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Las Vegas Street Performers and Entertainers

Two years ago I wrote a blog about the street performers cropping up in Las Vegas in droves. That was two years ago, and a lot has changed since then and so I thought I would write a new blog with a more updated point of view. It’s gotten to the point now where you can’t walk down any block of Las Vegas Blvd (“The Strip”) south of The Wynn and not see at least a dozen or so different characters milling about. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see Spider Man having a conversation with the Cookie Monster or Chewbacca hanging out with Hello Kitty. Truly, a walk down the Las Vegas sidewalks allow you to witness quite the menagerie of characters, that’s for sure.

Las Vegas Street Performers of the Super Mario Brothers. They look great, but aren't quite the draw at night in Sin City.

Las Vegas Street Performers of the Super Mario Brothers. They look great, but aren’t quite the draw at night in Sin City.

But what is the real scoop with these people? Are they really as aggressive for tips as the media makes them out to be? Are these people really just homeless people in costume? I decided to hit the streets and find out once and for all for myself. Of course, in doing so, I had to bring my camera and I also decided to recruit one of the best street performers I knew, professional model, writer, and raconteur, Sarah Jane Woodall, to help me out. Sarah and I have a long history of working together on different photography projects and whenever I need a model for some off-the-wall shoot, she is the first person I call.

Every Photographic Cliche rolled into one photo. Here Sarah Jane Woodall poses topless with electrical tape pasties on railroad tracks while wearing a cowboy hat, mermaid outfit, angel wings, and a gas mask while holding a machine gun and American flag while posing with an electric guitar...the whole enchilada!

Every Photographic Cliche rolled into one photo. Here Sarah Jane Woodall poses topless with electrical tape pasties on railroad tracks while wearing a cowboy hat, mermaid outfit, angel wings, and a gas mask while holding a machine gun and American flag while posing with an electric guitar and draped with Caution tape…the whole enchilada!

To put Sarah’s life in perspective, she has an entire bedroom in her home just devoted to different wardrobe pieces she has assembled or made over the years ranging from go-go outfits to her pink Elvis costume. Sarah is one of the busiest models I have ever met where her repertoire of work involves everything from fetish modeling to wearing mascot costumes at any one of a variety of different conventions or events here in Las Vegas.

Sarah Jane Woodall’s day job…dressing as a mascot for a major Las Vegas trade show. Yes, a world famous fetish model is in there somewhere!

Sarah Jane Woodall’s day job…dressing as a mascot for a major Las Vegas trade show. Yes, a world famous fetish model is in there somewhere!

When Sarah is not modeling she’s a writer for CityLife Magazine here in Las Vegas and when she’s not doing that, she’s out on the Strip in one of the coolest showgirl outfits you’ll ever see! Sarah’s skills don’t just end at modeling, she’s also an extremely talented costume designer as well…

Sarah Jane Woodall - Las Vegas Street Performer and Showgirl Extraordinaire!

Sarah Jane Woodall – Las Vegas Street Performer and 420 Showgirl Extraordinaire!

While walking with Sarah one night on the Strip, I got a chance to ask her some questions about what it’s like to now be one of the many street performers in Las Vegas:

How long have you been doing this?

Not long. I just started a few weeks ago and I’m still learning the ropes a bit.

How did you get your start as a Las Vegas Street Performer?

My roommate started doing it and had quite a bit of success so he asked if I’d like to tag along one night and try it for myself. I certainly have no shortage of costumes so I figured I’d give it a shot. The worst case scenario is I’d go out on the Strip and act goofy for a night and have some fun. The best case scenario is I go out on the Strip, act goofy for a night, have some fun, and make some money, so here I am!

Street Performer with a tourist

Since you brought it up, do you mind answering how much money do you actually make doing this?

There is a lot of debate about how much the different performers out here earn. Usually most people out here will tell the general public they earn a bit more than they really do but most of the good ones will earn about $20/hour, give or take. That’s about what I earn too, on average.

A few single dollar bills in her costume tends to drop the hint that she works for tips.

A few single dollar bills in her costume tends to drop the hint that she works for tips.

So, define what are “The good ones”.

