For many, the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip make it the perfect destination. On the other end, many landscape travelers go to Vegas because it’s the nearest airport to Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and many well-knows national parks. Many photographers overlook the great landscapes Red Rock Canyon offers just outside of Vegas, perfect for a day trip.
I was invited to take a little road trip to Red Rock Canyon on my recent visit to Las Vegas, and I couldn’t pass it up. After one of the girls rented an SUV and we packed up our camera gear we were ready to go. Driving through the desert and listening to Stevie Nicks made me feel so peaceful, a nice change from the strip. Beautiful red sand and Joshua trees slowly replaced the buildings of the Vegas strip.
I couldn’t wait to try out the lenses I brought which included the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art, Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art, and Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lenses. Also, Tiffen was nice enough to supply me with some filters, the one I used most was the Blender/Attenuator ND 0.6 which darkened my skies to a rich blue color.
What Camera Gear Do You Need for Red Rock Canyon?
First off, you absolutely need a DSLR backpack that’s padded and comfortable. There are a few trails to choose from; the one we did was 2.5 miles and took about 3 hours total, including a lunch break on the top of the trail. There’s some rock scrambling and parts that are pretty steep, so you want your gear safe and secure in an easy to carry backpack. I brought a messenger bag…big mistake.
I brought a full frame DSLR camera, and it captured beautiful images that were true to life. As for the lenses, a wide angle and a telephoto zoom were my picks.
I had a Sigma 14mm F1.8 Art prime lens that took crisp wide-angle shots.
We had the Sigma 14-24 F2.8 Art zoom lens with us for its US Show debut at WPPI and had to make some shots before the big wedding photography event. I have to say, this is the lens I used the most. I was able to shoot close-ups, portraits, and landscapes with incredible sharpness.
The Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 Contemporary lens was another one in my arsenal. I took some nice landscape shots with the Tiffen Blender/Attenuator ND 0.6 filter to darken my skies. Also, this was a great lens to take candid portraits from a distance. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any wildlife except for a bird that was trying to eat our lunch, but it’s a good lens for wildlife because you don’t have to get close to the animal and risk spooking it.
I brought a lightweight tripod to capture some group shots. Also, it was a little windy when we got to the top of the trail. So, a little extra stabilization from the tripod is never a bad thing. Just make sure to turn off the Optical Stabilizer (OS) on the 100-400mm lens while your camera’s on the tripod to keep your images sharp.
Shoot More than Wide-angle
Taking pictures at Red Rock Canyon screams for wide angle landscape shots. Don’t be afraid to get some close-ups of the rocks or plant life. I used the 14-24mm lens for all the close-ups that I took, and they were incredibly sharp.
Capture Portraits in a Different Way
When I’m taking landscape photography I usually try and get a shot that doesn’t have any people. It seems more peaceful, at least to me. For this trip I experimented with taking some candid pictures of the girls I was hiking with.
The 100-400mm was great for this because I didn’t have to get close to my subject and disrupt the moment. In case anyone’s curious, she’s shooting with a Sigma 16mm F1.4 DN lens.
Also, the 14-24mm captured sharp images of people in the environment, even while they were walking.
Let the Light Show You the Way
When shooting landscapes in the desert, it’s very important to take note of the light direction. For most of my stay in Las Vegas, there weren’t too many clouds in the sky. During the hike, it was an absolutely clear blue sky, and the sun was high in the sky as we were shooting in the afternoon. I’ve heard people warn against shooting at this time of day, but I got some great pictures. I especially love incorporating the sun in the background which spills a rim light around the natural landscape. Also, I had some nice starbursts with the 14-24mm lens.
Check out the Curves
When taking pictures of the canyon I tried to be mindful of the way the canyon slowly converged in the middle. Capturing the different levels of elevation and showing the sloping rocks really shows the landscape and I can imagine how it looked 500 million years ago. Red Rock Canyon used to be an ocean that was the home of sea creatures.
What’s the Best Exposure Setting?
When shooting at Red Rock Canyon, I shot handheld 90% of the time. With that in mind, I wanted my shutter speed to be at least 1/60 second to get the sharpest images possible. My ISO was low because it was a bright day, and I didn’t need to increase sensitivity. As for my aperture, I tried to shoot as closed down as possible to get everything in focus. Although, if I shot a close-up then I opened my aperture to get a blurry background.
If You Are Looking for Classic Southwestern Desert Landscapes Nearest to Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is the Spot for You
Red Rock Canyon is a must-see if you’re in Las Vegas. It’s not even an hour from the strip and proves to be a welcome break from the noise. If you’re a nature lover, and your companion is a bag full of camera gear, water and a sandwich, then check out Red Rock Canyon. Out of the three Sigma lenses I brought including the 14mm, 14-24mm, and 100-400mm the brand new 14-24mm was by far my favorite. It has the most versatility as I was able to capture close-ups, portraits and wide-angle landscape shots with clarity.