When people travel to Las Vegas, whether it's for business or pleasure, they often bring a camera with them. There are so many sights to see just on the Las Vegas Strip alone you could fill plenty of digital storage cards for sure. Of all the things people most want to be photographed in front of is the "Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas" sign which can be found on Las Vegas Boulevard ("The Strip") about a mile south of the Mandalay Bay resort, sandwiched between the Bali Hai golf course and the old east entrance to the McCarran airport. Built in 1959, it is, without a doubt, not only a cultural icon, but a true gateway to the fun and excitement that makes up Sin City.
The image above was shot in mid December just after Sunrise. It is a
5-shot HDR (High Dynamic Range) photograph composite and required
many hours of work in Photoshop to remove the numerous power
lines running through the background.
The key to getting a great photo at the Vegas sign comes down to a lot of factors so if you really want to get a shot worthy of hanging on your wall, keep reading! I've been living in Las Vegas my entire life. A Las Vegas native, I remember how difficult it was to actually get to the Las Vegas sign. In 2008, a renovation around the Sign began and in December of 2008, new ground turf was added as well as a parking lot constructed out of the center island in the middle of Las Vegas Blvd. Prior to this, getting pictures of the Sign was a real challenge. You had to either park at the Mandaly Bay convention center to the north or the Jack and the Box to the south and walk about 1/2 of a mile to get to the Sign. There was no real easy way to get there and when you were there, generally the police would often give you grief for being there if they caught you. If you were there doing a shoot, you had to fight with tourists who would drive up, park their car right in the middle of the street, jump out to get a photo and run back to their car before they were caught…hence, the need for a parking lot to alleviate this problem. Generally speaking though, if you got to the Sign in the morning or later in the evening you pretty much had the Sign to yourself.
Today though, you have to be a bit more clever to get a good shot of the Sign because you're competing for time and space with all the other tourists waiting in line to get their photo as well. So here are a few quick tips that will yield you the best results:
- If you are staying in Las Vegas for more than just a weekend, plan your shoot for mid-week. The busy tourist days for people getting photos at the Las Vegas sign are weekends, holidays, or when a large event or convention is in town.
- GET THERE EARLY! If you're planning your shoot for New Years Eve at noon, plan on waiting at least an hour before you get your shot and it won't be a good one at that. Even if the city is a bit busy, the earlier you get to the Sign the better. I can assure you that I'm not a "morning person" but when I have to do a shoot with a client or model, I always tell them to plan on shooting no later than 7AM. Not only will you get the best possible light for your shoot, but you won't have to be fighting with others for the same piece of real estate. With very rare exceptions, whenever I get to the Vegas sign early, it's like my own private photo studio. Remember, the more you procrastinate getting there, the worse your shot will be.
- It is important to remember that you still are in a very public place when shooting. You literally are in the middle of one of the most highly traveled roads in the country so if you're planning on shooting something wild or crazy, be prepared for some car horns and cat calls from the nearby drivers.
Shot of "fitness Diva" Christi Lee during the renovation period of the
Welcome To Las Vegas sign in November of 2008. Shot was taken at
7AM and the outside temperature was under 40 degrees. In the 15 minutes
of shooting, we heard over two dozen cat calls or car horns and two cars
stopped in the middle of the road to watch.
- Bring a tripod! OK, so you can't get to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign early in the morning and others are there getting their photos too. So you think, "It's no problem, I can just give my camera to the person behind me in line and let them take a picture of my wife and I." Big mistake. It's all about taking control of your environment. Understand that the person behind you is more concerned with getting their photo perfect and not about getting your photo perfect. They don't know your camera as good as you do and, chances are, they take photos about as good as your pet cat you left back at home. So many times I've seen people wait 10 or 20 minutes to get their shot, the let someone they've never met take it, and as soon as they walk back and get their camera to see the photo taken, you can see their face go from one of fun to one of disbelief that their photo looks like crap. By this time, two other groups have gone up to take their picture and you either can wait another 20 minutes or just settle on a lousy photo. The bottom line, pack a tripod in your luggage and take it with you to your shoot at the Sign. This way, you can compose the shot exactly the way you want it and, assuming you are shooting with a digital camera, you can take test shots with other people before you so when it's your turn, you get the best possible results from your camera shooting off a timer rather than from a young couple still recovering from their previous night's partying.
- Always use a flash…always! Obviously if you're shooting people in front of the Sign at night you're going to want to use a flash on your camera but even if you're shooting during the day, turn your flash on as well. "But Adam, if we're shooting in the middle of the afternoon, there is plenty of light outside. Why should I use my flash?" Well, unless you want your subjects in the photo to look like a black-and-white cookie you get at the deli, you need to tell your camera that a fill flash is needed. By default, your camera's meter readings are going to tell the camera to turn off the flash but what it doesn't know is that the light you are using is very harsh light, which is really bad for photographs. The Sign faces south, which means you will be shooting to the north. If you are shooting during the winter months, the sun in Las Vegas will be traveling over the southern sky which is helpful, but during the busy tourist months of summer, it's directly overhead. Regardless of when you are shooting, unless you are shooting within an hour of sunrise or just before sunset, the sunlight will be your enemy. Your subjects will be either dark on one side and light on the other or will have such terrible facial shadows that everyone will look like an alien when you take their picture. The solution? Force your camera to use it's flash. If you don't know how to do this, read your owner's manual. The flash will compensate for the shadows and your subjects will look great instead of like Martians.
The last and best piece of advice I can give you when taking pictures out at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign is to be patient. If you get there and others are there taking photos too, use the time wisely. When waiting in line, start taking test shots and get your camera settings read so when it's your time, you don't have to mess with your camera while others are waiting on you to get your shot and move along. Preparation is the difference between getting mediocre photos and getting a shot you will be showing with pride to your friends and family for years to come.
If you're coming to Las Vegas and want some awesome photos of your vacation or event while you're here, give me a call to book me as your own "personal paparazzi". Your event lasts but a moment, but your photos last a lifetime!
3 comments on “Las Vegas Sign Pictures”
I’ll be visiting Vegas in a couple weeks. Just wondering what settings you used to shoot the vegas sign. Mainly what settings you use when you use manual fill flash to expose people in the shot at night.
Hi Ernie. You’re asking a great question but one that’s very difficult to answer. Every time I shoot there it’s different than the last time. You’re dealing with a sign that’s lit from just before sunset to a few hours after sunrise. Because you’re shooting up into the sign, you’re going to be shooting the sky as well so this means that you might be shooting a dark foreground, a lit sign, and a lit sky behind that. So you’re dealing with three exposure situations. Also, if you are shooting when the sun it out at all, it’s going to affect your shot greatly, as is the time of year as well. Hence, your settings are going to be different when shooting out there on a morning in December than you will be when shooting at sunset in July. So, if you’re shooting the sign when it’s lit, set your flash to a “backlit” mode so for any subject you have in the foreground, the flash will adjust as a fill instead. Also, if you’re shooting the sign when sun is out, even just a little bit, make sure you use a circular polarizer on your lens to sharpen the blue of the sky.
Lastly, to answer your question as to how I shot the sign in the blog (assuming you meant the shot of just the sign itself) I actually shot that at sunrise. I had the camera on a tripod and I shot it as a seven-image composite HDR shot. I then combined the photos and removed the power lines in the background using Photoshop. If you’re coming to Vegas and want to get some great photos of you and your families or friends, you can always book a professional shoot and not have to worry about camera settings or spending time trying to get the right shot. I can do the shoot for you and take care of everything so if you’re interested in booking a shoot, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for commenting!