You can walk around and kind of tell for yourself. Some of the characters out here make sense. I can see why people would want to take photos next to a cute showgirl with a giant joint (wink, wink) here in Vegas, and there are a lot of great showgirls and Elvis’ out here too. I’m not so sure about the Disney characters though…they seem a bit out of place for Las Vegas so I wonder how many people really want to have their photos taken with them. Yet some of the characters are very openly friendly, do a little hustling but aren’t overly aggressive, and they seem to do well, as they should. The wandering bunch of Sesame Street Characters are great, and some of the costumes, while not very “Vegas-y” really are cool. Some of the Avengers characters look awesome! But you have to ham it up a little. Just standing around doing nothing will not make you any money regardless of how great your costume is. You have to be a personality out here and, well, that’s where I tend to excel.

The pot-smoking showgirl hangs out with Ernie, Bert, Elmo, and the Cookie Monster. This Sesame Street posse can be seen frequently walking together on Las Vegas Blvd. Because of their fun nature, they tend to have lots of picture requests.

The pot-smoking showgirl hangs out with Ernie, Bert, Elmo, and the Cookie Monster. This Sesame Street posse can be seen frequently walking together on Las Vegas Blvd. Because of their fun nature, they tend to have lots of picture requests.

Here, Woody stands alone, never approaches tourists, and looks a bit out of place for Sin City. I stood at this location for 10 minutes and never watched one person approach him.

Here, Woody stands alone, never approaches tourists, and looks a bit out of place for Sin City. I stood at this location for 10 minutes and never watched one person approach him. Here is proof that a good costume does not make for a successful street performer in Las Vegas.

Here, this street performer in a Transformers Bumble Bee costume looks amazing and is in a prime location near the Planet Hollywood/Bellagio crosswalk but he just stands there hoping to get work. Thousands of people will walk by him in any given hour but it's rare that I've seen anyone give him a second glance.

Here, this street performer in a Transformers Bumble Bee costume looks amazing and is in a prime location near the Planet Hollywood/Bellagio crosswalk but he just stands there hoping to get work. Thousands of people will walk by him in any given hour but it’s rare that I’ve seen anyone give him a second glance.

So is this really “work” for you then?

Absolutely, but I also have a lot of fun doing it too. I wouldn’t come out here on a night that I didn’t think I’d have a good time doing it. As soon as I burn out a bit, I just stop coming. I’m certainly not desperate for money but the money I make out here does help this starving artist out a bit, that’s for sure. So even in high-heels and a showgirl headpiece I still have a blast. I like to find an area to hang out that has music playing so I can dance a bit and have some fun. I think that’s why I do well, because I look like I’m a fun chick to hang out with and people want to have their photos taken with someone like that…wearing a showgirl outfit and a holding a huge reefer in public! Don’t be confused though, this is still work. I still have to be outgoing, deal with everyone from families to drunks and be outgoing to a point where people want to pay to have their photo taken with me and I have to do it on a street in stripper shoes. Physically, that gets a bit tiring after a while even if you are in really good shape.

What would a trip be to Las Vegas without getting a picture with a marijuana showgirl?

What would a trip be to Las Vegas without getting a picture with a marijuana showgirl?

This woman actually threw a crumpled $1 at Sarah so she could snap a photo from her car!

This woman actually threw a crumpled $1 at Sarah so she could snap a photo from her car!

Even getting your picture taken draws looks from others!

Even getting your picture taken draws looks from others!

 

Speaking of drunks, do you have to deal with many of them? How do you handle them?

I’m more comfortable with my body than most of the women out here. I think my background in nude modeling certainly helps with that. The later the evening goes, the more alcohol people have consumed so in the later hours of the night you tend to interact with more drunks. They are kind of like the zombies who come out after dark. It’s really quite funny. Some of them certainly can be a bit grabbier than others but I usually get tipped better by those guys so I guess it evens itself out. Some of the girls out here are a bit more prudish, and that’s fine. I’m used to dealing with drunken obnoxious guys though so I’m more in my element with them than most.

Here a drunken tourist wants a bit more for his dollar than just a photo.

Here a drunken tourist wants a bit more for his dollar than just a photo.

Walking down the Strip with Sarah for just one hour allowed me to witness, first-hand, everything we just finished talking about. I saw people in cars cruising the Strip shout at her to get her photo. I saw drunk guys get very touchy-feely on her a few times including one of the guys who hand out the porn cards for “escorts” on the strip. He actually tipped her $5 twice so he can…..uh, pose with her, and I even saw her pose with small children as well. An evening with Sarah yields a level of entertainment parallel to any Cirque show, that’s for sure.

Here, one of the "escort" card distributors on the Strip gets a little grabby with Sarah. At least he was a good tipper though!

