Las Vegas photos come alive in the magic hour

Sunrise, sunset. It’s not just a moving song from a hit Broadway musical. It’s also the ideal times to take beautiful photos to help commemorate your Vegas vacation.

Neon illuminations of Las Vegas Strip at sunrise. Photo by Matthew Dixon / Getty Images

In the words of the late, great Galen Rowell “There are only two parts of the day for the landscape photographer, early morning and evening light.”

Las Vegas is known for its neon signage and it’s hard to argue that the city looks amazing at night. But the way we see it, the best Vegas parties last ’til sunrise anyway — you might as well take advantage.

Photographer Jeff Mitchum, who owns two galleries on the Las Vegas Strip, says that the concurrence of soft and warm light, known as Golden Hour, takes place 30 minutes before and after sunrise and sunset.

“The light becomes warmer as the sun sets on the horizon, which lengthens the light allowing the fuller spectrum of color,” explains Mitchum. “The light is the warmer yellowish light that transitions from the harsh blue light of mid sun. So shoot it.”

Skies filled with clouds will also enhance Golden Hour photography. And while wildfires in California, Arizona and Nevada are tragic, the smoke makes for gorgeous sunset shots.

“Don’t let bad weather keep you inside,” said Mitchum. ‘You want moody skies and clouds.”

Golden Hour goes hand-in-hand with Blue Hour, a period of twilight every morning and night when the sun is below the horizon and the sky goes deep blue.

Neon Museum during Golden Hour. Jennifer Whitehair /

Neon Museum during Golden Hour. Jennifer Whitehair /

The concepts of Golden Hour and Blue Hour are so popular among photographers and photo enthusiasts that photogenic tourist attractions like the Neon Museum actually offer a sunset tour known as the Magic Hour Tour.

Regular tours at the Neon Museum require visitors to stay with their tour guide and limit their photography to the use of a single camera with no equipment, but the Magic Hour Tour allows more leeway.

“Our ‘Magic Hour’ photo tours give visitors yearning for more time a full hour of Neon Boneyard access during the most beautiful light of the day, just as the sun sets,” said Danielle Kelly, executive director of the Neon Museum. “They can bring in a tripod or any other photo equipment they desire and shoot photos for personal use to their heart’s content.”

The Neon Museum is just one of many great spots for shooting gorgeous Las Vegas photos during Golden and Blue Hours.

Former Las Vegas Sun photographer Leila Navidi said one spot for taking great photos of the valley and the Las Vegas Strip is the top floor of the McCarran International Airport Terminal 1 parking garage. It’s probably not on the typical tourist’s beaten path, but it might be worth the detour for those of you with an early morning flight.

Twilight falls on the Las Vegas Strip and the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino. Photo by Leila Navidi / Las Vegas Sun

Other great spots for Las Vegas tourists to take photos include:

The Las Vegas Strip
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Strip runs north to south. So expect different results (and different buildings) during sunrise and sunset. Sunrise is a particularly good time to shoot if you want to avoid getting pedestrians in your shot as fewer tourists are on the Strip in the early morning hours.

The Linq and High Roller
Between the LED lighting, architecture and tallest observation wheel in the world (the High Roller), this is the newest, must-photograph site in Las Vegas. Blue hour provides some nice play of light off the neon-clad buildings, colorfully lit fountains and the High Roller.

Aria at CityCenter and Wynn Las Vegas
Due to their reflective surfaces, these hotels are great to capture during sunset as they will pick up nice reflections of the valley’s mountains and clouds. Wynn and Encore’s bronze coloring may not allow for quite as clear of a reflection, but still makes for a cool effect.

Cosmopolitan room balconies
Great for sunrise or sunset, this is the “lazy” photographers dream. You don’t even have to change out of your pajamas or leave the hotel. Just wake up and shoot the sunrise, which makes for nice lighting effects on the surrounding hotels. Your view will depend on your room, but we are rather partial to pictures from the north side that overlooks the Bellagio Fountains.

Morning light highlights cactus blossoms in Las Vegas. Photo by Jennifer Whitehair /

Springs Preserve
The best time to shoot is end of March or early April when everything is blooming. Sunrise highlights the blooms, so let nature do your work for you. You can also get shots of the Las Vegas Valley from the cafe’s balcony.

Eiffel Tower at the Paris Las Vegas
Some of the best pictures of the Las Vegas Strip are taken from on high. Newspaper photographers work to get permission from hotels to have roof access. Most visitors don’t have this option, so the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas is a great alternative. You can get some height and it doesn’t require any sort of special access, but you will have to buy a ticket. It also provides a great view of the Bellagio Fountains.

Stratosphere observation deck
Consistently voted the best view in Las Vegas, this is also a great way to get some shots from above, but your canvas is wider. This is ideal for sunset only, since the observation deck is not open at sunrise.

Bellagio Fountains and Mirage Volcano
These are both popular for photographs, but we suggest trying to shoot them from unique angles rather than straight on during Golden and Blue Hours. You’ll get better shots and, if it’s a particularly beautiful sunset, you’ll get more sky and play of light on surrounding buildings.

Caesars Palace and the Venetian
Both iconic hotels have interesting architecture. The lighting and shadows captured during sunrise and sunset make for some beautiful photos. If you can’t go to Rome or Venice, this is the next best thing.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign
Best shot on a day with lots of clouds, we suggest laying or squatting down and shooting from the left or the right for different angles.

Valley of Fire at Sunset. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Red Rock Canyon & Valley of Fire
Red Rock is located in the west valley and Valley of Fire is located in the east. Both sunrise and sunset enhance the red rocks and interesting geological architecture at these parks.

Lake Las Vegas
More picturesque than Lake Mead, residential areas and marshlands add to the allure of sunrise and sunset photos here. You will also be able to get some great reflective shots off the water.

Death Valley & Grand Canyon
There are so many fantastic photo opportunities at both these parks that photographers tend to return many times for new photographs. If you go, plan to stay overnight.

Nevada is home to a number of ghost towns. Rhyolite is an especially great one to shoot because its only 120 miles from Las Vegas and the eerie ruins of the Cook Bank Building make for amazing photos.

Sunset helicopter tours
These shots will be taken inside a sealed environment, possibly through tinted windows, but with the right filters a skillful photographer can capture some beautiful shots of the Strip from above.

Photography tips from Jeff Mitchum

Renowned landscape photographer Jeff Mitchum offers the following tips for aspiring photographers:

"Three Brothers" by Jeff Mitchum

  • Arrive early and stay late. By arriving early, watching and arranging the scene in the viewfinder you will find unique perspectives.
  • To successfully capture an image you must find the emotional connection. What makes for great images is the ability of people to relate to the space.
  • Eliminate clutter in your photographs. Snapshots are good with people, but avoid the temptation to just shoot. You will be surprised at how much more engaging your images will be if you can keep unnecessary distractions out of our photos.
  • Try using a tripod for longer exposures.
  • Look at getting lower, higher, or sideways. Study before you push the shutter.
  • Find an extra element in the foreground if possible. Think of a horizontal staircase that leads your eye throughout the scene to the end. This lets the visual and emotional journey develop.

Examples of Golden Hour photography in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas