Life as a professional photographer in Las Vegas is certainly not without variety. Tomorrow I’m shooting interior photos of a restaurant for their website, the night after that I’m photographing a showgirl on the Las Vegas Strip, and the day after that I’ve got two commercial photo shoots: one for a company that makes cabinet hinges and the other for a company who makes specialized speaker cables. Yep, life as a Las Vegas photographer really is like a box of chocolates. So while the emails I get off my website are typically about bookings for events or commercial work, the emails I get off my blog are quite different. As of the time of this blog post, vegasphotographyblog.com has over 2,600 subscribers from over 20 different countries around the world. While I’m excited to see that some of them are magazine editors, photographers, and Las Vegas residents, over 80% of my readers are simply tourists looking for great places to take pictures when they come to Las Vegas. As such, the questions that come in from my blog are typically about where to shoot or how to shoot a specific landmark.
I recently got several repeat questions about the good and bad of shooting in different hot spots in Las Vegas and so I figured, why not write a blog about it?! The first interesting email I received last week off the blog was regarding how I shoot higher profile individuals as they were a local celebrity and wanted some new promo shots done for themself and their show. So, to answer that question, I decided to revolve this blog entry around a famous Las Vegas model, Olivia Black. Olivia has received some fame (and quite a bit of a fan base) from her appearances on the popular television show Pawn Stars, which airs on the History Channel. Olivia joined the show in their fifth season and recently left the program due to unknown reasons. In February of 2013 Olivia and I hit the town and got some great photos around Las Vegas which I’m excited to share with you here!
Below are the top places people email me about off my blog. I shoot quite frequently at these different locations and so I thought it might be worthy of discussing the good and bad of shooting at these various locations should you want to book a shoot there for a wedding, anniversary, bachelorette party, engagement, birthday, or any other kind of shoot.
Welcome to Las Vegas Sign
This is by far my most requested shoot location by out-of-towners. In the past 15 years I’ve done professional shoots at this location literally hundreds of times where I have shot Las Vegas showgirls, Ms. Olympiad contestants, skateboarders jumping across the sign, people on motorcycle, people on horseback, weddings, birthday parties, bachelorette parties, snowball fights (yes, it does snow in Las Vegas), pillow fights, and once I even shot 100 people dressed as zombies. In August of 2013 I’m booked to shoot a ping pong tournament being organized at the sign. Yes, things can get crazy there. I remember back when it was nothing but a dirt lot and now there is parking, street performers, and a walking path. The problem is, it’s always busy and parking there is difficult so back in April of 2012 the city approved the expansion of an additional 20 parking spaces coming soon. There are also talks of a crosswalk being installed there as well so stay tuned for that.
There are good and bad times to shoot at the sign based on lighting and people-traffic. If you are looking to get a shot of the sign in the day, right after sunrise or just before sunset is your best bet. In photography, we call those the “golden hours” and when taking pictures of the sign the sun will be at your back. In the afternoon though, shadows cast on the sign and on people are not very flattering so you are best to shoot during those times. However, if you want REALLY GREAT photos of the sign, the best time to book a photo shoot there is in the evening although shooting someone out there at night with your iPhone or point-and-shoot camera just won’t work well. When I shoot someone there in the evening, I typically bring at least one large light source off the camera with me to make sure that everything is lit well. You also need to be aware that certain angles at the sign make for better photos than others. This just comes down to experience but typically the shot most people get when they are out there really isn’t a good one because of this reason. I talk about this extensively in my blog that the difference between a fun photo for Facebook and an amazing photo you hang on your wall in a frame is not just having the right gear for the job buy having the right person use it to get the best possible photo and getting photos at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign is no exception.
If you are looking to have photos done at the sign, there are a few things to remember. First, the later in the evening you go the easier it will be to shoot there. The odds on expecting to find an empty parking spot on Saturday at 7 PM is about equal to that of being hit by lightning while you’re cashing in your winning lottery ticket. Especially on the weekends, you’ll see an endless wave of tourists wanting to get their photos, Newlyweds getting photos done by one of the many local chapels, and even busloads of tourists wanting to get a snapshot of the sign as it is typically one of the stops by the open-top tour busses in the area. The earlier you go, the more patient you need to be.
There is also the issue of the variety of street performers out there as well. Many of them are great but one thing is for sure, they ALL hustle for tips. Normally this isn’t too bad but I’ve had a few run ins with some pretty obnoxious ones before. Also, you’ll find some “photographers” out there who will grab your camera and offer to take a photo for you…in exchange for a tip. It’s a very captive audience so many of these folk see it as a payday if they can’t keep from fighting with one another out there over their street performer turf. This is why you always want to have professional photos at the sign which will help to navigate all these little hiccups and get some amazing photos as well.