Here, one of the “escort” card distributors on the Strip gets a little grabby with Sarah. At least he was a good tipper though!

The one thing about Sarah is that she knows she’s in mixed company as she is not the only showgirl walking on the Las Vegas Strip. I recently had the pleasure of doing a shoot with a more “conventional” showgirl/street performer, Kalliann Haas. Like many of the Las Vegas street performers, Kalliann has a more conservative job by day and at night, she transforms into a stunningly beautiful showgirl. Unlike Sarah Jane, who made her costume, Kalliann actually leases hers as I discovered in a conversation with her:

Your costume is absolutely amazing. Easily it’s comparable to one of the actual showgirl outfits in one of the major shows in town. Did  you make this yourself?

I wish I could take credit for it but no, it’s actually not mine. A costume like this would have cost a fortune to have made and it requires maintenance too. I actually pay a small fee to the costume designer who made it for me to use every night. At the end of the week, I drop off the costume to her so I can have it cleaned and touched up for me to use the next weekend. I’m happy to do it though as it’s really worth it to be able to wear such a beautiful outfit all the time.

Vegas Showgirl / Street Performer Kalliann Haas shows off her amazing costume at the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign.

Vegas Showgirl / Street Performer Kalliann Haas shows off her amazing costume at the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign.

The other major hang-out for street performers in Las Vegas is downtown on Fremont Street. Downtown does tend to be a magnet for more of a motley crew of people, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t mean that the quality of the street performers is any lower or dodgy in quality. Last night I ran into these guys performing on the east side of Fremont Street. I can assure you, in all my years of living in Las Vegas, I have heard much worse than these two in major casinos around town. As a two man act these guys had an amazing sound that my Samsung Galaxy S3 does not do justice. They got a fiver from me!

Some of the street performers do more than stand for photos. Some are musicians, jugglers, magicians, and this guy who makes very cool balloon animals and characters.

Some of the street performers do more than stand for photos. Some are musicians, jugglers, magicians, and this guy who makes very cool balloon animals and objects.

Because of the sheer volume of people around the performers on Fremont Street, they have had to get a little more aggressive in their requests for tips. I think the reason isn’t because they are rude, it’s because so many people want to have their photos taken with these folks for free. Now, of course, standing on a street in a costume means you are in a public place and anyone has the legal right to photograph you for free and without your permission. That’s part of the Fair Usage laws of photography. But I think it goes without saying that if you are going to employ someone’s time, talent, and services for your own photo, a $1 contribution (or more) for their effort is not asking for much. For some of these people, it’s not about just slapping on a wig and walking around, they actually put a considerable amount of time and energy into their costumes and makeup. “Before I walk out the door to come out here I spend almost an hour just getting my makeup perfect and my costume, it’s 100% authentic to the original…that’s not cheap” says a Gene Simmons look-alike. “People think it’s easy to come out here and do what we do but I can assure you, it’s not. Many of us put a lot of work into coming out here and this really is a type of performance doing what we do. None of us really just stand there for a picture, we really get into character. That’s what makes this a bit of fun but it’s also why people like to pose with us. Deep down, we are all entertainers out here!”

A Gene Simmons lookalike struck a great pose for me. His costume and makeup were really well done!

A Gene Simmons lookalike struck a great pose for me. His costume and makeup were really well done!

There have been several drummers for Kiss over the years from Peter Criss to Eric Singer. This street performer looks like he ate all of them! Still though, he's found his niche and looks great doing it!

There have been several drummers for Kiss over the years from Peter Criss to Eric Singer. This street performer looks like he ate all of them! Still though, he’s found his niche and looks great doing it!

As I was attempting to get some photos of a contortionist group performing, I was approached by a very pleasant Marilyn Monroe lookalike. The thing I loved about her was she didn’t just have a great look, but she had an ANGLE! “If you want to get a great photo with me, I can take you over to a spot by that casino entrance over there that has a huge air vent. The air blows my skirt up and it makes for an awesome Marilyn Monroe photo!” I was sold and I was happy to give her my last $4 in singles…that kind of thought and fun attitude just deserved more than a single dollar bill.

