Shooting Star Trail With Olympus Live Composite

Live Composite is a unique and useful image stacking feature built into Olympus cameras that has been introduced since 2014 in Olympus OM-D E-M10 (first generation). Live Composite allows extremely long exposure shooting without overexposing the image. Typically, an ordinary single frame of long exposure image will capture too much light if the shutter is left open for too long. To prevent overexposure, Olympus' Live Composite basically stacks multiple images of similar exposure over a long duration of time while maintaining balanced exposure from the first frame. The exposure settings are fixed on first frame, set on a shorter exposure duration and are the same for subsequent shots. To illustrate this, instead of capturing a single 60 minutes exposure image which will certainly cause overblown outcome, Live Composite stacks 60 images (all taken at 1 minute exposure each) subsequently and continuously. The compositing process only selectively and additively blends in brighter parts of the subsequent frames onto the previous image. As a bonus, as the blending happens (for example, trailing of light due to slow shutter), you can view it occurring live on the camera's LCD screen, hence the name Live Composite.

While this Live Composite is not a new feature, I have rarely used it. Living in the metropolitan Kuala Lumpur, light pollution negated the possibility of shooting night sky. Furthermore, due to tropical weather, we typically get thunderstorms or lousy cloudy skies at night. Recently, I made a trip to Perth, Australia and did some star trail shooting with Olympus Live Composite. I thought why not do an article about this, and maybe share some tips to those who may want to explore this feature with their cameras?

All images in this entry were shot on Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO

5 seconds each image, total composite duration 40 minutes, ISO200, F2.8

The beauty of using Olympus' Live Composite was the convenience of having compositing feature already built into the camera, generating results at the press of just a few buttons. Traditionally, to get a star trail image, hundreds of images were taken subsequently and then composited via software processing on a computer. When shooting Live Composite, Olympus gives you not only the ease of capturing one frame with full composite result, all done in camera, but also the ability to preview the star trailing effect as it happens right in front of your eyes.

HOW TO CAPTURE STAR TRAIL USING OLYMPUS LIVE COMPOSITE

1) TRIPOD
You will need a tripod, there is no going around this. You may think that propping the camera against the rock or your backpack will work, but trust me, if you want to get into the photography game, do yourself a favor and get a sturdy tripod.

2) START WITH FULLY CHARGED BATTERY
The last thing that you want to happen is battery dying off in the middle of an almost successful star trail shooting, losing a chunk of precious time and have to restart the process again.

3) TURN ON LIVE VIEW BOOST 2
To enable easy framing using the LCD screen in the dark, switch on the Live View Boost 2 feature. Go to Menu --> Gear/Cogs Icon --> D tab --> Scroll down to Live View Boost --> Live Composite/Live Time --> On 2.
With this setting turned on, you may even see some visible stars in the sky, and you can clearly see the foreground (trees, structures, etc).

4) SET TO MANUAL FOCUS
We are shooting landscape (if you are doing portrait photography then skip this step), so the focusing should be set to infinity. If you have Olympus PRO lenses (12-100mm, 12-40mm, 7-14mm, etc) pull down the focusing ring, and set the focusing mark to the infinity symbol.

5) CAPTURE A SINGLE FRAME
To start, shoot the scene with a normal exposure. For the Crawley Edge Boatshed at Mounts Bay Road scene as shown in the opening image, I did some trial and error using Manual shooting mode, and figured out that a single frame capture of exposure settings ISO200, 5 seconds shutter speed and F2.8 aperture were needed for a balanced shot. The shot below is an example of the single frame taken before replicating the exposure settings for Live Composite.

5 seconds, ISO200, F2.8


6) ACTIVATE LIVE COMPOSITE
Having figured out the exact exposure settings for a single capture as explained in point 4), then we can now turn on the Live Composite mode. Turn the mode dial to M. Dial down (slow) the shutter speed to 60 seconds, then you keep turning it to find Bulb, Live Time, and finally, Live Composite. At this point, the LCD screen may suddenly become dimmed, do not be alarmed, that is perfectly normal as we normally use Live Composite shooting in dark environment, hence the camera intentionally dims the screen.

7) SET EXPOSURE SETTINGS FROM 4)
Based on the single capture settings from point 4), make sure all the settings are the same. You can adjust aperture via the control dial, and ISO from super control panel (or any other shortcuts you have set). However, to adjust the shutter speed, press the "MENU" button. This step is extremely crucial, and is often missed by many newcomers to Live Composite.

8) PRESS SHUTTER BUTTON ONCE TO GET READY
The camera will require capture of first frame to get ready, so just press it.

9) PRESS SHUTTER BUTTON AGAIN TO START
Press the shutter button again the second time to start the Live Composite process. When the process started, you should be able to see capture information at the bottom right corner of the LCD screen, showing number of frames captured and total duration of capture.

