Life as a professional photographer in Las Vegas is certainly not without variety. Tomorrow I’m shooting interior photos of a restaurant for their website, the night after that I’m photographing a showgirl on the Las Vegas Strip, and the day after that I’ve got two commercial photo shoots: one for a company that makes cabinet hinges and the other for a company who makes specialized speaker cables. Yep, life as a Las Vegas photographer really is like a box of chocolates. So while the emails I get off my website are typically about bookings for events or commercial work, the emails I get off my blog are quite different. As of the time of this blog post, vegasphotographyblog.com has over 2,600 subscribers from over 20 different countries around the world. While I’m excited to see that some of them are magazine editors, photographers, and Las Vegas residents, over 80% of my readers are simply tourists looking for great places to take pictures when they come to Las Vegas. As such, the questions that come in from my blog are typically about where to shoot or how to shoot a specific landmark.
I recently got several repeat questions about the good and bad of shooting in different hot spots in Las Vegas and so I figured, why not write a blog about it?! The first interesting email I received last week off the blog was regarding how I shoot higher profile individuals as they were a local celebrity and wanted some new promo shots done for themself and their show. So, to answer that question, I decided to revolve this blog entry around a famous Las Vegas model, Olivia Black. Olivia has received some fame (and quite a bit of a fan base) from her appearances on the popular television show Pawn Stars, which airs on the History Channel. Olivia joined the show in their fifth season and recently left the program due to unknown reasons. In February of 2013 Olivia and I hit the town and got some great photos around Las Vegas which I’m excited to share with you here!
Below are the top places people email me about off my blog. I shoot quite frequently at these different locations and so I thought it might be worthy of discussing the good and bad of shooting at these various locations should you want to book a shoot there for a wedding, anniversary, bachelorette party, engagement, birthday, or any other kind of shoot.
Welcome to Las Vegas Sign
This is by far my most requested shoot location by out-of-towners. In the past 15 years I’ve done professional shoots at this location literally hundreds of times where I have shot Las Vegas showgirls, Ms. Olympiad contestants, skateboarders jumping across the sign, people on motorcycle, people on horseback, weddings, birthday parties, bachelorette parties, snowball fights (yes, it does snow in Las Vegas), pillow fights, and once I even shot 100 people dressed as zombies. In August of 2013 I’m booked to shoot a ping pong tournament being organized at the sign. Yes, things can get crazy there. I remember back when it was nothing but a dirt lot and now there is parking, street performers, and a walking path. The problem is, it’s always busy and parking there is difficult so back in April of 2012 the city approved the expansion of an additional 20 parking spaces coming soon. There are also talks of a crosswalk being installed there as well so stay tuned for that.
There are good and bad times to shoot at the sign based on lighting and people-traffic. If you are looking to get a shot of the sign in the day, right after sunrise or just before sunset is your best bet. In photography, we call those the “golden hours” and when taking pictures of the sign the sun will be at your back. In the afternoon though, shadows cast on the sign and on people are not very flattering so you are best to shoot during those times. However, if you want REALLY GREAT photos of the sign, the best time to book a photo shoot there is in the evening although shooting someone out there at night with your iPhone or point-and-shoot camera just won’t work well. When I shoot someone there in the evening, I typically bring at least one large light source off the camera with me to make sure that everything is lit well. You also need to be aware that certain angles at the sign make for better photos than others. This just comes down to experience but typically the shot most people get when they are out there really isn’t a good one because of this reason. I talk about this extensively in my blog that the difference between a fun photo for Facebook and an amazing photo you hang on your wall in a frame is not just having the right gear for the job buy having the right person use it to get the best possible photo and getting photos at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign is no exception.
If you are looking to have photos done at the sign, there are a few things to remember. First, the later in the evening you go the easier it will be to shoot there. The odds on expecting to find an empty parking spot on Saturday at 7 PM is about equal to that of being hit by lightning while you’re cashing in your winning lottery ticket. Especially on the weekends, you’ll see an endless wave of tourists wanting to get their photos, Newlyweds getting photos done by one of the many local chapels, and even busloads of tourists wanting to get a snapshot of the sign as it is typically one of the stops by the open-top tour busses in the area. The earlier you go, the more patient you need to be.
