Sable Falls - ISO 640, f/6.3, 1/4 Second, ND16
Landscapes,  Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear

How to Use Olympus Live ND to Photograph Waterfalls without a Tripod

One thing I really love about my Olympus cameras is the computational photography that is built into the cameras that really makes a photographer’s life easier.  One of these computational photography features is Live ND.

With Olympus’ Live ND, multiple images are quickly taken in succession and composited in order to create a slow shutter effect.  This feature allows you to create motion blur images like smooth waterfalls, moving clouds, waves, moving vehicles, etc. without using an ND filter in front of your lens.

When you combine Live ND with the image stabilization of Olympus cameras, you can get this slow shutter effect without using a tripod.  The Olympus 12-100mm f/4 paired with the E-M1X or E-M1 Mark III is a terrific lens/camera combination for Live ND with 7.5 stops of image stabilization.  Live ND is available only on the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III cameras.

Miners Falls - ISO 640, f/7.1, 1/3 Second, ND16
Miners Falls – ISO 640, f/7.1, 1/3 Second, ND16
Topaz Labs

Photographing Waterfalls with Live ND

I recently went on a photography trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the peak autumn tourist season.  Often the observation platforms for some of the more popular waterfalls were crowded with tourists making it nearly impossible to photograph the waterfalls with a tripod.

With Live ND and the image stabilization built into the Olympus cameras, I was able to produce silky waterfall photographs without using a tripod.  I could also get compositions that others could not get while being restricted to a tripod by shooting with the camera high in the air or over the railing.  I also was able to photograph the waterfalls much quicker than if I had to set up and compose with a tripod.

Rapids below Sable Falls - ISO 640, f/7.1, .8 Seconds, ND16
Rapids below Sable Falls – ISO 640, f/7.1, .8 Seconds, ND16

Olympus Live ND Waterfall Tips

  • Use the railing for extra stability when handholding the camera with Live ND
  • Don’t be afraid to raise the ISO.  I shot a lot of images in dark forest settings using ISO 640.  Noise reduction software like Topaz DeNoise does a terrific job cleaning up the noise in these images.  Live ND does have an ISO limit of 800.
  • Use the histogram and zoom in to check that the whites are not blown out in the images prior to leaving the scene.
  • Live ND 16 work best for me for most waterfalls.  I also used Live ND 32 for some images where I wanted more motion blur in the image.

All of the images in this blog were taken using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and Olympus 12-100 f/4 lens.  I’ve included the camera settings in the caption for each photograph.

Live ND Menu under Shooting Menu 2
Live ND Menu under Shooting Menu 2

How to Set Up Olympus Live ND

Live ND can be set up in Shooting Menu 2.  Note:  You must be in either Manual or Shutter Priority shooting mode to enable Live ND.  In the Live ND Menu, you can choose from Live ND2 (1 stop) to Live ND32 (5 stops).  You can also turn on LV Simulation to preview the slow shutter effects in your viewfinder and LCD.  This can be really helpful when setting up a composition if it doesn’t make you dizzy.

Set Up Button Function
Set Up Button Function

I added the Live ND Menu to my Favorites Menu (Press the Record Button when on the menu) so I can quickly access Live ND.  If you are going out on a waterfall photo shoot, you may also want to assign Live ND to a camera button to quickly turn it on / off while shooting.  You can assign Live ND to a button using the Button Function (gear icon in the lower right) in the Super Control Panel.

Laughing Whitefish Falls - ISO 400, f/11, .8 seconds, ND16
Laughing Whitefish Falls – ISO 400, f/11, .8 seconds, ND16

Olympus Live ND Limitations

Live ND does have some limitations.  It cannot be used with video, flash, or other computational features in the camera like bracketing, HDR, High Res Shot, Keystone Compensation, etc.

Live ND also has some shutter limitations based on what which Live ND setting you select.  See below for the fastest shutter speed for each Live ND setting.

Fastest Shutter Speed Limitations

ND2 (1 Stop) – 1/30 second
ND4 (2 Stops) – 1/15 second
ND8 (3 Stops) – 1/8 second
ND16 (4 Stops) – 1/4 second
ND32 (5 Stops) – 1/2 second

Written by Martin Belan

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  • Andrew Laing

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks so much for this info about the live ND feature on the OMD EM1Mk3. It’s very timely for landscape waterfall images at this time of year if one likes colour which I do. I have a lot to learn and you have helped me with your summaries. Appreciate your work and efforts.



    • Martin Belan

      Thanks for the feedback Andrew! It is a great time of year to photograph waterfalls with the fall color, if the water flow cooperates. Enjoy the fall season!

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