There's a cool exposure mode titled 'time' that's featured on some Olympus cameras such as the OM-D and PEN Mini E-PM2. If your camera has this feature and you've not had a play with it yet, here's a quick explanation on what this mode is and how you can use it.
Above: It was very dark when the above shot was taken but with time mode the exposure allowed for enough light to appear in the sky and reflection in the water. A torch was also used to paint light over darker areas of the shot such as the trees and the wooden bridge.
What Is It?
To explain what 'time' exposure mode is we first need to talk about Bulb mode. Bulb or B mode allows you to lock the shutter open for longer periods of time, but to do so you have to press and hold the shutter button so it remains open. But with time mode you don't have to worry about this as you press the shutter button down, lift your finger off and the shutter will remain open until you press the shutter button again to end the exposure.
If you want the camera to end the exposure for you at a specific time you can use the bulb / timer where various exposure lengths are available.
As well as making it easier to capture long exposures there's another little feature that gives you even more control over the exposure and that's the ability to watch the image 'develop' on the camera's screen as the exposure counts down. It's a bit like when everyone worked in a darkroom and waited for an image to form in the developing dish but this time it's done digitally with the help of Liveview.
LiveBulb is also available but in this mode you have to keep the shutter open. It's recommended that you use a tripod and remote cable when playing with either of these modes to keep shake to a minimum.
What Is It For?
This mode can be used in low light or when you're using a particularly dark ND filter when capturing silky-smooth shots of waterfalls, rivers etc.
Shooting fireworks also gets a little easier with this mode as the camera can be placed in position, 'time' mode switched on and the photographer can watch the firework explosions appear on screen. If you want to capture multiple bursts in one frame you'll need to carry a piece of card with you that can be placed in front of the lens while you wait for another firework to climb.
This mode is also useful for capturing images of people writing with sparklers at bonfire events or at other times of the year try the technique with a torch and coloured gels. Try experimenting with light painting, too, a technique we'll touch on shortly. You could also try shooting star trails and light trails on roads.
How Does The Preview System Work?
You can preview the image at various intervals during the exposure on screen. These preview intervals can be altered via the camera's menu but do note that the higher you set your ISO, the less previews are made available. By setting the preview rate you'll be able to stop the exposure at the moment you feel the image is perfect.
It also means that you won't have to calculate exposure times or take test shots as the preview system means you can just watch the exposure build.
Balancing The Exposure
Sometimes you'll be shooting a scene where the mode will cause parts of the image to over expose. As a result make sure you pack something you can use as a mask (piece of card etc.) to shield the brighter areas of the shot. If you see that other areas of the image begin to appear a little bright during the exposure simply adjust the position of your masking material to cover this area as well.
You can also do the opposite and add more light to shadow areas by painting light in. The word painting is used as this is literally what you're doing. A torch is used as an artist would a brush to paint light over objects that need it. As you need to watch the exposure as well as paint it's best if you can take an assistant out with you. That way, you can tell them where you want them to shine the torch while you watch the exposure appear on screen. As the painter is moving around the shot they shouldn't be captured in the exposure.