There is also the issue of the variety of street performers out there as well. Many of them are great but one thing is for sure, they ALL hustle for tips. Normally this isn’t too bad but I’ve had a few run ins with some pretty obnoxious ones before. Also, you’ll find some “photographers” out there who will grab your camera and offer to take a photo for you…in exchange for a tip. It’s a very captive audience so many of these folk see it as a payday if they can’t keep from fighting with one another out there over their street performer turf. This is why you always want to have professional photos at the sign which will help to navigate all these little hiccups and get some amazing photos as well.
Views of the City
Every month my inbox fills with requests on where the best places are to shoot “the city lights” of Las Vegas. Las Vegas is an amazing place to see from a distance. I remember as a young child driving to California on vacation with my parents only to return in the evening and seeing that huge valley of light as we come over the hill on I-15 from “State Line” as it was called back then before it was named Primm. Today, there are a lot of great locations to get photos of the city but you have to get creative. The higher up you can get, the better. You also need to know the town really well so you can better understand how great views can be blocked by electrical wires, construction cranes, trees and landscaping. Still though, when you find a great location, Las Vegas has a look that is unmatched by any other city in the world. You just have to know where to look. If you can swing it, great places to take photos of the Strip from high above would be the Ghost Bar on the 55th floor of the Palms. It’s outdoors and has an outstanding view of the city.
The problem is, there are so many great views of the city have something blocking it. One of my favorite views of Las Vegas is when you exit I-215 North on to Summerlin Parkway at night. It’s a high enough elevation to where you get to see the entire city but there are so many obstacles in the way that taking a photo up there is virtually impossible if you want a good photo. Even photos from atop the Stratosphere Tower aren’t much good due to their guard rails prohibiting any good photos of the city below. It really just comes down to knowing where to go and there are very few places in the Las Vegas valley that have an unobstructed view. There is a big difference between a great scenic look of the city and having a great photo opportunity of the city. For example, the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay has an amazing view of Las Vegas, but because you’re behind a wall of glass, taking any photos of the strip with someone in the shot is pretty much impossible because of the reflection. Either your subject will look great and have a washed out wall behind them or the city will look great and your subject will be shadowed out. If you use a flash, then all you get is a bright reflection off the glass. So the key to shooting the lights of Las Vegas is just knowing where to go and some of us photographers don’t share that secret lightly!
If you just want some cool snapshots of Las Vegas though with nobody in them, a few suggestions would be:
- Stratosphere Tower
- Eiffel Tower Observation Deck at Paris
- Voodoo Lounge atop the Rio Hotel
- Mandarin Bar atop the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Sometimes the view of Las Vegas can best be seen from inside it as well. From the street level on The Strip, it can be a real visual overload of color, light, and animation. In one direction you have a pirate battle and when you turn around you have moving billboards advertising services unimaginable in any other place. Most recently I was doing a shoot on the Strip with a wedding couple when a giant flatbed truck came driving down the strip with CeeLo Green doing a grand entrance at Planet Hollywood for his new show, Loberace. The truck featured CeeLo playing a flaming piano as giant fire balls shot from the vehicle surrounded by various showgirls. Only in Vegas.
So, for me, the best view of the city of Las Vegas is the view from within. You just can’t beat the fun, the excitement, the energy, and the craziness of Las Vegas from any other view and it’s one of my most requested photo shoot themes from out-of-towners.
The Neon Boneyard
I receive emails on a regular basis from people who want to shoot out at the Neon Boneyard and unfortunately by the time we’re done with our conversation, we’re booking a shoot somewhere else. The Neon Boneyard is the graveyard for old casino and other Vegas landmarks to bury their signs and marquees. What most people don’t know about the beautiful marquee signs in front of the majority of Las Vegas hotels and casinos is that the hotel/casino doesn’t actually own them, they lease them! Yes, you read that right. The huge Las Vegas landmarks actually do not own their own signs. The reason is because these signs require a huge amount of specialized maintenance and keeping the staff needed to accomplish this maintenance isn’t very practical. This is just one of a very long list of things that most hotel-casinos actually do not own (casinos don’t own their own slot machines either!) so when a hotel goes out of business, their customized sign is of no use to anyone so the sign company (in most cases YESCO, the Young Electric Sign Company) retires the sign into the “Neon Boneyard”.
