Photographing neon signs isn’t like taking regular photos of landscapes or faces. That’s because the subject is self-illuminating! You’re taking a picture of a light source, so your approach needs to be slightly different.
This sort of photography can be fun. We’ve all seen those shots of busy city intersections and elevated highways where car head and tail lamps blur into long streaks. But, getting neon photography right is tricky and not like anything else you’ve ever snapped a picture of.
Fortunately, this post can help when it comes to perfecting your craft when a bright light is your subject. Throughout this article, we’ll run through some tips and tricks you can use to do a reasonable job of it, followed by some FAQs about taking photos at The Neon Museum in Las Vegas.
Neon Photography Tips And Tricks
Switch Up The Angle
The first thing you should try doing is switching up the angle. Try taking photos of neon signs from down low or from the side while obeying the rule of thirds. These irregular angles can make neon signs look more impressive than in real life photos. Additionally, this type of shooting generates more visual interest than those taken head-on.
Take Photos At Night
Another pro tip is to take pictures of neon signs at night. You might say, “Well, duh,” but there’s an excellent reason for this. Complete darkness emphasizes the light source and the texture of the surrounding surfaces, not just the subject.
We’ve all seen well-shot photos of city street signs at night where you can see every contour of the wet pavement below. It’s like you’re looking at a 4K screen for the first time! That’s because the human eye doesn’t usually see so much detail in darkened settings.
Experiment With Long Exposures
You can also try playing around with long exposures to saturate your photos. This technique gives shots an other-worldly appearance, changing the dynamics of the resulting images. You won’t usually be able to get this type of photo on a phone, so you’ll need a DSLR or equivalent. You might also need a tripod (to keep the camera still during the exposure) and options that let you adjust the ISO and aperture.
You probably won’t pull off a long-exposure shot perfectly the first time, but keep practicing. Fine tuning exposure times depend on lighting conditions until you get something that makes you happy.
Don’t Shoot In JPEG Mode
While JPEG is a convenient format, it’s not ideal for neon photography. It causes image data loss by default, which can ruin the desired effect. RAW is a better format when it comes to getting your neon photos to really stand out.
RAW mode preserves more original image data and can provide a sharper image containing plenty of details. If you don’t have much space on your camera or device, you can experiment with downscaling photos later or transfer them to a computer hard drive. You also have the option of playing around with various compression algorithms to see which preserves the aesthetic you want before editing.
Adjust Your Camera’s White Balance
Another pro tip for neon light photography is to adjust your white balance. If this setting is slightly off, it can make images look overly saturated and unnatural. Of course, you might want this. But generally speaking, it’s not the best approach.
If your camera has a color temperature option, change it to see what works. Adjust the Kelvin scale to improve contrast and definition without making the image look like a washout.
Don’t Pick A Busy Place
This one might seem obvious, but avoiding busy places is also another trick for neon photography. Downtown areas, in any city, on Saturday nights are usually thronging with people ready to wreck your shots. Finding neon signs outside city centers is possible, but you must keep your eyes peeled. Most are in places like piers or out-of-town shopping districts, which, fortunately for you, are usually abandoned after dark.
If you live in Las Vegas or are just visiting the area, you can always head to the Neon Museum to find a plethora of neon signs to experiment and practice with. Here, you will find plenty of opportunities to take unadulterated photos of contemporary and vintage neon illuminations at your leisure.
Another key element is to avoid overexposure, a common problem when photography neon signs for many photographers. Leaving the camera shutter open too long can wash out the details and make the photo look amateurish. Again, you will need to play around with shutter exposure time. Often, you will need to adjust the time interval within a few tenths of a second to get the best results.
Shoot During The Rain
Shooting during the rain is another excellent way to take the best possible neon sign photography. Lights can reflect off droplets on surrounding window panes and pavements, improving the detail and complexity of the final image further. By doing this, you’re sure to get a shot that truly stands out and impresses your audience!
Add A Human Subject
Finally, you might consider adding a human subject to your shots. Neon signs provide stunning illumination for portraits, giving them an earthy, mysterious feel. Plus, less light forces you to be more creative with how you use the camera. The subject’s position in the scene becomes paramount, and you must prioritize specific elements in the image. Changing their position slightly can fundamentally transform the portrait and the outcome of the image.
What opportunities does the Neon Museum offer?
The Neon Museum offers various opportunities for taking neon sign photos. Events include Portrait Hour, the Photo Walk, and a private shoot. Visit The Neon Museum today!
Can companies take pictures of neon signs at the Neon Museum?
Companies are welcome to take shots for editorial or commercial use at the Neon Museum. Simply book a private shoot. You are free to bring your tripod and camera equipment with you.
Is the Neon Museum an indoor venue?
The Neon Museum is not an indoor venue. All our photo opportunities are outside, so we recommend considering the temperature before booking. The mercury can hit 49°C in our area in the summer.
What is the portrait hour?
Portrait Hour is an opportunity to take personal portraits with your own photographer in a shared space. Costs are just $75 and lower for veterans, local residents, and students.
What are photo walks?
Photo walks are opportunities to take photos of the sign collection at your leisure with your chosen equipment. Discounts are available for Nevada residents, seniors, veterans, and students with valid identification.
If you still have questions about taking neon pictures at The Neon Museum, please explore the rest of our FAQs as well as our film & photographer policy to ensure that you are fully prepared for your shoot.
No matter if you’re in Las Vegas or another bright city where neon lights are a key element of the city, this blog should help you get ready for your upcoming shoot to capture the beautiful lights and end up with a picture that you’re proud to share. Get out there and start shooting!