Norway: Snitz in the land of the Midnight Sun

“What’s the best location you’ve ever photographed?”. I get asked that a lot! Usually, I look stumped and can’t answer. Now I can; the Western Coast of Norway.

Part of my attraction is the scenery. You have vertical peaks jutting out of an endless supply of lakes. You find yourself driving from one fjord to another, through an amazing system of tunnels as you pass under mountains to successive bomber views. Nuts! Along the way, every 5-10 minutes, you pass a quaint fishing village.

BTW there are zero billboards and practically no stop lights. Just unspoiled postcard views.

But that’s not the most compelling part.

It’s the light! Located very far North (further than most of Alaska) in late summer, it never gets dark. The sun sets around 11 pm and comes up again around 3 am. During that time the sky can stay red for hours. Sunsets and sunrises never seem to end. Magic for a photographer.

And amazing hiking? Try treking up a 2,500-foot mountain at 930pm, arriving as the sun sets and seeing nobody. No crowds! Pretty surreal.

Ok, what’s the catch? Well, it typically rains every 3rd or 4th day. You can get slammed by weather. And as you may have guessed, to take advantage of this great “light” you’re staying up through the Norweigan nights (basically remaining on Central Standard Time). And yes, the food is crazy expensive (however the fish is top-notch).

My trip started in the Village of Senja, a quiet fishing village.

11 pm and families are out enjoying the great color!

A few hours later it’s still red out there, and the tide is out, creating this great river effect. Normally the entire foreground would be underwater.

The tidal action creates these cool lines along the beach.

Taken with a drone over 1,000 feet up. A perspective you seldom see from the road.

Talk about getting a different perspective! Here’s the view atop Mt. Husfjellet. The climb up takes about 90 minutes (& can be pretty muddy after a rain)!

With the frequency of rain and cool lighting it’s pretty common to see rainbows. Lot’s of rapidly changing weather.

Plus a good share of hidden waterfalls.

My family joined me mid trip and we proceeded South to the Lofoten Islands.

Great to see kayakers out exploring the fjords. We spent a half day doing the same!

Lots more to see. Click the gallery link. https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Other/Galleries/Norway-2022/n-FX5WwV/

 

Snitz winter tours America’s Southwest

I’ve never had the chance to photograph some of my favorite Colo Mntn spots covered in snow.  Ergo the San Juan Mountains located in Southwest Colo (think Telluride/Crested Butte).

For instance, I’ve shot Mount Sneffeles many times, but getting back there in the winter isn’t easy. Requires a snowcat or a Jeep with some massive tires. Worth the effort!

BTW there are more uncharted jeep roads (with about 2ft of untracked snow on them) to explore. The shot below was taken with a drone (about 30ft above the road).

The drone provides a pretty unique perspective when the sun is about to set. Love the shadows!

Speaking of sunset, it was full moon time on my trip. Everything lined up just right!

The two shots below were both taken about 35 minutes before sunrise (just outside the town of Ridgeway).

Interesting, how different some iconic views look when covered with the white stuff!

Then there are those crazy (& I do mean crazy) ice climbers. This dude was going up an 800ft high ice flow (just outside of Ouray, Colo). Any fall would be a game-changer (& not for the good).

Next stop, the Moab area (which includes Arches and Canyonland NPs).

A previously hidden view I discovered while flying the drone. I had no idea what this plateau looked like till I got approx. 800 ft above the trailhead.

The photo below (Arches NP) looks like it’s taken at a lake. Nope, the image was created by getting down really low and photographing across a 3 x 4ft pond.

Another bomber reflecting pond.

Yes, every so often you can find a waterfall in the desert!

This place is aptly named Goosenecks State Park. Looks even better from above.

On to Arizona! My exploration focused on two areas, Lost Dutchman State Park and the Kofa National Wildlife Preserve.

This image was taken near my tent at 4 am. The cacti in the foreground are called Cholla (actually jumping Cholla). If you brush up on them, they release their barbed needles. Good luck getting them out. Incredibly nasty plants. I was darn lucky to avoid any accidents!

BTW, for our photo enthusiasts. The photo below was taken by shooting 13 images of the Sky (ISO 8,000, F 2.8, 17 secs) and stacking using Starry Landscaping Stacker Software. The foreground was shot 90 minutes later during twilight. The images were then merged in Photoshop.

The Cholla make great foreground objects and almost glow during sunrise or sunset!

This guy is a Balloon Cactus plant.

This shot features the Saguaro cactus (the really big guys).

