Vivid Sydney 2019 is just a couple of weeks away and I am getting excited about traveling back to Sydney again to host a series of photography workshops with NiSi Filters Australia and the team of NiSi Ambassadors throughout this years festival. Each year Sydney comes to life in the months of May and June with a spectacular light and street art display (and much more) that makes for a photographers paradise (if you are into that sort of thing 😆). I have been lucky enough to host many events with NiSi and Canon Australia in recent years and have learnt a lot of tips and tricks about how to get the most of your photography during Vivid Sydney.
There are so many opportunities each year to capture amazing images. The Vivid Sydney festival continues to grow and spread throughout more areas of Sydney providing untapped potential for originality and creativity. Let’s take a look at some Vivid Sydney photography tips for 2019 to help you maximise your photography potential during one of my favourite annual festivals and events.
Vivid Sydney photography tip #1 – Weekdays are less busy
Let’s start with the planning of your photography trips to Vivid Sydney 2019. There are a few major “precincts” where most of the action happens – Circular Quay, The Rocks, Darling Harbour, Barangaroo, Botanical Gardens, and then other locations like Chatswood, Taronga Zoo, Martin Place and more. Circular Quay is without a doubt the biggest draw card for visitors with the lights beamed onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House, and the beams of light visible on the Harbour Bridge being the centrepieces and most popular attractions.
Weekends are crazy (some may say absolute chaos) at any of the major locations, especially Circular Quay, The Rocks and Botanical Gardens. Crowd numbers soar into the hundreds of thousands of people on the weekends and the first week or so of the event. It can be difficult to find a location around the edges of the waterfront, up above Circular Quay on the Cahill Expressway and around the pathways of the Botanical Gardens (in recent years security guards have enforced a policy of requiring people to be constantly walking in a single direction through the gardens).
If you want to avoid the crowds, weekdays are best, particularly after the first week. You will still be amongst a very big crowd, but not quite as big as those on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and those that tend to build up over the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend (the 3rd weekend of this years Vivid Sydney 2019 festival).
Vivid Sydney photography tip #2 – Rain provides puddles and reflections (and keeps the crowds down)
Every year that I have hosted events at Vivid Sydney, it has rained without fail at some stage throughout the festival. There’s nothing quite like rain to keep crowd numbers down at any of the major precincts throughout the city. And with rain, comes puddles and reflections. This can provide an extra element of photographic creativity for those willing to use them. The shiny concrete, brick and stone pavement surfaces are perfect for getting down low with a wide angle lens, bringing your foreground into your image and adding extra colour and depth into major parts of your images. Pack an umbrella and set your creativity loose on the streets of Sydney after a decent downpour. Remember that while the rain is falling, puddles get displaced and don’t provide the clean reflections that happen after the rain stops.
After any rainfall during Vivid Sydney, I can guarantee that you will find quite a lot of photographers out and about hoping to capture some reflection shots of their own. Don’t be afraid to get a little bit wet and seek out some originality rather than just copying what you see others doing. I know it can be hard to do this once you have a pre-conceived idea due to seeing things on social media. Seek to create images of your own that other people want to copy rather than coming home with SD cards full of images you have seen elsewhere already. There will be plenty of opportunities for this when the ground is wet.
Vivid Sydney photography tip #3 – Use a sturdy tripod
When you are shooting nightscape images, quite often you need to hold your camera shutter open and shoot longer exposures than handheld shooting allows for. A sturdy tripod is going to help you keep your camera vibration free, both from anything induced through the camera when you press buttons, and also from the crowds around you. You will get bumped. You will have people jostling for position. You will have tourists reaching over your shoulders with their mobile phones once they see you with a tripod and camera set up (all photographers with tripods are pros, right?). There will be vibrations from people bumping the temporary fences that get set up along the waters edge. Limit the vibrations and movement in your camera with a good tripod. Not all tripods are created equal. They can be expensive, but will also be a good investment if you purchase the right tripod to begin with.
Vivid Sydney photography tip #4 – Shoot handheld
In a lot of the locations (for example the footpaths up George St in the Rocks near the Museum of Contemporary Art) it can be extremely difficult to set up a tripod, and with the increase in security and foot traffic I have seen photographers being asked to move on if they have a tripod set up. Tripods can be a “safety” risk (remembering the bureaucracy caused by public liability insurance requirements etc) in large crowds. But tripods can at times make it harder to get a shot as well. When I have shot handheld at various locations around Vivid Sydney I am able to get low to the ground (think puddles and reflections) and have been able to get compositions and timing right for capturing people in scenes and to capture images with a “street photography” feel to them. Open your apertures as wide as they can go, bump that ISO up slightly and see what you can create shooting handheld!
