Wednesday, June 7, 2017

11 days and nights in Australia - Our photo tour of Sydney and the Vivid Light Show

Anyone following along on social media knows that I have spent the better part of the last two weeks in Sydney, Australia. This blog post is to share all the images from this amazing trip. We went at this time of year because I have always wanted to photograph the Vivid Sydney light show. Vivid happens every year at this time, with portions of the city being lit up in colors from 6pm to 11pm each night for 3 weeks.

I am starting to write this on the last hour of the 14 hour flight home. Feeling OK at this point, but sure that I will be living in a cloud of jet lag for the next 3 days or so. Since it will take a while to write this blog post, it will be interesting to see if I stay coherent.

I arrived in Sydney early on Tuesday morning, and spent the day with Dean who runs UDesign Photo Tours. We spent some time going over the agenda for the workshop attendees and even visited some of the places we would be shooting.

I stayed up until 9pm and then crashed in my hotel room.

The next day was more planning for Dean and I, and it was my first chance to get the Canon 5D Mark IV out and take some photos.

I have been to Sydney many times before and I am not sure why, but I always feel like I am home when I am in this city. The city is clean, safe, and beautiful. The food is excellent and most importantly, the people are all so friendly. It doesn't hurt that I have some good friends in this city as well. More on that a little later... 

Two nights before our workshop started, I went out to do some night shooting on my own. This was partly because I love it so much, and partly to find good shooting locations and camera settings for the group. For the first time ever, I walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and found this great shooting location. I explained how I took this shot on a previous blog post.

The next night I went out at 4:45pm to get some sunset shots. Dean and I had a dinner meeting at 6:30pm and I assured him that I would be back at the hotel at 6:15. Well... I took a lot of photos from one of my favorite locations but was bummed that the bridge was not lit. I packed up my gear to head back to the hotel, and had just started walking away when they started testing the colored lights for Vivid Sydney, the light show that was set to commence the next day. I couldn't help myself, and got everything back out for more shots. And yes, I was a little late meeting Dean, but it was worth it. :)
The photo above was taken with a 30 second long shutter speed (which smooths out the water).

This shot was taken with a shutter speed less than one second. You can see a big difference in the water. Unlike the photo above, I had to take this photo with a fast shutter speed since the lights on the bridge were moving and changing colors at this point. A long shutter speed would have averaged all the colors and shown only white.

And then on the following evening, it was time to start teaching!

We started off by The Rocks and shot directly towards the Sydney Opera House. I knew that this would be a straight-on shot, and an easy one to capture. I was using the Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70mm lens on my Gitzo travel tripod with the Acratech ball head.

As the patterns changed, we kept shooting, trying different apertures and shutter speeds. How cool is this?

Once we had the other shots in the bag, I had the group move to other locations. I picked this location to show how we could use another foreground element to change the image composition and add more interest.

Pointing back at the Harbor Bridge, I also showed the attendees how I roll the zoom during the exposure to get a different look.

Going back to the discussion of foreground and background, I showed the group how I could include the people in the foreground and add motion to them with a slower shutter speed.

Then we hiked up to the roadway above the harbor (not remembering at the time that there was an elevator nearby) and shot from there. This was a great wide vantage point!

The next day, went to North Sydney and shot back across the harbor. I saw this archway and taught the group about framing a shot. Here is our group inside the archway...

...and the shot I was going for.

We walked around Luna Park and worked on slow shutter photography a little more. I saw this little girl watching the ride, backed up and held the camera steady at 1/5 second exposure to get the motion of the ride.

We had a little fun with the funky mirrors too.

While the others took the ferry back to the city, one participant and I decided to walk back to the city, taking our time to walk across the harbor bridge. It was both of our first times walking the span.

Later that night, Sue and I decided to walk across the bridge one more time, this time to get night shots of Vivid from really high up. It was a challenge to shoot from the center of the bridge with the motion of cars, buses and trains going by, but we managed it.