 

 

Snitz flies the Mavic 3 Cine

Oh boy! I’m so excited! I can’t believe I have my hands on this bad boy. It’s like Christmas in err December?

But seriously, let start with a bit of history. It’s been 3 ½ years since the Mavic II Pro was released. At the time this drone was priced around $1,300 and could top out at $2,000 with additional batteries, accessories, and a smart controller. In 2020 the company introduced the Mavic Air II, a similar but less expensive drone that started at around $1,000. Similar photo/video quality, range. Ergo a great value.  See update at bottom (new DJI Mini 3 Pro)*

So is the Mavic III worth it? Is the latest and greatest worth your hard-earned $?

Snitz’s Mavic 3 don’t likes!

#1: Crazy expensive. The drone starts at $2,300 and rapidly goes to $3,000 with some needed extra batteries/accessories. Want the smart controller, more onboard memory, and video codecs? BAM your at $5,000. WTF!

#2. BTW, the Mavic 3 also sports a second 162mm equivalent telephoto lens.  Drum roll…which sucks. Only 12 MP, shoots only JPEGs (at this current time). Won’t produce reproducible content. Perhaps future software updates will allow this lens to shoot in RAW.

Now that I’m done complaining, on to the good stuff. What I really like about the Mavic 3.

1. Much better sensor: While the same resolution (20MP) as the Mavic II and Air 2 this drone has a Micro 4/3rds sensor. Ergo the more modern sensor is twice the size. This drastically reduces noise and improves dynamic range (by about 1 stop)*. It’s also much more ISO invariant and produces superior images in low light. In the past, to get clean reproducible images, I’d need to shoot a burst of 5 shots and noise stack*. Now I can get good quality from one image.

2. While the drone’s forward/backward travel speed hasn’t improved, it’s ascending/descending speed has doubled (8meters/sec vs 4 up, 6/3 down).

3. The Mavic 3’s flight time is improved from 31 mins to 46 minutes. This is huge. Normally it takes 5-10 minutes to get my drone in position to photograph (especially if I’m traveling to a remote location). Considering I need to leave 20-25% battery available to return home, the earlier drones usually allowed only 15 minutes of actual shooting time. The Mavic 3 allows almost 30. Twice as much is better! Plus, because I often shoot at altitudes of over 1,000 feet, the faster ascent/descent speeds save precious time.

4. Better range. 10 miles vs 6 with the smart controller. In real-world operations, I typically was able to fly the Mavic II Pro about 2.5 miles away before I’d run out of signal strength. The Mavic 3 realistically stretches that to about 4 miles. As a nature photographer who shoots in faraway places, trying to generate unique compositions, this is a significant advantage.

Bottom line: The Mavic 3 is really geared for Pros or serious amateurs. It’s an expensive but great piece of hardware. For most hobbyists, the Mavic Air II continues to be the way to go.

PS.  I’m typically using drones for still photography.  The Mavic 3 has a number of video improvements, including superior object following that aren’t discussed here.

*Some of you may notice that the Mavic II Pro was listed as having 14 stops of dynamic range compared to 12.8 for the Mavic 3. What gives? After speaking with DJI’s tech support, they sheepishly admitted that the Mavic II only has 12 stops of range. The previously published specs were in fact wrong. Imagine that!

**Noise stacking is a technique to reduce noise by combining multiple images, typically in Photoshop. https://www.slrlounge.com/remove-reduce-noise-from-your-images/

Aug 2022 update: DJI recently announced the brandy new Mini 3 Pro.  This smaller drone weighs less than 249 grams (making it legal in locals/nations that have a 250gram drone minimum).  It’s super small, under $1,000 with all the goodies (smart controller as well) and easy to carry!  It also has a 47 min flight time with the premium battery option. So is it a good option for serious photographers?

Err…not really.  While they advertise it as having a 48 MP sensor, that’s complete BS.  The actual sensor is 12MP (.77 inches) and the 48MP number only refers to their pixel shift mode which basically sucks.  The Mavic 3’s sensor is 20MP (1.33 inches) has much lower noise and less chromatic distortion.  Plus unlike the Mini which gets blown around in big winds, the Mavic 3 can go out on days that would ground it’s little cousin.

Bottom line: The mini is a fun toy, but not something I’d use to capture any images to keep.  The Mavic Air is the better choice for the budget minded.

