Enter, Live Composites. If you are unfamiliar with the technology let's break the idea apart (sorry if this reminds you of your high school English teacher);
- Composite - "a picture, photograph, or the like, that combines several separate pictures."
- Live - happens right before your eyes, in camera
Therefore a live composite image is one made of several separate photographs that are combined in the camera over a period of time. You can find this feature on the following camera models;
With other camera systems, creating this effect requires a number of steps;
- Turn off noise reduction to avoid gaps in your star trails
- Take a series of long exposure shots of the night sky with an intervalometer (approx. 120 images for a 40 minute star trail)
- Upload all 120 images
- Process one image in Lightroom and apply the settings to all images.
- Open all images in a third-party software package like StarStax
- Process (i.e. stack) all of the images to create the star trail effect
- Import the image into Lightroom for final adjustments
The Live Composite setting on the Olympus OMD definitely simplifies that process.
The idea of building a composite image right in camera was completely foreign to me and therefore definitely required some experimentation, and some trust that it would actually work. As you can see, it really does work! Here are the basic steps.
- Compose your shot. I recommend composing your image prior to switching to Live Composite mode. I usually take several test shots to ensure that I have a level horizon and good placement of my foreground subject, positioned in such a way as to show off as much sky as possible. See previous post.
- Change your camera settings to those you would typically use for night photography (again, see my previous post).
- Manual Mode: The Live Composite setting can be accessed by changing the Mode dial to Manual (M).
- Dial the shutter speed all the way to the extreme left, past 60", Bulb, and Live Time. "LiveComp" will appear in the bottom left of the LCD. You will also notice that the LCD dims. A message appears stating, "Press shutter button once to prepare for composite shooting."
- Before pressing the shutter button, select "Menu". The "Composite Settings" menu appears. This allows you to set your base exposure, i.e. how long each composite image will be exposed. For example, in the first photo I set a base exposure of 4 seconds because the church and lighthouse were well lit by neighbouring street lights. For the second image, with the tree, I used a base exposure of 10 seconds because there was no extraneous light sources.
- First Shutter Release: Live Composite requires you to press the shutter release twice. The first exposure will be the length of time you selected in the Composite Settings menu. It is used for noise reduction after the final image is complete.
- Second Shutter Release: Press the shutter a second time and watch the magic happen. You will see a live image appear that is refreshed every few seconds (depending on your base exposure). LCDs cast a fair amount of light and therefore the image will appear fairly dim during this process.
- Sit back, have a coffee, go for a walk or if you have a second camera and tripod try some other night sky shots. I have captured star trails from 30 minutes to 1 hour in duration. Since you will see them live on the LCD you can stop the exposure whenever you feel they are long enough. The Live Composite setting has a maximum exposure limit of 3 hours. One day I may try that.
This feature is not just for capturing star trails (although you'd be forgiven for thinking that considering the photos I've presented here).
- Fireworks: Use LC for the next big celebration that involves fireworks. Instead of playing a game of hit and miss (which is the usual case), Live Composite allows you to capture several colourful bursts and stop the exposure when you like what you see on the LCD.
- Light Painting: Grab a flashlight, headlamp, wireless flash unit, or anything else that gives off some light. Light paint a building, a tree in a field, or draw a picture in mid-air.
- Steel Wool: The photo below illustrates a Live Composite image where I created two sparking steel wool events in the same photograph. (The photo is also a double exposure and panorama.)
As incredible as the Live Composite feature is, you may still find that a little bit of post-processing is in order. I use Adobe Lightroom. The screen shots below are for the first photo in this post.
...and on a completely different subject. Olympus prides itself on the fact that the E-M1 is "dust, splash and freeze proof". I had my doubts that it could handle shooting for well over an hour in -20 C temperatures. Well, it did. And with great results!
Since writing this post, I have found many other uses for the Live Composite feature. Check out a more recent post that looks at using Live Composite for capturing traffic trails, lightning, fireworks and much more. When you have a good grasp of how the feature works, it's time to move beyond the stars!