Once the Live Composite process begins, you will get live feedback shown on the LCD screen. Within 5-10 minutes, you will start to see the stars trailing a little.

10) PRESS SHUTTER BUTTON AGAIN TO STOP
Please allow about 45 minutes or more for the trails to develop. The longer duration of the capture the longer the trails will be. Once you are satisfied with the developed trails in the frame, press the shutter button to stop.

Additional tip - Live Composite can be shot in RAW, meaning the final composited result can be recorded as a RAW file. This allows better flexibility in post-processing, having full control over white balance and some detail recovery over shadow and highlight regions of the photograph.

Behind the scenes image of the E-M1 Mark II shooting the famous Blue Boathouse at Matilda Bay

30 seconds, ISO3200, F2.8

60 seconds each image, total composite duration 45m minutes, ISO1600, F2.8
Trail was not smooth due to intermittent frames with no star visibility, sky covered by cloud obviously. Trails should be smooth with clear, cloudless sky throughout the duration of shoot. 

60 seconds each image, total composite duration 45minutes ISO800, F2.8
This was taken at Tau Game Lodge at Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. Shot from the balcony of my room. 

There are some limitations imposed by the camera while using Live Composite (hardware limit, or software processing capability) which should be taken note of:
ISO highest limit - ISO1600
Shutter Speed - 60 seconds (for single frame)
Aperture  - No limit, but typically set to widest to capture as much light as possible
Image Stabilization is disabled during Live Composite, hence sturdy tripod is necessary

Practically, I highly recommend maxing out the shutter speed, set the aperture to the widest (if you have an F1.2 lens, use F1.2!) and finally, only increase the ISO as necessary. 

If you have an Olympus camera (E-M10 or newer) and you have access to location with not too much light pollution, and the weather is not too cloudy, why not give star trail a try? There is always something magical shooting the stars in the sky. If you have any questions regarding Live Composite please ask!

Acknowledgement - Special thanks to Charmaine and Chris who brought me to awesome places to shoot night skies in Perth, Western Australia recently! 

The Barn's Grand Opening in Sunway Pyramid

I was recently invited to attend the official launch of The Barn's latest outlet in Sunway Pyramid, marking their 6th outlet in Malaysia. I original found out about The Barn at One Mon't Kiara when I was still working for Olympus Malaysia several years ago, which was then situated within the same building. We even held mini gatherings and events at The Barn with Olympus consumers and photographers, since the venue was just perfect for small functions in an intimate, quiet environment. I am happy to hear that The Barn has grown over the years and finally is opening a branch in a more commercially accessible location such as Sunway Pyramid! I attended the event as a blogger, and I just could not help myself but snap away with my camera!

The door gift for guests!

Singer Songwriters Round @ MAP Fest 2019

On a chilly, rainy Sunday evening, I went to Publika to catch an acoustic live performance by some of my favourite local singer-songwriters in Malaysia. I was there to catch Hameer Zawawi and Beverly Matujal, both I have come to love their music so much. While enjoying myself with original awesome music on a lazy Sunday evening, I also get to work out the camera and get some shutter action. Nothing overly serious or crazy, just casual relaxing shoot.

The stage was quite dim, even with the F2.8 wide open on M.Zuiko 40-150mm PRO lens, I needed to boost the ISO to about 3200 and at times 6400 to get about 1/100 second shutter speed. I brought along two lenses, the 40-150mm PRO and also the 17mm F1.2 PRO (using the 17mm for any wide shots). I have been so used of using F1.2 or F1.8 lenses for shooting stage and live music that I forget how dangerously dim and challenging the light can get even for an F2.8 lens! What I normally could get away with ISO 800 or 1600, now I need to go up to 3200 or even more. Nonetheless, this was a shoot that was entirely personal and it does not matter if there were traces of noise in the image. The rendering of the 40-150mm PRO lens is just simply superb, creating a life-like image with good contrast!

The local singer-songwriters present for this particular performance:
Hameer Zawawi
Beverly Matujal
Amrita Soon
Azmyl Yunor

All images were shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and 40-150mm PRO or 17mm PRO.















Perth Glorious Food Adventures

Continuing from my previous post, I have separated all the food photographs to be posted in this single blog update. Yes, you got that right, I am spamming all the food images here! I have always loved the food in Perth since my university days, and I believe Perth did some food really well. The images were all shot with either my new smartphone Realme 2 Pro, or Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Honestly, when it came to food, I was always too hungry to bother about taking high quality images. There were even a few meals which I skipped taking any photos altogether. Just enjoy the food!

