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Lighting a Las Vegas Gastropub – Public House at the Venetian

If you work in a creative or visual field, never underestimate the value of documenting your work as it’s happening.  You never know if you’ll get a second chance.

I’ve never really had trouble with documentation before, because, as a theatrical lighting designer, I was always in the same room as my work, right down to the end of the project.  I’d simply whip out my camera in tech rehearsal, setup my tripod, and take as many photos as I could fit on a memory card.  Often, the set designer and costume designer would be right next to me doing the exact same thing.  As an architectural lighting designer, I’ve learned, however, it isn’t always that easy.

Such was my experience on one of my first outside-of-New-York-City projects that opened in December of 2011: Public House, a new gastropub at the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

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As it turned out, I wasn’t able to be on site during the aim-and-adjust, the period during which all of the adjustable lights are aimed, the lighting accessories are installed, and general final touches are applied to the design and the restaurant.  Aim-and-adjust generally happens a few days prior to the public opening of a project, so it’s usually the perfect time to take some snapshots of the finished product without bothering guests or tripping up the waitstaff.  Obviously, if you’re not there at this prime time, though, you miss a valuable (and painless) opportunity to document your work.  And as we all know, if there aren’t any pictures of it on the internet, the project doesn’t actually exist.

Of course, that’s not completely true.  The project still physically exists, and people are still enjoying it wherever it happens to be; however, it doesn’t help you if you’re living and working on the other side of the country.

Yes, there will always be someone who has taken photos, however, using someone else’s photos to represent your work is a risky business, especially for lighting designers.  Capturing a lighting design with a camera is a challenge, especially in dimly-lit restaurants, because a camera has trouble reproducing the subtleties of light that the human eye can detect.  For this, and a host of other reasons, it’s usually best if the lighting designer takes the photos, so that he or she can capture the project in it’s best light (puns are fun!).

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So, inspired by a recent blog post from one of my favorite design blogs on the same topic, as well as by an opportunity to take a trip to Las Vegas to oversee the aim-and-adjust for a different project, I decided I would make it a goal to stop by Public House at the Venetian to take some long-overdue project photos.

It wasn’t easy.  When I got there, the restaurant was full of lunchtime diners, the bar was in full swing, waiters were moving around quickly with trays full of food — a disaster could happen at any time if I wasn’t subtle or paying full attention to my surroundings.  Luckily, after I explained my situation to the host staff (I find it’s always best to be honest when you have a camera in your hands), they were kind enough to let me spend a few quick minutes roaming the restaurant to take my photos.  I got a few quizzical looks, but I’ve found that if you act confidently and with purpose, usually no one will give you a hard time.  A few minutes later I had gotten as many hand-held photos as I could without disturbing the restaurant further.  I graciously thanked the waitstaff and left to check my work on my camera."public house" venetian "las vegas" vegas restaurant gastropub light lighting design architecture architectural

Taking sharp photographs of a dimly-lit restaurant full of people with no tripod and without causing a scene is not the easiest thing in the world to do, but I’m glad I at least tried, because out of the hundred-ish photos I took, I at least got a small handful of presentable images; and a small handful is certainly better than none.

Working in architecture, I’m lucky that the restaurant was successful enough that it was still in business a year after it opened so that I was able to take photos of it.  Other creative industries, such as theatre, don’t have the luxury of such a long time frame to document their work.

Nevertheless, lesson learned; it’s always best to document your work, and document it thoroughly, as it’s happening.  Believe me, you’ll thank yourself later.

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