In a small corner of southwestern Nevada there is an equally small, but no less amazing, state park. Surrounded on all sides by natural obstacles that obscure it from vision, it's no wonder that Valley of Fire isn't well traveled by the masses. It's an astounding little geographic anomaly that just "appears" out of the mundane desert. But there's nothing mundane about this gem. The rocks are brilliantly colored, there are arches and other weird formations, petroglyphs and wind worn caves, flowering cacti, and even bighorn sheep. It's quite literally full of surprises. And, it's always a pleasure to come here with the Aperture Academy every year and conduct our photo workshops.
Along with myself, there was fellow instructor Phil Nicholas, when we met up with everyone in North Las Vegas for our orientation. With our ten eager photographers, we did our customary round of introductions, and Phil and I let them in on how the next two days would proceed out in the park. The weather was looking clear, our class was primed, and we set off for bed to get some rest for our early rise for day one.
For our first morning, we chose to bring everyone out to a spot called Nike Rock, so named (colloquially) because of its trademark "swoosh" imprinted in the formation of the rock. As we waited for the sun to arise, Phil and I worked with everyone on their settings and compositions. As the sun rose further in the sky, the light changed every minute and the photographic opportunities abounded in every direction. We moved around the area, and at each little spot, Phil and I showed our group some possibilities for shooting and things to look out for compositionally.
After Nike Rock, we headed over to the campground area to find a couple of less visible arches and caves. The first one is called Wind Stone Arch (some call it the Firecave). It's extremely well hidden among the red rock formations, and to be honest, I walked right by it many times before I had finally found it years ago. Pictures of the cave make it look abnormally large, but in reality it's pretty small, big enough for one person to fit inside and grab a couple photos. While half the group was preparing to shoot the cave, the other half prepped to shoot a similarly well hidden rock formation called, Three Fins. After everyone had a double dose of caves, and some exploration around the area to boot, we headed back to the hotel for our mid-day break.
After lunch, and a nap, we drove back into the park, well before sunset, to give our crew a chance to explore the area around the Fire Wave. Walking though a dried river bed and rainbow-colored canyon, we hiked up and out into the vast sandstone area. There's a multitude of places to shoot around there. The rocks look like candy stripes in nearly every direction, and it's quite overwhelming how much there is to see in such a small space.
As we came up to the Fire Wave itself, there was ample time to allow for exploration before sunset, and Phil and I guided our photographers around the area, pointing out interesting areas and ideas for shooting. As sunset approached, everyone returned to the wave so we could all enjoy the sunset as a group before heading back to the LV.
After a nap and some lunch everyone was feeling tip-top again. We drove the ApCab back into the park for an evening at the Fire Wave, 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.
For the new morning, we took our group out to a place called Crazy Hill, so named because of the brilliant colors all folded into this undulating sheet of lighter sandstone. By this point of the workshop, our group was getting very good at improvising and finding unique compositions, which is the name of the game in Valley of Fire, because there's no one way to shoot a feature in the park. As everyone was hopping around shooting the "hill" from different angles, we started directing people's attention over to a place called Thunderstorm Arch, which is nearby. It's a perfect arch that looks out toward all the pretty colored rocks that "picture" frames the landscape almost perfectly.
After sunrise, we took the group up to the White Domes area for a short hike, where we nabbed our fun group photo, shot a genuine slot canyon, and found some really cool formations in the rocks to shoot, all before heading back to Las Vegas for a refreshing mid-day break.
After our break, before we headed back into the park for sunset, Phil and I hosted a little post-processing party in the lobby of the hotel. We guided the students in how to process their photos from the last day of shooting, as well as showing them new techniques in Photoshop and Lightroom, while offering helpful advice and critiques on their images.
On our last evening, we once again headed to the Fire Wave area for sunset. The day prior, we had given everyone two hours to run around and find interesting things to photograph, but mostly just to get a better idea of the possibilities that were in the area. We returned and again headed through the dried river wash up and over the painted rocks, and our group eagerly spread out in search of their perfect shots for that evening's sunset. Once the color and light faded, with memory cards full, we all loaded up in the van for one last time, and headed back to North Las Vegas for our farewells; our heads and cameras filled with all the information and beauty we'd shared during this great workshop.
Until next time,
Scott, Phil and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.