Visited: Vivid Sydney (10th Anniversary: 25 May – 16 Jun 18)

Every year, the festival of light, music and ideas comes to Sydney, transforming the harbour and surrounding areas into a vibrant bustling work-of-art. This year, Vivid Sydney celebrates its 10th anniversary and as with previous years, I just had to partake and take some photos.

Visiting Vivid

Rather unfortunately, I’ve been more busy this year than in previous years, so I didn’t have many chances to visit. The first day I was able to visit was rather late in the calendar (8th June), but worst of all, it didn’t stop raining at all. Grey skies aren’t exactly appealing in photos too, nevermind the sogginess.

The upside to this was a lack of passengers on the train to Circular Quay (a classic, un-airconditioned S-set) and only the “mildest” of crowd management strategies were in force, making for easier and shorter walks. Luckily, I had a rain jacket, so I was still warm and dry, but I can’t say the same about my non-weatherproof Nikon D3400.

The photos taken with the phone camera show drops of water falling off the lens and camera. It was that much, but I still persevered. Luckily, no camera equipment was harmed in the process, although it did impact on my enjoyment of the event somewhat.

What was more challenging was that I still haven’t upgraded from my Nikon D3400 with a dodgey central focus spot. Taking photos in low light using the other focus spots is not easy. Another challenge was doing it with a dodgey tripod (one of the leg clips is loose) and a lens with a dodgey autofocus mechanism. I have always wanted to upgrade but being stuffed around by eBay sellers that never fulfill their orders doesn’t help.

After getting the equipment somewhat wetter than it should have gotten, I decided to suspend photography just to go look at the exhibits. In the first night, I was able to see the whole Rocks, Circular Quay, Royal Botanic Gardens and Chatswood precincts. It seems that due to development, the Rocks area seems to have less exhibits than in the past, but the Royal Botanic Gardens have grown their area to compensate somewhat. This year sees no Martin Place, but Luna Park is now a part of it too. Darling Harbour, Kings Cross and Barangaroo remain features although the number of exhibits there are rather limited by comparison.

The difference from the past years? It seems that the exhibition is quite focused on tourist dollars, with a large number of food trucks where the simplest of foods start at a floor price of AU$12. Talk about a price gouge! I suppose one can still enjoy the lights and have something to eat at a regular fast food chain, although the queues do get crazy (understandably).

Not content with visiting just once, I decided to visit a second time on 12th June – this time, to much more pleasant weather. This time I was able to take some more photos in the Royal Botanic Gardens, re-visiting exhibits I saw last time, while taking a walk down to Barangaroo and Darling Harbour. I didn’t find the latter two precincts too interesting, so I left the camera in the bag and just enjoyed it with my eyes – that being said, the laser effects at Darling Harbour seemed a little audacious with some laser scanning “into” the audience and reflecting off the water into eyes nearly-directly. While it’s quite visually stunning, it’s also potentially risky … my quick phone photo caught a beam on a near direct hit. Depending on the laser power, it’s not unknown to have image sensors ruined by them, so I didn’t chance my DSLR to it.

What follows is a “mixture” of photos from the DSLR from the two visits.


Good ol’ Circular Quay, complete with more beams of light traversing the skies than ever before. Would it have been this bright at night without the advent of LED technology? Probably not.

A view from ground level – the lasers on top of the coat-hanger add that special touch to an otherwise “normal” LED-lined bridge. On the side, there is Come Fly With Me exhibit. Heading towards the Opera House, the crowd control measures are apparent, and the exhibits are relatively “thinly” spread at the edges allowing for better movement.

Opposite, there is Visible Dynamics, which sort of feels like stacked spinning tops. It has a sort of “clicky” sound … with colour-changing LEDs.

On long exposure, the LEDs trace out different shapes. Further along the harbour, there is Fragmented, which draws inspiration from stained-glass windows.

The main draw is always the Opera House projections. This year’s projection is named Metamathemagical and was quite an interesting mix of patterns, shapes and objects. It even seemed abstract at times.

With all of the crowds and restrictions in front of the Opera House, the best place to view the projections was across the harbour. But if you’re in front of the Opera House, it’s also a good place to admire the harbour.

While I’m not a big fan of obvious sponsor exhibits, I think Samsung deserves credit for outdoing expectations. Their exhibition, The Night. Reimagined. saw queues that I haven’t seen in a long time.

They took a prime position just in front of the house, near the entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens, but in return, they delivered an interesting round exhibit which featured a lot of LED lit frames. All of these frames were co-ordinated to music in a rather mesmerising result even if you didn’t bother to queue to get inside.

On a wet day, the reflection from the water on the ground really makes it seem futuristic, almost like a space ship or an RTG.

Of course, there were marketing messages throughout, but some of these deserved some pause for thought. Like this one …

… which said “Capture the moment within the moment”. An interesting phrase, as I was doing that in some way – the moment of those inside the “shell” from my moment, outside the shell behind the barriers.

But inside or out, people can’t help but be captivated by such an interesting installation. Good work Samsung!

The Royal Botanic Gardens doesn’t disappoint either. While some installations, like this lit-up tree are rather simple, others are not.

The Nautilus Forest was quite impressive. LED trees which were co-ordinated and changed from time to time create a very interesting atmosphere.

Light Houses shared a similar “intelligence”, this time it seems that each unit is like a display that could show different patterns.

Oasis was rather captivating as well, especially when the fog rolls in the right way across the LEDs. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t co-operating at the time, but the colours and reflection from the water were wonderful.

One of my favourite exhibits was How Many Light Bulbs…? While it’s a bit of a thought-provoking meta-style twist to the classical light-bulb joke, it’s also quite a technical feat which a tinkerer like me appreciates.

The display itself is giant. It puts LED display-boards to shame, although it does only display a fixed message. With the help of a little HDR on the less-rainy day, although affected by “bloom” in the lens …

… we get a better sense of the scale. While the 2570 light bulbs in the exhibition wasn’t enough to change me, it was a rather interesting exhibit nonetheless just for the sheer scale. If we think of the original joke … it seems some of the light bulbs need changing!

Yep. There’s a few out. When I returned the second time, there were more of them out, so I decided to get a good shot just to see how many had failed.

A total of 79 failures means about a 3% failure. Whether this is due to weather affecting the connection, or low quality bulbs, I’m not sure. But lets assume that they’re running on the Vivid 6pm to 11:30pm schedule (5.5 hours per day), then they have only run about 101 hours (18 days + 2 hours). An MTBF calculation for the population would be approximately 101 x 2570 = 259,570 total hours / 79 failures = 3286 hours which is quite woeful.

This is because, up close, they are made of 6 LEDs each. From my back-of-the-envelope, each bulb is probably about 0.72W, so the display consumes 1850.4W – quite a bit of energy indeed.

Government House also saw a little make-over with Photonic State doing some light-mapping projections. Just in front of that, Aqueous was getting a number of people involved in an interactive way.


By the time this article is published, Vivid Sydney would be in its last few hours for this year. It’s been another good year, even if the weather wasn’t so great. There were a lot of exhibits I didn’t end up photographing – I was more busy trying to experience as many of the exhibits in my limited time rather than take photos, but the ones I did take photos of, I was quite thoroughly impressed with.

While the event seems to continue to evolve, I’ll definitely be coming back next year to see what the artists get up to. After all, it’s free, and it’s an event which draws out crowds of photographers and families alike.

Rather unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the Transport Heritage Expo this year, so there won’t be a posting about that. I also just remembered that I went on a pretty decent holiday last year – but I haven’t posted much about it either … maybe I should get around to that before I forget all about it.

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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