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Seana (AKA Marilyn Monroe)

I managed to have a brief conversation with Seana (AKA Marilyn Monroe) that was quite educational as to her line of work. I told her that I really liked her pleasant approach, which was very refreshing to see as opposed to some of the performers who sometimes just stand around waiting for people to approach them. “I figured out an angle that works well for me. I used to come out here as a playboy bunny but I didn’t like the kind of people I was attracting so I switched gears and today, I’m Marilyn!” Seana is a waitress in a famous restaurant in Las Vegas by day, and to earn a few extra bucks, she comes out as a Street Performer a few nights a week. I had a very interesting and brief conversation with her while walking up the Fremont Street Experience. Twice, we were interrupted by people wanting to take photos of her which was great!

Do you find this kind of work more or less difficult than your “day job”

It’s not really easier or harder, it’s just different. Sometimes the nights are a lot of fun, sometimes it’s hard work, especially when you have a bad night where everyone wants to take their photo with you but nobody wants to tip you. That can be a bit frustrating, but I never take it out on anyone and I’m always polite and I think that helps in the long run.

Who are the people out here who annoy you the most?

Sometimes the drunks who like to grab you too much but as “Marilyn”, I don’t run into that as much as I used to. The people who annoy me the most though are what us street performers call “Snipers”. Those are the people who sneak up behind you to grab a quick photo and run away. They think we don’t notice, but we all do. That’s kind of pathetic, but so be it. Generally speaking though, most people are nice and respectful and while this can be a bit tiring from time to time, overall it’s fun and I make a few extra bucks so I can’t complain.

As a Vegas native myself, I used to have mixed feelings about the street performers in Las Vegas. Sometimes I found them fun but I used to find them more annoying than anything else. Sarah’s perspective changed all of that for me though. “You keep forgetting Adam, we live in the craziest city in the world. We shouldn’t shoo these people away, we should celebrate the fact that they are here because they add flavor and fun to the city! The crazier the city becomes, the more fun it gets and that’s what brings the tourists here!” She has a point…a very good one in fact. While the media is quick to jump on these folks when someone gets a little out-of-hand, we have to remember the media motto, “If it bleeds, it leads.” So for every negative story about the street performers there are a million fun ones of tourists who enjoy their presence and I’m the first to admit that much of my past negative opinion on the street performers was based on what I read, not what I experienced. As a capitalistic society we have to remember that if people weren’t tipping these folks, their industry would have dried up a long time ago. They are here, because people want them here. Say whatever you want about the street performers in Las Vegas, but love them or hate them, they are here to stay. In time more regulations will probably be passed requiring them to have permits and such, and that’s fine. The serious ones will continue to come out and the weaker performers will fall by the waste side. Whatever the outcome is, you have to admit that having your photo taken with a dancing guy in a bikini, a 400 pound drummer for Kiss, a gaggle of super heroes, or even a pot-smoking showgirl is just plain fun!

Sarah finishes her long night as a Las Vegas showgirl and street performer. Now it's time to kick off the heels and count the singles.

Sarah finishes her long night as a Las Vegas showgirl and street performer. Now it’s time to kick off the heels and count the singles.

Special thanks to Sarah Jane Woodall for her contributions to this blog both in photos and editorial contributions. If you are ever looking to hire Sarah for any corporate event, she should be at the top of your list as her costumes and level of professionalism and entertainment value are second to none! Please be sure to read her blog at wonderhussy.com and for booking information email her direct at wonderhussy@gmail.com

*Please note that no Minnie Mouses, Pokemon, or Smurfs were hurt in the photography or writing of this blog. They were, however, all tipped at least $1 for their contributions.

If you are coming to Las Vegas and are interested in getting some amazing photos to remember your trip, I specialize in shooting on the Strip for bachelorette parties, engagement photos, family photos, girls and guys night out, and more! When you want to book a shoot please email me at adam@shotbyadam.com or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!

ShotByAdam.com

Most Asked Photography Questions About Las Vegas and Photo Shoot with Olivia Black

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.

Out at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign with model Olivia Black. She told me on our shoot that she's usually asked by photographers to give a "sexy" face when, in fact, she really has a great smile. I totally agree!

Out at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign with model Olivia Black. She told me on our shoot that she’s usually asked by photographers to give a “sexy” face when, in fact, she really has a great smile. I totally agree!

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.

 

One of my favorite views of Las Vegas. Can you figure out where it was shot?

One of my favorite views of Las Vegas. Can you figure out where we shot it?

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
Olivia poses as the traffic of the Strip wizzes by at night.

Olivia poses as the traffic of the Strip wizzes by at night.

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”.

Before the renovation starting in 2010, the Neon Boneyard had fun with some of the sign letters. Unfortunately, they have taken a lot of the fun out of the experience with their reopening.

