What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas… But Should It?
It was in the midst of summer vacation, and I was going to Las Vegas with Bruce for our first-ever shoot together out of New York City. We were going there to photograph the magnificent Grand Canyon so I could add some landscape pictures to my portfolio. We would also be taking a helicopter ride to get some great aerial shots.
Bruce gave me instructions on how to shoot the Grand Canyon. For one thing, he told me to set the ISO number 200 and f-stop to f/11. He also told me that my shutter speed should be high to reduce any movement due to the engine of the helicopter. I constantly looked out of the window to see if there were any rugged mountains or canyons, hoping that we were getting closer to Las Vegas. Then, the next thing I knew, Bruce was shaking me to wake up. We were at McCarran International Airport. As we waited for our luggage, I marveled at the slot machines, which were all over the airport. I would have loved to take photos of the old-timers hopefully dropping quarter after quarter into the machines. I hoped that at least one of them hit a long-awaited jackpot.
When we reached Las Vegas, I could not wait to see the strip for myself. I had read that the tower at the Stratosphere is 1,149 feet high and is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States. I knew that I would have a great photo opportunity at the top of the tower, especially overlooking the gorgeous valleys of the West.
The valet opened up my cab door and said, “Welcome to Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” That gave me a real chuckle! In order to get to the elevators that would take us up to our rooms, we needed to pass through the hotel’s large casino. There must have been fifty table games going on and a thousand slot machines making all sorts of interesting noises. I passed one ecstatic lady who had just won a jackpot—another good photo opportunity, and my camera was packed! Well, there would be plenty more, I told myself. It’s funny how it works—how a hobby like this can start coloring the way you view everything! In some ways, I realized, I was starting to look at life as a series of photo ops. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think, because it means I am more conscious of memorable moments, and really see them, even if I don’t always get to capture them on film.
From our window I could see the whole Las Vegas Strip—glittery, glitzy hotels and the flashing lights of the Hard Rock Café. Bruce told me this was a perfect time to shoot the Strip. The sun was just to the east, so there would not be any glare. I adjusted my camera to ISO 100 and f/16. Now, for the first time, Bruce set up and taught me how to use a tripod that controls the camera so the picture doesn’t get blurry. Before taking the shot, I placed my 1GB memory card, which can hold three hundred fourteen pictures, inside the camera and began shooting right in front of the window, one foot away, as Bruce instructed me, again to avoid any glare that would destroy the photo.
The heliport was only fifteen minutes away and surprisingly tiny. Bruce told me not to worry and just concentrate on shooting pictures. Then he suggested that I set my ISO setting to 100 and the shutter speed to 1/500 of a second, which determines the amount of light let into the camera. When we stepped into the helicopter, I felt claustrophobic, sitting almost on top of the pilot and close to Bruce. I wasn’t sure how I was going to shoot the serene Grand Canyon with no room to maneuver—not to mention with my hands shaking!
Bruce allowed me to switch places with him so that I had a better view and more room to take pictures. I buckled up and prepared for takeoff. All of us were wearing microphones so that we could speak to each other while we were up in the air. The microphones reminded me of the headset Bruce always wears when he speaks to his paparazzi pals. We were the first helicopter to take off. The pilot must have read my mind because he said there was no need to be scared.
When the chopper got to a high elevation, the views were amazing. The whole Strip was set off with countless flashing lights. As the helicopter was moving, the pilot kept up a tour guide narration, telling us where we were going. He
pointed out every hotel on the Strip from a bird’s eye view as we headed southeast toward the canyons.
Bruce told me to shoot the distant canyons for a great landscape shot. In just minutes we flew over a number of small towns, where the houses and cars looked like Monopoly pieces. I kept on shooting away with my Canon Rebel. The people in the back of the helicopter didn’t say a word. They just concentrated on the spectacular views. In about thirty minutes we reached the gigantic Hoover Dam. Putting my fears aside, I joined Bruce in taking loads of pictures of the dam with the canyons in the distance. What a view!
The sky was a periwinkle backdrop with cotton clouds floating here and there as we continued flying through the valleys and canyons, all of which had that red clay color so emblematic of the West.
At one point, the helicopter got so close to a stone canyon that I thought we were going to crash, but fortunately we landed perfectly on the pad. This trip induced more fear in me than any amusement ride I’d ever taken!
The next hour and a half flew right by with our shutter fingers clicking away, and by 4:30 p.m. we were back at the Maverick heliport.