After the sun has set there's a technique known as painting with light which gives Olympus shooters that chance to capture landscapes even when the light in the sky has long faded away.
Above: In this shot, a torch was used to paint light on to the bridge, trees and grass during a 111sec exposure that gave enough light to the sky and water reflection.
For those who haven't heard of painting with light, it's a technique where the photographer or someone working with them literally paints light into the scene they are capturing.
It works well on a clear night where stars can be seen clearly in the sky. It can also be used to balance the exposure by adding much-needed light to dark areas of the shot. A time when this may be needed is if you're shooting under a full moon as light levels will be higher than you may have first thought and shots can end up looking like they were shot in daylight if you don't tweak the exposure.
Underexposing the shot may produce a better looking sky but there's a chance the foreground still won't look great so it's best to switch to a smaller aperture then use a torch to paint light back onto any foreground interest.
As mentioned, a torch is a good device for painting light with as they're easy to paint with, plus they come in various sizes and strengths. You can also use an off-camera flash gun if you have one in your camera bag. As well as a torch for painting with a head torch is handy for not only seeing your way back to the car but it'll make it easier to adjust your camera settings.
Setting your exposure manually will produce better results and switch to RAW shooting to produce shots with better dynamic range. Plus, if you find you need to tweak the white balance of the shot after light painting (some light sources can produce a slight yellow tint) RAW editing gives you more control. If you do want to shoot JPEGs make sure your white balance is set to daylight.
Do remember you'll need a tripod as the exposure lengths you'll be working with won't produce brilliant results if you try it hand-held and you'll also need to focus manually as your lens will more than likely end up searching if you try using auto. It is worth arriving at your chosen location early so you have plenty of time to work out composition and focus correctly.
Exposure times change depending on the subject, location and light levels but Olympus OM-D E-M5
have an advantage over other camera users when it comes to exposure times thanks to the Live BULB and Live TIME features that are available. We have covered this feature in a previous article
so do take a look if you want a more detailed explanation on what it is and how it can be used. For those looking for a quick summary, this mode allows the user to see the progress of the exposure on screen. This makes it easier for the photographer to decide when the exposure should end and it'll also highlight areas of the image which need more 'paint' applied.
As someone needs to keep an eye on the exposure as it develops it's a good idea to head out with a friend who can do the painting. Make sure they're not wearing bright clothing and ask them to keep moving as this will stop them appearing in shot.
If you have a building, such as a barn, in the foreground of your shot do make sure it's not too tall as you won't be able to 'paint' the top of it. Other subjects that work well include small trees, standing stones, bridges...etc.
All subjects need to have good overall illumination then once your painter has done this, ask them to add more light to specific areas you want to highlight. It's worth adding light to surrounding scenery such as grass or even a path that'll help lead the eye through the image.