Recently in an online forum someone was requesting information on sight seeing in Vegas on an extremely low budget. It got me to thinking, if I were a photographer with just a few pennies to my name, where would I go? What would I shoot? A few things to understand about Vegas though. Being a native to the city and have lived here my entire life, I've seen trends come and go through this city but some things never change…Vegas is a very "pay to play" kind of city but for photographers visiting the town, there is a lot to see and shoot all within a very short distance.
So if you're coming here, staying on The Strip and on a tight budget, there is still hope. I would suggest just taking a walk south down the Strip is your best bet. You won't have to spend anything and you'll be able to see tons of beautiful resorts, malls, etc. If I were you, here is where I'd go and be sure to bring your camera.
The first, and most cliche' icon of Las Vegas is the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign. You can get there easily with a small cab fare from the Mandalay Bay. By foot, it's about a 20 minute walk. If you're not near the Mandalay Bay, take the monorail from any of the major resorts that have a station and exit at the MGM Grand. Cross the street to the Excalibur and take their shuttle over.
If you're headed to the Vegas sign, understand that many other tourists do too. Your best bet for killer shots is early in the morning or very late at night. If you want the killer shot of the sign, go when I go…20 minutes before sunrise. The above image is a 5-image, HDR composition shot at 6:20AM on a December morning as the sun was rising.
The next thing you should do is pick a starting point on the Srip to use as your base of travel. Of course, if you are staying on the Strip, use that but another place might be one of the locations on the northern end of the Strip. It has been my experience that far more photographic opportunities present themselves in that location than on the southern side so for the sake of this blog, we're going to focus on that. So our starting point for walking will be the Wynn property.
At Wynn/Encore, there are a lot of hidden gems to shoot including waterfalls, light fixtures, even the tiled flooring in places can be a photographer's dream with a macro lens. Beauty is all around you here, you just have to look for it. From Wynn, you will cross the pedestrian bridge to Palazzo. Just like how Encore and Wynn are owned by the same company and are connected properties, so is Palazzo and the Venetian.
The decor inside the Palazzo mall is always fun and I've done several shoots there…
Palazzo connects up with the Venetian hotel through this mall and there are a lot of really nice things to go and look at in there which won't cost a dime. Even if you don't spend any money in any of the major malls in the city, you still can still find many unique things to photograph in the Las Vegas malls that will keep you plenty entertained including animattronic shows, human statures, grand architecture, murals and paintings and so much more. Be aware that in some of these resorts, just walking around looking at all the cool stuff can EASILY kill an hour or more per location. The malls here on the Strip are unlike any you've seen before.
Once you're done with the Palazzo/Venetian, cross the street to TI (Treasure Island). They've got a few cool lounges in there with some very unique lighting conditions that create some awesome images and you can watch the Sirens of TI show out front which is free. Here is a link to the show times:
I'm not going to lie to you, the show is terrible. It's beyond terrible..I can safely say it will be the worst show you will ever see in your entire life and I'm safe on my bet that if you live for another 100 years, you'll never see a show worse than this in your lifetime. When Steve Wynn opened the property in 1993, the show he created for the front of the hotel was absolutely awesome. Back when Vegas was going through it's "family friendly" phase, the show was put in as a draw and it worked like a charm. After the property was sold, the show was changed to something more "edgy" and it's a sorry replacement. But hey, it's free, and you'd be remiss if you came to Vegas and didn't see it. Even bad cheese is still cheese when you're on a budget. Get there EARLY before each showing as the crowds still gather in big numbers (remember…free) and you'll want to make sure you bring a good telephoto lens to shoot the details.
After the show, make your way next door to the Mirage. They have a beautiful domed atrium there which is stunning. For $15 you can go through the Secret Dolphin habitat which I'm sure you'll enjoy and get a lot of awesome photographs.
Next, head to Caesars Palace. You can easily kill an entire afternoon just walking through this property. It's my favorite place in the city by far. The Forum Shops set the standard for cool shopping in Las Vegas and to this day is still the most expensive commercial property to rent on Earth. There are two free shows inside there which you'll enjoy also and each one rotates on the half hour. Definitely worth seeing. It's an awesome place to people watch and window shop. You'll love it. There are more shops to look at also in the Apian Way which is their older mall area which has been remodeled and added on to as well. The giant stature of David is worthy of several shots to take home with you. Caesars Palace is, without a doubt, the original masterpiece of Las Vegas and remains as that to this day.
The above shot, another 5 photo HDR composition, was shot in the late evening on the Caesars Palace property but many of the exterior items worthy of photographing are even nicer during the day when you have better light.
Next, cross Flamingo Road to the south and go to Bellagio. You definitely want to see the fountain show out front (free) and there are many beautiful places to see and explore in this hotel which will take your breath away.
At this point, I'd perhaps go see the just opened City Center next door. I haven't been there yet but it JUST opened and suppedly is very nice. Once you've done this, cross The Strip and head over to Paris.
The Paris hotel is really cute. There is a connecting mall that goes to Bally's which might be a great place to grab a light bite to eat.
There's not much at Bally's but you can then go over to the Flamingo which has a lot of old, Vegas heritage to it as it's where Bugsy Seigel started the entire Vegas craze. They have a gorgeous pool area worthy of looking at. and their big neon entrance of yesteryear is a beautiful thing to capture in the evening. Because you're so close to that neon though, you may want to consider having a wide or ultra-wide lens handy.
Next is the Imperial Palace. Not much here to look at other than they do have an amazing antique car collection. It's pretty cheap to get in and if you like looking at amazing, multi-million dollar cars from yesteryear, it's an absolute stop on your travel. You can get pretty close to the cars to capture some detail with your camera so it's a fun way to spend an hour shooting if you're a Gear Head, like me.
Next up is Harrahs. They often have live bands playing for free out in front and it's a good place to hang out, have a drink, and enjoy some great music. You can walk right up the the stage if you want, providing the crowds are small, and get some fun shots of a band in action if that's your thing. A great rock-and-roll opportunity!
At this point, you'll be heading back to the hotel. You'll be passing by a lot of small gift shops which you can get souvenirs for dirt cheap. Many of them sell T-Shirts 3 for $10 and the like.
Now that you're back at Palazzo, now is the time to hop in a taxi and go north to the Stratosphere. The view from the outdoor observation deck is simply awesome. I shot this one right as the sun was going down. Camera settings were used with a 50mm Tamron VC lens at 1/100, f2.8.
From the Stratosphere, head north again to Downtown Vegas. Here, it's like time traveling back to the past. The Fremont Street Experience is definitely worthy of several photos and there are some great neon pieces and vintage signs in the area. Just be aware that the surrounding neighborhood is not of the highest caliber so walking alone with thousands of dollars in gear several blocks way from the tourist areas is a bad idea. Even still, it's a photographer's dream out here so have fun.
So with this outline, you can EASILY spend an entire day and not spend more than 20 bucks or so plus you'll have an awesome time. One suggestion though, be sure to pack some VERY comfortable shoes. These resorts and malls are way bigger than you think they are and on this journey you can easily find yourself walking many miles so take a bottle of water with you along with your camera, a few lenses, a cleaning kit (those fountains and waterfalls do spray a little mist once in a while) and be prepared to walk a lot. If you're making this trek at night, you might want to consider a monopod to get the longer exposures without a lot of blur. Plus it will help you to look cool while you're shooting. 🙂