When I picked up my first micro four thirds camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, I read about what sounded like a futuristic feature, “Live BULB” mode. Live BULB (or Live TIME) essentially lets you watch your long exposure photo being “built”, and allows you to say “stop!”, when it looks good to you. Think about that for a moment. It’s like watching a cake bake in the oven and knowing the exact moment that all of the ingredients have set up and it’s ready to come out. No checking with a knife, no guess work.
You can actually watch a photo developing on your camera’s screen while the scene is unfolding in front of you.
This is amazing! Watch waterfalls turn silky, headlights become streaked and long, or a swift moving river turn to glass. Check out this quick video to see what I’m talking about and then we’ll get into setting up your Olympus OM-D so you can become a long exposure master.
Step 1 – Access Live BULB in the menu
Access the main menu by tapping the Menu button on the camera, arrow down to the gear icon, tap the right arrow key to go into the “E” gear menu, and arrow all the way to the bottom of it. Here you’ll find the settings for Live BULB and Live TIME. Quick note – Live TIME and Live BULB function very similarly, except for with Live BULB you MUST keep the shutter button pressed the entire time, and when you let go, the long exposure will stop. With Live TIME, depressing the shutter begins the long exposure, and pressing it again ends it.
The “BULB/TIME Timer” setting is there so you can put a maximum amount of time your long exposures. If you’re the kind of person who will never go over 1 minute, then pick that. I personally set it to a high time, 8 or 15 minutes, since I never know what I might wind up doing out in the field.
Step 2 – Pick your display interval
Pick the “Live BULB” setting and you’re presented with menu where you can pick a time. This time represents the interval in which your live preview of the long exposure will refresh. The camera gives you a maximum of 24 displays for any given exposure. So, if you select 2 seconds for your Live BULB refresh time, every 2 seconds your display will be updated with how the scene is building up, at 48 seconds, you WILL NOT see anymore previews. If you choose, the exposure will keep going, but you will not see the screen refresh anymore.
Here’s an example. Earlier in the evening when I don’t need a 60 second exposure, but maybe a 6 second exposure, I will set the refresh interval to 0.5 seconds. So, every half second the screen will refresh and at 6 seconds I’ll have seen 12 total frames. If the scene is much darker, I may set the interval at 4 or 8 seconds, depending on how long I think my total exposure might take.
Step 3 – Set your shutter speed to Live BULB (or Live TIME)
Tap your shutter button to get you back out to the shooting mode and make sure you put the camera in Manual (M) mode. Set your aperture, and then turn the dial to set your shutter speed in the direction where you see the time climbing up…5 seconds -> 8 seconds -> 10 seconds. Keep going until you pass 60 seconds. The next click will get you to Live BULB, and one more click will get you to Live TIME.
Step 4 – Take a picture!
Below is an example using a 2 second time interval. So, every 2 seconds we’re going to see an update of the long exposure scene happening in front of us. “Display Count” keeps track of each 2 second interval, and shows us our progress, up to 24 intervals. Notice how as the exposure time increases, the scene is getting brighter, showing you a live preview of what the camera is capturing. I was satisfied with how bright my scene was by 29 seconds, so I stopped the exposure. Make sense? I encourage you to go experiment and you’ll see for yourself how easy this tool is to use.
A quick note about equipment. I mentioned above how for the Live BULB mode you need to hold down the shutter for the duration of the exposure. To do this, I have an Olympus RM-UC1 cable release. I highly recommend this if you’re going to using the Live BULB features of the OM-D. A good sturdy tripod is a must too for long exposures. I’ve used the Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 carbon fiber tripod for years without fail.
Questions? Comments? Leave a note. I’d love to hear from other photographers who think this is a cool feature!
If this tutorial helped you out, please consider using my Amazon links below to purchase some of the equipment mentioned. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it really helps keep this site up and running!
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 (Body Only) Silver
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 (Body Only) Black
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 and 12-50mm Lens (Silver)
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 (Body Only) Silver
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm 2RK lens (Silver)
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 (Body Only) Silver
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 (Body Only) Black
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-40mm lens