Before the renovation starting in 2010, the Neon Boneyard had fun with some of the sign letters. Unfortunately, they have taken a lot of the fun out of the experience with their reopening.

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.

We really wanted to shoot inside the Neon Boneyard for this blog, but for the hundreds of dollars they wanted for a one hour shoot, we decided the exterior was just as good!

We really wanted to shoot inside the Neon Boneyard for this blog, but for the hundreds of dollars they wanted for a one hour shoot, we decided the exterior was just as good!

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.

A backdrop for many movies, this is the spot filmed at the end of the movie Oceans 11 (the remake, of course).

A backdrop for many movies, this is the spot filmed at the end of the movie Oceans 11 (the remake, of course).

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!

There are a lot of great places to shoot the Fountains at Bellagio, other than the obvious ones

There are a lot of great places to shoot the Fountains at Bellagio, other than the obvious ones

Neon

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!

Some of the best neon in Las Vegas is in places you'd never thought to look. This is one of my favorite backdrops courtesy of the Starlite Motel in North Las Vegas.

Some of the best neon in Las Vegas is in places you’d never thought to look. This is one of my favorite backdrops courtesy of the Starlite Motel in North Las Vegas.

 

Some of the modern neon looks amazing too. Here Olivia poses against the outside of the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Some of the modern neon looks amazing too. Here Olivia poses against the outside of the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

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.

The Fremont Street Experience has some of the best photo opportunities in Las Vegas. It's a great place to have photos taken!

The Fremont Street Experience has some of the best photo opportunities in Las Vegas. It’s a great place to have photos taken!

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/missoliviablackShe 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!

If you like this blog please be sure to share it on Facebook, Twitter, or your other social media location through the links below.

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 adam@shotbyadam.com or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!

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Las Vegas Dry Lake Bed Photography with Steampunk and Poi!

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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.

 

Models Robert Runkle and Mariah McBride pose with a 1947 Army Jeep at one of the nearby dry lake beds outside of Las Vegas.

Models Robert Runkle and Mariah McBride pose with a 1947 Army Jeep at one of the nearby dry lake beds outside of Las Vegas.


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.

Official band photo for local group, The Roxy Gunn Project, who can be seen performing at casinos and events all over Las Vegas.

Official band photo for local group The Roxy Gunn Project, who can be seen performing at casinos and events all over Las Vegas


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

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

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“Thirsty”

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.

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Model Tina Carbaugh having her hair professionally styled by Kalliann Hass

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Angelika Markovic performs her makup artistry on model Katrina Wilkinson

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. 

behind-the-scenes shot of myself and models Tina Carbaugh and Katrina Wilkinson.

Behind-the-scenes shot of myself and models Tina Carbaugh and Katrina Wilkinson. My wife, Bethany, was off camera holding the reflector. A giant softbox with a studio light was positioned on my right. These AMAZING costumes were custom designed for our shoot by Vanessa Irino of Jrock Ginger, who’s attention to detail was nothing short of incredible.

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!

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Models Katrina Wilkinson & Tina Carbaugh

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Steampunk

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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: Tina Carbaugh

Model: Katrina Wilkinson [FACEBOOK LINK]

Makeup: Angelika Markovic

Hair: Kalliann Hass [OFFICIAL LINK]

Costume Design: Vanessa Irino of Jrock Ginger [FACEBOOK LINK][OFFICIAL WEBSITE]

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.

Aaron Crippen lifts acrobat Manya Silver high into the sunset at the Boulder City Dry Lake Bed

Aaron Crippen lifts acrobat Monnya Silver high into the sunset at the Boulder City Dry Lake Bed outside of Las Vegas

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.

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Founder Eric Martonovich lets the fire and sparks fly in this quick demonstration of spinning poi.

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Equestrian vaulting world champion, acrobat, and fire performer Lisa Varmbo shows off her skills of spinning poi in the freezing January winter.

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Mixing fire and sparks, Aaron and Monnya work with pryo like nobody else!

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Lisa Varmbo stands in her umbrella of fire and sparks!

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Both Monnya Silver and Lisa Varmbo create beautiful patterns in the Las Vegas desert dry lake bed near Boulder City, Nevada

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Group Shot of all four participating members of Big Horse Productions.
Top: Monnya Silver
Left: Aaron Crippin
Middle: Lisa Varmbo
Right: Eric Martonovich

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!

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