The Lights of Vegas

My wife and I were in Las Vegas for George Strait’s “Cowboy Rides Away” tour at the MGM Grand Garden Arena a week ago during Super Bowl weekend. The 2013 – 2014 tour is supposed to be George Strait’s last tour and he was joined by Martina McBride. We have gone to this show for the past four years and each year we manage to get better and better seats. This year we had third row floor seats and were able to get up close to the performers. I took my Sony Alpha NEX-3 with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 as I have done in years past. This year though, the camera almost did not make it past security as they questioned if the camera could be allowed into the venue. Eventually they let me in and off we went.

Since George Strait does not employ any crazy pyrotechnics or psychedelic lighting in his shows, the lighting was pretty consistent throughout the performance. I shot manual the entire night with the lens set to an aperture of f/5.6 with a 1/80 shutter speed at ISO 400. I did not get a high number of keepers due to the auto-focus, movement by the performers, shutter lag and LCD blackout duration. In retrospect I probably should have increased the ISO along with the shutter speed to eliminate motion blur but the old NEX-3 does not have the low light performance of the newer NEX models. Concert photography is something I only rarely do, but I was happy with how a couple of photos turned out. One thing was for certain during that night, shooting with the NEX really made me appreciate the ergonomics, optical viewfinder, responsiveness, autofocus and overall speed of my 5D Mark III.

George Strait Martina McBride Country Music Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena Concert

Sony Alpha NEX-3, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 at 55mm, f/5.6 for 1/80 at ISO 400

George Strait Martina McBride Country Music Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena Concert

Sony Alpha NEX-3, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 at 55mm, f/5.6 for 1/80 at ISO 400

The next day during the late evening we went to photograph the lights of the Vegas Strip. Ideally you would want to shoot sometime right after sunset to about 30 minutes after sunset where the light in the sky closely matches the lights from the buildings. During the winter this means around 5:20pm. Unfortunately, since photography was not the primary purpose of this trip, we were only able to make it out much later in the evening where the skies were void of any remaining light.

For these night shots I took the 5D Mark III along with a tripod. Exposures ranged from 1/4 to 8s. I had to get a photo of the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign (first photo below) in all of its neon glory. I remember going to Vegas with my parents when I was a child and the entire strip was neon. From the Frontier to the Sand’s to the Flamingo and Tropicana, I vividly remember being hypnotized by the glow of the lights. The second shot is looking northwest down the strip with the hotel Paris in the background. Despite all the new luxury hotels that have sprung up in the last 10 years, Paris is still in my opinion, the most beautiful and photogenic. In the last shot I used the car’s light trails as the foreground interest and used a long shutter speed to achieve the desired effect with the camera pointed south down the strip.

Welcome Fabulous Las Vegas Strip Lights CityScape Night Photo

Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4L USM at 40mm, f/8 for 1/4 at ISO 100

Las Vegas Strip Lights CityScape Night Photo

Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4L USM at 40mm, f/8 for 2s at ISO 100

Las Vegas Strip Lights CityScape Night Photo

Canon 5D Mark III, 17-40mm f/4L USM at 36mm, f/11 for 8s at ISO 100


28 thoughts on “The Lights of Vegas

  1. Excellent concert photos. It can be tricky to shoot concerts because of the often constantly shifting light conditions. Luckily this wasn’t the case here. Did you use spot metering?
    The Las vegas images are also very good. I love those light trails.

    • Thanks. When I have time, I typically shot manual and zero the exposure meter, then take a test shot. All this is done in evaluative metering. I then look at the back of the camera and specifically the histogram, then decide if I need to make an adjustment to the exposure. Your point of using spot metering is a good one and would work well for this type of lighting and if you need to nail the exposure in one shot.

  2. Beautiful photos.

    What picture style did you use in the Canon 5d Mark iii photos ?

    What post photo processing (if any) did you do ?

    I’m struggling with my 5d Mark iii at night, in terms of the picture style settings. The colors are just not vibrant at all. Was hoping for some pointers.

    • Thanks for your kind words Temoor. I don’t use Picture Styles as I shoot RAW exclusively. I PP in Lightroom and use Nik Software plug-ins also.

      My advice for night photography is 1) Get a good tripod. 2) Get a good tripod 3) Get a good tripod :)

      The problem with shooting in low light without a tripod is that you will need to bump up your ISO due to the need to keep the shutter speeds up. Increasing your ISO leads two a few things 1) Increased noise 2) Decreased dynamic range 3) loss of color accuracy. You are probably suffering from these things and thus your problem with could vibrancy. The high ISO capabilities of the 5D III are second to none, but if you want sharp, noise free images with good color accuracy, you will need to invest in a good tripod for all your low light photography.

      Hope this helps,

      • Hello Mark ,

        Thank you for your reply.

        You are correct, I do bump up the ISO significantly, so that will require a faster shutter speed, thus allowing me to hand hold my camera. The 5d Mk iii has low noise at high ISO, so I thought I could get away with using high ISOs.

        I do have a good tripod, but left it at home on my recent trip to Times Square in New York, where there are hundreds of people at night. But when I took photos there (where I hand held my camera with high ISO), I was not reproducing the colors very well. Hence my search on the internet as to what I was doing wrong, and I came across your webpage.

        I was playing round with picture styles, and having no luck there, I started playing with white balance, thinking that may be the issue – but to no avail.

        I didnt realize having a high ISO would result in loss of color vibrancy, and decreased dynamic range.

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