Normally I don’t post in my blog about different accolades I’m awarded but this time I thought it would make for a fun blog about the craziness of being published. I’ve had the privilege of being published in magazines around the world, in major ad campaigns, and even on the deck of a skateboard, but sometimes it’s the smaller accomplishments that serve as the largest personal rewards.
Back in the autumn of 2013 I was reading a newsletter from Nevada Magazine about how they were looking for submissions on different topics. Much of what they publish are about the rural areas of Nevada which I rarely shoot but one topic really jumped out at me. They were looking for photos of the new Downtown Container Park which is the brain child of the urban development project of Tony Hsieh (of Zappos fame). As I am frequently shooting in the the downtown area of Las Vegas I started thinking of all the ideas of what could be photographed in this highly creative location on East Fremont Street. Inside the Container Park are small stores and boutiques…all locally owned, in addition to some great eateries, a HUGE treehouse/play area for kids AND adults (adults get the run of the place in the later hours) and live music all day and evening. Then of course, there is “The Mantis”.
One year at Burning Man, Tony Hsieh saw this giant robotic praying mantis on display shooting huge fireballs from its antennae and it was love at first sight. Tony purchased the mechanical monster and brought it out to some First Friday events before eventually making it a permanent home at the entrance to the Downtown Container Park. Every 15 minutes they put on a show with perhaps the most interesting fire show you’ve ever seen. Needless to say, it’s a huge hit with visitors and I knew that if done right, a great photo shoot was in the making! Now I just had to convince Nevada Magazine about it not to mention the Container Park.
Act II…The Preparation.
On an unrelated project I was working with an amazing local fashion model, Samantha Sable. She and I were working on a photo shoot for a pinup magazine. During one of our conversations in setting up the shoot Samantha had mentioned she had a very unique skill…she was a fire breather. A soon as she said those words my eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. “YOU’RE A WHAT? A FIRE BREATHER? Wow do I have a concept to pitch to you!” I already had the finished concept complete in my head. I wanted to pose Samantha breathing fire in front of the Mantis doing its thing. I pitched her the idea and she was on board! The thing is, with most photo editorials in magazines, they don’t just want one photo, they usually want a series of photographs that can span several pages along with a written editorial piece of some sort. Nevada Magazine though is more photo-based so something written wasn’t necessary but having an assortment of photos was. Having one killer photo was great, but they needed more. So, I recruited a second model…James Michael Pelz. Even though they had never met, I wanted to create a series of photos of a couple walking through the mall to create a certain mood. Samantha, being one of the easiest models I’ve ever worked with, was on board with that and so she and James became my “couple” for the evening. Based on the photos, you’d never guess they met just 30 minutes prior to shooting.
Before I ever took the first photo though, there was a LOT of things to prepare for. I first wanted to get some test shots with Samantha. I didn’t have a huge amount of experience photographing fire breathers so I went to her home and in front of her neighbors, we did a fire breathing test shoot that came out great. I was stoked.
So, off to Nevada Magazine. I pitched them the entire concept of what I wanted to do and they went nuts for it. “So you already have permission from the Container Park to do all this?” they asked. “Oh, of course I do…they are all on board.” …I lied. I knew that when I pitched this to the Container Park management they would love the idea, but I hadn’t even approached them with this yet. I wanted to make sure that these photos would be published before I went that route so now I had to get the Container Park as stoked as I was and the good news is, they were! Over the course of several meetings and a huge volume of emails, I finally got the green light to do the shoot exactly as I planned it and the management and staff of the Container Park was really excited about the concept and, of course, the positive publicity they would receive. Two weeks before the shoot I even went to several of the local vendors to get shopping bags we could use so they would get a plug as well and make sure everyone was happy on their end. Everything was going exactly according to plan. That’s when things started to go sideways.
“Our legal department says you need to have a $2 million dollar insurance policy to cover the fire breather” they told me three days before the shoot. In a panic, I called my insurance company I use for my business but they didn’t have a system in place to cover such a shoot on short notice. Eventually I found a company that specializes in insuring circus performers so in less than 24 hours, I had insurance papers in hand! “Do you have your permit from the city also?” they asked. It turns out that since some of the photos may be shot from the city street area, the city of Las Vegas gets involved and for liability and filming purposes, they require you to have a permit. So, after dealing with the city bureaucracy for a day, we got our permits on short notice too.
It was a cold night in early January of 2014 when we decided to do the shoot to make a February 1st deadline with the magazine. Las Vegas was going through an uncharacteristic warm spell this year but it was still cold out. Everyone arrived on time and ready to go. We decided to do the fire shoot first and then shoot through the Container Park after as they neared closing time. We arrived on the scene and were greeted by the representatives of the Container Park who wanted to oversee the mayhem we were about to create. Samantha got into her performing outfit, I was setting up lights, and then we got word of a small problem. There was a gas leak in the Mantis and they had to get some parts to fix it. Not good. After a minor delay, we were back in business. The pyrotechnicians who operated the Mantis were more than accommodating and helped us immensely with angling the giant robotic beast, performing test shots for me, etc. These guys were just awesome. It took me several test shots before I could really dial in the settings on my camera to get the effect that I wanted all while maintaining a good photograph of all the subjects involved. Creative lighting techniques really came into play to make this all work. It would not be an easy shoot.
