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Capturing Winter Landscapes with Live ND & High Res Shot

Using LiveND to get the best for your landscape photography

My name is Moises (IG: @photomoisho) and I am a landscape photographer based quite close to Barcelona. Actually, I am lucky enough to live in the very heart of the delta del Ebro – a very nice place to be if you are interested in beautiful sunrises, old sinking boats, and minimalistic landscapes – but you will always end up in the water, so it’s good to have a camera with good weather-sealing!

I started shooting not so long ago, and I’ve always used Olympus: E-M10 Mark III first, then a used E-M5 Mark II and now I LOVE my E-M1 Mark III. When I bought my latest camera I didn’t know what I was going to shoot or what features were going to be important to me – but I know now, and I can’t think of a better camera for what I do than the OM-D E-M1 Mark III.

Although we have almost no winter where I live, I really enjoy shooting winter-ish landscapes, and have travelled to locations such as Iceland to take pictures – so even though I spend most of my time in the sunshine, I can definitely share advice for winter landscape photography.

Kit wise, you need a camera which can get soaked (and you also have to be ready to get soaked with your camera) and which won’t let you down when in low temperatures or snow. And of course, we’re all aware of the advantages of having a smaller system: the size and weight of the gear means I can travel further, the amazing IBIS stabilisation means I can shoot three or four seconds handheld with wide-angle lenses, the wider area in focus, etc…

I don’t want to go deeper into these because they have been widely discussed already: I want to explain the two features that I enjoy the most, especially for wintery landscapes – Live ND and Handheld High Res Shot.

E-M1-X • M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO • 6sec • F5.0 • ISO200

Live ND

There are two cameras in our system which offer Live ND – the E-M1 Mark III and the E-M1X. This feature has been created to replace the need to use physical Neutral Density (ND) filters, which as you know, are used to increase your exposure time to get long exposure shots. This mode allows us to add a digital ND Filter from 1 to 5 stops (ND2, ND4, ND8, ND16 and ND32) with the press of a button – no need to worry about the following…

no dominant colors

no scratches in the glass

having to carry filter holders (much less weight)

no problems to focus on low light

fast on and off

quick to adjust

accurate exposure metering

no broken glass to worry about

Live ND can only reach 5 stops, so I sometimes still use one physical ND64 (6 stops) filter to get any number of stops between 1 and 11 (5 digital + 6 physical). The mode is limited to five stops because when we use this feature, our camera shoots as many photos as the number in the selected ND (4 photos for ND4 or 32 for ND32) and the camera buffer must store all these photos: then the camera processor blends all of them in a single Raw. 32 Raws are a lot to work with!

This limitation is what makes this feature so amazing: because the camera makes a composite of several photos, it boosts the dynamic range available and literally obliterates the noise in the shadows (specially from ND8 onwards). This is what changes the game: just this feature alone justifies updating from the E-M1 Mark II to the E-M1 Mark III. Now I almost ALWAYS use this feature even if I don’t need a long exposure, just to get this extra amount of dynamic range in my photos.

Until now, the size of the camera’s sensor was directly related to the amount of dynamic range available, or the signal/noise ratio. With Live ND technology, we have been given an elegant workaround using computational photography techniques.

Under exposed image shot with LiveND ND32

Exposure increased in 4 STOPS

Image augmented to 200% (very low noise in deep shadows)

E-M1-X • M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO • 0,5sec • F7.1 • ISO200

I don’t think about the Live ND feature as a way to substitute physical filters, but as a way of radically increasing the dynamic range of my Raw files, and ensuring that the noise will be almost non-existent. You can’t use LiveND when you need to freeze the subject (stars, portraits, etc) because the minimum time for a ND32 is 0.5 seconds – but for us landscape photographers, it’s perfect – as long as we have the right amount of light.

Here are some more shots I made using LiveND. As you can see, the first one (Skogafoss) has movement in the water so would have needed a real ND filter to recreate, but the second and third, would not need NDfilters… but I shot them in this mode anyway.

E-M1-X • M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO • 4sec • F5.6 • ISO200

E-M1-X • M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO • 20sec • F2.0 • ISO400

High Res Shot

So – what do we do if we want the huge advantage of Live ND, but there’s too much light in your location?

Well, then, you can use the other feature that uses image blending to get a high resolution RAW: the High Res Shot or more specifically, the handheld High Res Shot. This feature is available in several OM System cameras, but the handheld capability is only present at this moment on the E-M1 Mark III and the E-M1X.

What the camera does in this mode is to shoot a certain number of images, displacing one pixel in different directions – then the processor blends the images together. This also provides extra benefits, the main one being the increase of resolution (up to 80MPx with tripod and 50MPx handheld – which is the real gamechanger.)

As with the Live ND, I don’t use this feature as it was intended. I am not interested in the extra amount of MPx that I get when I use it, but in the increase of quality that I obtain because of the way that our camera’s processor builds the image: you end up with a file with better dynamic range, colour accuracy and colour aberration improvements.

So if you’re a lover of landscape photography then please, have a go at using these two features this winter – but be warned – there’ll be no coming back after!

E-M1-X • M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO • 1/50s • F5.6 • ISO200

E-M1-X • M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO • 0.5sec • F5.0 • ISO200

E-M1-X • M.Zuiko 8-25mm F4.0 PRO • 1sec • F4.5 • ISO200

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