Vivid Sydney 2017: Part 1 – Circular Quay & Royal Botanic Gardens

Vivid Sydney is a festival of “Light, Music & Ideas” which is run on an annual basis in Sydney. It proves to be a popular attraction for both tourists and locals looking for a bit of art with light and a reason to get out for some night photography. Over the past few years (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016), I’ve been visiting the festival to take in the action and give it my best shot. In fact, that’s why I decided to stay in Sydney for this intervening period – so I could catch CeBIT, Vivid Sydney and SMPTE Sydney (coming soon).

This year, the festival runs from 26th May to 17th June, although many nights have been marred by less than favourable weather. A whole week of rain fell upon us just recently, which didn’t help. Furthermore, photographers looking to avoid crowds tend to avoid Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – unfortunately, there are some special features which only run on those nights (e.g. fireworks). Add to that, my own busy schedule, and I’m lucky I even got to see Vivid at all this year.

It seems that this year, they’ve added Kings Cross and Barangaroo South to the list of precincts, although the amount of exhibits at Circular Quay has diminished somewhat. In return, the Royal Botanic Gardens has been arranged into a linear walk-through rather than a loop, and crowd flow is much improved with less exhibits and obstacles in the way of the narrow foreshore walkways. Crowd control gates and barriers were in use, and waterfront areas in Darling Harbour were all fenced off – not a good look, but it does keep the drunkards from accidentally falling into the water and drowning as has happened in the past. In a stroke of preparedness, lifeguards were on standby, along with their dinghy boat.

What follows are the shots I took from the various precincts in operation this year. I didn’t try to visit every attraction or to photograph everything – after all, as with most pieces of art, some works resonate better with the audience than others. Some were also difficult to convey in the medium of photography, due to the rise of interactive exhibits, while others draw long queues which I couldn’t be bothered contending with. Other exhibits were named on the map, but when I arrived, they seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. Maybe I just didn’t see it – or more likely, some exhibits are really non-exhibits.

Where possible, I have attached the name of the exhibit to the posting – apologies in advance for any mix-ups. Due to the number of photos, this years’ posting will be made in three parts, separated by precinct. This is the first post, focusing on the main area of Circular Quay, The Rocks and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Circular Quay and The Rocks

There’s no better place than to start the walk at the main precinct in Circular Quay. As in previous years, the bridge lights (and other lights along the precinct) are back along with a control room (Dreamscape) where people can choose to change the lighting. There were also an array of steerable spotlights which formed a loose intersection in the sky somewhere above the water.

The lights do move, and as the night began, they changed into a radiating beam – although somewhat irregularly spaced.

The main attraction is the projections on the Opera House, this year entitled Audio Creatures. It seems to have quite a sea life theme to it with a mixture of patterns thrown in for good measure. Due to the crowding around the Opera House itself, it’s best shot from the Overseas Passenger Terminal across the Quay. That being said, if you do get there early (as I did) and bag a good spot, make sure it’s not on the lower deck as when 6pm rolls by, security guards will angrily give you a direction to move on because the area is closed and reserved for “accessible viewing”. Unfortunately, I find this a bit stupid since there was plenty of room for wheelchairs to get around, and we took the effort to get there first – we should be at least given the right to watch one loop rather than being treated like drunks that need to be thrown out of a bar.


Aside from that, the projections at the Museum of Contemporary Art are normally pretty popular as well. This years’ exhibit is Organic Vibrations.

Unlike previous years, there were no projections on Customs House. Instead, in front, there was Cradle and Don’t Step on the Crack.

Heading towards The Rocks, we come by AXIOM. While the installation itself didn’t wow me, it’s always good to get a few shots of people interacting with the exhibit – whether that is by trying to control the exhibit, or in this case, just doing their best to appreciate it.

Parallax also invoked much of a similar appreciation vibe. There were many more exhibits along the stretch but it was too busy to grab my tripod …

The interior area of the Passenger Terminal was opened as well, with Always Coming, Always Going showing rather electric patterns depending on who was interacting with its Kinect sensor.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Crystallize, an exhibit contributed by UNSW Create society.

As it has a sensor, it dares people to get up and close to take a photo. After all, everyone needs another set of angel wings … right? The big crowds certainly think so.

Freedom of Movement was another interesting exhibit, featuring motorized swings which do their own show. Luckily, I came just in time.

Umbrellas seem to be a theme this year for some reason – Under My Umbrella for example. A lot of people were captivated by umbrellas lit from below, so it seems someone else had a similar idea.

Supernova in Bulletin Place also used umbrellas, although it does have potentially photosensitive-epilepsy-triggering flickering lights. A pleasing mix of colour and incandescent lighting – here’s it in both orientations, catching the flicker on the right side. Not quite as impressive as in real life.

Tucked away behind Customs House is Tidal, another exhibit which draws the selfie crowd as well as some semi-professional portrait photographers (along with their models) it seems.

Royal Botanic Gardens

Since its inception, the Royal Botanic Gardens precinct has always impressed me. So this year, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s definitely one of the highlights. On the way is SYDNEYLAND. I have no idea what it’s for, but maybe it’s telling us to buy land in Sydney? Regardless, its colour changing antics gets people snapping … me included. Snapping pictures of people snapping pictures, how meta.

The first exhibit was The Waratah 2/2, our state flower in massive “blow-up” proportions.

It makes a good image looking the other way … appropriate given the state level support for the event.

The Sunflowers shine brightly even though it’s night. They’re supposed to follow the sun, but instead, these seem to be following the police chopper overhead … I mean, their hearts. Every so often, the heads of the sunflowers will rotate, giving a different perspective. People seem to like it.

Birds of Lumos is another fairly popular exhibit, of kiwis. More of an exhibit to appease the guys across the pond, I reckon, but a good one at that. More colour changing goodness.

That wasn’t the only bird themed exhibit – there’s the pair of Dipping Birds, reminiscent of old desk toys.

SPREADING LIFE apparently emulates blowing on a dandelion. It’s nice enough just to watch, I think.

Electric Forest proved to be quite a fruitful exhibit with a lot of light. Rays from the harbour help illuminate the sky.

Up-close, projections and figures on the trees make for interesting viewing.

Reflection forms words out of … you guessed it … reflections in mirrors. People holding mops are constantly at the ready to keep the mirrors clean.

On the way out, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music is all lit up, but so is the tree. Amazing. Crowding does seem to be an issue at times, and some exhibits were almost impossible to photograph, so definitely worth seeing for yourself.


It seems there are less exhibits this year in this area, but in return, the crowd flow is improved. Sadly, I can’t say it’s been the best experience – while I didn’t witness any angry photographers this year, I did get escorted out of an area which was reserved for “accessible viewing” even though I had turned up early prior to such areas being signed or restricted (along with several hundred others). Oh well. Follow along in the next post to see the Chatswood and Darling Harbour precinct in action.

Vivid Sydney is still running every night from 6pm to 11pm until the 17th June, so if you’re in Sydney and the weather permits, maybe it’s worth seeing it for yourself.

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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