HomeArticles > A photographer’s top tips for making the most of Enlighten
National Portrait Gallery illuminated with a projection and a rainbow installation in front of it

A photographer’s top tips for making the most of Enlighten Illuminations

Updated 20 Sep 2023

It’s one of Canberra’s most Insta-worthy events—but as the Enlighten Festival returns you might be wondering how to make the most of the vibrant Illuminations.

After all, you can get can’t get much more photogenic than neon lights and artistic projections as night falls. Luckily, local photographer Snaps by Sal has been at every night of Enlighten for the last few years—and she has plenty of tips to share.

Read on and get snapping!

1. Wear good shoes!

Trekking around Enlighten is the best way to experience all the sights and sounds, whilst staying off the busy roads around the National Triangle. All the buildings that are lit up are relatively close together, but good shoes and sensible attire will be your greatest allies!

Remember a few extra layers, as the unpredictability of early autumn has left dew on the grass and a chill on my nose on many a late Enlighten night.

2. There’s no time like the present

There is no ‘right time’ to make it to Enlighten for the perfect shot. After dusk as the projects turn on, you get a lovely backdrop for the buildings (dependent on the cloud cover and the setting sun). As the night grows darker, the colors of the Illuminations become more vibrant, and the strings of fairy lights and the festival atmosphere gets more exciting.

I love staying until a little later in the evening when the crowds lessen, and the projects can stand alone in full view. No matter when you get there, the visual temptations of Enlighten will be ripe for you to snap at.

3. Plan parking

Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at having a bit of a plan for my photo wandering, and I recommend to everyone to consider parking near the National Library or Parliament House. These are great starting points for your night—with the dusk light behind the buildings—and an easy way to make a loop around the attractions!

4. No gear, but all the ideas = fabulous!

The best photographers aren’t the ones with all the gear, they are the ones with new ideas. You can click at Enlighten with whatever tech you have available to you. I have seen a man with a full old-school film camera set up for the Parliament House projects, that could take one shot every 15 minutes. Over the years, some of the happiest of snaps taken on the phone have been fantastic, because they snapped a moment so perfectly, regardless of the pixels.

The one bit of tech advice I’d give is try to be really specific with your focus—tap on the projections to keep them as clear as possible. This goes for the neon installations as well. Focus and try to be as steady with your hands as possible to help you avoid fuzzy photos.

5. That’s pretty flash

A camera flash is the best option for making sure your subject stands out. If you’re taking piccies of the fam, or your fancy drink, or a selfie with the projection I recommend using a bit of artificial light—smartphone flashes, or camera flashes, whatever makes you shiny and bright.

6. Props to you!

Mirrors, glasses, umbrellas or even your phone can be used as a reflective surface to get creative! Last year I challenged myself to attend every night (and early morning with the balloons) of the festival. This meant trying to find new shots every time I ventured out.  The mirror became my friend, perfect for reflecting the illuminations and acting as a blockage for things I didn’t want in the shot.

7. All the angles

Enlighten is a people-powered event, and as such, there are lots of ways to include the crowds in your shots. Try for motion blurs or using heads as frames, and keep your eye out for any fun silhouettes of your fellow Canberrans interacting with the projections, and the live performances.

Or if you want to avoid the crowds, after 9 pm things get quieter. Alternatively, Kind Edward Terrace or Mount Ainslie let you get a wonderful ‘far-away vantage’ if you have a good long lens!

8. Act natural

Getting kids, or partners, or dogs to be in photos is hard. I get it. My advice is: allow for the imperfect. Funny faces, a bit of motion blur, a cheeky rude finger, the important thing is that you captured a moment and can have it on file. As mentioned above, use a flash, and make it a vogue moment, let your subject pose and have fun with it! A straight back and a front of smile is overrated and unhuman, so let the joy shine through.

9. Ask a photographer! PLEASE!

My final advice/ plea is for photographers (amateurs/pros/mums/dads/carers) who are always left out the photos, is to please ask a passerby if they can take a photo of you. There will be so many people only too happy to take a snap for you so that you can be involved too. Enlighten is a memory-making thing—make sure you have the moment to look back on!

Hot air balloons above lake and museum
Canberra Balloon Spectacular
Art installations at Enlighten Festival
Art installation in front of National Portrait Gallery at Enlighten Illuminations
Enlighten Illuminations
People enjoying food and drink at a market at Enlighten Festival
Enlighten Festival
A musical duo singing and playing guitar at Enlighten Festival.
Enlighten Illuminations
A circus performer at Enlighten Festival
Enlighten Illuminations
Illuminations projected on the National Library as part of the Enlighten Festival 2021.
Enlighten Illuminations
Large neon letters spelling out Enlighten on the steps of the National Library of Australia
Enlighten Festival Illuminations
People taking photos in front of hot air balloons by the lake
Canberra Balloon Spectacular
20 hot air balloons above the lake and hills of Canberra
Canberra Balloon Spectacular
People watching hot air balloons inflate and taking photos
Canberra Balloon Spectacular
Large crowd watching free musical performance
Symphony in the Park

#EnlightenFestival Gallery

See Enlighten Festival fans favourite moments from past years. Where will your perfect picture moment be? Share your snaps using #VisitCanberra and #EnlightenFestival.

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