Valley of Fire State Park is a diamond in the rough. The park is conveniently situated in a little valley in between Lake Mead and the bright lights of Las Vegas, NV. The park was named for its blazing red sandstone that lines the 42,000-acre park, making it a destination for the avid photographer. It is a former home to the ancient Anasazi people and was formed by complex faulting and topsoil erosion. Red is not the only color you will find here, however. While looping in and out of the slot canyons it is not uncommon to discover vibrant purple, pink, yellow, orange, and red veins of sandstone dispersed in veins here and there. When you step into Valley of Fire you feel as if you are entering a forgotten world reminiscent of the cartoon world of Roger Rabbit. The park, although a small area, provides an amazingly unique setting for the landscape and macro photographers alike.
Before heading into the park Scott Donschikowski and I met up with our group at our hotel in Las Vegas for a little orientation. Scott and I introduced ourselves and went over our itinerary for the next two days. After hearing a little bit from everyone we said good night and prepared for a five AM departure the next morning.
Our sunrise location was a favorite spot called Nike Rock. Named after what looks to be a giant red Nike swoosh on the sandstone. Scott and I ran over some of the basics of camera settings and composition while the students got set up and photographed the brilliantly lit stone. As the light became a little higher and our shadows began to creep into the shots we moved locations for some interesting shots of smaller details and macro compositions.
From Nike Rock we hopped into the van and went to the other side of the park to visit some wind carved, cave-like tunnels within the sandstone. Although very small, the caves make for some cool compositions.
After a nap and some lunch everyone was feeling tip-top again. We drove the ApCab back into the park for seconds for an evening at the Fire Wave. The Fire Wave is a section of the sandstone where red and white lines spiral to form a candy cane-like pattern. Here the students found a couple of barrel cactus, desert flowers and loads of sandstone striations to photograph. As the light began to fade we packed it up and headed back to the van.
We met up a few hours before sunrise and headed back into the park. We parked the van at the trailhead for “crazy hill.” Named for the swirling mixture of colors in the sandstone creating a mars-like vista of purples, yellows and orange. Photographers aren’t the only ones attracted to this wild place either. Several movies have been shot in this alien landscape including the mars scenes of Total Recall, Transformers and the Professionals.
After getting wacky at Crazy Hill it was on to the next adventure. White Domes was next on the itinerary. About a mile and a half hike down through a small wash, the white domes trail is full of surprises. Scott and I took the students through the slot canyon and showed them some of our favorite areas while demonstrating how to tackle difficult lighting situations.
Once back to the van, we decided to do one more stop. For our next shot we pulled off on top of a hill where the road famously winds down through the scene. We showed the group that by positioning yourself on a hilly curve you could capture the road swerving in and out of the rocks below. In mid shot we spotted a flock of the native Bighorn Sheep and the group was forced to think on the fly, moving from landscape to wildlife shooting. After our surprise visit we were ready for lunch and a short nap.
After a little rest we met up in the hotel lobby for some post processing. Scott and I went around and helped with some light editing and tips with Lightroom. It is always amazing to see how much better a photograph can look with just a few simple changes. After finishing up with Lightroom it was back into Valley of Fire for one last shoot. We headed back out to the Fire Wave for a second shot at capturing this scene. The conditions were ideal with a few more clouds than the night before and they lit up with a nice pink glow as the sun set. What a great end to another excellent workshop!
Until our next adventure,
Scott, Phil and rest of the Aperture Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.