For years, they denied there ever was such a thing but all the people with photos of it, such as myself, knew otherwise. It used to be in another location where it is now but over time, some of their old signs were renovated and placed at strategic places around The Strip and Downtown Las Vegas but the others were placed in the Neon Boneyard (if you watch movies such as Mars Attacks, you can see the Boneyard at its previous location where they filmed in it for the movie). In time, they cleared out the area a bit and opened it to the public for photo shoots and tours. Back in 2009 I was actually the last professional photographer to do a photo shoot in the boneyard before they closed for a lengthy renovation. It used to be organized with big open spaces and the letters from many of the signs were arranged to spell fun words to make it as “Vegas-y” as possible. It was a lot of fun and I used to shoot in there often for weddings or tourists that wanted a souvenir unlike anything else Las Vegas had to offer. Then, they decided to remodel.
Reopening in 2012, I have to say the remodel is a huge disappointment. They took away all the fun in an effort to make it more “artsy”. I met with one of the curators of the museum once and she told me, “We actually are asked all the time from people who used to remember the old boneyard as to why we don’t have letters spelling anything anymore. I guess we just never realized how much people like that sort of thing!” The bottom line is, they are clueless. Now, everything is arranged in a giant donut shape with signs piled on top of one another or layered so you can only see some signs in the front and many of the signs aren’t even upright. There is no space to do a proper photo shoot anymore and the worst part is the COST! Their primary revenue stream is their tours and they do book those up days and sometimes even weeks in advance. If you want to reserve some time to book a photo shoot in there, it interrupts their tour schedule so as of March, 2013, the minimum cost to reserve the area for a photo shoot is now $400/hour. This has now made it very cost-prohibitive for most people to want to get a simple photo shoot there. Sometimes change is good, but as it stands right now, my opinion is that the Neon Boneyard hasn’t changed for the better. I definitely recommend taking a tour of the site but as for having photos done there, Las Vegas has many better choices.
Fountains at Bellagio
Next to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, I get more questions about shooting there than any other place in Vegas. Debuting in 1998 these fountains are a main attraction in Las Vegas by millions of visitors every year. Whether you watch the fountain show in the day or at night, it’s one of the free activities in Las Vegas no visitor should ever miss. While the daytime shows are amazing, truly seeing the Fountains of Bellagio at night is the best time to watch the show. It’s also the best time to have photos done there as well. The shows run on a variable schedule but it’s very easy to plan time around one or even two shows to get some great photos. The schedule of shows can be found on the Bellagio website by CLICKING HERE.
To get really good photos there, you definitely want to scout out a location 10-15 minutes before the next show starts. You need to be aware that many others are there to watch the show as well so getting photos can be a little tricky and will require some patience but the results you can get out there is fantastic. It’s a backdrop of beauty unlike any other place in Las Vegas, if not the world. One thing to consider when doing a photo shoot there is that sometimes, the straight-on shot is not always the best way to get a great photo. There are many different angles of shooting the Bellagio fountains so experimenting on different angles can be fun. In fact, it took me several years of shooting there before I started realizing that the obvious photo op there was not necessarily the best one and having excellent lighting for a shoot there is key. Lastly, the performance of the fountain show is subject to closure if inclement weather is present so if there are high winds or rain, the shows will be canceled. These photos I did with Olivia required more than one light source to capture not just the energy of the fountains but the energy of Olivia as well!
Las Vegas has so much neon we even have a part of Downtown called “Neonopolis”. That’s a lot of neon! There are so many great places to capture neon in Sin City that it’s difficult to really say where to go to get the best shots of it. If you are looking for more of a modern-day neon look, any of the newer casinos have some amazing marquees to fit the bill. Paris, the Riviera, Circus Circus, and even some of the local properties like Texas Station and the Fiesta all have great neon but to really get the old-Vegas feel, there is nothing like the neon at the Flamingo or the Horseshoe. If the classy casino neon isn’t your cup of vodka, then there are some other amazing locations to get some old-Vegas neon photos that aren’t too far off the beaten path. You just need to know where to look. There are some awesome old neon signs Downtown near Fremont Street or on the north part of Las Vegas Blvd. As you explore more into North Las Vegas that often goes unrecognized as beautiful, old vintage neon you just can’t find anywhere else. If it’s a neon photo shoot you want, Las Vegas is the place to come! Be sure to check out my blog on Noir Photos in Las Vegas to see even more great Las Vegas neon!
Downtown Las Vegas – Fremont Street Experience.
