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New Year's in Sydney

One of the greatest things about living in Sydney is that Christmas and New Year fall in summer. This makes all manner of outdoor activities possible over the festive season, and one particular tradition is waiting out to catch the New Year's fireworks in Sydney Harbour. Using the famous Harbour Bridge as one of several launching bases, the fireworks are a spectacular way to bring in the new year. There's a 9pm show prior to the midnight fiesta as well, so that younger families can see their fireworks and get the little ones off to bed. In the end, there's something special about feeling the concussive force of the exploding fireworks rather than just hearing and seeing them.

I've previously camped out all day on the Sydney Opera House foreshore, which features a truly fantastic view of the Bridge just opposite, but you literally need to spend all day there to get a spot. This year I was feeling less adventurous, so around six o'clock in the evening I met up with some friends at Observatory Park, which surrounds Sydney Observatory just west of the centre of the city. There was still plenty of space even at this hour, and the view was excellent. It was a glorious summer day, with a cool breeze to ward off the hot sun.

The atmosphere in the park is raucous. Much of the city is shut down for New Year's celebrations, and people are everywhere. Tourists from all over the world flock to Sydney at this time, making for a very diverse crowd. I took photos for what seemed to be a large group of Europeans sitting just near us, whilst couples, families, and friends all enjoyed the last hours of 2012 together. Skywriting planes twirled in the air, spelling out messages comprehensible and not, lasting just minutes before being blown away by the stiff breeze.

Finally, 9pm arrived, forewarned by a brief fireworks burst 20 minutes prior. And at the chime of the hour, the harbour bursts into light. Fireworks of all shapes, sizes, sounds, and hues explode up from their launching barges and into the dark night sky. Cheers echo around the park as people enjoy the show.

New this year were these interesting mushroom-shaped fireworks that burst and grew outwards, with each stem in sync with all the others. It really is amazing the amount of control that the operators have over these coloured explosions.

The show finishes with a resounding finale of light, sound, and colour to claps and cheers from the crowd. Families begin streaming for the park exits, eager to get home before the big rush at midnight. Now there's just a little under 3 hours to go before the main event - something that puts the 9pm show to shame every year.

I took these photos using my Sony NEX-5 on manual settings: 1/5 second shutter speed, ISO 800, F7.1, and manual focus. Ideally, I would have liked to use a much longer shutter speed to capture more of a "trails of light" effect, but I didn't have a tripod, so this was the best compromise I could come up with that didn't affect image quality too much or introduce excess noise. This is also probably the limit of my camera's ability to shoot at night - I'd have to upgrade to a substantially bulkier DSLR to do much better.

Laser + smoke + DJ + dance floor

I left the park after the 9pm fireworks and made my way to a friend's party, catching up with many people I hadn't seen since going overseas in the middle of the year. The party was quite an extravagance, featuring an inflatable pool and bubbles, smoke machine, laser lights, and a full DJ set-up. We celebrated midnight with champagne and music, watching the fireworks telecast on the television. Now that's a truly Australian New Year.

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