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Capturing Vivid Sydney Festival Lights - Personal Tips

June 18, 2017

There are a lot of locations and places to shoot during Vivid Sydney Festival but I would suggest that you highly consider the “Overseas Passenger Terminal” vantage point.  It was a great location to capture and highlight the Sydney Opera House (excluding the Sydney Harbour Bridge ofcourse). I went there on 31st May 2017 (Wednesday) and took a couple of shots.

 

Vivid sydney website: https://www.vividsydney.com

 

The first tip - To research the best locations to shoot. 

 

You may consider taking shots at this locations: Overseas Passenger Terminal, Blues Point, Luna Park, and Lavender Street. I will not dwell on other places such as Darling Harbour, Taronga Zoo, etc. 

 

On my first day, I went to Mrs Macquarie's Chair vantage point only to find out that the Vivid lights are only shown on the other side (Circular Quay area). It was truly a disappointment but nevertheless, I’ve got a decent shot on that location =)

The second tip - try to schedule your shoot during weekdays and arrive at your chosen location as early as possible

 

Ideally come at the location atleast an hour before the start of blue hour. If you can shoot on weekdays instead of Friday night or during weekends, then do it! It will give you a better chance to explore the location and secure the best spot. It was expected that a large number of people will watch the vivid lights festival at any given day. 

 

My personal take is to fix/ stick on your location for the whole night or until you get your needed shots. You can always explore the other places for different vivid lights perspectives. It is better to have one or set of good images that you can include in your portfolio (keeper shots), instead of having lots of images from various locations but with less than ideal results.

 

Here's my actual location when taking vivid lights:

The third tip - bring your essential photography gears.

 

It depends on what you have, but here’s what I think is important to bring:

- Sturdy tripod - It was crucial to produce pin-sharp images.

- Reliable zoom lens 24-70 or 70-200. I took the shot at 70mm so either lens will do the trick.

- Cable Release. Very important!!!

 

The fourth tip, setting up your camera gears, composition, and proper camera settings.

  • Setting up your tripod. 

    • My rule of the thumb in setting up tripod is to position one of the tripod-leg facing forward while the other two legs are position on my side to protect my camera gears and myself (If in any case the tripod fell down, at least it will fall down to my direction). I've seen lots of actual cases that the tripod fell (with expensive camera gears) and smacked head-on because of unfortunate accidents. But on this situation, since there's a steel railings in the location, i did the other way around.

    • Second is never position your tripod that it will touch any part of the railings (if there's any). People or kids banging on the railings will create vibrations and will surely affects and ruin the sharpness and framing of your images (bad for smooth blending later on).

    • Be aware on your surroundings and the people around you at all times. Tightly secure your tripod from the people taking snapshots/selfies as if your life depends on it =).

    • Don’t spread your tripod legs too much to provide space from other photographers/ people, and to prevent others to get tripped in your tripod. True story, a girl taking selfies with her bulky backpack had accidentally bumped the tripod of the photographer beside me without both of them knowing it. 

  • Camera settings and others

    • For your keeper shots, always take in “Raw” (NEF files for Nikon). For everything else, you may use JPEG, as you wished. 

    • The settings really depend on your preference. But personally, I never bump my ISO higher than 100 for more cleaner shots (less noise), while my aperture normally ranges from F8-F16 (F20 in some cases for light burst)

    • Manual focus on "Infinity". I have use 70-200 and it works fine, all my raw files are really sharp straight from the camera. 

    • My settings (vivid lights): F16, ISO64, 70mm, (10-30 seconds)

    • My settings (blue hour based image): F16, ISO64, 20secs, 70mm

    • Use mirror lock-up or exposure delay. I've used 3 secs exposure delay for better sharpness and avoiding internal vibrations. 

  • Framing and composition – I did tight a composition and focus only on Sydney Opera House. I want it to be the sole highlight and the star of the night. I don't like any kind of distractions for this composition. If i have another chances to take Vivid festival then i might explore other places and different compositions as well. 

 

Taking the shot.  All are set and its time to execute.