As we began to setup, a crowd began to form thinking something significant was about to happen and they didn’t want to miss it. Samantha spent some time coordinating cues with the pyro guys to get in sync with their firing off the Mantis and her breathing fire. Those two were in step with one another like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire! Samantha walked out, took her torches and blew fire 20 feet into the air while the Mantis was shooting fireballs high into the sky. It was AMAZING, and the crowd cheered so loud I’m sure they could be heard for miles! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Now though came the important part…did we get the shot? I hit the “preview” button on my Nikon D800 and Shazam…magic was captured! I asked to do a few more takes from some different angles and everyone was more than happy to do so. “How do they look?” Samantha asked. “I’ll show you in a minute but let’s keep shooting.” I said as I could barely contain my excitement. Several repeat shoots later, I knew we were done. The crowd gave everyone a huge applause and many people wanted to go talk to the amazing fire breather they just saw but Samantha was dying to see the photos…as I was I. We started reviewing them in the camera and we all gave each-other a high five in excitement. We nailed it.
After everything calmed down, now it was time for Part 2…shooting through the park. Over the next two hours we setup shoots in a variety of locations. The nice thing about the Downtown Container Park is that there are so many interesting things to shoot in there so it makes it quite easy to get great photos inside. So off we went. I had our two models sipping coffee inside an orange container that overlooks the entrance, we got photos of them “shopping”, having fun in the playhouse, and people watching. It was great. The rapport these two had on camera was wonderful and it’s proof that when you work with professionals, you get professional results.
We were done with the shoot, but the photos still needed retouching and the fire photos, while awesome, needed quite a bit of work in Photoshop to make them look as perfect as they could be. After all the post-production work was done, I submitted the photos over to Nevada Magazine a week before our deadline and instantly I got the email back from them…they loved the photos! They went nuts for them. Mission Accomplished!!! Nevada Magazine is a quarterly magazine and we were expecting to be published in their Spring issue, which would be great for all of us. Wrong. “We can’t afford to pay you for the photos” my editor contact emailed me. “What are you talking about?” I replied. “Well, it turns out that we ran out of budget for this issue and we didn’t think you would want to submit just for photo credit so we missed the deadline and my boss is saying he can’t use the photos this time around.”
I emailed everyone involved and we were just devastated. All that work for nothing. Nevada Magazine was very nice to us but it just wasn’t in the cards I suppose. Sometimes that’s just the nature of this business. Now I have possession of an amazing photo shoot with no home. Needless to say, I was a little upset at how this went down and I knew that with a little tenacity, we would find someone willing to publish the shoot. I sent out emails to all the local magazines and newspapers and I received back tons of positive responses. The best one came from a magazine that I actually thought would be one of the most difficult to get into because the quality of their magazine is so high and that is MyVegas Magazine. This quarterly publication reaches tens of thousands of readers throughout the Las Vegas valley of both locals and tourists alike. They have a great editorial staff, writers, photos, and a very good presence through Las Vegas. They absolutely loved the photos and most certainly wanted to run them…but they wanted a little more. “The photos are amazing but we usually like a small editorial to go with them. Are you able to write a little something to go with the photos?” I pointed them to this blog and their response back was wonderful. They asked me to keep it very brief (less than 200 words) and they would be happy to take care of us in their Summer issue.
As I’m sure you can deduce by now, I’m not one to keep things brief. 200 words? This sounded more daunting than photographing a fire breather. I knew I needed some assistance with this and it’s always nice to be able to call-in favors. One of my past clients and now friends is Ben Spillman. Ben was a writer for the Las Vegas Review Journal and recently moved up to Reno to write for the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper. He’s an awesome writer and man of many talents. I sent him over the article I wrote and he provided me with some very useful feedback. When finished, I submitted it over to the magazine and they thought it was great. Now …the waiting game.
Months later I get an email. “You have a package waiting for you at our office if you would like to pick it up. We could mail it to you too if you wish, but either way, your issue is now available and we thought you’d like to get a few copies before they hit newsstands.” We were published! The folks at MyVegas Magazine are just an awesome group. I couldn’t wait. I hopped in my SUV and drove down to their offices in anticipation. The box was waiting for me with the receptionist and I couldn’t wait until I got home to open it. I cracked the seal and the magazines inside looked amazing. I flipped to our segment and there we were.
Here are the other finished photos of the fire breathing. The first one was the photo used for publication:
So out of all of this, we managed to turn lemons into lemonade and WOW was that some great Lemonade! If you haven’t been able to pick up a copy of the magazine around Las Vegas, you can see the digital copy of BY CLICKING HERE. or you can copy and paste the link below into your browser:
Special thanks to the magazine, of course, for taking such great care of us and helping us to find a home for this complicated project. Also, special thanks to Samantha and James for some awesome modeling work and especially Samantha for her incredible fire-breathing talents and professionalism. While James is no longer actively modeling, Samantha most certainly is. For information on booking Samantha for photo shoots, you can contact her at email@example.com and to see more of her work, feel free to visit her on Model Mayhem:
As a professional Las Vegas photographer for over 15 years, I specialize in photo shoots of all shapes and sizes so if you are in need of something wild and crazy for a commercial shoot, publication, or if you just want some great photos taken at the Container Park, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 702-204-1740 and we can discuss your next shoot in greater detail!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!”
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.
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!
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!
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 email@example.com or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!