Then, I took Sue to the same location I shot before. It was on the first pylon and totally solid. This allowed us to shoot with much longer exposures without the risk of camera shake. Notice how much smoother the water looks.

The next day we made a trip out to the Blue Mountains. You can see some that when I post my drone video (coming soon).

After a long day in the mountains, the group retired early. But I could not help myself and went back out for more shooting. I went back up to the raised roadway (this time using the elevator!) and tried some different exposure times.

Since my hotel was right in Circular Quay and right by the Opera House I walked over to get some closer shots of the projected lights. Trying to find a more unique shot, I positioned myself in front of a fountain in front of the opera house and used the tail lights of incoming cars to create an interesting foreground.

I stopped right in front of the opera house and really liked this location and perspective. I made sure to take the others to this spot a couple of nights later.

I walked up the stairs to the opera house and took more photos from this perspective.

I was looking for different angles to shoot images when I spotted this guy inside the opera house bar. I quickly moved my tripod as close to the glass as I could, framed this shot and took the photo. I thought that it was interesting that he had so much to look at, but was engrossed in his mobile phone. But I also like the way that we see two completely different scenes in one photo.

After shooting the other photos at the highest point of the stairs, I closed the tripod and started to walk back down. But as I was doing so, I saw that the downtown buildings were being reflected in the windows. I set up the tripod on the stairs to get this photo. I like this because, like the other photo above, it shows something different from what most people were photographing.

From my first walk, earlier in the week, I knew that a great vantage point of the opera house would be from the stairs opposite the iconic building. But sadly, security had blocked that vantage point, and even with my relentless pleading and big smile, I could not get access. I was really disappointed.


I took the group over to this vantage point on the following night, about 30 minutes before the Vivid lights were turned on, and there was no security in place. We climbed the stairs and nobody bothered us. I was VERY excited to get this sunset shot. I set the aperture of the camera to f/16 (with an ISO of 160 - giving me a 30 second exposure) to get the starburst from the white light on the opera house.

And then the Vivid lights came on and we started shooting. I kept waiting for someone to come tell us that we could not shoot from this location, but nobody ever did.

So we took photo after photo, with different patterns on the opera house.

The next night we took the group through the Vivid light display in the Botanical Garden.

The city did a great job with all kinds of robotic objects. We stopped to shoot photos of these two birds, which were really cool. While shooting these colorful objects, I turned around and saw an even better shot. I had the others follow me back over to the wall for an even better shot.

The wall around this area of the harbor had been covered in lights, and I set up the tripod right up against the wall. I framed the photo so that the wall of lights would lead your eye right to the perfectly lit opera house. Notice how the colorful lights were coming through the windows. That combined with the Harbour Bridge in the background, made this one of my favorite photos from the trip.

Then we continued our walk through the gardens to see the other Vivid displays. And once again, everyone was fixated on photographing the light show and missing the "real show". We started shooting images of the lit trees (which were really cool) when I turned and saw the moon setting over trees in the background.

What made this really unique is that the moon was setting amongst the spotlights coming from the other side of the harbor. I quickly experimented with the camera settings (in manual mode) to properly expose the moon, and gave my recommendations to the others). So cool!

(For those of you who are wondering - the settings ended being ISO 1000, f/4, 1 sec exposure)

The funny thing soon as we all turned our cameras and started shooting in the opposite direction of the Vivid displays, everyone else saw what we were shooting, and did the same. Of course, most of those people had their mobile phones and would only get a white dot in their image. :)

The next night we visited Darling Harbour to photograph the lights and water show.

My goal was for us to shoot the water display from different locations around the harbor. We started with this perspective, with the water show in front of downtown Sydney. With the constantly changing water patterns and lighting, we took a lot of photos to get the compositions we liked the best. This image was taken with a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds, to freeze the projected pattern in the middle of the water.

As I mentioned, we moved all around the harbor to get shots from each side of the show. I found this location which would allow us to capture the water show and the ferris wheel in one frame. I took this shot using a 2.5 second exposure to show the motion in the moving ferris wheel.