 

Before the start of vivid festival lights, (which started at exactly 6:00pm and skies are already pitch dark - early sunset during winter in Australia), i already took numbers of Blue Hour shots that i will use as Base Image for "Time Blending" in the post. Its a personal preference that i don't like a pitch black background (maybe except for exceptional cases). For me, as a landscape hobbyist, the concept of night photography is when you are shooting star trails or milky way. In most cases, a "dark blue" background is much better than a "black" background (may not be for everyone). 

 

I started by observing the following:

  - How the vivid lights patterns from Sydney Opera House changes (usually around 25-30 seconds). 

  - How frequent the ferries/ boats pass across the Sydney river (they are a lot and passing randomly).

    When doing a long exposure shots, it will create unnecessary light trails and surely ruin the light

    reflections.  

  - When to start my exposure and when to end it (depending on the changing patters/ ferries passing),

    hence wired cable release is very important. Lock and load style, then fire! Rinse and repeat. 

 

Example of ferries passing across the river and blocking my vantage point:

 

The fifth tip - post-processing

 

Post processing is a matter of preference and taste, and also controversial topic to some even though it was already being practised since the olden days (Ansel Adams time).  Some wants minimal editing, others only like SOOC (the camera automatically processed the images for them), while others spends hours in Light room and Photoshop. From basic levels or contrast adjustments to full-blown compositing or photo manipulation. This topic deserves another discussion.

 

Blue hour based images Camera Raw settings:

Adjustments on Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, touch of Clarity, and Vibrance.

Adjustments on Sharpening and Noise Reduction settings. Other adjustments include ticking the box for Remove Chromatic Aberrations, Enable Profile corrections, and slight adjustments to Camera Calibration (added +16 to Blue Primary saturation).

 

Vivid Lights image Camera Raw settings:

Adjustments on Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Saturation and Vibrance.

 

Adjustments on Sharpening and Noise Reduction settings. Other adjustments include ticking the box for Remove Chromatic Aberrations, Enable Profile corrections, and slight adjustments to Camera Calibration (added +48 to Blue Primary saturation).

 

Quick adjustments in Photoshop:

 

1. Open the two images in the Photoshop.

 

2. If you have "Raya Pro" panel, you can stack both the images easily by pressing "Stack" and "Align All Layers" button. If you don't have it, In the Layers panel for each source image, select the layer that contains the image content, and drag it to the new image window.

Use the "quick selection tool to select the background" and "Rectangular Marquee Tool" for the foreground, then click the "Add vector mask" on the bottom. Choose the "Lighten" mode to extract the lights from the Vivid lights layer. You don't need complicated masking on this one since the Sydney Opera House shape is simple and straight forward. 

 

3. Other adjustments are purely optional as follows:

    - Adjustments using Nik Software (i normally use Pro-Contrast, Tonal Contrast, and Polarisation). Do

      minimal adjustments only and don't be crazy in using the sliders.

    - Adjustments using Layers and Curves with specific target to Shadows, Mid-tones, and Highlights.

      If you have Tony Kuyper Panel or Raya Pro, you can do it easier, else you can use the "Channels" 

      section.

    - Orton effect (again, its optional). Stamp visible the layers (Ctrl/Command+Option+Shift+E). Go to

      Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur and choose around 36-40 radius. Then, change the opacity around 15% to

      17%. Go to Brightness and Contrast, Brightness around 37, Contrast around 58, and "clips" the

      adjustments only to the Orton Layer below (click the square sign with arrow down).  

 

4. Web sharpening and exporting your image for posting online.

 

There's a lot of way to export your image for posting online. Currently, i'm using Tony Kuyper Panel for exporting. The normal size that i am using is around 2048 horizontal with 50% opacity. 

 

You can see all the Vivid Sydney shots on the Galleries under "Cityscapes and Architecture" of this website. 

 

https://www.edwinvmangabat.com/work-02

 

Sample shots:

 

 

 

 

Feel free to provide your feedbacks, comments and ask questions. 

 

 

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