I first discovered the joy of good coffee in Perth. This was at a time when coffee culture has not picked up in Malaysia. When I started working in KL in 2008, there was no proper coffee places yet, the most common places were Starbucks and Coffee Bean. I was dying from coffee withdrawal syndrome and I don't think I truly ever recover. Thankfully there was a huge overpriced coffee revolution in KL, but expensive coffee is not equivalent to quality coffee. It is no wonder that during my short stay in Perth, I overdosed myself with at least 2-3 cups of coffee per day. 

Brunch in Australia is awesome, thanks to the abundance of bacon, and not just having bacon, but properly prepared and sizzled to perfection slices of heavenly supercilious bacon!! This plate of wholesome pork goodness was called "This Little Piggy Went To The Market", found in Duck Duck Bruce at Fremantle! Honestly I ordered this dish just because of the name. Yes, branding matters!

Auber-Jean Is Not My Lover, Duck Duck Bruce, Freo. 
So, sooooo goooood!

As expected I did a lot of walking around for street photography around the CBD area. I found this little cafe Toastface Grillah from one of the prominent graffiti in the inner streets. Who would have thought, graffiti can be such a powerful tool to draw people in! All the 3 people in the frame were waiting for their morning coffee. I noticed that people in Perth cannot function without their coffee. I have that disease too. 

Grilled cheese ooooohhhhhh heaven!!!

Had this breakfast in a bagel thingy at the Botanical Cafe, Kings Park!

Good coffee is everywhere, so easy to just make a quick stop to rest the legs, get away from the scorching UV radiation and sip some caffeine. This was at The Italian Corner, Perth CBD. 

You know what I miss most from Perth? THEIR GLORIOUS PIZZAS!!! YESSSS!!!! This was at Theo and Co, a spinoff from the original Little Ceasors. We used to drive an hour to Mundaring just for these pizzas! Now it is much nearer to the city, at Leederville. Owhhh, look at the juicy prawns and Prosciutto! 

A slice of heaven! Janes Addiction - one from the seafood pizza menu, an award-winning one that is!

Smoked BBQ Short Ribs, with a side of slaw! YUMMMMM

I could not help it but order a dessert pizza. Read the descriptions:
MAGIC DIRT - Chocolate soil is tossed over a rich chocolate sponge, topped with an in-house made strawberry and sour cherry jam, drizzled with fresh cream and dusted with icing sugar. Get your shovel out and dig in

One of the must try places in Fremantle - Bread in Common! The place is soooo huge. You know how those Malaysian cafes tried to imitate "industrious" look? Well, this is not just looking like a warehouse, it is one. 

Bread and butter, that's all you need to make a happy Robin

Good butter is also hard to come by in Malaysia. The bread, oh don't even get me started on the bread!

baby beetroot  macadamia, apple, mustard

 duck fat roasted potatoes, lemon thyme, ketchup
This thing is legit the bomb! Potatoes that tasted like roasted duck!

lamb ribs, lime, mint, black garlic, sherry
Possibly the best lamb I have ever tasted in my life so far, though I admit I don't eat lamb that much. 

Went deeper inside Bread in Common and explored a bit more. I can imagine this place to be amazing for a photography workshop!

An old friend, Sarah brought me to Aliment and we had brunch there. Buttermilk Fried Chicken on Pancakes, with Bacon and egg! AND MAPPLE SYRUP OMG!

Apparently this Kombucha is a thing in Perth, and I have just tried my first one. 

The Dragon Paddle, Shy John's. Gotta admit this was my first time drinking beer while having dim sum. Quite an experience. 

Dim sum is another thing that I miss so much from Perth. KL dim sum cannot lah!!!!!

Look at how cute those molten lava salted egg thingy!!

More dim sum adventures, this time at Dragon Palace, Northbridge. 

My favourite - deep fried squid tentacles! I eat them like I eat French Fries. 
 
Aussie is the land of awesome burgers, but I did not get to try much. This was the only one I had at Big Rigz Burgers. 

Seafood platter at Kaili's in Freo!

This Coke No Sugar - Peach is so good it deserves a spot here, also not found in Malaysia yet. Why does Perth get all these good stuff?

My all time favourite, all the way since my university days, MEAT LOVERS from Broadway Pizza. Toppings include beef, peperroni, bacon, ham and cheese

LOOK AT THAT!! LOOOOK AT THAT!!

During my time in Perth, I had a lot of Malaysian friends who complained day in and out about how they miss Malaysian food being away. I was probably the only weird one keeping quiet in one corner because I enjoyed ALL the food I have had in Australia. Yes there are weirder stuff like Kangaroo meat and more, but you get the idea. I think I am a food lover, wherever I go to, my stomach will say yes and I will always have a fantastic time eating! I live to eat.