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USA Hoover Dam - Spillway House

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Hoover Dam is the iconic Depression Era civil engineering and construction project. The 726-ft/220-m-tall gravity arch dam is located on the Colorado River on the border between Nevada and Arizona. Hoover Dam also created Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume (when full).

Most images of Hoover Dam that are posted online are of the exterior of the dam. Fortunately, the dam, while massive, is architecturally interesting from the largest features all the way down to the smallest details. But, the inside of the dam is architecturally interesting as well. For example, the turbine room is a seamless meld of Art Deco and engineering functionality. And, even the unadorned parts of the interior can be photogenic. The interior image shows one of the interior passageways that we walked through in 2019 while taking the Guided Dam Tour ($30 per person in 2021). This is a simple image, with a curved leading line that mysteriously disappears into the background and a monochromatic look (appropriate for concrete) that is interrupted by the yellow stripe on the floor. Exactly where inside the dam I don’t remember, but it doesn’t matter because you will get to this spot and other interesting places while on the tour.

There are many good locations outside for photographing the exterior of the dam from different angles. For a face-on view of the dam, get to the pedestrian walkway on the north side of the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (Hwy 111) over the Colorado River. This walkway is not for those people who are afraid of heights because the bridge is 890 ft/270 m above the river. It’s perfectly safe, but it’s not for everyone.

Photography Tips

The parts of the dam interior that are covered by the tour are mostly well lit, but some of the passageways (like this one) may require bumping the ISO to maintain a reasonable shutter speed. I suggest not using a flash inside the dam because you will be on a tour and the flash might be annoying to your fellow tourists. Instead, I suggest an available light mentality. But, if you decide to use a flash, please use it sparingly and be considerate.

For the interior image, I used a focal length of 40 mm (Micro Four Thirds = 80 mm equivalent in “full frame” terms), an aperture of f/2.8, a shutter speed of 1/50s, and an ISO of 6400. I could have used a slower shutter speed and a lower ISO, but I was actually counting on a little digital grain (i.e. noise) to enhance the monochromatic aspects of the image. I thought about squatting for this image, but with a crowd behind me and a sore knee, I figured standing was my best choice at the time. My other interior shots used focal lengths ranging from 7 mm to 150 mm (14 mm to 300 mm equivalent).

Outside the dam, use the lenses and settings you typically use for landscape and architectural photography.

Travel Information

Hoover Dam is an easy 35-mi/56-km drive from downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, and it’s freeway most of the way. The nearest city to Hoover Dam is Boulder City (Hoover Dam was originally called Boulder Dam), so if you can get there from Las Vegas, you are almost to the dam….just 8 mi/13 km to go. When you get near the dam, take the Hoover Dam exit off of Hwy 111. You will pass through a security checkpoint, so make sure you know the rules (see the websites below) because the dam is under federal jurisdiction.

Parking is available on both sides of the dam, but the parking garage at the Visitor Center will be most convenient for most people. On warm or hot day, the parking garage provides shaded parking, while the other lots do not.

For more information:
https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/
https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/service/directions.html (for driving directions)
https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/images/2020HooverDamMap.pdf (for a map of the dam and its surroundings)
https://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/service/ (for tour information)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Dam
https://www.nps.gov/articles/nevada-and-arizona-hoover-dam.htm
https://travelnevada.com/historical-interests/hoover-dam/
Spot Type Outdoor
Crowd Factor A decent amount of people
Best Timing Daytime
Sunrise & Sunset 05:35 - 19:54 | current local time: 18:07
Photo Themes Text
Locations Hoover Dam

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Thank you Ulrich Kleidon for creating this photo spot in USA and Fred Lusk for improving it with additional photos or content.
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