Taking a cue from fellow Trailblazer, Jamie MacDonald, I wanted to start writing a blog post that spoke to the question, How Did You Get That Shot? I am often asked about different images that I have posted or shared and one way to let others know would be to let those questions work as motivation to write blog posts on the most talked about images. I will try to share my motivation for the shot, the tools used and a bit about processing the image after the shoot. So, without further ado, here is my first blog post for “How Did You Get That Shot”
Live Composite Mode set at 1 second @f/5.6 ISO Low for 90 seconds
I want to discuss this shot above which happens to be taken with the Olympus Live Composite mode. Anyone following me on social media probably already knows how much I love to talk about Live Composite. It is truly one of the wonders in the Olympus OMD systems. Long exposure or star trail photography has always been possible but it required many different setups along with some very intense post processing work after the shots were taken. Olympus has cut that time tremendously, which in itself is amazing, but when you couple that fact with you can watch the scene develop before your eyes on the back of the camera, well now you are stepping into uncharted territory which opens up the creativity level tenfold.
When scouting locations for Live Composite shots I am always trying to think of areas that can be shot either from above or down low where I can put some sort of object, building or statue in the background or foreground to give it perspective. Taking images of light streaks or star trails is fun, but putting it into the real world by featuring a recognizable object makes it enjoyable. I also try to imagine what types of light streaks am I going to get from this area? Like the shot above, one of my concerns was the street lights? When you shoot from bridges you always have to take this into consideration because many times you are at the same level of the glaring street lights. Even though Live Composite can handle them in terms of not blowing out exposures, they can be distracting from what you want featured. I thought if I could get a couple different exposures of the same composition than I could merge them in the new Lightroom CC HDR product to combine the street lights on and street lights off exposure. So, I started by getting some shots with the street lights off just before dusk and the light streaks not so enjoyable because I was only going to use this shot for the blending of the darker image with better streaks.. I made sure that that I had found the composition which I liked for the shot because I couldn’t move the camera when I took the shot after it got darker and the street lights were on.
LC TIP: Be sure you bring as many batteries as you have and look into getting a battery grip which holds an extra battery that will switch automatically when the other runs out. You will be taking images for long periods of time and batteries can run low.
After getting the shots I wanted without the street lights on, I started to set up for the darker shots to capture the best car light streaks I could. I may handle Live Composite settings a bit different than most so let me describe. I first go into manual mode and start to expose for the scene if I were going to take a single image shot. I set my aperture and shutter speed along with ISO at either 200 or Low. Once I have found the settings I like they are remembered as I turn my back dial all the way to Live Composite mode. From here I am depressing the menu key to set the base exposure shutter speed. I have the base exposure rate remembered from the last set of test shots. In this image those settings were 1 second at f/5.6, ISO 100 or Low. I select the 1 second exposure time and be sure to depress the OK button to lock in that time. If you don’t hit the OK button you will be left with the previous exposure time from the last time you used Live Composite. Now my settings are ready and I can take my base shot. I depress the shutter and let the camera take the base exposure. When it is complete it will read ready for composite shooting. Once completed I move to the next phase which is monitoring the traffic and starting the Live Composite mode with the next depression of the shutter button.
At this point I am checking traffic patterns and want to make sure there is a nice combination of cars, buses and large trucks if possible. The varying heights of each lends itself to light streaks from the low of cars to the high of an 18 wheeler which makes for some interesting images. Tonight it seemed it was just cars and every so often a truck.
LC Tip from a bridge: Try to find a bridge that has a curve behind you so you can see down the road and around the curve giving you the time to push the shutter button when you see a nice grouping of vehicles coming your way.
I would depress the shutter a second time when I saw a large grouping of cars coming in both directions and hope for that stray truck or bus. The next step is my favorite. I get to watch the image taking shape right before my eyes on the rear LCD. You also have the benefit of a small histogram on the bottom left which can guide you as to when you have taken a long enough exposure. For the shot above I let it take 90 shots which in turn was 90 seconds total for the shot. This part is up to you because you are watching the streaks come through. If you like what you have after 45 seconds then depress that shutter button for the third time to stop the shot. If you need to let it go to 2 minutes or more because you hit a lull in traffic than feel free to. This is the wonder of Live Composite because you aren’t blowing out the highlight areas, your base has been set and only the new streaks are falling in on top of that base exposure. A side note is you have up to three hours or until the batteries run out in Live Composite mode. This part takes experimentation and you will not always succeed so I will take many images over an hour or so. For every shot I share there are many that I didn’t like or the wrong group of vehicles came through making it a boring image. I typically have my noise reduction set to Auto within the Custom Menu>E-Exp/ISO.
Once I have enough shots to look through I head back and start to think about the processing. I’ll determine the 2 or 3 I want to work on move to the basics panel of Lightroom adjusting sliders in White Balance, Exposure, Shadows, Highlights, etc. I often move to curves next to make sure the sky stays a consistent black or color it was when shooting. In this image above though, I did do one thing before all this because I wanted to merge the non-lit street light with the lit one to make it a more pleasing composition. I did this in Lightroom by right clicking>Photo Merge>HDR. (There are other ways of doing this in Photoshop but I found the new merge function worked well for this image.) With the new DNG file just made I adjusted my basics and then brought it over to On1 Perfect Suite 9.5. I like to take my Live Composite images there after the basics are completed for additional Tonal Contrast or possibly some localized detail in the streaks. Now that the image is where I would like it, I’ll bring it back into Lightroom for some noise reduction. Don’t be scared of noise reduction, if you need it, use it. Experiment with those sliders…
After you have tried a few images with Live Composite you will start to understand this amazing mode which Olympus has put into its cameras. It should open up some great possibilities for you in creativity which is what we are all striving to improve on when we head out the door with our equipment. Go out, experiment, make some mistakes and share the winners with me. I would love to see what inspires you…
LC TIP: If you want to see the number of composited shots in the final image, you can find it later by using the Olympus Viewer 3 Software that came with the camera.
Bonus LC Tip: When you arrive to your location it is normally earlier then dusk so you might have some time to kill before you start. Put your camera in JPEG only mode and go over to Shooting Menu 2>Time Lapse Settings. From there run a couple Time Lapses with 200 images of the traffic below. Don’t forget to turn your file type back to RAW before you start your Live Composites and make sure you have a fresh battery. You never know when these time lapses might come in handy, like here:)
Equipment used for this shot:
Olympus OM-D E-M1
12-40mm f/2.8 Pro Lens
Me-Foto Road Trip Tripod
Click here to see more of my Live Composite work
Shoot Light | Shoot Often