Vivid Sydney is a light show of unprecedented size! I was really impressed on the amount of attractions to see and the immense proportions of the projections and art installations.For example the moving images seen on the Sydney Opera House are projected all the way from the other side of the Harbour over near the Sydney Harbour Bridge and there are plenty of buildings that have projections over their entire facade.

The light show has brought out more photographers than I even knew existed in Sydney and its great to see, but what I noticed is that a lot of people were using camera techniques which were probably not going to get as good as results as the amazing visuals they were seeing in real life. Maybe they don’t care too much as they are just happy snapping away but if you are interested in getting some better shots I put together some pointers below.

Here’s a shot I took amongst the crowds at the Sydney Opera House during Sydney Vivid. I took a few at this location and moved on to explore the light shows and I wanted to share these tips first and will add more photos to this post as I edit them, very busy at the moment !

Luke Zeme Photography Pink-Band-at-the-Opera-House Vivid Sydney, Tips and Tricks

“Sydney Vivid #1” © Luke Zeme 2013. Nikon D800.

Image details. Nikon D800 + Nikkor 28-300mm @ 48mm, ISO 3200, f/5, shutter 1/5th sec, RAW, sRGB

You can purchase my museum quality prints by clicking on the image above.

So, I wanted to give some tips for those heading out to Vivid within the next few days as there is still a whole week before it finishes on June 10th ! Get your camera gear out and head down to either Circular Quay or the new attractions over at Darling Harbour.




Use a Tripod

I can’t stress how important it is to use a tripod once the sun goes down in getting great results in photography. The reason is because that the time the camera needs to expose light onto its sensor is increased when it is dark and nobody on the planet can hold a camera steady enough for the long exposure times needed, no matter how PRO they are. My personal rule of thumb is to use a tripod for any exposure times longer than 1/60th of a second. Even if you get a $50 tripod from your local camera store you will notice a BIG difference. Tripods can be used for point and shoots and aren’t just for the large DSLR’s so dont be embarrassed to use one 🙂 Everyone is just out enjoying themselves too !

Best Tripods Post Here


Shoot in Manual Mode

You want to be able to control Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO and it’s for this reason you need your camera in Manual Mode. I can recommend some starting points but you always need to take your own test shots and make adjustments to your settings to get perfect results.


Starting Point for your camera settings

A Sharp Photo

Shutter Speed approx. 1/30th second, Aperture wide open (this means lowest number e.g. f/2.8) and ISO approx. 1600. These are meant to be anchor points that you can adjust to allow less or more light in. See below for reasons.

A Blurry Photo

For light trails and surreal light effects you will want to use a longer Shutter Exposure. For example try using times over 10 seconds and you will be amazed at the results. If you are unsure what ISO and aperture to use, put your camera into Shutter Mode and set your Shutter time to 10 seconds, you camera will do the rest. So for this one I’d recommend starting at Shutter speed 10 seconds, Aperture f/5-6 and and ISO 3200.

Use High ISO

ISO is also known as film speed and it is a measure of the sensitivity of your sensor in your camera. Photographers try to use a slow speed when we can, i.e. 100, but when we want to capture moving objects in low light such as the light projections at Vivid Sydney we will need to use higher ISO settings such as 800, 1600 and even 3200 ISO. The drawback in using a higher ISO is that you will get more noise in your images but it’s a trade-off for using a fast shutter speed at night.


Using a Fast shutter Speed

If you want to freeze the action then you want to use as fast a shutter speed as possible. A good starting point would be something around 1/30th or 1/15th of a second. You don’t want to go any slower than this because it will end up having lots of blur in the image and your goal should be to capture some of the light action in a sharp photograph.

Of course you can make some creative shots with the blur of the lights, people or boats in the water and these always look really cool at night due to all the artificial light sources made from the light shows.


Open Aperture

Because it’s going to be night time the best thing you can do is to open up your aperture as much as you can and for prime lenses this will be a very low number like f/1.4 but if you are using a zoom lens it is most likely something around f/2.8. So set your aperture to the lowest number you can and leave it at that. If you find that your lens isn’t as sharp at this setting it’s ok to stop it down 1 or 2 positions.


Cable Release/Timer

Because your camera will shake after you press the shutter button, even on a solid tripod, you can achieve best results by using a cable release. This is a way of taking photos on your camera by using a small remote held away from the actual camera. In my case I am able to set a time on the camera, most have them these days, and I set it for 10 seconds and the camera will take the photo 10secs after I press the shutter. You can discuss getting a cable release with your local camera store or purchase one on eBay, but if you do this make sure it is compatible with your particular camera.


Shooting in RAW

This isn’t necessary but is the best type of file to shoot in because it retains the most information for editing later on. The downside is that they take up more space on you memory cards and Hard Disk Drives.


Being Creative

There are heaps !!! of different things going on at Vivid Sydney so why not try and come up with something a little interesting. Thousands of photos are being captured every minute and so if you want yours to stand out a bit why not try something out of box like getting down closer to the ground, composing in objects into the foreground, doing Double Exposures or playing around with your settings. For me I shoot HDR photos and have been practicing his for a long time now so I can pretty much think about what I want to achieve at the scene but like everyone else I love being inspired by other photographers work too.


Time to arrive

I arrived at 6pm when the light shows started and it was really busy, most likely as everyone just got off work, so if you can arrive a bit later on in the evening you are likely to run into less of a crowd. The projections run to midnight though in many of the locations.


Have Fun…

Vivid Sydney is a family friendly event so why not just pop down for some fun with your friends and family + of course your camera!

For a list of my suggested cameras ranging from affordable to amazing quality:

Link: Best Mirrorless Cameras



Cheers, Luke 🙂


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