LAS VEGAS — I’m standing on the eighth floor of the Hard Rock Hotel parking garage, in search of the definitive shot of the Strip skyline.
Urban legend says that the top floors of parking lots provide a great view to pick up all the casinos in a camera lens. If nothing else, they make a great panorama locale, a place to stand back and capture everything from Mandalay Bay in the south all the way to the Wynn and Encore up the road.
The roof is great for a time-lapse and seeing the colored lights turn on as day turns to night.
But there are too many distractions in the way – like an apartment building and power lines – for the Hard Rock garage to be my top spot of choice.
Click through the slideshow above for a tour of the best spots in Las Vegas to take skyline photos, and read on for my choices.
The usual suspects are the places that charge admission: The Observation Desk of the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower(ticket prices start at $20), the Eiffel Tower Experience at the Paris Las Vegas hotel ($16) and the High Roller observation wheel ($22).
The Eiffel Tower Experience is the best spot to see the Fountains of Bellagio show across the street. But it’s through a cage and that’s not good. It’s very hard to shoot from up here, especially with a smartphone. There are several holes in the cage, and if you have a camera, you can stick your lens through and get something decent. Smartphone photos are more challenging. Good luck.
The Stratosphere Hotel just off the north end of the Strip is way more camera-friendly. It has an observation deck where you can snap away, looking south at the Strip with no blockage, just wide-open spaces. Tip: Nighttime is best for photos, as you’ll see in the back-to-back shots in the gallery. You can also indulge in thrill rides while up here.
The high-tech High Roller observation wheel is like a huge railroad car that happens to circle above the Strip. It’s smooth and a fun ride. You’ll be getting good shots of the key portion of the Strip (the Bellagio, Caesars Palace and Flamingo Hotel) through a window. Tip: Put your camera as close to the window as possible to help eliminate reflections.
The VooDoo Lounge at the Rio, off Flamingo Road on the west side of Las Vegas, is a great spot to look back at the full Strip. It’s up on the 51st floor and is an indoor/outdoor nightclub that doesn’t open until 8 p.m. – which means you’ll miss your sunset shot, unless you’re there in the summer.
Other favorites include the Hyde Bellagio Sunset Lounge to get close-up shots of the outdoor water show and the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay for shots up the Strip towards the Encore.
My hands-down favorite of all the locales is the Waldorf Astoria Skybar. It doesn’t charge admission, opens at 4 p.m. and just asks that you buy a drink and perhaps a snack. It has giant picture windows on the 23rd floor looking north at the Strip, from the Aria on down, and is a great spot for shooting a time-lapse as well.
Speaking of time-lapses: Timing is everything. You want to get the skyline shot in the so-called magic hour, from 30 minutes before sunset until 30 minutes afterwards. So plan your shoot accordingly. You’ll need to have a tripod, as you’ll want the camera to roll for 60 minutes straight, and hand-holding for such a long period of time isn’t possible.
The Skybar was good about letting me put the tripod in front of the window, out of the way of guests.
Finally, there’s one more option for a skyline shot, and it’s one that probably more people attempt than any other: taking a photo from one of the many pedestrian bridges that dot the Strip, connecting travelers from one casino to another.
Unfortunately, the bridges are covered with dirty windows and barriers that make it a challenge to get the shot. However, each bridge usually has one opening, on the side, that will allow you to get an unobstructed photo of the Strip.
Good luck and have fun in Vegas.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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