I remember growing up in Las Vegas and actually being able to drive down Fremont Street with my friends. It was like going from night to day in a matter of seconds. Taking people from out of town down Fremont Street was an experience you’d never forget. This all came to an end when vehicular traffic was closed in 1995 to pave the way for the Fremont Street Experience. A cleaned-up version of the old Downtown area of Las Vegas is now open only to pedestrian traffic and the source for the canopy show in the sky which occurs every hour in the evening. A few things to be aware of when wanting to get photos Downtown is that street performers are now a very common part of the landscape so be aware that every five feet you’ll have an Elvis impersonator or Disney character asking for “tips”, although with some recent ordinances being passed by the Las Vegas city council, this may be coming to an end soon. Also, because there are so many people walking about, it’s difficult to get a photo out there that looks great without this hindrance so the only solution is to either shoot very late in the evening or you just need to be selective on where you shoot. There are so many awesome places to get photos done Downtown, but you just need to know where to look. The neon of the Horseshoe, the retro Vegas sign and martini glass on the east side of the Fremont Street Experience, and the lights underneath the main valet of the Plaza are great places to get great photos done. If it’s a classic Vegas look you want, nothing beats the Fremont Street Experience and surrounding area for a flavor of old and new Vegas alike.
I wanted to thank all my readers for submitting such great questions about Las Vegas in from the blog. Sin City is my native home and in case you haven’t noticed from my writing, I really love this crazy town and am always happy read your comments so please feel free to click the “COMMENT” link below and drop me a note. Also, thanks to the spectacular model, Olivia Black, for helping out with this as well. Please be sure follow Olivia Black’s Facebook Fan Page at: www.facebook.com/missoliviablack. She is currently booking up frequently for photo shoots so it was a real pleasure to be able to work with her on this blog. Whenever I need an awesome tattoo model, Olivia is absolutely on my speed dial!
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Lastly, if you are interested in booking a photo shoot at these, or any other fun and exotic locations in Las Vegas, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!
When people think of Las Vegas the images they conjure typically are ones of slot machines, buffet lines, and Cirque du Something shows. They also think of the hot desert sun. The Las Vegas valley is in a geographic basin, surrounded by a variety of different mountains and even some exhausted volcanoes When one pictures a scenic desert landscape of Saguaro cactus, interesting wildlife, and gorgeous rock formations, they won’t see it here in Las Vegas. For that, you need to visit one of the surrounding areas of Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire. In Las Vegas, the ground is made of ugly rocks, lots of brush, and compressed calcium deposits known as Caliche. At one point in time, much of the Las Vegas basin was actually underwater and today, our only major natural source of water comes from Lake Mead, which was created in the 1920s when the Hoover Dam was constructed to block the Colorado River. However, you can still see remains of where large pools of water would accumulate. As the water in the Las Vegas area has a very high mineral content, when the water leaves through evaporation or through absorption into the ground, the calcium stains remain as a permanent white tattoo upon the rocks.
As water runs down from the mountains that surround Las Vegas, it will sometimes pool into an actual lake. The dry, flat ground absorbs the moisture but with the Las Vegas climate, it doesn’t stick around for very long. As the water soaks into the ground, it creates vast open areas of flat, cracked earth. As the water evaporates or is absorbed into the ground, the mineral soaked ground becomes dry and cracked, creating a dry lake bed in it’s wake. As the average amount of rain accumulation we receive in Las Vegas is about 4 inches per year, it doesn’t take long for the ground in one of these dry lake beds to go turn from a swamp-like mud after it rains into a newly formed ground of cracked earth, different in appearance from the way it looked after the previous heavy rain fall. This fresh looking ground layer is something of the likes of science fiction movies as, once dry, it appears as though you’re walking upon the surface of another planet. This typically means the few dry lake beds around Las Vegas become a magnet for two different types of people. The first are those with dirt bikes or four-wheelers who love to tear up the new, flat surface. A week after a good rain, it’s common to see entire parties of four-wheeler riders on the dry lake beds having races or training kids on how to ride as there is little fear of actually crashing into any objects out there. The second group it attracts is photographers! The Las Vegas dry lake beds are frequently a location of choice for amateur and professional photographers alike due to the vast, open nature of the area plus the unique look of the cracked earth and nearby mountains that create the backdrop.