Views of the City
Every month my inbox fills with requests on where the best places are to shoot “the city lights” of Las Vegas. Las Vegas is an amazing place to see from a distance. I remember as a young child driving to California on vacation with my parents only to return in the evening and seeing that huge valley of light as we come over the hill on I-15 from “State Line” as it was called back then before it was named Primm. Today, there are a lot of great locations to get photos of the city but you have to get creative. The higher up you can get, the better. You also need to know the town really well so you can better understand how great views can be blocked by electrical wires, construction cranes, trees and landscaping. Still though, when you find a great location, Las Vegas has a look that is unmatched by any other city in the world. You just have to know where to look. 😉 If you can swing it, great places to take photos of the Strip from high above would be the Ghost Bar on the 55th floor of the Palms. It’s outdoors and has an outstanding view of the city.
The problem is, there are so many great views of the city have something blocking it. One of my favorite views of Las Vegas is when you exit I-215 North on to Summerlin Parkway at night. It’s a high enough elevation to where you get to see the entire city but there are so many obstacles in the way that taking a photo up there is virtually impossible if you want a good photo. Even photos from atop the Stratosphere Tower aren’t much good due to their guard rails prohibiting any good photos of the city below. It really just comes down to knowing where to go and there are very few places in the Las Vegas valley that have an unobstructed view. There is a big difference between a great scenic look of the city and having a great photo opportunity of the city. For example, the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay has an amazing view of Las Vegas, but because you’re behind a wall of glass, taking any photos of the strip with someone in the shot is pretty much impossible because of the reflection. Either your subject will look great and have a washed out wall behind them or the city will look great and your subject will be shadowed out. If you use a flash, then all you get is a bright reflection off the glass. So the key to shooting the lights of Las Vegas is just knowing where to go and some of us photographers don’t share that secret lightly!
If you just want some cool snapshots of Las Vegas though with nobody in them, a few suggestions would be:
- Stratosphere Tower
- Eiffel Tower Observation Deck at Paris
- Voodoo Lounge atop the Rio Hotel
- Mandarin Bar atop the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Sometimes the view of Las Vegas can best be seen from inside it as well. From the street level on The Strip, it can be a real visual overload of color, light, and animation. In one direction you have a pirate battle and when you turn around you have moving billboards advertising services unimaginable in any other place. Most recently I was doing a shoot on the Strip with a wedding couple when a giant flatbed truck came driving down the strip with CeeLo Green doing a grand entrance at Planet Hollywood for his new show, Loberace. The truck featured CeeLo playing a flaming piano as giant fire balls shot from the vehicle surrounded by various showgirls. Only in Vegas.
So, for me, the best view of the city of Las Vegas is the view from within. You just can’t beat the fun, the excitement, the energy, and the craziness of Las Vegas from any other view and it’s one of my most requested photo shoot themes from out-of-towners.
The Neon Boneyard
I receive emails on a regular basis from people who want to shoot out at the Neon Boneyard and unfortunately by the time we’re done with our conversation, we’re booking a shoot somewhere else. The Neon Boneyard is the graveyard for old casino and other Vegas landmarks to bury their signs and marquees. What most people don’t know about the beautiful marquee signs in front of the majority of Las Vegas hotels and casinos is that the hotel/casino doesn’t actually own them, they lease them! Yes, you read that right. The huge Las Vegas landmarks actually do not own their own signs. The reason is because these signs require a huge amount of specialized maintenance and keeping the staff needed to accomplish this maintenance isn’t very practical. This is just one of a very long list of things that most hotel-casinos actually do not own (casinos don’t own their own slot machines either!) so when a hotel goes out of business, their customized sign is of no use to anyone so the sign company (in most cases YESCO, the Young Electric Sign Company) retires the sign into the “Neon Boneyard”.
For years, they denied there ever was such a thing but all the people with photos of it, such as myself, knew otherwise. It used to be in another location where it is now but over time, some of their old signs were renovated and placed at strategic places around The Strip and Downtown Las Vegas but the others were placed in the Neon Boneyard (if you watch movies such as Mars Attacks, you can see the Boneyard at its previous location where they filmed in it for the movie). In time, they cleared out the area a bit and opened it to the public for photo shoots and tours. Back in 2009 I was actually the last professional photographer to do a photo shoot in the boneyard before they closed for a lengthy renovation. It used to be organized with big open spaces and the letters from many of the signs were arranged to spell fun words to make it as “Vegas-y” as possible. It was a lot of fun and I used to shoot in there often for weddings or tourists that wanted a souvenir unlike anything else Las Vegas had to offer. Then, they decided to remodel.
Reopening in 2012, I have to say the remodel is a huge disappointment. They took away all the fun in an effort to make it more “artsy”. I met with one of the curators of the museum once and she told me, “We actually are asked all the time from people who used to remember the old boneyard as to why we don’t have letters spelling anything anymore. I guess we just never realized how much people like that sort of thing!” The bottom line is, they are clueless. Now, everything is arranged in a giant donut shape with signs piled on top of one another or layered so you can only see some signs in the front and many of the signs aren’t even upright. There is no space to do a proper photo shoot anymore and the worst part is the COST! Their primary revenue stream is their tours and they do book those up days and sometimes even weeks in advance. If you want to reserve some time to book a photo shoot in there, it interrupts their tour schedule so as of March, 2013, the minimum cost to reserve the area for a photo shoot is now $400/hour. This has now made it very cost-prohibitive for most people to want to get a simple photo shoot there. Sometimes change is good, but as it stands right now, my opinion is that the Neon Boneyard hasn’t changed for the better. I definitely recommend taking a tour of the site but as for having photos done there, Las Vegas has many better choices.
