Vegas Seven

A City in Focus

At long last, our photographer takes flight to capture little Las Vegas.

My first break in photography was for the in-flight magazine of Japan’s All Nippon Airways. After the publication was printed, I would scour the pages and admire the work of other photographers, inevitably pausing when I saw a uniquely framed shot of a stunning Japanese landscape spread across two pages. I often couldn’t tell if it was a toy model or the real deal. This was before I fully understood the art of tilt-shift photography. But once I did, I made myself a promise: One day, I would use a tilt-shift lens to photograph iconic areas in Las Vegas.

It took more than five years, but last month I finally fulfilled that promise. After securing a ride with Sundance Helicopters, I consulted Google Earth to plan the route, selecting prominent areas of the Valley: the Strip (of course), Lake Las Vegas, Red Rock, Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, etc. Not that I had final say on the locations—we were at the mercy of the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval.

I did, however, choose our departure time. Because shadows are crucial to this type of aerial photography, there were only two ideal options: early morning or late afternoon. We opted for a 4 p.m. takeoff, and as soon as the helicopter lifted off the pad, it dawned on me that the only thing keeping me inside the doorless aircraft was my seatbelt—which sounds obvious, yet the realization still causes your pulse to race.

Perhaps to test my alertness—or my bladder control—the pilot’s first maneuver was to bank hard to the right to head north on the Strip. When he did, I was literally facing the ground. It was both awesome and frightening. Then my inner photographer kicked in and I started clicking away.

We did a couple of runs up and down the Strip, then headed toward Nellis and the speedway. From there, we went to Red Rock, which was the only place I had difficulty shooting—because the topography looked different from the air, I just couldn’t get my bearings. Another challenge: waiting for the Bellagio Fountains show to begin—I think we hovered above the Cromwell for about seven minutes. A split second after we decided to leave, the show started, and the pilot made a sharp turn so I could get the shot.

By the time our two-hour adventure across the Valley ended, I had taken more than 2,000 photographs. My editor and I then narrowed 2,000 down to 200, eventually settling on the seven images that you see on these pages (you can view additional shots—as well as video of the experience—at VegasSeven.com/LittleVegas).

Of course, now that I’ve scratched one city off my tilt-shift photography bucket list, it’s time to add another: Next stop, Dubai!

Anthony Mair

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