Shooting at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas

I have been living in Las Vegas for over two years, and until a couple weeks ago, I had never gone to the top of the Stratosphere, which by some accounts has the best view of the city. It was worth it, but not just for the view. The view was good, but it was also fun to see exactly what goes on up there.

View of Las Vegas from the Stratosphere
View of Las Vegas from the Stratosphere

There’s the restaurant and bar, and it really seems like having dinner or drinks would be a nice way to enjoy the view. But then there are the other activities--the rides, and the jumping. It’s really amazing watching people experience these amusement park rides over 1100 feet above ground. Then I found the jumpers. These are the people who have decided that the elevator ride to the top was too boring, and they would like to find a more interesting way back down. I have to admit, the elevator was pretty boring. There are no windows or anything, and you have no sense of how high you are climbing or how fast you are getting there. The next thing you know the doors open and you’re there. So I can understand how someone might want to find a more exciting way to get back down.

Well, I imagine strapping yourself into a harness and dropping 1100 feet on a rope towards a bull’s eye painted on the ground below is certainly a more exhilarating way to get down. I witnessed several people make this descent. They just drop and get smaller and smaller, very quickly, until they reach the bottom. They’re attached to a rope and everything is set up for safety, but the bull’s eye at the bottom is a nice touch!

Anyway, I was there mainly to check everything out but also to do some photography. Tripods are not allowed, and so I was not overly optimistic about the prospects. I arrived shortly before sunset and would have liked to take longer exposures, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that without the tripod. My plan was to take as many shots as possible and see if I could make anything out of them. As it turned out, a tripod wouldn’t really have helped because of the way the observation decks are set up.

The Stratosphere has both an indoor and outdoor observation deck at the top. When I arrived, I first went up to the outdoor observation deck. I knew immediately that I would not be able to photograph from there. There are protective bars and no way to shoot through them--they are too far away. So I went down to the indoor observation deck one level below, and that’s where I took the photograph here.

It’s a little difficult because the windows are angled out away from you, and there are also reflections to deal with. I got as close to the glass as I could and set up my camera to take as long an exposure as possible for hand-held operation. I went down to 1/20 of a second for some of my shots. That’s normally too slow for hand-held operation to avoid camera shake blur, but I was able to use the window to help stabilize me. You can’t lean on those windows--there are signs telling you not to do that, and frankly, unless you have a desire to head toward the bull’s eye without the benefit of the harness and rope, it’s probably a good idea to heed that warning! Even so, I was able to rest the camera lens lightly against the window to gain some stability. One other trick I used was that I shot in high speed continuous mode, meaning that as I held down the shutter release, the camera shot off multiple exposures in succession until I released the button. Shooting that way increases the chance that one of the images will be in focus.

The tripod would not have helped because I wouldn’t have been able to get the lens flush with the window, and that would likely have resulted in reflections and a fuzzier image. So I worked with what I had and hoped for the best. I ended up with the image here. I think it’s a decent result considering the shooting conditions. The main road to the right of center is Las Vegas Blvd., and you can see it leading up to the heart of the Strip. The other clearly visible road to the left of center is Paradise Road, which leads directly toward McCarran Airport. The airport is that grey area below the mountains near the horizon.

The trip was worth it, and I would recommend visiting the Stratosphere if you come to Las Vegas. There’s only one way up, but at least a couple of different ways back down. I took the elevator.