Vivid Sydney photography tip #5 – There’s more to Vivid Sydney than Circular Quay
As I mentioned above, Circular Quay is without a doubt the most popular precinct during Vivid Sydney. So much so that when I have spoken to many photographers there is a belief that installations at Darling Harbour or Barangaroo are not worth capturing (mostly because of people chasing engagement numbers on their posts on social media rather than attempting to be creative and original). Darling Harbour has a fireworks display on each Friday night. Barangaroo is a whole new city development. Chatswood has a display on in the city square. Luna Park will have a light display throughout Vivid in 2019. Taronga Zoo will be hosting light exhibitions again this year. Why not try to be the photographer who creates something amazing from some of the lesser visited precincts around Sydney, rather than just being another amongst the hoards of people at Circular Quay?
Vivid Sydney photography tip #6 – Capture movement
Light trails. Light trails. Light trails. Is there anything more effective at creating a sense of time, movement and drama in a nightscape than light trails? Sydney Harbour has a crazy amount of boat traffic on it every night of Vivid Sydney. Opening up your camera shutter and shooting long exposures will maximise your chances of capturing the movement of boats. But don’t forget about things like buses, cars, and even people! Shooting exposures of 1/4 secs to 1/2 secs is enough to still visibly see people walking. A 1/2 secs exposure with moving cars and other traffic should be enough to still see the shape of the vehicle (for example buses trailing through shots, not just the brighter lights that form traffic trails). Why not get creative yourself with some sort of light painting? There are many street vendors selling glow sticks and other bright, shiny objects that may help you create something unique. Or you could try something like a Pixel Stick. Just beware of the crowd around you and try not to have a negative impact on others also attempting to enjoy Vivid Sydney.
Vivid Sydney photography tip #7 – Use a variety of lenses
One of the easiest ways to get creative with your photography during Vivid Sydney is to vary the focal lengths you shoot at! Shooting with a wide angle lens is going to allow you to capture much more of the scene in front of you and potentially give you flexibility to crop into different sections of your image (if your image resolution allows for it). A mid range lens like a 24-70mm can be great for isolating certain subjects like the whole Opera House. And a telephoto lens like a 70-300mm could be perfect for zooming right into a scene like the Luna Park face from the other side of the harbour, or even creating closer compositions of just the Opera House sails. Mix it up. Take a variety of lenses from wide angle through to a full telephoto lens. I know it can be a pain to switch lenses around in big crowds (I tend to carry multiple camera bodies set up and ready to go with different lenses), or even in rainy weather. But the creativity offered of being able to shoot full resolution images at a variety of focal lengths may help you create something that nobody else has done before.
Vivid Sydney photography tip #8 – Don’t be afraid to shoot at higher ISO settings
Capturing sharp images of the art displays and the moving beams of light shooting up high into the sky may require fast shutter speeds. Many of the patterns beamed onto the Opera House sails are constantly moving, and longer exposures will result in a blur of colour rather than a sharp image showing all of the intricate details in those displays. Shooting at a higher ISO will help to achieve perfectly exposed images and faster shutters speeds required to showcase all of the details of moving patterns. Even a slower shutter speed of 1/4 secs can be too long with some installations. Bump that ISO up, keep your shutter speed nice and fast and you are more likely to capture sharp, crisp images. For those that want to be a bit more creative, blending exposures in post processing of multiple images captured at different shutter speeds can help to get a combination of light trails while also having beautiful, sharp details maintained where the intricate patterns of moving lights are in a scene.
Vivid Sydney photography tip #9 – Attend a NiSi photography workshop
Participating in a photography workshop during Vivid Sydney 2019 such as those hosted by our awesome NiSi Ambassador team is more than just learning about camera settings! Location knowledge, meeting other photographers, learning about the best photography gear, access to filters and a great insight into being in the right place at the right time should all be things that are offered during a workshop. The NiSI Ambassador team have been hosting photography workshops every night of Vivid Sydney for the past three years.
Our aim is to showcase the best locations, give you the knowledge required to capture your own amazing images and also host events that will no doubt have you making new friends and photography buddies you can get out shooting with. During Vivid Sydney 2019 I have seen groups offering photography workshops that are effectively identical copies (pricing, location, marketing material, start and finish times, meeting points etc) of what our team have offered for several years, and it is quite flattering to know others see our events as successful and worth copying. Come along to one of our events, have a great time, make some new friends, make use of our extensive location knowledge, learn a lot about your camera and the best settings to use in different conditions, and most of all HAVE FUN shooting Vivid Sydney 2019!