Visited: Vivid Sydney 2019 (24 May: Circular Quay Precinct)

As someone who likes to take photos from time to time, I couldn’t miss yet another Vivid Sydney light festival. The festival opened last night on Friday 24th May and runs through to 15th June. Even though I’m extremely busy around this time, I thought I’d take the time and brave the opening night crowds to visit the Circular Quay precinct.

This year, it seems we have fewer exhibits and a slightly smaller crowd than in previous years. The installations seem to be even more interactive than in the past, which can be a bit of an issue when there are significant crowds, but it does get more people “involved” in the artistic experience.

As usual, I toted my camera and slightly-wonky tripod along to get some photos.


My night began at Circular Quay station. Looking out, the difference from previous years was immediate – there are a lot more spot beams in the sky. Wow.

With night photography, especially with so many coloured LED lights around, getting the right white balance is not easy. By default, the image comes out very much blue – so it’s a great idea to shoot in RAW.

I couldn’t help but pay attention to the technology involved. This is a Light Sky motorised beam light, which looks like it could be an AQUABEAM440 or similar. I also spotted a DragonWave AirPair microwave link system as well.

While Vivid Sydney is all about lights, there’s always the unintentional light show of the city, including the traffic, as well to contend with.

This year, it seems the health and safety guys have decided to go with industrial-style danger signs. That’s new … but I suspect it won’t affect anyone who is sufficiently drunk and considering entering the water. Fences and guards remain on patrol.

While walking around, I tried to photograph some of the exhibits I found interesting – but I definitely didn’t photograph all of them.

This exhibit titled “What is a City but the People?” (25) seemed to attract quite a few people taking selfies. A long exposure captures the people interacting with the exhibit – perhaps a key point of the message conveyed in the title of the artwork.

Even the event signage got an upgrade, with colour-LED matrix displays displaying animated slides.

On entering the Royal Botanic Gardens precinct, the hedges spelt out a rather provocative phrase – “Bite Me”. Did someone get fired?

Right next to it was the Empyrean (29) exhibit which features an interesting web of lights which flash in a sequenced manner. The artist claims it “explores the correlation between cosmic events and mechanical workings of the human brain” but I digress.

But it seems people do enjoy it – or at least, this visitor who filmed the installation for a while.

Continuing along, KA3323 (30) caught my eye. There’s no disguising it – that’s a C-band mesh dish dressed in LED tubes. The installation wasn’t quite working as expected, but it’s apparently motorised for “scanning” the skies. I just liked that it somewhat resembles a flower in its current incarnation.

But I don’t think we’ll be watching any TV in the direction it’s pointed.

We Are One” (30) was next door, which spelt out the word “MANY” as I passed by. It’s interesting as this is done quite literally by manipulating light with mirrors.

The magic is plain for all to see through the perspex side window in the shipping container. But line yourself up properly, and you’ll see a “1”. Quite cool.

Harmony (35) seemed to draw in a lot of crowds as an interactive exhibit. Children (mostly) loved to jump on the pads and control the streams of light that make up the “tree”.

Circa (38), rather appropriately named, consists of a series of LED rings spaced along the lake. When viewed end-on, various mesmerizing patterns are formed.

Firefly Field (39) was by far the highlight. Who would’ve known that a field consisting of a multitude of point light sources moving pseudo-randomly would look so mesmerizing. A photo doesn’t really do it justice, although long exposure does result in a firefly trail.

Interested, I looked closer to see how it works. It seems that perhaps the point light sources are the end of fibre-optic threads that are tied/weighed down. The core consists of what appears to be a light source, servo with a controller that rotates the head randomly, with the fibre-optic threads waving randomly in the wind and due to its inherent springiness. Clever!

Dancing Grass (41) was also interesting, as it looked like a very sparse field of giant grass, each being like an air-inflated sock lit up from the inside. It makes the city look smaller, perspective wise, although it didn’t seem to dance very much. A few blades seemed to have succumbed to overly curious visitors.

The exhibit on Customs House is titled Under the Harbour (20), a very colourful presentation which I found rather artistic. I liked it more than the projections on the MCA and the sails.

Samsung Electric Playground (S1) and Galaxy Studio (S2) was definitely extremely popular. There were long queues to enter, but even staying just outside was rather impressive. But it seems their Neon sign has suffered a malfunction … how unfortunate.

There was an exhibition involving LED sticks projecting images relying on persistence of image. Using long shutter speeds is necessary to capture such images – but the resolution and quality of the images was rather impressive.

Great effort Samsung – it was so impressive that I heard a few people in the crowd wanted to buy them.

The projections on the MCA (Let Me Down – 17) was less impressive from my perspective. But I couldn’t stand and enjoy it much – the crowds were just too dense and inconsiderate visitors kept jumping in front of the lens. Never underestimate how much a wide-angle lens can see – ducking doesn’t keep you out of the frame!!!

The projection on the sails is titled Austral Flora Ballet and seems to have images of warratah/bottle-brush dancing to motion capture mixed with various other textures and colours, some seemingly “underwater”. It’s easier to photograph from across the quay, but the downside is the propensity for boats to photobomb the shot – but I didn’t mind this one because #ilovesydney.

Ballerina (11) drew quite a large audience as well, reminding me of a zoetrope. With many individual figures timed to music, it is quite a large-scale installation. Some people were intent on photographing the row of figures, while others were more concerned with imitating the figures.

The row of figures had a great position – you can see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House depending on which side you look from.

Goo (8) is an example of the interactive exhibits which you might see. In this exhibit, people dance in front of Kinect sensors which causes a retro-avatar to move in time. Exhibits like this seem to draw in the kids.

Nostalgia Above (6) in a laneway in The Rocks is quite reminiscent of exhibits in previous years. Still cool though.

The Argyle Street tunnel is lit-up again this year, and what a highlight – 30 Years of Art and Animation (P1) sponsored by Pixar Animation Studios really makes the most of the large “screen” formed by the bridge, with familiar characters and storyboard sketches on show. Lots of people lying on the ground to soak in their childhood memories, this exhibit also serves as a bit of promotion for Toy Story 4. A good way to end my night in the Circular Quay precinct.


The Circular Quay precinct is where the bulk of the exhibits are, and this year, the Royal Botanic Gardens continues to impress. The Samsung Electric Playground was also rather interesting, as was Customs House. It seems many people engaged with exhibits – interactive or not, as it seems to be truly a “selfie” generation. Unfortunately, this does mean the occasional inconsiderate person jumping in front of lenses, kicking tripod legs, and bumping chains/handrails. But those who have been before with their camera gear know all about this.

I look forward to visiting the remaining precincts at Darling Harbour and Chatswood when I get the opportunity to.

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!
This entry was posted in Photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Error: Comment is Missing!