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How NOT to Take Pictures

Viva Las Vegas! Mention Las Vegas and what do most people think? Gambling. Glitzy showgirls. Excessively-produced floor shows. Casino lights. Buffets. Kitsch. Well, none of that was for me on my trip to Las Vegas in May of 2000.

I went there to cover a shift at Networld+Interop for my employer. I lucked out in getting the early shift for the first two days, so I'd be able to see some sights in the afternoon. I rented a car for such sightseeing and for getting to the convention. That car was a lifesaver: I was able to get in and out of the convention relatively easily, compared to the folks that had to wait hours for shuttles and cabs. I noted my car was silver: Nevada is, of course, "The Silver State", so I figured the color of my car was an omen of good fortune. At the very least, I wouldn't break down or get into a wreck.

But what of my photographic efforts? Well, I bought a disposable camera at a 7-11. With hindsight, I realized that was an omen of bad pictures to come. The flash didn't last very long, but I had no way of knowing that... Worse, I'm an amateur photographer of the worst kind: I think I know what I'm doing well enough to pull of "artsy" shots. What I really did was compile a set of photos that show how NOT to take pictures...

This is a picture of me taking a picture of a flash going off. Mirrored photography is not very easy to pull off, but I feel I truly captured the essence of the flash. Unfortunately, that wasn't what I wanted to get in the picture. I wanted to take a picture of me! Oh well, I can always make the best of things, so I call this "Flash Bulb Surprise"

I call this one "Hotel Room with Photo Flash". This is what happens when you take a picture of the Las Vegas strip late at night from inside a hotel room.

This shot is "Hotel Room with Photo Flash #2". This is what happens when you take a picture of the Las Vegas strip early in the morning from inside a hotel room.

Later the same morning, I got a halfway decent picture of the strip. You can still see the chairs in the hotel room in the picture, so if I did this intentionally, I would call it "Have a Seat, Watch the Show", but it wasn't intentional, so I call it "At Least I Didn't Get the Flash in This One".

The insides of the Mandalay Bay hotel where I stayed are not uniformly lit. This was a little cafe area that was romantically lit. Too bad romantically means barely. Really, it's a beautiful spot. I messed with a few filters and effects and made it look alternately like an even more romantic, but fuzzy, spot and a flying saucer. This essay isn't about fixing bad pictures, though, it's about taking them. This is a bad picture I call "Where's the Dadgum Flash When You Need It?"

On the convention floor. I wanted to take a few pictures of my experiences there, and there was that BIG, cool-looking display right there at the front entrance! Awesome! I snap a picture and 3 seconds later, the gentleman whose face you see in the lower right corner says, "You're not allowed to take pictures of the displays." Thankfully, I convinced him to not take my camera. Because he was so gracious, I title this shot after one of his quotables, "I'm Going to Have to Ask You to Put Away That Camera".

This next section should be self-explanatory, but in case it isn't, I'll explain. I met my friend, Bryan King, at the convention and we wanted to get a picture together. Not trusting anyone to do a proper job or with my valuable disposable camera (hey, no telling how desperate some of those computer guys could have been!), I resolved to take a picture of Bryan and have him take a picture of me and then merge the two later on. He is the same height as I am, so he could get pretty much the same camera angle as I did. We found a spot, marked our positions carefully, and took the pictures. The third picture is the composite, capturing a scene that took place only in our imaginations.

Neat, huh? OK, scroll on to the next picture.

This is the Las Vegas temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When people think of Las Vegas, few realize the place is almost 50% Latter-Day Saints. OK, I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints prefers folks not use the term I just used, but state the full name of the church at first mention, then follow up with "The Church of Jesus Christ" in subsequent mentions, but old habits die hard and you readers may not be hip to the style guide changes. Anyway, here's the temple.

