduction (it uses a black exposure the same duration as your shots) before revealing the final image.