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Techniques For Live Bulb Mode

Techniques For Live Bulb Mode - See what image types can be captured with the Live Bulb mode on Olympus cameras.

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General Photography

The Live Bulb feature from Olympus, which is found on Olympus cameras such as the OM-D E-M10, enables users to take long exposures and actually see the image as it develops on the screen and in the viewfinder.

The mode cuts out a lot of the trial and error normally associated with Bulb photography and as we will show here, can be used to capture a variety of photographic subjects. Don't worry if your camera doesn't have Live Bulb as we'll also link to techniques you can use to capture similar images. 

You can find more information on Olympus Time Exposure modes in our previous article


Blur Water In Images

Blurred water as it moves over rocks, descends as a waterfall or crawls up a beach as the tide comes in is something that probably won't ever go out of fashion as it can look really good in the right situations.

As with all slower shutter speed techniques you'll need a tripod and a remote or cable release won't be out of place. You then need to figure out your exposure times which can involve a bit of trial and error but with Live Bulb mode a lot of the guess work and maths is taken out of the equation. Live Bulb users can set the exposure going and watch the screen to see the blur increase in the movement of the water and stop the exposure when happy with the effect.

For those not using Live Bulb, have a look at these techniques for more tips:

Light Painting

Lighting painting is really quite self explanatory - it's the process of painting with light. You can use torches, camera flashes, LED lights and more as your 'paint brush' and colour can be added with coloured bulbs or gels. Even though it's a technique that can be tried on all cameras with long shutter speed settings or a Bulb mode, the Live Bulb mode found on some Olympus cameras does make the process a whole lot easier. You can see the light added to the image as it's 'painted' around the scene which means you don't have to wait until the end of the exposure to judge if enough or even too much light was 'painted' in a certain area etc.

Even though the Mode makes this technique slightly easier there are still settings you'll need to apply and certain equipment you'll need to use, such as a tripod and remote / cable release, as any other photographer would.

For more tips on light painting, have a look at these tutorials:

Photographing Writing With Sparklers

This is one for later in the year when bonfires are burning and fireworks (a subject we'll look at shortly) are filling the night's sky.

This is a technique that can be harder for the volunteer doing the writing rather than the person behind the lens. Why? Well, it's not easy writing backwards and the speed as well as how their writing flows will all change how the final image looks. When working with longer shutter speeds or bulb mode this can mean it's very hit and miss but with perseverance it is possible to capture cracking shots. If you're an Olympus camera owner who has Live Bulb mode built into their piece of kit you'll be happy to hear that this feature does make this technique slightly easier. Thanks to the camera showing the exposure build on screen you won't have to wait until the whole frame is captured before realising the writing is sloping or that the person doing the writing is creating the pattern too quickly.

For more tips on capturing patterns / words created with sparklers, have a read of our previous technique

Star Trails

For star trail photography a camera with a Bulb mode, a tripod, remote / cable release and a full charged battery are the basic bits of kit you'll need. We recommend starting with 10 minute exposures and working up from there if you're not using Live Bulb mode. For those that are, you can just start your exposure, keep an eye on the screen and end the exposure when you're happy with the results. It also means you can watch for the effects of light pollution and tweak your settings as necessary.

For more tips on capturing light trails, have a read of this tutorial: Photographing Star Trails

Storm Photography

You'll find this technique much easier if you have a way of keeping the shutter open. You'll just need a piece of card to cover the lens which you can remove when you think lightning's about to strike and hold back in place when it's happened. Timing is everything but after a few strikes, you should get the hang of it. Photographers with cameras that feature Live Bulb mode have the added advantage of watching the strikes appear on screen. You could even capture a few strikes in one frame, watching the camera's screen to ensure you are happy with the composition. 

More tips on storm photography can be found in our previous article


Fireworks are fun to watch and make great subjects for photography. To capture shots filled with fireworks you need to use a similar method to that used above for storm photography. Basically, you switch to Bulb or Live Bulb mode, cover the lens with something dark until a burst erupts in the sky then you uncover the lens. You then place the cover back over the lens until another burst appears. As mentioned above, by using Live Bulb mode you'll be able to see the bursts appear on screen as the explode and you won't have to guess when to end the exposure as you'll be able to check your composition as each firework heads for the sky. 

More tips on firework photography can be found in this article: Introduction To Firework Photography

Light Trails

If you venture to a busy town or city at night you'll have plenty of opportunities to capture light trails created be traffic moving through the streets. As with all the techniques mentioned you can use a variety of camera types to capture light trails but again, Bulb mode will make life easier as the longer exposure time will allow for longer light streaks to be captured. Again, those with Live Bulb mode will be able to see the streaks build through the frame and can stop the exposure at more precise times when capturing their composition. 

More tips on capturing light trails can be found in our previous feature


For more information on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 visit the Olympus website. 

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Andy_Cundell 7 1.1k 5 England
3 Mar 2014 7:09PM
I do enjoy the challenge of getting the exposure time right by trial and error BUT I am so jelly of this!! Come on Nikon, get it copied!!!

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