This is a view of the Strip from the foothill where the temple is. OK, so you can't see the Strip very well in this shot, but that's because there's a lot of dust in the air and it's a really junky camera what took the shot. That's OK, though, because I remember the view. It was interesting how you can see the Strip from the temple, but you can't really see the temple from the Strip. Well, you can if you squint real hard and know where to look, as I later discovered, but it's not something you necessarily notice from your room on the 19th floor.

I worked a morning shift at the convention with the intention of going to the temple in the afternoon and doing some work there. My time in the temple was a wonderfully peaceful set of moments that I enjoyed beyond description. Ironic that many people go to Vegas to find instant gratification through gambling or shows or other, less savory means, and I planned to attend a religious function while I was in town. I know I'm not alone in my desire to express my faith in my travels, and I hope that everyone takes time out to do something spiritual, something bonding with wherever you may go so that you do more than just see a few sights and run up an expense account. You bond with a place and remember it forever.

I'll always remember when I stayed in California for my discovery of a woodpecker one day in the wilds. I remember lovingly watching the rain fall in Orlando. I went to New England and had a personal homage to one of my favorite authors, HP Lovecraft. In Las Vegas, I had the temple and three more things that made me bond with the place and fall in love with the land there.

Once I finished my session in the temple, I got a picture of it with the setting sun. I love the light in this shot. It has sentimental value, whatever the flaws in the picture. It just reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures. I'll share it with you:

Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land. Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen.

After I took that temple picture, I turned around and saw the majesty of the local mountains. Impressed, I took a picture of rocks and trees simply because they don't look like that where I live.

Once I got back to the hotel, I thought I would walk around before getting dinner. While I was there, I got this neat picture of my flash bulb reflecting off the glass of the aquarium in the lobby.

Later, I got this awesome shot of the darkened sculptures near the tanning area.

Going for a hat trick of badly-lit photos, how could I pass up this shot at night of the Chinese gate in Chinatown? Really, I was disappointed to see this shot didn't come out so good, because the Chinese restaurant I found there was absolutely staggering. I had a wonderful time in Chinatown that night and I even bought a Jackie Chan movie there. Score! Chinatown was my second bonding with Southern Nevada.

The next day, I thought I would drive out into the mountains and find a peaceful spot to sit and hear the silence. I love finding quiet places and was sure I'd find some in the desert. I got a little ways out into the boonies and got hit with some stiff winds and a little dust in the air. I took this shot because I knew the other shot of rocks and trees had human stuff in it and I wanted a shot of untouched land. Here it is and you can see it's actually a picture of rocks and dirt, remarkable only because of the sentimental value and the fact they don't look that way where I come from.

I took another shot of the temple and noticed the wind was really starting to blow. Dust was everywhere. I wasn't going to find the quiet I sought there as the wind nearly blew me over, so I decided to get down off the ridge I had climbed.

There is an art to properly navigating a descent on a ridge in a desert. I had not mastered that art and my next stop was Albertson's to get a pair of tweezers to remove the little bits of cactus from the part of my hand that brushed against one. You'd think all cactus was nice and tall like saguaro, but noooooooooo, I gotta discover they come in itty bitty sizes, too. The hard way. Onward.

When I got back to my hotel, the dust was so thick in the air, I couldn't see across the street. I didn't take a picture of that. I ate at another Chinese restaurant in Chinatown that night. I had a dish so hot, they tried to talk me out of it. I ate it anyway and had a great time sharing hot pepper stories with the waiters that really liked hot food and admired my ability to eat the fire. "I'm from Texas," I explained. A good time was had by all.

My last day in Vegas, I had an afternoon shift. I had toyed with the idea of going to the Hoover Dam, but thought I would sleep in. Around 6AM, some JERK decided he was going to convert his room into a smoking room and fired up one of the stankiest cigarettes I have had the displeasure to smell. It woke me up and I could not get back to sleep. I could not escape that awful cheap tobacco smell, no matter what I did. So, I loaded everything up into my car and checked out.

