When I was in Las Vegas two weeks ago, I took a helicopter tour that included the Las Vegas Strip, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon. I chose a tour from Maverick because the price was right ($479 less $100 discount) and it had all the options I was looking for on a single tour. All the photos you see here and in the gallery were shot through the helicopter’s window (except for some taken during a refueling stop and when we set down on the canyon floor). There was a fair amount of glare and reflection on those windows throughout the trip – there are one or two photos that I feel are “keepers” despite that.
I was picked up from my hotel at 6 AM (yawn) and it was raining lightly in Vegas; fortunately the tour went on as scheduled. As we flew off and as the storm moved away, the combination meant some excellent light and clouds for my first photos.
One of the things I was keeping in mind both when I was shooting and later, back at home, processing what I shot, was something I’d read from Ansel Adams, about how with his photos he wasn’t merely capturing an image and presenting it, that his goal was to make the viewer feel the emotion he felt when he was taking the picture. For me, this meant pushing both the contrast and the color saturation on many of these images which emphasizes certain aspects of what I was seeing and I believe gives them more of an emotional impact.
Here’s the Hoover Dam. I’d walked across it perhaps 25 years earlier.
As we flew further east, we left the storm behind and the early morning light brought spectacular contrasts.
Finally we approached the Grand Canyon.
It didn’t occur to me until later that there was no point when we flew high enough to get a panoramic view of the entire Canyon. At the time, I was too excited by everything I saw to even think about that. This seems to be some sort of research or observation point:
And here’s the Skywalk, a place where you can walk out over a plexiglass platform and look straight down into the Canyon.
It’s difficult to wrap your head around the sheer scale of this place via photos; perhaps the helicopter in the next shot helps give you a better idea.
We set down on the floor of the Canyon for 30 minutes. No smoking, no toilet, but the pilot brought along a cooler with champagne, juice and some snacks. I’d been to the Canyon once before but had remained on the rim; it was exciting to actually be IN the Canyon for the first time.
Then spectacular views of Lake Mead on the way back.
Overall, the trip may seem expensive but I thought it was worth every penny, both for the actual experience and for the photos I brought back with me. Our pilot was great and the flight was smooth. I was concerned about seating – the helicopter has 2 rows of 4 and I didn’t want to get stuck in the back row in a center seat. Fortunately that never happened, perhaps in part because I was the only person taking the tour alone. For the first and last legs of the trip I had rear row window seats and for the middle portion of the trip I was in the front row. I’d read about some of the other tour operators charging you an extra $50 to guarantee a front row seat (and then, according to some reviews on TripAdvisor, not always honoring that even if you’d paid) but there was none of this with Maverick. Everyone paid the same price and everyone had an opportunity to have a window seat for at least part of the trip. If I get back to this area again, I have no doubt that I’ll do this trip again.
Photography note: I was shooting with my Nikon D700. I had only brought along one lens for the trip, my trusty Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 (which, incidentally, does not offer any image stabilization feature). Because of the speed and vibration of the helicopter, I decided to shoot in shutter priority mode, shooting most often at 1/500th of a second and making minor adjustments via either the exposure compensation dial or the ISO setting. I think my results speak to how well that approach worked for this shoot. All photos subsequently processed in Adobe Lightroom. I shot around 900 photos during this tour and it took me almost two weeks to process them and knock the number down to a “representative sampling” of just 75 or so – at which point I gave up trying to edit down further! I’m really pleased with the way these came out and I hope you enjoy them.
Lots more photos from the tour are on the Gallery page.