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Feature Image by: Elisa Eves

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney

The annual Vivid Festival is back for 2023 – bigger and better than ever before! Vivid Sydney has become one of Australia’s best winter attractions. Transforming the Harbour City into an illuminating fusion of creativity, innovation and technology, Vivid Sydney is a guaranteed paradise for photographers of all abilities.

Elisa Eves, Sydney photographer, content creator, and avid Vivid explorer has pulled together these photography tips which will help you hit the ground running once you arrive at the festival.

1. Keep it sharp with a steady camera

It’s important to keep your camera still when taking low-light photos, and since most of the action of Vivid Sydney happens after sunset, this is your first consideration. Using a sturdy tripod with a two-second timer or cable release when using shutter speeds slower than 1/60th of a second will help with this. Alternatively, try gently pressing the touch screen shutter to stop any extra camera shake. Either of these options will help you achieve those nice, clean, sharp shots.

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

2. Use manual mode

You need total control over your camera settings to capture the large dynamic range of Vivid Sydney’s light and music shows. If you’re still finding the confidence to get off auto, below are a few camera settings to get started with when photographing the event.

3. Adjust your aperture

Narrow down your aperture to ensure you have a suitable depth of field to ensure detail is captured throughout the entire frame. Your aperture can be used creatively: a narrow depth of field—somewhere between f/11 and f/22—will accentuate detail throughout your entire frame and help create a starburst effect. 

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

4. Get creative with different camera techniques

In-camera multiple exposure modes is a great feature to experiment with to combine layers of light. Try zooming in or out with your lens at a slow shutter speed to create interesting light trails.

Alternatively, if you'd like to get creative with blurred photos of the lights and people, try slowing down your shutter speed to 10 seconds or more but make sure you’ve got your tripod ready to go so you don’t get any shake ruining your photos.

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

5. Tune in your ISO

Keep your ISO nice and low. This will minimise the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light and allows you to shoot with longer shutter speeds without risk of over-exposing your images. Using a lower ISO value also means that your images will be clean and clear of noise.

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

6. Consider composition and embrace the crowds

When composing your photos, remember to allow space for elements surrounding the main subject. Leave plenty of room for the fireworks above the horizon.

Look for reflections to capture double the lights and colour. You can find them in windows, shiny surfaces and especially puddles if it has been raining. Get your camera lens as close to the reflective surface as possible to get a clear reflection. Use manual focus to set your focal point on your main subject, the reflection will be in focus too.

Seeking out key landmarks like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House, MCA buildings or even some of the historic buildings in the Rocks can add a new feature element to your foreground.

Remember that you won't always be able to photograph the installations without crowds getting in the shot, so make people a feature of your photos. The lighting can be beautiful for capturing people interacting with the artworks. Focusing on a subject whilst using wide apertures makes a beautiful bokeh effect from background lights. A shutter speed of 1 or 2 seconds will gently blur moving crowds.

If you’re really looking to test yourself, creatively bring some friends along who are happy to be your model for the night.

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

7. Timing is everything

Many photographers shoot continuously without monitoring the images, which often results in average quality photographs. The beauty of the Vivid Sydney light projections is that they are often played on a loop. Spend a few moments to watch and get familiar with each scene to give you an idea of the timing and shutter speed you'll need to capture the different colours and patterns. Some patterns stay static longer than others so you can plan to capture these using a long exposure of 10- seconds or more. Other patterns are constantly moving so use a fast shutter speed of under half a second.

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

8. Shoot RAW images

Your camera will likely have the option to shoot images in RAW or jpeg. RAW files will preserve much more of the detail of the images you shoot as it is a much bigger file, which means you have the flexibility to print your image and edit it the way you like. Keep in mind that, as these are much larger files than your standard jpeg image, you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of room on your SD card. 

9. Let yourself be spontaneous

Ultimately, it’s all about having fun and capturing the light shows from your unique perspective. Don’t be afraid to try something different or to play around with a variety of different camera settings. Stay alert so that you’re ready to capture moments of spontaneity, whether it’s something happening in the audience or as part of the show. Don’t be afraid to scope out your own vantage points. Once you’ve determined all the obvious positions, explore the city, and find locations and vantage points no-one’s using.

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

10. Shoot early before the crowds and the smoke

Shoot early in the evening when the lights first turn on to get some blue hour colour in the sky as a backdrop to the lights and remember that Vivid Sydney is set to be an explosive event. Whilst the fireworks will look beautiful in your photographs, they will also cause a lot of smoke. Taking your shots early on ensures you get nice crisp black skies, and you'll get in before the crowds too!

10 photography tips and best locations to capture Vivid Sydney by Elisa Eves

Top 5 locations to photograph Vivid Sydney

Some of the largest and most famous Sydney landmarks will be ablaze with colour. Elisa has provided a guide of what to see and expect from the key Vivid locations.

1. Circular Quay

‘Written in the stars’ is the largest drone show in the southern hemisphere – best seen and shot in the skies at Circular Quay. Drone shows are awesome to capture as a time lapse. You don't want to miss this one!

Written the stars performs on the following dates at 9:10pm:

Sunday, 28th May 2023
Wednesday, 31st May 2023
Sunday, 4th June 2023
Wednesday, 7th June 2023
Monday, 12th June 2023
Wednesday, 14th June 2023

2. The Sydney Opera House

Poetically described as the ‘lighting of the sails’, the Sydney Opera House is always a highlight and focus for Vivid. This year the sales will feature paintings from the late Australian artist John Olsen, that have been animated by creative technologists Curiious.

TIP: Some of the animations move quicker than others so you'll have to adjust your settings to get them sharp.

3. Kirribilli, Blues Point and Lavender Bay

These three locations are a little further from the city but perfect for great views of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House without the crowds. This really is the best way to capture the beauty of the lights from a distance as they reflect off the Harbour.

4. The Royal Botanical Gardens

‘Lightscape’ is a ticketed multi-sensory experience new to Vivid this year. The gardens and tree canopies will be filled with a kaleidoscope of colour. Spread over 2km there will be so many spots to capture some great shots.

5. Darling Harbour

‘Elemental on the water’ features a spectacular display of water cannons, flames, projections, and pyrotechnics that shoot high up into the air.

TIP: Try and find a high vantage point where you can capture the whole scene.

Be sure to tag #CanonAustralia and @canonaustralia in your Vivid Sydney photos on socials:




All images taken by Elisa Eves.