There are several different dry lake beds around Las Vegas but the two most popular ones are within a 1 hour drive of the Las Vegas Strip. The first of which is just south of the city, on I-15 headed toward Los Angeles. Its exact location is right outside of Jean, Nevada. Jean is a small town most travelers pass as it is located between the greater Las Vegas area and Primm, Nevada (otherwise known as “State Line” as it sits right on the Nevada/California border). The two most exciting things to the residents of Jean are the closed Southern Nevada Correctional Facility prison and the dry lake bed that crosses over it. BE WARNED: rumor has it that this dry lake bed is now being patrolled by park rangers so there is a chance that, if caught, you would have to pay a fine if you are planning a larger shoot there on your own!The second dry lake bed is located off of I-95 as you leave Las Vegas to Boulder City, Nevada. As you take I-95 out of the city, you will come across a lonesome hotel casino, the Railroad Pass. There is actually a traffic light there to stop traffic for those coming and going from the casino. Immediately after that, you will see a turnoff to the south which heads to Searchlight and Laughlin. Along that drive you’ll also, eventually, see the turnoff to Nelson Nevada and Eldorado Canyon as well (as I wrote about in a previous blog). Once you take this exit, approximately five miles down the road will be a huge dry lake bed on your right. You can actually see it once you’ve made the turn from this exit. The dry lake bed is approximately 1 mile wide by 5 miles long. Of the two major dry lake beds, I’ve found that this one in particular is the easiest to access and also is the better of the two to work in as it is more isolated from the light of the city for night shoots and also creates a nice look of the shadows during sunset. As this area is on the west side of the highway (which is slightly elevated over the lake bed), your only real way to take pictures is to the west, into the mountain range on the dry lake bed’s western border.
Driving Directions to the Boulder City Dry Lake Bed outside of Las Vegas (Click for larger view)
Taking photographs in this area, though, can be rather tricky. First there is the temperature. People tend to forget that deserts have vast temperature swings from day to night, so when arriving there in the winter time, it may be comfortable during the day, but almost immediately after the sun sets you’ll feel a 10-20 degree drop in temperature. During the summer, the dry ground acts to reflect all the head it’s absorbing from the sun, so walking on the surface during the June, July, and August months can be quite unpleasant during the day, where you’ll feel a dramatic temperature increase over the surrounding areas, but cools down to a very comfortable level once the sun sets. Next, if you are taking pictures of people, you need to think about where you want your shadows and lighting to be. To get the sun at your back, you have to setup and start taking photos very early in the morning. As the sun rises , the flat ground will amplify any shadows you may have so most of your photos will have your own shadow in the shot unless you get creative with your angles. When the sun is overhead, it’s going to create some very hard looking shadows as well, so if a hot summer look is what you seek, you might want to arrive just after the sun is directly overhead
For example, I recently did two amazing photo shoots at the Boulder City dry lake bed in January of 2013. Each of the two shoots was quite different and each shoot used two very different lighting systems. The first of the two shoots was a Cosplay shoot (Costume Play), which are always fun. Much of my Cosplay work has been published around the world and I’ve written about it several times in the past in this blog, although this specific type of shoot was a form of Cosplay involving a Steampunk theme. Stempunk is a genre of science fiction involving steam-powered, yet futuristic technology. There are two different styles in Steampunk…the Wild West genre involving more Western U.S. looks and the second involves more of a Victorian flair, which happens to be my favorite of the two and the theme for the shoot we did. To pull this shoot off involved one very amazing team of dedicated artists and models to make this one of my favorite shoots of all time. It never ceases to amaze me what happens when you put lots of creative-types in one room together, or, in this case, a dry lake bed.
I have been wanting to do a Steampunk shoot for some time so when I put the word out, I never thought there would be so many talented people in Las Vegas that wanted to get involved. The two models, Tina and Katrina were absolutely awesome! Hair and makeup were also done by two seasoned professionals in this industry and we also were fortunate to have an incredible costume designer on board to tailor-fit these custom-made costumes to our models. I could not have found better professionals for this shoot if I tried and I was so happy that everyone had such a great time on this project! I even contributed in some non-photographic measures by constructing the prop guns used in the shoot, which was a ton of fun also.