I now had plenty of time to kill before I went to do my convention shift, so I decided I would take in the Hoover Dam, after all. But first, I had to swing by the Liberace Museum. It was closed at the time I got there, but I got a nice shot of the sun's glare off the golden letters declaring the nature of the building to one and all. Bad photo, but kinda fitting to the King of Glitz. Of course, the yardkeeping crew probably wasn't considering the poetic nature of the moment: they had a lawn to mow, and by jing, they were a-gonna mow it.

Boulder City was the third thing that charmed me in Southern Nevada. If I wasn't already planning to retire to Rockport, TX, I'd plan to retire here. I don't know why I fell in love with the place; I just did. Maybe it was the quiet, or the quaint homes, or the beautiful vistas. Maybe the A&W restaurant where I had my first draft root beer had something to do with it, too. Whatever it was, I would love to get a room in Boulder City next time I'm in the area. It's a lovely place and I would love to have a chance to spend a few days there, just soaking up the atmosphere.

Now we come to the fourth thing that bowled me over: The Hoover (or Boulder) Dam. The place is a modern-day pyramid, an absolute wonder. This is a monument commemorating the heavens as they were and as they were known when the dam was dedicated. I love Art Deco architecture and monuments: their soaring lines and graceful curves make it my favorite architectural style. Pity it had the misfortune to be associated with the authoritarian and totalitarian movements of the day, as it truly is a classic form. I took this picture very early in the day, before the traffic started to fill up the bridge.

I get dizzy just looking at this photo. It's really much, much further down than what you see here.

After I got the depth, I had to capture the breadth. This is my failed attempt. The Hoover Dam is that big. Words do not convey an impression of the immensity of the thing. After I strolled around a bit, I had to take the $25 tour. It was worth every penny.

Of all the pictures I took, this is my favorite of all. I got to take this picture because I took that $25 tour. It was such an awesome view from below! Actually, we got more than our $25 worth on the tour because we were a small group and could go into a few places larger groups didn't get to go.

It impressed me that the Hoover Dam was built at a place of power. Not a place of mystical power, such as the ancients chose for their monuments, but at a place of physical, engineered power. Nevertheless, it just went to show how men, throughout the ages, construct monuments to harness power as they understand it.

And now the view from inside the dam. I just had to take this picture. It's not often one is halfway up the side of a wonder of the world, so I had to commemorate it.

So I get lunch at A&W on the way back, do my shift, and head to the airport. I board the plane and it's getting hot. And stuffy. And hotter. The air conditioning isn't working. The plane is delayed. Then, we debark because of an electrical problem that was affecting more than just the A/C: several safety systems had failed. We got our supper comped and then got to wait for the 11PM flight to show up for the trip back to Dallas. In the meantime, I took this picture of the delayed crowd and struck up a conversation with the fellow next to me.

Turns out, he was also a Jackie Chan fan and had a laptop with a DVD player. I had the movie on a VCD, so we watched "Wheels on Meals" in Cantonese and Mandarin. The great thing about Jackie Chan movies is how a complete lack of understandable dialogue really doesn't hurt the movie. We got our chopsocky fix over just in time to get on the 11PM flight.

It was a long flight home, but we were glad the crew could still get us taken care of and still fall within the FAA guidelines regarding crew fatigue. They were glad, too, as they had planned on getting back to Dallas that night. A co-worker of mine was on the same flight, and we were able to get a shared ride together, courtesy of the airline. I decided the last picture on the roll would be perfect for this end to my trip and, trusting him with my oh-so-valuable disposable camera (I knew where his cubicle was so he could run, but he could not hide), had him take this picture. The badness of the picture has more to do with the crummy flash than his skill as a photographer.

It was 4AM when this picture was taken, and 5AM when I finally got home. I was glad I took the extra day off at the end of the week... I needed it for my sleep! At any rate, a good time was had by all, and if my big mouth doesn't wind up making me a persona non grata among the marketers of my company, I'd be happy to do it again.