What the electric toaster did for breakfast, the Live Composite feature on recent Olympus cameras has done for capturing star trails and other long exposure photographs. Putting a slice of bread on a stick and holding it over an open fire can still yield a great piece of toast, but it's challenging, time consuming and very inconvenient. Taking a hundred photographs, uploading them, adjusting exposure and stacking them to create a star trail image is pretty much the same - challenging, time-consuming, and to me, very inconvenient.
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);
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;
The photograph above was created over the course of 40 minutes. I set up the camera to take an exposure every 4 seconds. As the stars moved across the night sky these pinpoints of light changed position, were recorded by the camera and created the resulting star trails. After the initial 4-second exposure, the subsequent exposures only record areas of the image that change brightness. This prevents the very bright areas of the image, i.e. the buildings, from being over-exposed.
With other camera systems, creating this effect requires a number of steps;
The Live Composite setting on the Olympus OMD definitely simplifies that process.
Using Live Composite
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.
During the Live Comp captured above, I grabbed my Olympus Tough camera and snapped an image of the LCD. In the bottom right of the inset photo you can see that it had stacked 394 6-second exposures over the course of just under 40 minutes. (The inset was a handheld photo in the dark so please excuse the rather blurry presentation.) Over the course of that capture I also used my headlamp to light-paint the interior and a bit of the exterior of this old shed. TIP - If you are going to do any light painting, do it at the start of composition. If you don't like the result you see, you can always stop the current exposure and start again.
This feature is not just for capturing star trails (although you'd be forgiven for thinking that considering the photos I've presented here).
This image is a "Live Composite, Double Exposure, Panorama". When I shot the spinning steel wool it was a cloudy evening. The next morning I woke early, returned to the same location and created the double exposure under clearing skies. I tilted the tripod head upwards and photographed more of the sky. Then I stitched the two images together in Photoshop to create a vertical 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.
One Final Note
...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!
Peter Baumgarten is a professional photographer and educator. He is also an Olympus Visionary and NiSi Official Photographer.