This was shot at approximately 4 PM out at the Boulder City dry lake bed and was shot with a series of large lights powered by a portable power pack. It was a slightly complex shoot as I had to capture all the details of the costumes, makeup, hair, and the beautiful poses of the models, not to mention the sun setting in the background and other fine details you can only get in a cool place like a dry lake bed. I think the amazing results speak for themselves that this shoot was a very positive one that yielded some very exciting photos for which I hope get picked up somewhere in publication. Here are the results so be sure to leave your comments at the end of this blog if you like them!
Our favorite and most complex shot of the set. (CLICK HERE FOR LARGER VIEW)
Certainly everyone involved in this great photo shoot deserve special credit:
Model: Katrina Wilkinson [FACEBOOK LINK]
Makeup: Angelika Markovic
Hair: Kalliann Hass [OFFICIAL LINK]
My second shoot of January out at the Boulder City dry lake bed was a very radical departure from some of the other shoots I typically do. This involved an amazing team of performers here in Las Vegas known as Big Horse Productions. This group of horseback stunt riders, dancers, acrobats, and fire spinners (known as “poi”) just oozed cool.
Big Horse Productions has been breaking the mold in equine entertainment since 1997 and have won many awards for their amazing feats of acrobatics and horsemanship. Their signature act involves founder Eric Martonovich riding an 8-horse hitch of 2,000+ pound Belgian horses with acrobats at the same time. They have toured all over the United States and Canada but are based here in Las Vegas. They currently are in the process of launching their next big show, “Gladius”, which will open in 2014. This show, which involves a Roman/Gladiator feel will be a 90-minute show unlike anything you’ve ever seen! Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of pyrotechnicians and poi dancers but never have I ever worked with a group of people so knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. Years ago I had seen some video of people spinning fire not with standard poi but instead with fine steel wool! Most people are not aware that steel wool burns very easily and the embers, when mixed with lots of air, produce a shower of sparks unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’ve always wanted to do a photo shoot involving the use of steel wool and when I bounced the idea past Manya Silver, one of the group’s members, she said she was in! A few phone calls later, and Manya arranged a shoot for three other members of the organization, which yielded some incredible photos on a very cold night in January.
Big Horse Productions can be contacted through their website at www.gladiustheshow.com and be sure to Like them on Facebook as well! One of the great things about being able to photograph in places like an obscure dry lake bed in the middle of the Nevada desert is that you are able to flex your creative muscles in ways you haven’t even begun to dream of. The amount of things you can do in these dry lake beds is infinite and every time I think I’ve exhausted all my ideas for shooting there, I always come up with something new and innovative. Over the years I’ve done large commercial photo shoots there, photo shoots for world famous fashion and glamour models, for nature magazines, and even for family portraits or fun photos for visitors outside the Las Vegas area wanting something really memorable to take back home with them instead of a typical Las Vegas tourist souvenir.
So whether you are a professional model or just someone who wants some amazing photos taken at an incredible location, I’m the one to call to make your photos really pop. I don’t just get you photos, I get you RESULTS! To book a shoot at one of the Las Vegas dry lake beds or any other kind of highly creative shoot, be sure to check out my website, Adam Sternberg Photography of Las Vegas at www.shotbyadam.com or call me direct at 702-204-1740!
When I was a kid, growing up in Las Vegas during the 70s and 80s was a very interesting experience. One of my earliest memories was sneaking out of my bedroom late at night and watching late-night movies in our TV room long after my parents went to bed. This was the mid 70s and Howard Hughes was in his reclusive state, living in the ninth floor of the Desert Inn hotel that he purchased several years earlier. One of Hughes’ other interesting purchases was the television station KLAS, Channel 8…a CBS affiliate.
Howard Hughes was an insomniac, and often turned to television late at night and was frustrated at the fact that his favorite station didn’t play his favorite movies so he bought the station and turned it into his personal movie theater. Long-time residents of Las Vegas will tell you about how it was a frequent occurrence to be watching a movie only to see it end half-way through and a new movie begin as Howard would call the station, tell them he didn’t like the film, and to start a different one. Sometimes he would fall asleep during a film, wake up after a short while, call the station and have them rewind the film 30 minutes, so anyone watching would have a weird sense of déjà vu. Vegas sure is an interesting place.
One of Howard Hughes’ favorite styles of movie were noir films and he frequently would ask KLAS to play them for him and these were the movies I subsequently watched at 1AM with the volume so low as to not wake my parents in the other room. Just recently, my parents bought our family’s first color television and although most shows did come through in color, I thought it was interesting that there were so many different stylized films in black-and-white that I enjoyed. Much of them involved plots and themes I was a bit young to grasp, yet I really thought were cool. Even at a young age, I was in love with Noir films!