Good link for more in depth video review

Snitz’s Sedona photo/hiking adventure

Sedona, Ariz is one of my fav places to hike.  Gorgeous scenery, awesome weather (excepting summer), and little driving required (most hikes 10 mins from town).  It’s also a great place for nature photog! Some of my favorite places to shoot include:

Crescent Moon Picnic Area:  Great views along Oak Creek overlooking Cathedral Rock. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/crescent-moon-ranch-at-red-rock-crossing

Upper Red Rock Loop:  Several awesome pullouts provide a view of Cathedral and Bell Mountain.

Airport Mesa Viewpoint (& attached trail):  Not to be confused with the airport viewpoint above.  This hiking spot has only about 8 parking spaces.  It provides trails with 360-degree panoramic views of the entire valley!  After a rain, reflecting pools form on the rock face providing great ops to shoot low and reflect the mountains. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/sedona-airport-loop-trail

Don’t be afraid to use your telephoto lens to capture some far-away action.  This shot was taken shortly after dawn with a 300mm lens.

Boyton Canyon to the Subway:  The Subway is a detour off the main path that while impressive may prove a bit hair raising for some hikers.  Requires a good level of fitness and some climbing experience. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/boynton-canyon-trail

Seven Sacred Pools hike. Great foregrounds. After a rain look for reflecting pools (shoot low). https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/soldier-pass-to-brins-mesa-loop

Some of my favorite hikes also include:

Easy/Moderate

Doe Mountain Loop https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/arizona/doe-mountain-loop-trail

Long Canyon, Deadman’s Pass, Mescal Loop https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/mescal-mountain-long-canyon-deadmans-pass-mescal-loop

Secret Slickrock (easy short/great for sunset) https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/secret-slick-rock-trail?ref=result-card

Sugarloaf Loop https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/sugarloaf-loop-trail

Moderate/Hard

Hangover Trail https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/hangover-trail-out-and-back

Sterling Pass https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/sterling-pass-trail

Devil’s Bridge via Chuck Wagon Trail (great view, overrun with tourists…everyone flocks to this, I’d skip) https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/devils-bridge-via-chuck-wagon-trail

Hard

Bear Mountain https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/arizona/bear-mountain

Click here to see my original gallery photos: https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Other/Galleries/Sedona-2021/n-XpLtXs/

 

Programs I use to process photos

Lightroom(LR): The main product I use for most editing, photo file storage, and organization. New AI updates allow for sky, subject, color and luminosity masking. Allows me to massively edit photos and come back later to easily tweak/improve any edits. Harder to update edits in Photoshop without massive file sizes. My go-to program also for pano stitching and HDR. The new SuperrRsolution tool allows for doubling photo resolution.

Photoshop (PS): I’ll export from Lightroom to PS when I need to photostack, noise stack, exposure blend or modify image perspective using warping tools. Also great for creating Orton Effect glow. In general, the go-to program for complex masking applications.

Starry Landscape Stacker: Mac-compatible plugin for celestial photography. Noise stacking when sky is moving but the foreground isn’t. Link for Starry Landscape Stacker

My other Lightroom plugs. Ergo, programs launched from inside Lightroom’s Photo<Edit menu.

Topaz Sharpen AI: The Cadillac of sharpening software. 10x more effective than sharpening tools in LR or PS. Link for Topaz Sharpen AI

Topaz DeNoise AI: Go to tool for noise reduction. Note, in the case of noisy/out of focus images, use this first before trying to sharpen with Topaz Sharpen AI. Link for Topaz DeNoise AI

Nik SilverEffects Pro: Fantastic plug-in to create memorable black and white imagery. Link to Silver Effects Pro

Caddo Lake: Apocalypse Now?

Caddo Lake, located in Northern Texas, is becoming one of the most photographed Cypress Forests in the United States.  This unique landscape is both gorgeous and pretty darn mysterious looking.

The wetland lake area is massive encompassing over 25,000 acres and stretches into Lousiana.   By the way, since 1965 apparently, there have been literally hundreds of Bigfoot sightings on the lake.  Not kidding!

Each fall (Mid November down there), as the colors of the Cypress trees change, legions of leaf-peeping photographers converge on this place… including T Snitz Esq!

There are essentially two ways to view the lake.  The first is from shore, inside the Caddo Lake State Park.

20 minutes before sunrise.

Five minutes before sunrise.

The background forest begins to glow about one hour later!  Badabing.

Occasionally you’ll see some folks out paddling in the park.

To view the main lake, you need to be on a boat.  It’s difficult to view from the shore in most spots. Dawn patrol. Fisherman locked and loaded (with Coors Light)!

It’s pretty spooky out here.

The colors really pop when the sun is obscured by clouds!