The next day we had rain in the forecast, so we decided to visit the aquarium for instruction on photographing in those tough conditions.

We had fun photographing this Lion Fish, and this happened to be my favorite shot from that visit.

The next day, the weather was better and we all got up early to catch sunrise at the beach.

The sunrise was nothing spectacular, but we made the most of it, photographing over one of the local pools which are built up against the ocean.

We also had a great time photographing the surfers.

We took a break in the afternoon and then made our way over to the Taronga Zoo, where they had a bunch of Vivid light displays.

When we arrived at the zoo, we were captivated by the entry building. They were projecting really cool video on the structure. Here a herd of elephants are coming towards us.

...and a bear climbing up a tree in the forest.

The colors were captivating, and this was before we even entered the zoo!

Inside the zoo, they had all kinds of illuminated animals.

The next day we slept in and took it easy. We met in the afternoon for a sunset portrait session. Remember that family I told you about earlier? Well, they have been friends of mine for more than 20 years and I suggested that we do a family portrait session for them. I figured that they would want some nice family photos, but it also gave me a chance to teach the others about taking portraits.

Kerrie, Phillip and the kids arrived about 45 minutes before sunset. I took some family photos for them in the late afternoon sun.

I looked over and saw their son looking out in the late afternoon sun. The light was perfect so I took portraits of their sons.

The boys were natural subjects, and it was great that they posed like this without any help from me.

And then...we waited for the sun to set.

I wanted to get a shot of them in front of the sunset and city. I showed the group how to meter for the background and then add fill flash to light the family. The background looks so good that it almost does not look real, but I assure you it is.

Later that night, I went out shooting to get more night photos. I saw that the water was really calm and highly reflective, so I went to reshoot the head-on shot of the opera house.

This photo was taken with a 13 second exposure to neutralize the water and show the most reflection (while maintaining the ever changing pattern on the opera house).

I also took this shot with a one second exposure, just to once again show you all how different the water looks with a fast exposure. The fast exposure freezes the water but does not show you the reflections as much as the long exposure.

I also walked up the street from the hotel and shot photos (and video) of the projection on this structure. The video shows it better and will be posted soon (as I am still editing it).

Before turning in for the night, I went back up to the raised roadway for a couple of last shots, from a slightly different vantage point.

I was shooting with long exposures when I saw this boat pulling out of the harbor. As it started to back up, going parallel to me, I quickly changed ISO (to 400) and aperture (to 2.8) to get a faster shutter speed (1/4 sec) and freeze this shot. I liked the red Vivid logo against the blueish background.

Then it was bed time.

The next day we did a tour of the Rocks (an area in Sydney) and went shopping to get gifts for our friends and family. Then it was our last night in Sydney and the last night of the tour. We treated the group to a dinner cruise on the harbor.

We had a nice meal and then headed up to the top of the boat to get shots of the city from the water view.

We saw the spot lights coming from behind the opera house and did our best to capture them. Since the boat was moving (although gently), it made for a tough shot.

And then I decided to try something completely different. I wanted to get a really wide shot of the city, but knew that the dark sky was going to create a really slow shutter speed. I changed the ISO of the 5D Mark IV to 4000, kept the aperture at f/2.8 and went to -1 exposure compensation. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/8 second. I raised the camera to a high angle and took a bunch of shots hoping to hold steady on at least one of them. And I got it. It was the perfect ending shot for me. We had desert and a couple more drinks and celebrated a great 11 days in Sydney.

I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of Sydney. We are going to do this trip again in 2019 (but change it to 4 nights in the outback and 6 nights in Sydney for Vivid). If you are interested in joining us for that trip and getting great images for yourself, please click here and scroll down for more information.

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Larry Brandt said...

Beautiful blog post with some incredible pictures! Looks like fun. We have our own lights festival coming up soon in Jerusalem, I'll be sure to go out and get some interesting shots.

Unknown said...

Let me say that you've done very good photos of your trip. But some of them can be modified with some extra tools, like best photo editor here.

Leaf` said...

Beautiful blog post with some incredible pictures!

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