So what is “Noir”? While some people think that Noir is a genre of films, it’s more of a style, although there is much debate in film community about this. The term “Noir” comes from the French word for “black film” and the style originates from German cinematography styles of the 30s. Noir films eventually migrated over to the United States where the style is considered to be the home of the mainstream stile of “Classic Noir” films. The Classic Noir era and style is defined as movies made from the 1940s through the late 1950s and typically involve some sort of crime drama. Typical noir themes involve worn out private detectives, femme fatales, insurance fraud, corrupt police, urban settings, women of “questionable virtue”, revenge, down and out writers, and similar themes. Crime and murder are elements in almost all noir films. The first, truly credited Classic Noir style film is The Maltese Falcon (1941) starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Directed by John Huston, this paved the way for the entire theme of hundreds of noir films to come. Other Classic Noir films include:
- Gilda (1946)
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
- The Killers (1946)
- Key Largo (1948)
- In A Lonely Place (1950)
- A Touch of Evil (1958)
Below is a clip of the opening sequence of A Touch of Evil where Orson Wells mastered his continuous shooting style through a scene (called a Long Shot), a common element in noir films. Here, we see over 3 minutes of filming without even one edit.
Quentin Terantino, a huge fan of classic noir films, employs this same technique in many of his films including this scene from Kill Bill, Vol. 1…
While these were major motion pictures, part of the noir style originates from B-movies and low budget films where directors and cinematographers tried more risky filming techniques. Common visual elements of noir films include outdoor shots in fog and rain, cluttered and gritty detective offices, shadows of window blinds guising the look of characters indoors, shadowy characters lurking in the dark, harsh lighting and off-angle camera shots, faces partially or completely obscured in shadow, black and white photography, and characters smoking (frequently women, as iconized by the famous noir actress Marlene Dietrich). These same themes carried over into what is referred to the Post Classic Era or “Neo-Noir” films as the style picked back up again in the 1960s through to modern day. With the popularization of television, these themes often found their way into prime-time television as well. Post Classic noir films and TV shows include:
- The Mancurian Candidate (1962)
- The Fugitive (1963-1967)
- Chinatown (1974)
- Taxi Driver (1976)
- Basic Instinct (1992)
- Reservoir Dogs (1992)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
Even noir styles made their way into science fiction films such as the classic 1982 Neo-Noir film, Blade Runner.
So with that little history lesson, I wanted to take my own spin on the Classic Noir look but set it in the backdrop of my favorite city in the world, Las Vegas. I certainly couldn’t do it alone though so I was fortunate enough to work with two awesome Vegas models, Destini English and Steven Carron. Together, the three of us hit the steets of Vegas to make our mark on Vegas Noir!
While I take photos for people out at the Welcome To Las Vegas sign several times a month, I always envision what it would look like set in the days of the older, grittier Vegas. I’ve been wanting to do this type of shoot there for years, so finally my dream came true when I decided to write this blog entry.
Creative lighting techniques were often used in numerous noir films. One my favorites were the iconic shadows through Venetian blinds, which re recreated here.
Our first shot in the Downtown area near the Fremont Street Experience. We were packing up gear to head to some of our chosen locations to shoot at when I saw this amazing location. Noir is all about harsh and contrasting light, darker themes, and, of course, smoking (that thing all the cool kids do). Shot at Main Street Station.
One of my favorite shots of the evening. Noir is all about mystery and intrigue. Shadowy characters in the background and women of “questionable virtue” for the time. Here, Destini makes an awesome femme fatale!
A foggy night in Vegas. Fog and gloomy weather are typical elements of Classic Noir films.
Classic Noir films have many common themes, the most common of which is crime and murder. Wielding guns in public is not always the smartest idea, but for the right shot, the risk can be worth it!
Gambling and seedy old hotels were frequently used themes of noir films. What better place than Las Vegas to use as our backdrop!
We originally had no intention of shooting at this location but when we stumbled upon this great looking spot, the mood just jumped out at me and helped me turn this into one of my favorite photos of the evening.
Interested in booking your own shoot around Las Vegas? E-Mail, call me, or check out my new website for more information!