Fountains at Bellagio
Next to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, I get more questions about shooting there than any other place in Vegas. Debuting in 1998 these fountains are a main attraction in Las Vegas by millions of visitors every year. Whether you watch the fountain show in the day or at night, it’s one of the free activities in Las Vegas no visitor should ever miss. While the daytime shows are amazing, truly seeing the Fountains of Bellagio at night is the best time to watch the show. It’s also the best time to have photos done there as well. The shows run on a variable schedule but it’s very easy to plan time around one or even two shows to get some great photos. The schedule of shows can be found on the Bellagio website by CLICKING HERE.
To get really good photos there, you definitely want to scout out a location 10-15 minutes before the next show starts. You need to be aware that many others are there to watch the show as well so getting photos can be a little tricky and will require some patience but the results you can get out there is fantastic. It’s a backdrop of beauty unlike any other place in Las Vegas, if not the world. One thing to consider when doing a photo shoot there is that sometimes, the straight-on shot is not always the best way to get a great photo. There are many different angles of shooting the Bellagio fountains so experimenting on different angles can be fun. In fact, it took me several years of shooting there before I started realizing that the obvious photo op there was not necessarily the best one and having excellent lighting for a shoot there is key. Lastly, the performance of the fountain show is subject to closure if inclement weather is present so if there are high winds or rain, the shows will be canceled. These photos I did with Olivia required more than one light source to capture not just the energy of the fountains but the energy of Olivia as well!
Las Vegas has so much neon we even have a part of Downtown called “Neonopolis”. That’s a lot of neon! There are so many great places to capture neon in Sin City that it’s difficult to really say where to go to get the best shots of it. If you are looking for more of a modern-day neon look, any of the newer casinos have some amazing marquees to fit the bill. Paris, the Riviera, Circus Circus, and even some of the local properties like Texas Station and the Fiesta all have great neon but to really get the old-Vegas feel, there is nothing like the neon at the Flamingo or the Horseshoe. If the classy casino neon isn’t your cup of vodka, then there are some other amazing locations to get some old-Vegas neon photos that aren’t too far off the beaten path. You just need to know where to look. There are some awesome old neon signs Downtown near Fremont Street or on the north part of Las Vegas Blvd. As you explore more into North Las Vegas that often goes unrecognized as beautiful, old vintage neon you just can’t find anywhere else. If it’s a neon photo shoot you want, Las Vegas is the place to come! Be sure to check out my blog on Noir Photos in Las Vegas to see even more great Las Vegas neon!
Downtown Las Vegas – Fremont Street Experience.
I remember growing up in Las Vegas and actually being able to drive down Fremont Street with my friends. It was like going from night to day in a matter of seconds. Taking people from out of town down Fremont Street was an experience you’d never forget. This all came to an end when vehicular traffic was closed in 1995 to pave the way for the Fremont Street Experience. A cleaned-up version of the old Downtown area of Las Vegas is now open only to pedestrian traffic and the source for the canopy show in the sky which occurs every hour in the evening. A few things to be aware of when wanting to get photos Downtown is that street performers are now a very common part of the landscape so be aware that every five feet you’ll have an Elvis impersonator or Disney character asking for “tips”, although with some recent ordinances being passed by the Las Vegas city council, this may be coming to an end soon. Also, because there are so many people walking about, it’s difficult to get a photo out there that looks great without this hindrance so the only solution is to either shoot very late in the evening or you just need to be selective on where you shoot. There are so many awesome places to get photos done Downtown, but you just need to know where to look. The neon of the Horseshoe, the retro Vegas sign and martini glass on the east side of the Fremont Street Experience, and the lights underneath the main valet of the Plaza are great places to get great photos done. If it’s a classic Vegas look you want, nothing beats the Fremont Street Experience and surrounding area for a flavor of old and new Vegas alike.
I wanted to thank all my readers for submitting such great questions about Las Vegas in from the blog. Sin City is my native home and in case you haven’t noticed from my writing, I really love this crazy town and am always happy read your comments so please feel free to click the “COMMENT” link below and drop me a note. Also, thanks to the spectacular model, Olivia Black, for helping out with this as well. Please be sure follow Olivia Black’s Facebook Fan Page at: www.facebook.com/missoliviablack. She is currently booking up frequently for photo shoots so it was a real pleasure to be able to work with her on this blog. Whenever I need an awesome tattoo model, Olivia is absolutely on my speed dial!
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Lastly, if you are interested in booking a photo shoot at these, or any other fun and exotic locations in Las Vegas, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!