The N. American Nature Photographer’s Assn. (NANPA) chooses “Yellowstone Hot Spring at Sunset” as one of the top 100 nature photographs of 2016. Tom Horton’s photo from Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park‘s Midway Geyser Basin picks up orange and purple sky reflections on sinuous travertine terraces, framed by a forested horizon. “This very popular tourist spot is totally vacant by sunset,” Tom notes, “and like many Yellowstone locations, it completely changes character in the twilight. Anybody could make this photo, but nobody is there.”
Two more of Tom’s photographs were semi-finalists in NANPA’s competition, which drew 2,600 entries from 275 professional photographers. “Receding Tide, Canon Beach” frames an Oregon seascape with sunset-tinged clouds.
“Black on Red” juxtaposes a foreground of black rocks with a red sandstone plateau at Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, while a jagged monolith dominates the horizon.
This photograph embodies a common problem with southwestern USA sunsets: The red colors are beyond belief. Literally.
The effect of brilliant scarlet sunset on rock that is striped psychedelically with red, orange and yellow creates scenes right out of the crimson heaven or perhaps the fiery furnace of hell. Either way, the person who has not seen such a scene with his or her own eyes will not believe it really exists. I, and many other photographers, have sometimes been accused of pushing the saturation or emphasizing the reds past nature’s capability into some gaudy realm of poor taste. I plead not guilty, and I find myself sometimes moderating the colors to stay within the realm of limited human perception. In this scene from the Valley of Fire state park near Las Vegas, Nevada, I have toned down the red rock stripes, and emphasized the blue and indigo sky tones with credibility in mind.
The ultimate solution to this problem, and what I urge upon you if you haven’t done this — is to get out in the redrock desert and see it for yourself. Camp among the rocks, eat dinner early, and wander about at sunset to see fire on rock for yourself. (Pricing Schedule B)
Striped rocks are so cool! Everywhere they stick their heads up, people come to see and photograph them. What’s more, we like to name them after waves, apparently seeing something in their undulations that resembles waves in the water. Perhaps the most famous such formation is The Wave, a couple hundred miles from this location in Arizona. It’s so spectacular that it overshadows this some what smaller spectacle at the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada, named the Fire Wave.
Both of these natural wonders are managed by governments without photographers in mind. Both require hikes — although the Fire Wave hike is quite a bit shorter than The Wave’s hike – and both require that you leave at sunset and not stay overnight.
These regulations overlook the fact that desert rock formations are always at their visual best at sunrise and sunset. Visiting them in the middle of the day is, for the photographer, underwhelming. To see them at their stunning best requires you to break the rules — so I do. This particular day at the Fire Wave, a spectacular sunset was brewing, and I had no intention of being out of the park by sunset. You have to suffer for your art, they say, and so this day I suffered the irritation of park rangers as I didn’t get back to my car and out of the park until after dark. They could have gotten strict with my lawbreaking, but they didn’t and I like to think they understand the artist’s need to push the envelope for the sake of beauty.
Look down to your feet! It is incredible what you will see. This scene is one of those that I would have missed if I had not been in the habit of looking at my feet — a practice that comes from years of hiking and backpacking.
It is a rather ordinary scene without the small black stones that have weathered away and come to rest on the red and white striped sandstone. I first noticed it in the afternoon, when the overhead sun made the rock brownish and the sky gray, but it was a good enough photo that I did a bunch of exposures, then went on my way. Returning this way later, after sunset, the low-angle red light transformed it entirely, and I made more shots. This is my favorite — the heightened drama from the low, red light sets it on fire.
Valley of Fire is a smallish and dramatic redrock state park near Las Vegas, Nevada, that is under-appreciated. With the exotic lure of Vegas so close, millions pass by this desert masterpiece on their way to buy a piece of the glitter. I’m not a huge fan of the Las Vegas resort scene, however, and so you’re more likely to find me nearby, at the Valley of Fire, eyes down at my feet.