photographing Vectorial Vancouver

Vectorial Vancouver 2010

Vectorial Vancouver is up and running!  This amazing light display over English Bay was created by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, an internationally acclaimed light artist. Check his work out at

I've been asked recently what the "best" settings for a digital SLR camera might be. Here's some thoughts ...

  1. Use either M (manual) or Tv (shuTter or Time) priority mode. This is the exposure control you want,
  2. Use the largest aperture you can - ƒ/4 at a minimum, lower is better (i.e. ƒ/2.8 or better yet ƒ/1.8),
  3. Use a long shutter speed, somewhere between ½ and 1 second exposure,
  4. Keep the noise down by using the lowest ISO setting possible, around ISO 100 - 200,
  5. Because the exposure time is slower than 1/60th of a second, a tripod is a must,
  6. Whenever you use a tripod, turn off image stabilisation (aka shake reduction),
  7. Turn off auto-focus and manually focus the lens to infinity ∞,
  8. Use a remote shutter release if you have one.

If you don't have a remote shutter release, use the camera's self-timer function so the camera can settle down after you press the shutter button.

Because this is a night scene with lots of dark sky, the ISO must be kept as low as possible; using a high ISO can introduce too much electronic noise from the sensor, and that can really hurt the image quality.

Fire off a couple of shots and check the results.  Look for good brightness and colour tone in the light beams and make sure the night sky is even in tone (you may have to zoom in to see this on those small displays). if your camera has a histogram display, use that to see if the graph is pushed too far to the left (too dark) or too far to the right (too light) and adjust the exposure time as necessary.

A couple of thoughts on composition ...

  1. Try to avoid including too much of the foreground around you in the composition.  Depending on where you are, this can be much brighter than the light display and that will throw off not only what you see in the histogram, it will also detract from your prime subject - those amazing lights!
  2. An overcast sky will reflect light back down, illuminating the ground; this will take a different approach than a clear sky where the light seems to go on forever - take this into account when you set up exposure and when you compose your shot.

This display will be here for the duration of the games - I know there are some magical photographs out there!


P.S. Thanks for the feedback Kangsoon! (

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