Red Rock Canyon

Last month I went to Las Vegas for business.  Since I live in the huge city of Los Angeles and Vegas isn’t my kind of town, I ventured about 17 miles east to the open desert of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  It’s as different from Vegas as you can get.  I went shooting with a fellow night photographer also from a big eastern city.  We shot for two nights.


As  you can see, there was a crescent moon that night and it dipped behind the mountains at twilight, and about five minutes later, it was gone for the night.  None of the following images were affected by moonlight.



As you can see there was some clouds and they were moving slowly in this 5 minute exposure.  Those are Joshua Trees in the foreground.



There was some air traffic coming in to Vegas causing the curving light streaks in the center of this image.  The light on the hills are from the glow of Vegas, 17 miles east.



This dry wash is lit from the Vegas glow bouncing off some clouds behind the camera.  It’s enough to light the rocks in this 10 minute exposure.



Here the glow of Vegas really has a major effect on the mountains.  There is another smaller mountain range between the city and these mountains, causing the shadows in the foreground.



The second evening was overcast which has its own look with no stars.  In this twilight shot, I lined up with the one-way road that goes through the park to show the taillights in this one minute exposure.  They give a sense of scale to the mountains.



On the scenic road that wanders through the park, you climb to areas where you can see the lights of south Las Vegas.  Notice the reddish glow off the clouds.  This road closes at sunset, but once you’re in, you can stay later to shoot at night.



I positioned the camera off the road and low to the ground to get the headlights appearing though the brush.  I loved the mixture of the cool blue tones of twilight and the warm glow of the Vegas lights off the clouds.



I did a long exposure of 7 minutes to show that man and his cars are all over the desert.  The taillights are from the cars ahead of us on the way out of the park.  The stationary lights are from farms and ranches a few miles away.


160311218a_600pxThis is one of the last shots I did showing a car passing us by down the hill.  A few minutes after this, that dark turbulent sky visible in the upper right opened up and gave us a desert monsoon cloudburst.  We had to run for the car and we got soaked!  And people say it never rains in the desert…  They’re wrong, indeed!  The heaviest rain I’ve ever seen was during the summer in Las Vegas many years ago.


24 Responses to Red Rock Canyon

  1. Connie Pooler says:

    Love the images!!! Thanks for sharing! My next trip(hopefully).

  2. Heidi Hirsch says:

    Looks great Tom! Stunning photography!

  3. Wena Dows says:

    You manage such beautiful pictures with your creative eye and long exposures. Bravo!

  4. “I loved the mixture of the cool blue tones of twilight and the warm glow of the Vegas lights off the clouds.’

    – Classic Paiva (Tom)! I always refer my students to your work when the subject of mixing light sources in NPy. And, when you can find them: elegant, available light ‘readymades’ – like what you have here – with the light temps already there, “in situ.”

  5. Lynn Saville says:

    Hi Tom, These are wonderful. I like your commentary too. I look forward to seeing you in New York & New Jersey soon!

    Warm wishes,


  6. Lynn Saville says:

    Hi Tom, These are lovely. I also enjoy your commentary!

    Dark City: Urban America at Night (Damiani, 2015)

  7. Tom
    Nice to see you didn’t waste your time and money in sin city.
    What did you shoot these shots with?
    I’m still shooting the rocks.
    Take care, Mike

  8. Donna Shipman says:

    I’ve been to Red Rock Canyon and these pictures really capture the night skies full of stars. Very beautiful! Lovely to look at.
    Hope all is well. Always enjoy you blog photos. Donna Shipman

  9. Mark Miller says:

    More experiments with light – fascinating and beautiful.

  10. Sue Ann Robinson says:

    Love the compositions! Light, dark, natural, man made.

  11. Paul Gansky says:

    Glorious shots, Tom! Thank you!

  12. Great images, I am still such a huge fan, and always look forward to your next venture/upload. Darnell

  13. I see you’re up to your old tricks…


  14. Barbara O'Neill says:

    Hi Tom,
    Wonderful photos as usual. I can’t believe that the glow of Las Vegas lights are that powerful – it is amazing. The desert is so interesting but the night shots are really beautiful with the long exposures.

    Thanks for sharing!


  15. Didn’t see this before – Thanks!

    What were you shooting with?

  16. Peter Dressel says:

    Good stuff as always Tom. The one with the car whizzing though is my favorite

  17. Ted says:


    Nice set. I really like the 7-minute exposure (next to last).

    I’m surprised you didn’t stay to get a nice “glistening, wet road” shot after the rainstorm!


  18. kay kenny says:

    Hi Tom
    These are great- especially the last one. The light in Redrock is so fantastic!

  19. Dan says:

    Thanks, Tom. Love the night shots.

  20. Arzell Hale says:

    Tom, I have lived here in the desert 38 years and love it. I think the desert is beautiful but I had no idea how beautiful until I saw these wonderful pictures. I have never seen anything like it. You have taken so many beautiful pictures but I must say these are my favorites! Keep shooting!!!

    Arzell Hale, Trona California

    • Tom Paiva says:


      As you know, I also love the desert and appreciate its remoteness and solitude. Glad you enjoyed these as I think you can understand my love for the area more than most people. Yes, I hope to keep shooting…


  21. Abby Ullman says:

    Hi Tom, somehow I missed these shots. How amazingly powerful the lights are from south Las Vegas — what must they be like from the main part of the city? If only the city had 1% of the beauty you have captured in these marvelous photographs! I wish you and Lee would consider coming to Idaho to photograph the mountain(s) at night in the winter. You two would be welcome to stay with me as long as you’d like. I doubt that any night photography has been done here at Schweitzer Mountain and they just published a new brochure done by an employee which is nice, but hardly professional. I’ll get a copy and send it to you. Love, Abby

    • Tom Paiva says:

      Abby, It’s easy to miss blog posts. Glad you enjoyed the desert shots of Red Rock Canyon out of Las Vegas. Vegas is a “city of lights” and there is a spill that goes beyond 20 miles, as the desert itself is so dark with no moon. LV certainly isn’t my kind of city, either, and I was there for a conference (during the day). I’d love to come up to Idaho sometime, as I haven’t been in over 30 years. I was in sales and had clients in Coeur D’Alene and Moscow. Take care and thanks for commenting.


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