Why and How: Photographing the Valley of Fire, Nevada

If you can visit Las Vegas on your next trip to the United States, do not hesitate to spend a full day exploring and photographing this extraordinary place.

This session will require some preparation as navigating the Valley of Fire cannot be done on a whim, as it is quite confusing.

In this article, I will give you some tips for preparing and successfully capturing photographs of the Valley of Fire in black and white or in color.

Black and white landscape of the road that winds through the Valley of Fire in Nevada. Photography by Amar Guillen, Photographer Artist
The road that winds through the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

The Little Story of This Article

Every year, I road trip in my car across the United States, from Dallas, Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada. I drive along the famous I-40 which carries me east to west, and then back again.

My first big road trip was to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. So naturally I took I-40. It was one of my best travel experiences. I would stop at the gas pumps just to drink a coffee and exchange a few words with the gas station attendants. Every town or village was a moment of ecstasy for me, as I absolutely love encountering unique places and people in these small American towns. This was my first down-to-earth experience of the United States.

Since then, every year, I retrace my path along I-40. The most amazing thing is that I always encounter new surprises and discoveries because I choose to stop in different spots.

If I were to make the trip from Dallas to Las Vegas in one go, it would take me 18 hours to cover the 1200 miles (2100 kilometers) between the two cities. However, it always takes me at least a week to get from one city to the other. Every year I choose different points to photograph: Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Petrified Valley, and so on. The number of interesting sites for a photographer is extraordinary.

When I get to Vegas, I do not stop. My goal is always to reach the Valley of Fire. I keep driving northeast for an hour. I choose a small motel for two nights a few miles from the natural site. On the next morning, I rush to photograph the breath-taking formations and unique lights that are famous in this part of the world.

When I talk about the Valley of Fire, I realize that few people know about this place. Those who do are surprised when they hear that I spend two full days photographing this valley.

If you are a landscape photographer or a photographer who wants to take different pictures, then Valley of Fire is for you.

A Few Words About the Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire is a valley that is in the Mojave Desert in the state of Nevada. To get there, you must drive on a macadam road through a desert of rocks and yuccas. The landscapes are monotonous. Photographically, they are not that interesting.

If you are coming from Las Vegas, there is only one road that takes you to the west side of the Valley. At the bend in the road, your gaze is drawn to a huge red and orange mass that seems to lie like a sleeping giant in the desert. This is the Valley of Fire. It is a real shock because the contrast of colors is surprising. The flamboyant color radiates from the sandstone rocks, which cover a region of about 185 square kilometers.

Once you enter the valley, you will be in awe. There will be only one desire: to take up your camera and immortalize the colors and mineral formations that lay before your eyes.

I advise you to be patient because if you want to get the most out of this iconic spot, you must search for the best points of view.

Like most photographic sites, there are two options to experience the natural wonders of the Valley of Fire through photography:

  • Black and White.
  • Color.

Photographing the Valley of Fire in Black and White

Naturally, most photographers choose color for their photos of Valley of Fire. I understand these individual’s logic perfectly. The vibrant formations are perfectly suited for the vivid palette of colored photos. Indeed, they are bathed in a radiantly pure light because the valley rests in a desert wilderness, far from the pollution of a big city.

However, I would also advise you to take black and white photos. Do not forget that black is a creative technique for presenting landscapes that are:

  • Rich in texture.
  • Strong in contrast.

In addition, the often-cloudy skies will allow you to add an interesting creative dimension. These skies will add depth to your photos. You will transport the viewers beyond the horizon. You will encourage them to dream because they will be immersed in the wide-open spaces of the southwestern United States.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it.

Photographing the Valley of Fire in Color

To photograph the Valley of Fire in color, I advise you to arrive before sunrise and remain there until after sunset.

The lights will be extraordinary. The mineral formations will literally explode with color. This is one of the reasons why I spend two full days at the site. The sunrises and sunsets are short. The light changes quite quickly. You must become accustomed to these changes so that you can time your photos perfectly, so that they will be taken at the moments of greatest impact.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it.

Framing and Formats for Photographing the Valley of Fire

Personally, I think that the Valley of Fire is well highlighted with panoramic pictures. Therefore I choose to use the 3:1 format. It allows me to create longer photos that show the extent of the site while preserving the detail of the structured formations. The problem with the panoramic format is that you are limited to printing your photos in large formats to fully enjoy them.

An alternative for printing smaller photos is the 3:2 format. This is the one I prefer when photographing the unique road that winds through the valley. When I say that it is winding, I do not lie. It is a challenge to capture. It twists and turns at the mercy of the great Valley of Fire. The creative effect is quite interesting.

The Choice of Focal Lengths

As is often the case in the landscapes of the southwestern United States, focal lengths from 14 to 200mm are well suited. With the 200mm, you will be able to capture the nuances of rock detail.

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You can take pictures from close or far away. Your photographs will be completely different depending on your range. Everything will depend on what you wish to focus on.

Personally, I always use wide-angle lenses because I love the vast open spaces. I crave the feeling of freedom, and I wish to evoke this feeling in my work. I need to breathe in and breathe out that feeling of peace when I view photographed landscapes. However this is my own personal approach, yours may be quite different.

I advise you not to get caught up in the warm, shimmering colors that will captivate you. Do not hesitate to take a step back. Try to disregard the colors. Take the time to take a good look at the rock formations and the shapes they evoke. The structural backbone of this site is unforgettable.

The Interpretation of the Valley of Fire

The Valley of Fire does not symbolize the wide-open spaces of the American Southwest. Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods, Petrified Forest are more suitable places for this theme.

For me, I see Valley of Fire as another world, like another planet that is not Earth. It always makes me feel as if I am walking across the rocks and sands of the barren planet Mars due to its very accentuated red color. I often walk for miles on the rock formations to find the best points of view to photograph. I always feel as if I have left Earth. It is the only place I know where I encounter this supernatural feeling.

For me, a trip to the Valley of Fire is a trip to another planet.


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