Visited: Vivid Sydney 2015 (22 May – 8 June) – Part 1

A new year means another Vivid Sydney event to explore. Best known as a festival of lights, music and ideas, this event is a worldwide phenomenon. This year, Vivid Sydney is bigger than ever, having the regular Circular Quay foreshore precinct, as well as Darling Harbour, Martin Place, Sydney University, Central Park and Chatswood.

It’s been running for a few weeks already, but I didn’t have any time to process my photographs or write any posts until now. If you intend to visit Vivid, you only have tonight and tomorrow left, so do get a move on.

The Vivid Experience

It seems that over the years, Vivid has become much more popular. Unfortunately, this correlates with a decrease in the quality of the experiences of visitors. While in prior years, I complained of photographers creating a hostile environment for each other as they jam together, this year, it’s a little worse. While the photographers are still a solitary bunch, they’re all fighting a common enemy – crowds.

This year, there seems to be an increase in areas fenced off for “commercial” interests – reserved for patrons of restaurants or with special passes, or for people with accessibility requirements. This only diminishes the amount of areas from which the festival can be enjoyed.

There is also a corresponding increase in the amount of crowd control, which involves measures such as closing Circular Quay station from having people disembark the train there, and instead, forcing them to alight at Wynyard, Town Hall or Martin Place and take a long walk. Temporary fencing around Circular Quay also forces people to “herd” together into a plug flow almost like sheep led to a slaughterhouse, walking the long way around the block for no great reason. This increased walking is hardly conducive to the best experience, and forces people to “push” against one another, leaving no time for you to stand and enjoy the sights. It is only an even worse nightmare for those with prams and wheelchairs, and for those with tripods. It’s so tiring to contend with, it forced me to leave and go back home or to an alternate precinct because it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

Amongst all of this, more areas have been filled with food stalls rather than exhibits, and hardly subtle suggestions that you should grab a light refreshment (ha, ha …) at exorbitant prices. No thanks.

This year, there are no free “Vivid Ferries” around the harbour – so if you want to catch a ferry between Darling Harbour and Circular Quay, you will have to contend with the rest of the commuters and pay your own way.

Of course, this year, there are many more Destination NSW market research people pestering people and surveying them about their refreshment choices and their visitation reasons, frequency etc. I only met one in previous years, but this year, I met six! All that money spent on market research … at least there were also highly visible security surrounding the event. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed this year as much as previous years.

This year, instead of chasing photographs, I did my best to enjoy as much of it as possible from whatever vantage points I could get, trying to visit every precinct and see the majority of the exhibits. Where I had the chance, I took the shots as a “secondary” objective. The shots will be presented in two parts, in “quasi-chronological” order of visitation.

Circular Quay to Opera House Foreshore (25th May)

As with prior years, I started with the Opera House side of the foreshore. I started by visiting the Cahill Expressway walkway to get an overview of the whole area, taking a quick time lapse.

You can get an idea of what the projections look like in the 17-second clip, in glorious 4k resolution.


Canon’s sponsorship of the event also involves a light-box style booth, labelled “be light curious.” It was an ideal selfie “booth”, and everyone was fighting for a little bit of room – so I thought I might try it with a fisheye and some post-processing distortion correction for some fun …


Similarly to previous years, there is an exhibit built into the wall of a building featuring small colour shifting dots, this one titled Move over Damien.


The sidewalk is relatively dark, but I’m always on the lookout for street photography opportunities. While everybody is busy walking around, some take the time out to sit down and enjoy the projections, no matter what age.


This “human form” is made transparent and filled with loops of multi-coloured EL wire under electronic control, which I believe was titled Exposed.


This exhibit, titled Heart of the City is a heartbeat-sensor based figure which flashes red in synchronism with your heart beat, so others can share in it. Pretty cool, even though the children did have issues trying to get the sensors to work with their small fingers.

As the foreshore was too crowded to get a good angle looking at the sails, I decided to go right up to the sails. There, we get a good look at Splendens, and the people “bathing” in its red glow.


The projections from across the Quay were very strong, and provoke quite a bit of flare even with the best filters. It’s quite artistic.


As with previous years, boats outfitted themselves with colour-changing LED rope lights to decorate them for Vivid.


As I was a little disappointed with the heavy crowds and having to fight my way through, although I was impressed with the Customs House projections, I couldn’t get close enough for a good shot. I decided to use my head and visit a less busy area – so I decided to hop on the train to Chatswood.

Chatswood Precinct (25th & 29th May)

As it turns out, the decision to go to Chatswood was a good one, because it was very quiet and it meant I could get a bit of food as well. It seems that Chatswood is mostly revolving around deep sea creatures, involving jellyfish, nautilus and anglerfish.



