Capture one

Vivid is an amazing event held in Sydney every year during winter and each year it attracts more and more people out and about to see the exhibitions and the light shows put up everywhere around Sydney. Each year it seems to get bigger and better than the year below.

Lots of new or budding photographers take this as a new opportunity to go out and practice their craft. However, since its inception most of the Lighting Exhibits have evolved a lot and now are more animated displays rather than stills. So to capture the perfect shot you need to keep in mind the following tips.

Gear Tips

Gear is obviously important part of the whole process, without which you cannot capture what you would like to capture. So other than the Camera here are few additional gear tips that will help you get “the shot”.

1. Tripod

Tripod is a must as you will be shooting at night, there is no way you can get a steady and sharp shot without a tripod. However depending upon what time of the evening or night you go it can get pretty crowded and getting your tripod setup can be a challenge. In some areas you may also have Tripod Police preventing you from setting a tripod due to heavy pedestrian traffic.

Here are some tripods I’d recommend using:

2. Fast Lens

Use a wide aperture lens or a fast lens, something that has Aperture value 2.8 or less. These lens are designed to capture lots of light in a shorter exposure which means that you can get the correct exposure and are able to freeze the animated lighting display.

Here are some recommendations:

Now some of these Fast Lens are also Expensive Lens, which means depending upon where you are in your photographic journey you may not have the cash to invest in such lens. However, there are plenty of places where you can rent lens these days.

If you don’t have any cash or any of the Fast Lens, don’t despair there is a way to still use what you have. See the Exposure section below. I will be shooting with Fujinon XF23mm F1.4 and Fujinon XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 lens during this year’s Vivid.

Customs House transformed (1/10th of a second, F3.5, ISO 800)

3. Remote Trigger / Wifi App

Whatever you do, you don’t want to shake the camera during the exposure so you want to make sure you get a Remote Trigger or Cable Release that will let you shoot without physically pressing the Shutter button of your camera.

There are numerous options available online these days from wired remote triggers and wireless triggers. Your camera manufacturer will always have such triggers available or you can look into aftermarket remote triggers by other manufacturers.

Here are few triggers you can consider:

Piglets Chariot (1/40th of a second, F3.5, ISO 800)

If you are using a newer camera (released in the last two years) you likely have Wi-fi capabilities in your camera. If you don’t then this tip is not for you skip to next one.

Download the Wi-Fi App of your camera from the Google Play or Apple Store and connect your smartphone with your camera. This can be very useful as most such apps have Remote functionality built in. Which means you don’t necessarily need to go out and purchase a Remote Trigger as suggested above.

The added advantage of such Apps is that they will also let you preview what the camera is seeing so it can come in handy when composing from awkward angles and positions where you can’t really see the back of the camera properly unless you are Olympic Gold Medalist in Gymnastics.

4. Spare Batteries

Shooting at night will require long exposures (we’ll talk about the exposure later) but long exposures will start to drain your batteries. Also, you are likely to use the back LCD of the camera a lot more so having spare batteries is definitely recommended. Without it you might yourself heading back home earlier than you’d like.

Also here in Sydney its late Autumn and start of Winter, so it means its COLD out there!! Keep your spare battery in your Jacket or Coat pocket which will keep your battery warm. In case you didn’t know, batteries last longer in warmer temperatures rather than in the cold.

I’m a big advocate of always having spare batteries, I did a whole blog post about it here.

Exposure Tips

Now that we’ve talked about Gear, let’s talk about how to setup your gear and get ready to shoot. In the next section we will look at some shooting tips that will help you get the shots you want.

5. Shooting Mode

If you ask anybody, how should I shoot at night most people say use Manual Mode.

And yes, if you understand everything about the Exposure Triangle then yes you can shoot in Manual Mode.

But what do you do if you don’t or you are just starting in photography and only shoot in Auto mode. Well I suggest you shoot in Aperture Mode (A or Av depending upon the brand you use).

Aperture Mode

In this mode you set the Aperture value of your Camera which is the F number (and no I’m not swearing). For example F2.0 or F1.4. Set it to the lowest value your Lens can support.

Manual Mode

In this mode you need to set the Aperture value, Shutter Speed and ISO yourself to ensure you are getting the right exposure. Now if you are already familiar with shooting in Manual mode, this blog post is not for you anyway so just go out and shoot.

6. Exposure

Now having ready the above post, I assume you are shooting in Aperture Mode. To ensure you are getting the right shot, remember we are trying to Freeze the Animated Lighting displays in the photo.

So your Shutter should only be open for 1/125 to 1 second and no more, this is the timing of the exposure. If your shutter is going over 2 seconds you will get motion blur through the image and the result may not be as good.

So aim to have exposure around 1 second or less.

For example: to get a shot like below my shutter was 1/30th of a second. The sails of the Opera House were being painted with these colours but constantly moving. So not only making sure my exposure is short but also ensuring I time my shot.

Painted Sails ( 0.4 second, F4.3, ISO 1600)

Now in order to ensure that your exposure is short and not a few seconds, you need to adjust your ISO settings and crank that up as much as needed to get the exposure to be short.

To be honest you will need to take a few test shots before you figure out the correct setting combo that will work for your camera.

7. Timing/Self Timer

Timing is everything!!! So I have to emphasise that you don’t use Self Timer option on your camera. Having a 2 second or worse 10 second wait means that you need to very good at preampting and timing your shot 2 or 10 seconds in advance.

That’s unlikely to work and will just frustrate you.

So as I suggested above that you should invest in Remote Trigger/Cable Release so that you can take the shot immediately when you press the shutter button on the remote. Also, if you are patient you will see that most lighting display will repeat after 10-15 minutes. If you missed something don’t worry it will loop around eventually and you can get the shot you want.

Here is an example where these patterns were appearing on the Opera House but then moving constantly. So timing the shot and having a remote trigger (without any timer) helped me capture this shot.

Electrified Sails (1/4th of a second, F4.5, ISO 1600)


I hope you found these tips useful and they will motivate you to out and experiment during this Vivid Sydney festival. There are exhibits all over the city and surrounding areas so make sure you check the details on their website.

If you don’t I’d love if you share these tips with your photography friends on your favourite social network using the Share buttons below. Thanks and enjoy Vivid Sydney.

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