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How to Photograph the Fountains of the Bellagio at Night

The Fountains of the Bellagio
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The Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas has one of the best, if not THE best, free entertainment around - called The Fountains of the Bellagio. Every evening right after sunset in the pond that is out in front of the Bellagio, hundreds of high-pressure water jets create a truly spectacular water show. If you happen to be in Las Vegas, taking in this water show should be considered a must-do event.

The water show happens every 15 minutes and runs to either 11pm or Midnight, I forget which. Each water show last around four to five minutes. The fountains of water are synchronized to the music that plays, providing a wonderful and very memorable free event.

Like everyone else in Las Vegas, if you happen to take in the Bellagio water show, you are likely to want to photograph it. Well, if you want to take pictures of the Fountains of the Bellagio you’ll need a few things as well as follow a few simple techniques. And oh yeah, while you might get lucky, you can probably forget about getting a good picture with a simple point and shoot camera, especially if you don’t have a good tripod.

Equipment Needed

The Fountains of the Bellagio
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Here’s a list of equipment photographers might want to take if you plan on trying to capture good photos of the Fountains of the Bellagio.

  1. Tripod – A Tripod is essential if you want to get sharp, crisp images. Unless you dial back to F2, set the ISO to 1600 and find a steady perch, without a tripod, you WILL be disappointed usually with the pictures you take.
  2. SLR Camera with Full Manual Controls – Yes, you will really want a SLR camera, be it digital or film. Of course, higher end “box” cameras also work, but who wants to drag those things around Las Vegas? Additionally, while most new cameras today shoot superbly at night on automatic mode, due to the lighting conditions of the Bellagio when the Fountains are running, it will be essential that you have the ability to have full manual control over both the shutter speed and aperture size. The bright lights of the Bellagio Fountains will play total havoc on a cameras light sensor.
  3. Wide Angle Lenses – By wide, I mean 50mm or less. While zoom lenses above 50mm might be nice for certain types of close-ups, if you want to capture the whole fountain, you’ll need a wide angle lens. How wide is up to you really. By and large, I ended up using a 28mm – 35mm lens for most photos I’ve taken of the Fountains of the Bellagio.

My Own Equipment

The Fountains of the Bellagio
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For what it’s worth, here’s the equipment I used for all my night shooting in Las Vegas, including the Fountains of the Bellagio.

  1. Canon 20D Digital SLR Camera
  2. Manfrotto Portable Tripod (not the greatest of tripods, but it works and is light)
  3. Canon 18-40mm L Class Lens for Digital Cameras
  4. Wired Shutter Remote Switch

Helpful Hints and Tricks for Night Photography

  1. Camera Type - Digital Cameras are exceptionally nice, as you can see the photo after you have taken it. This will allow you to grab the proper exposure. So even if you use film for your main shooting, consider taking a digital camera along simply to make sure all exposure settings are correct. Once the Fountains spring to life, you won’t have time to change!
  2. Aperture Settings - Common sense stuff here, but lets review to make sure. If you want to capture the intricacies of each fountain, set the aperture size to F4. This will allow you to get detailed captures of the water while still having the hotel in focus in the background. If you want the water to be more “glass like” smooth, set the aperture to F8 or somewhat smaller, depending on the effect you wish to achieve.
  3. Setting Up - The Fountains of the Bellagio is one very crowded event. Happily, at least when I was there, the Bellagio is cool about letting you use tripods on their property to photograph the Fountains. HOWEVER, make sure you keep your tripod OFF the sidewalk around the Fountains as much as possible. Find a “nook” to crawl into. In your nook you won’t have to worry about crowds jostling your tripod or having your equipment getting in the way of people. Additionally, don’t move around once the Fountain display is happening. It’s best to stay in one spot for each event, moving between events instead.
  4. Know How to Use Manual Controls - Yes, you WILL need to use manual controls on your camera. You can occasionally get lucky, but you can’t count on it. As an example, when I switched to manual from Aperture-Priority, my phtographs dramatically improved. The reason for this is due to the very bright lights of the Fountains. When the lights turn on full blast, it will totally throw off your exposure levels if you let the camera decide on the settings to use!
  5. Setting Exposure Levels - Set the exposure levels (both aperture and shutter speed) BEFORE the Fountains begin their show. Once you have the proper shutter speed and aperture size of the Bellagio without the Fountains running, well guess what, you now have the proper settings for when the Fountains are running, too! And once you have the “right” settings without the Fountains running, you can then dial up/down the settings in increments to capture whatever effect you want to have when the Fountains are running.
  6. Multiple Angles - The Fountains are a big place. Allow yourself at least 3-4 shows to capture everything from different angles. In addition to getting some wonderful photos of the Bellagio Hotel itself, you can also get some superb photos of the Paris Hotel, Bally’s, the Eiffel Tower as well as Caesars Palace.
  7. Take TONS of Photos - Another nice reason for digital cameras, you can fit a ton of photos on a memory card. Typically, I took 50-100 photos of EACH show. Virtually all of them turned out correctly in terms of exposure, happily. But of course not all were good due to the action of the Fountains. Which leads to the final point…
  8. Don’t Try to Anticipate the Fountains - You can’t do it! Taking photos of the Fountains is akin to a fast moving sporting event. Just take photo after photo after photo, and eventually you will hit things where the water is “just right” in the picture. Trying to “wait” until the Fountains do something you want it to is a recipe to miss many good photos and most likely be “too slow” to actually grab the photo that you really want. Moral of the story is this - set up the tripod, get good settings, then just keep hitting the shutter button for 3-5 minutes straight!

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