Vivid Sydney, Photography Tips and Tricks

Vivid Sydney is a light show of unprecedented size! Every year it gets bigger and better. This year is no exception with some really fun and creative light installation artworks spread across the city. I was lucky enough to have my images selected for a marketing campaign for Vivid Sydney 2017, so that was great!

The light show has brought out more photographers than I even knew existed in Sydney and its great to see! but what I’ve noticed is that a lot of people were using camera techniques which were probably not going to make them happy with the photo results when they get home.

So get your camera gear out and head into the Sydney city CBD and be prepared to be blown away by the immense size of Vivid!



TIP #1- Use a Tripod

If you want to create beautiful images of Vivid then you are going to need to shoot off of a camera tripod. I know you might be worried about spending more money but a tripod is one of the best investments you will make in your photography journey (I have 4 tripods hehe). It’s those long sexy exposure times that creates long trails of lights across your images and to do this you need your camera to sit on a tripod whilst you leave your camera shutter open. Even if you get a $50 tripod you will notice a BIG difference. Tripods can even be used for point and shoots as long as there is a screw thread hole in the bottom of it. Dont be embarrassed to use a tripod as you will find everyone is out using them at Vivid Sydney 🙂 Everyone is just out enjoying themselves too!


Tip #2- Select Your Camera Mode

You want to be able to control Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO and it’s for this reason you should turn the camera mode dial to either M (Manual), A (Aperture) or S (Shutter Speed). 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.

So in Shutter Priority mode I can select the shutter speed and then the camera does the rest! Look at the example below and use the slider to look at the different photos. In the first photo I selected a short shutter speed of 1/60th of a second to get a quick shot to make out all the neon writing on the boat “Vivid Sydney”. In the second photo I changed the shutter speed to 8 seconds! The harbour bridge and everything else remain still whilst the boat moves across my frame for 8 seconds. Plus in shutter priority mode the camera is smart enough to select your aperture and ISO for you.


watching-the-boats-go-by-at-vivid-long-shutter-speed-example [/uba]


Tip #3- 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 at night time we need to use higher ISO settings such as 800, 1600 and even 3200 or 6400 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.

If you have your camera on a tripod try to use as close to 100 ISO as possible for the cleanest image. If you are shooting handheld, which is VERY VERY hard at night, then use an ISO of around 3200.


Tip #4- Using a Fast shutter Speed

If you want to freeze the action like in the Vivid boat example above 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 at night time. 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. Some photographers like to pan their camera whilst following a moving target, which can be a lot of fun! The background will blur whilst your subject will remain sharp.


Tip #5- 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 or F4. So set your aperture to the lowest number you can and leave it at that as it will allow as much light in as possible. If you find that your lens isn’t as sharp at this setting it’s ok to stop it down 1 or 2 positions towards f/8.


Tip #6- 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. It’s a essentially a little handheld trigger button for your shutter, you can get many varieties but you need to make sure you get one that suits your camera. Like the sony ones don’t work with Canon cameras etc.


Tip #7- Shooting in RAW

This isn’t necessary but it’s highly recommended.  It’s the best type of file to shoot in because it holds the most information for editing later on your computer.

Tip #8- Be 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 on the ground, composing objects into the foreground, doing double exposures or playing around with your camera settings. For me I shoot HDR photos and have been practicing this 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.

Tip #8- Pack Lightly

You may be out from anywhere between 2 and 6 hours for the die hards hehe. Bring essentials like extra memory cards, batteries and lens microfiber cloths. But don’t bring things you won’t need, like similar lenses and just all that camera gear you won’t use. I tend to come up with my carbon fiber travel tripod, Sony A7r + 2 lenses, memory cards and batteries… Thats it! Keeping it simple means you aren’t bogged down with too much to carry and when it comes to creating photos you concentrate on the moment.


Tip #8- Time to arrive


The light shows run from 6pm till midnight in most locations and the best light for shooting is at 6pm when there is still the last remnants of blue hour. The problem with this is that everyone has just got off work and wandered out for a look. If you are a night owl then you can be shooting at that 10-11pm time when it’s a lot less crowded and you can get compositions without people in them… and just focus on the light installations. Also you will find days like monday and tuesday a lot quieter than friday and saturday. So decide what’s best for you and use public transport, getting a park in the city during vivid is a nightmare trust me!


Tip #8- Software to Edit Your Photos

For this I’d recommend 2 Easy to use Programs. Firstly is the Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Photography Plan, it’s like $10/month and you subscribe to the plan and get unlimited use of the 2 programs across your computers, tablets and smartphones. Check out the adobe Photography Plan here:


Another Great Program for editing photos from Vivid is the On1 Photo RAW software. You can use the module On1 Perfect Effects in it to apply many amazing filters and presets to your photos. Check out how On1 Photo RAW works here, it’s a complete photo editing package!



Finally Have Fun…

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

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




Cheers, Luke Zeme Photography


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