Hanging just outside the station is these long rope Jellyfish Chandeliers. The station itself is decked out in LED rope lights too.




Norbert the Nautilus looks very nice and colourful, with colour changing seagrass baubles.


The street photography side of me comes out again, and I capture this couple enjoying the light from Norbert. How cute!


The Flowing River of Light is a projection on the underside of a walk-bridge, and it depicts a moving, vibrant river with many prehistoric-looking “creatures”. It’s a bit duller than this in reality, but it’s rather nice for someone who has watched nature documentaries before to see such a tribute to these creatures.


The Concourse played host to a projection of The Nautilus and the Sea, which I really enjoyed, although the texture of the surface of the building means you get a bright spot depending on which angle you’re standing relative to the curvature of the building.


The furthest exhibit in the Chatswood precinct is quite a distance away and is in the lower floor of Chatswood Chase. This anglerfish, named Lieutenant Angler wasn’t quite placed in the best position inside a brightly-lit mall. But it was a smart installation, because it meant many people may have walked past this … which isn’t a Vivid installation, but is pretty vivid anyhow.


Sydney University Precinct (28th May)

Because Sydney Uni’s precinct was due to close on 31st May, I decided it would be best to visit it as a matter of priority. While I didn’t visit the exhibit at Seymour Centre, the main part of the exhibit revolves around their quadrangle building projection and the walkway.


Arriving by bus, the first exhibit we see is Machine Cells where there is a pyramid of LED-strips which co-ordinate to make patterns. The whole walkway is strung across with colour-changing party-lights, bringing some vibrancy to the walkway.


Walking towards the quad, we see Mirador, which looks like a dome “hollowed out” swiss-cheese style. This one, however, does have a trick up its sleeve.


After an interval, the smoke machines come on, filling the dome with fog. The fog dissipates over time, and the direction is purely determined by the prevailing airflow at the time.


Just outside of the main attraction at the quadrangle wall is the sea of hands. These are foam-core hands attached to wire, with messages written by visitors and “planted” into the ground.



While conceptually simple in nature, this whole idea brought a lot of joy to people’s faces, as the anticipation of planting a message took over. The messages written on them were extremely varied, and reading them gave a bit of an insight into the psychology of those people behind them.


Many of them were exam wishes, some were written in languages other than English, and others involved pictorial depictions. But of all of them, I think this one takes the cake …


… I hope someone said yes, despite the mistake in punctuation.


The main attraction is the projections on the Quadrangle building, but as the music was too loud for me to get close and the crowds and projectors got in the way of me getting a good shot. I spent some time watching some of the projections, some more meaningful and beautiful than others. I then turned my focus on the crowd. This lady caught my eye, filming the projections on her phone with the LED on, making the phone case “glow” quite dramatically.


She takes the time in-between elements to check the footage, while being illuminated by the purple LED light. I like her style!

An Unplanned Boat-Ride (29th May)

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The next day, I fully intended to visit the rest of the Circular Quay exhibits, but I was transfixed by the stanchions at Auburn station on my way in. Shooting from underneath the structure, looking straight up into the ink-black sky, the paint and rust caught my eye, along with the “perspective” style shrinking “box in a box” shape.

Anyhow, upon arriving, the crowds were just overwhelming for my liking. Since I was already on my Opal weekly travel reward, I made a last minute change to my plan to catch a ferry to Darling Harbour instead. The ferry itself was crowded, as expected, with a race to try and secure open viewing areas on the lower and upper decks.


While waiting for the ferry to depart from the Quay, we got a good look at the projections on the MCA building. This one above looks suspiciously like the colour scheme used by a certain meerkat related company.


Some of the effects were very beautiful, although the mass of people in front of the MCA meant that it was difficult to appreciate it up close.

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The boat ride gave us the opportunity to see the Vivid Sydney covered boats, along with one covered with #ilovesydney.


The ferry did visit The Star, and I had a choice – do I disembark here and explore the Pyrmont Bay precinct, or do I stay on and head back towards the Quay?


I decided to hold on, and for good, because I then disembarked at McMahon’s Point where we got a good view of the bridge, with lighting effects. With a bit of patience, I was able to wait out most of the large boats in the foreground for this amazing shot.



This pretty much sums up the early half of the photos I took at Vivid Sydney. While I did visit Central Park precinct, the conditions really didn’t make for great photos, and it was a very “small” outcrop. As usual, the best has been saved for last – that of the majority of the Circular Quay exhibits. Join us in the next part for more!

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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