Editor’s Note: We welcome Jamie MacDonald, an Olympus Visionary and Vanguard Pro living in Michigan. With a focus on nature and wildlife, Jamie says his motivations are to connect viewers to the emotional state he was in when his images were created. Learn more about Jamie and follow his adventures at jmacdonaldphoto.com or on Instagram.

One of the most under-promoted features of the Olympus brand of cameras is the Live Composite function. It has many uses, but especially during fireworks season.

But before you dive headlong into using Live Composite, what exactly is it?

Live Composite is a feature that allows you to create a long exposure image without having to worry about overexposure. It works with the following Olympus cameras:

Live Composite starts off by creating a “base exposure” of your scene, and once that is locked in, moving forward for the duration of the exposure, only changes in light are recorded to that base image.

For example, in the image below I set my base exposure to properly expose the Chicago skyline. Then, Live Composite continued to only record changes in light, such as the jet flying by, and the stars rotating in the sky. All the while, never overexposing that base scene. This exposure ran for three hours and in the end the camera provided me with a raw file for my use. Pretty rad, isn’t it?!

Getting Started with Live Composite

Start off in Aperture Priority mode initially so you can determine the proper exposure time needed for your scene. You do this by composing your scene, setting your aperture to what you desire, and then taking note of what the camera suggests as the proper shutter speed/exposure time.

In the case of the image below with the Michigan State Capitol dome, my exposure time was one second at aperture f/6.3 and ISO 200.

Now that the scene is composed and the shutter speed determined you can now switch to manual mode and start adjusting the shutter speed lower until you hit the Live Composite mode. Once your camera is in Live Composite mode, press the Menu button to bring up the Live Composite Exposure Time menu. It is here that you use the shutter speed determined earlier in aperture priority. Again, this time is used to set the proper exposure for your scene, and that ensures that anything in the initial scene will never become overexposed.

Once those settings are in place, press the shutter button once to let the camera create a properly exposed base image. If the exposure time you determined was three seconds, then the camera will take a three-second exposure. Once the exposure has been created the camera will then display the message “Ready for Composite Shooting.” At this point, press the shutter button a second time to begin the Live Composite.

After three seconds have elapsed (or whatever your base exposure time is) the rear display will show you the developed scene. And moving forward, as new light is introduced to your image, you will see it composited into the base image. So in the case of fireworks, each time a new firework explodes in the sky, it will be added to the scene, and you watch this all happen on the back of the camera.

Six Tips for Fireworks Live Composite Images

Now how do you apply this specifically to shooting fireworks? I have a few helpful tips for just that subject.

  1. Be aware of your foreground and if possible try to find something of interest to have in the foreground of your fireworks photos. Arrive early to get a good spot to photograph from, and to pick out that great foreground.
  2. Try to stop down a little bit, maybe f/6.3 to f/8 if possible so as to give your photos some more depth and to help increase the ease of getting the fireworks in focus. My Michigan State Capitol fireworks photos are a great example of that. I needed to ensure both the dome and the fireworks behind it were in focus, so I had to stop down to ensure I had the necessary depth of field.
  3. Once your base exposure is set, wait until you hear the bang of the first firework being launched before you start the Live Composite with that second shutter press. This ensures you don’t capture the streaking sparks flying up before the shell explodes.
  4. To avoid the streaking spark trail of launched fireworks, try holding a black card, or even a hat in front of the lens as a shell is launched, and then remove it once the shell is about to burst. It will take a little practice, but you can have it figured out within a couple of shots.
  5. How do you know when to stop the exposure? The beauty of it is that YOU are the creator of the images and when you are happy with what you see on your display, you can stop the photo.
  6. If the scene turns out too dark, or too bright, you can adjust your base exposure time by pressing the Menu button and increasing or decreasing the exposure time. It can also be adjusted by changing your aperture.


So what do you think? Doesn’t Live Composite sound like a great way to capture fireworks this summer? By using Live Composite you can take the stress out of figuring out how to photograph fireworks, and spend time enjoying the show while photographing it.

While Live Composite is great for fireworks, it’s just as fun when photographing children playing with sparklers and glow sticks during your celebrations! So go out into the night and have fun with this hidden gem of Olympus technology.