The golden dawn and the grapefruit sunset are staples of photography, each with its own set of exposure and compositional challenges.
An even greater test faces photographers who shoot during the twenty-three nights of the annual outdoor lighting festival, Vivid Sydney.
How do you capture, creatively and harmonically, projections of lizards and psychedelia and giant eyeballs on the Opera House’s sails? How to expose for the giant illuminated blow-up rabbits inhabiting the Botanic Gardens or LED-infused tunnels and giant sunflowers and artfully lit trees, ensuring detail and background?
The curious photographer will quickly learn the importance of the following rules.
1. Bring a tripod: It’s night so you’ll be shooting long exposures. Which means any sort of movement will result in the blurring of your image. Use the tripod’s spirit level to determine the straightness of your horizons. If you like to travel light, a mini-tripod is discreet and easy to carry.
2. Shoot on a low ISO: Counter-intuitive, yes? The darker it is, the higher you turn up the virtual film speed, therefore, lowering the need for a fast shutter speed. While it might be…possible… to dial up the ISO, which is your camera’s light sensitivity, to outrageously high numbers, your photos will be overwhelmed by what we call noise or, technically, the grouping together of pixels to capture more light. That’s why you brought the tripod. Low ISO and a long shutter speed.
3. Buy a cable release: Any movement, even an accidental bump of your camera, is going to impact on the sharpness of your photo. A cable release means you don’t have to touch the shutter button. The difference is minuscule, sure, but what’s wrong with a little perfection?
4. Shoot RAW: Every time you use a file format like JPEG, your photos are compressed. Which means you lose their dynamic range. Even though shooting RAW means each photo will take up more space on your memory card and even though you’ll have to edit the shot afterwards, a RAW file will give you room to move and create. Again, it’s a perfection thing.
5. Try Bulb Mode: On most cameras, shutter speeds tap out at thirty seconds or so. Switch to Bulb and you can leave the shutter open indefinitely. The results are anything but predictable. Use a very low ISO and close down your aperture (i.e. a higher number, F16 instead of F4, for example) to avoid overexposures.
6. Find different perspectives: If you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with other photographers, you’re not going to make a unique photo. Which may or may not matter to you. If originality counts, look around: is there a tree to climb, a fence to stand on? Can you shoot from down low? From a boat? A roof?
7. Use manual focus: Or lock off your focal point before you shoot. Varied light sources will easily confuse an auto-focus. Don’t be afraid to go manual.
8. Experiment: Vivid Sydney is a dreamscape for photographers who like to open up the game, to try new things. So take tests shots. Slow down the shutter speed, increase it. Open the aperture, close it down. Try different perspectives. It’s all about light, ambient light from the moon and various street lamps, the installation, the projections. Use your heart as well as your head.
As George Eastman, the founder of Kodak said,
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
Vivid Sydney runs from May 25 to June 16, 2018.