Visited: Vivid Sydney 2014

As I mentioned in a previous random posting – if you have the chance, you should probably visit Vivid Sydney. Vivid Sydney is an annual event – a “festival of lights”. Different artistic works, involving light mapping projections and other LED lights are on show, and is normally an event on most photographer’s calendars. Normally held only for two weeks, the lights get switched on at 6pm and run till midnight.

Over the years, the exhibition area has expanded from Circular Quay to encompass Darling Harbour. This year, it’s grown also to Martin Place, as well as Sydney University and Carriageworks at Redfern.

This year is no exception – I decided to give it a go. The exhibition closes midnight on Monday 9th June (that’s the coming Monday). If you’re going to go, good luck because the weather doesn’t look too great for the next few days. Spoiler Alert: you should probably stop reading here too.

Photographic Tactics

It’s no exception – every year, the secret to having good photographs is to plan. Part of this is by allocating time to do reconnaissance – finding the best spots, noting what exhibits do (e.g. how long the loops are) and trying to avoid the crowds. This might involve a night or two of just wandering around and actually appreciating the show.

After that, it’s all about getting the shots, while avoiding the people and as much weather as you can. Maybe even trying to make enough time to make it all happen.

That was the plan, until I actually tried to do it this year. The first day I decided to go, the first weekday of the exhibition, I found the place was packed with people to the point I spent more time getting between exhibits than actually appreciating them. To my dismay, some of the best spots to see the Opera House were cordoned off for use by people with mobility problems. Later on, those areas were completely empty, but we still couldn’t get in.

It seems Vivid has become very popular to the point that I only ended up having one and a half night’s shooting, and aborted two runs because of the crowds.

I suppose I just don’t enjoy trying to fight the crowds, and spending more time trudging slowly between the exhibits. Crowds also pose dangers to photographers – I even had some Korean babies climbing on the handrails decide to try climbing up my tripod and numerous times where someone’s walked right into my tripod even though I was well out of the way. Keeping you and your gear safe is highly advisable.

As a result, the photos this year aren’t that great – and I didn’t have a chance to visit some of the exhibits near the bridge, most of the ones at Darling Harbour, or the ones at Carriageworks or Sydney University. One thing I found rather disappointing this year is the increase in light-mapping projections. The novelty of light-mapping wears off, and when the content is considered, some of it doesn’t resonate with me. Maybe others will better appreciate them. The increase in interactive exhibits is notable – although people are sometimes the enemy of photographers.

One thing I did note was that the increase in light pollution. It seems that the increase in exhibits and general street lighting makes the projections less contrasty and that ruins the effect a little. Sometimes the camera actually “sees” the projection better than we do!

Photos and Videos

Lighting of the Sails – Sydney Opera House

This year, the light-mapping projection on the Opera House is rather interesting, working with the physical structure of the building itself. Some of the projections were quite fascinating and realistic – the blue-print, gaming and snake-skin projections especially (click for full size).


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I managed a video of the 15 minute loop from across the quay, with mainly boat noise and shutter clicking from fellow photographers – so there’s no audio on this one.

Gamma World – MCA Facade


The MCA was lit up by an eight-minute loop, which I managed to film some of, from across the quay. As a result, no audio on this one either – mainly because I had a few kids annoying me … getting a bit close to my gear for my liking.

Play Me – Customs House


Unlike previous years where Customs House featured a video projection loop, this year, it’s an interactive exhibit named Play Me. This exhibit features an array of random projection sequences which are controlled by a “player” on a stage, filmed by a camera. Through tracking the player’s movements, they have some level of control of the exhibit. It’s an interesting concept, which produces an unexpected level of variety in terms of projected effects – but I didn’t film this one. Too many people!

Geodesic Light Dome

This one near the Opera House invites people to climb in and out. A few long exposures, with the dome lit by the street-lighting gives it a very “bright” appearance, emphasizing the angular nature of the exhibit.

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Kaleido – Wall 1.0

This one’s also near the Opera House, with many people sticking their heads in. But it does make for an interesting effect when married with crash zoom.

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Unknown Exhibit next to Ray

I tried to find out the name of this one – it’s next to Ray, which is next to the MCA, featuring light-up pads which people were running around on. It’s a bit of mayhem, but the colour effects were rather interesting.



I think this one is an apt reflection of the social networking scene, where “hashtags” are now adopted by many socialites. It’s quite pretty, with colour changing patterns – and its positioning is also very well thought out – just in front of the bridge.


Urban Tree Project – MLC Building

This one has received quite a bit of acclaim and showing. I really like this one!

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Part of the reason is that it uses a strangely shaped building ideally – it looks a little like a tree, so it’d do well as a tree! And it’s not too long with a four minute loop – including audio in the video below.

Vivid Aquatique

This year, Vivid Aquatique utilized a lot more projection than in previous years. It also had a lot more jets than before – so now, you can get a good view of the exhibit from every vantage point on the wharf sitting area. Unfortunately, it was packed, and I didn’t know what the exhibit was like … so hence … these photos.

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Harbour Lights and Panoramas

On the first weekday of Vivid, with the lights just on, viewed from the Cahill Expressway on an 8mm fisheye.


Boats were fitted with rope light, and some even were branded with the Vivid logo.


The projection as viewed near the sails, also on the 8mm fisheye.


Looking back on the crowds from the Opera House forecourt.


Finally, the obligatory panorama of the whole Quay – click for super-size!



Vivid has never had more exhibits – in fact, there’s too many! I couldn’t visit them all in my free time, considering the weather. Maybe if it ran a little longer, then I would have had a chance to better appreciate the others. But regardless, I’m probably just a bit too crowd-phobic …

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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