An Egret keeping watch.

Saying goodbye to the Bayou, I had the op to drive through the Ozarks on route home to Illinois.  Armed with a Mavic II Pro drone…got a great vantage point to view the fall color.

See the rest of my pics by clicking the link: Link to the photo gallery

A final word of caution:  Caddo Lake is rapidly getting discovered.  Motorized boat rentals which typically come with a guide (lake can be difficult to navigate) are already getting booked up for next fall!.   For serious photographers looking for a guided experience, many photo workshops for next fall (2022) are likewise already full. Ergo, plan your trip now!

 

Fall colors explode over the Rockies

Every fall the Colorado Rockies erupt with bright colors, making late Sept & early October prime viewing.  It’s hard to pin down the exact week for peak color in advance as the previous winter’s snowfall, rain and fall temps all impact when/how the leaves turn color.

Three primary ecosystems produce the amazing light show.  Large groves of Aspen trees turn yellow, with Cottonwoods typically morphing into an orange or bright red.  Bushes and ground covers often can create a yellow, orange or dark red carpet which enhances the foliage display.

We started our travels in Steamboat Colo. The ski area is surrounded by hundreds of farms and there are great ops to grab photos of horses, cattle, and such.

Speaking of animals, Bullwinkle here was not photographed in the wild.  The photo was taken in the backyard of our Steamboat townhome!

Numerous hikes in the area feature Aspens against the background of changing underbrush.

BTW, a clear sky provides a great op to produce star stars.  For our photos buffs, the trick is to reduce your aperture to F22 and position the sun so it’s just peaking around a stationary object (like these trees).

My hands-down fav place to photograph in Steamboat during fall is the top of Rabbit Ears Pass.  The photo below was taken with the help of a Mavic II Pro drone.  I’m finding that drone photography is a game-changer.  Aeriel photography allows the capture of views that were impossible before (unless you rented a chopper or fixed-wing aircraft).

This year, for the first time, I decided to explore fall color in Crested Butte.  The area is home to some of the largest Aspen groves in the US.  Ground zero for viewing is the dirt road that rises over Kelber Pass.  The best shots were also taken with a drone (often flown one or even two miles away!), which allowed me to position the camera exactly where I wanted it!

Sometimes, rising before or at sunrise is required to view exceptional color. Both these shots were also taken at Crested Butte.

DON’T STOP NOW.  CLICK THE LINK TO SEE MORE PHOTOS!!  Link to more PHOTOS!

 

 

 

 

Wildflower Explosion in Colo’s Rockies

Each summer, the upper elevations of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains come alive with spectacular wildflowers.  The exact timing is dependant on the previous winter’s snowmelt and Spring rains.  Generally speaking mid to late July provides a 2-3 week window of bomber viewing.

The images below come from our home base in Steamboat Springs, Colo.  My favorite viewing spot is the trail up to Rabbit Ears.  And my favorite time?  Err…20 minutes before dawn (aka 5 am).  If you want to catch the best light, be prepared to drill it early.

On route up the trail.

The first wildflower meadow about 20 minutes into the hike.

Rabbit Ears in full glory!

Let’s not forget the Flattops Wilderness area, a 50 minute drive Southwest of town.

July is also the time to catch Steamboat’s annual Balloon Rodeo .

Our next stop is considered by many to be the epicenter of Colo wildflowers; Crested Butte.  There are too many awesome spots to mention, but high on my list is the meadow just outside the riding stables.

Telluride doesn’t have the plethoria of wildflowers but still has among the best mountain peaks in the state!

Next July, you owe yourself the op to take advantage of Colo during the bloom!  Don’t miss it.  More photos!  See the link below!

Link to more photos

Spring in Yosemite!

Exploring Yosemite in late April provides blooming wildflowers and waterfalls running at full power! It also means smaller crowds, especially if you go mid-week (highly recommended).

Combining those flowers with a breaking storm and the iconic “Tunnel View” is bomber!  BTW, for our photo buffs: I captured these images using a technique called “photo stacking”.  I take multiple photos (one focusing close up on the flowers, then a second focusing on the mountains in the background) and combine them digitally into one perfect sharp image (Photoshop).

“Valley View” is another fav vantage point in the park.

Half Dome (below) along with El Capitan (2nd below, taken on an earlier trip) are the two most well-known landmarks in the park.

The park’s two most photographed waterfalls are Bridalveil (shown framed by a rainbow below) and Yosemite which drops over 2,400 ft. Click photo or link at the bottom for high res versions of these images (& to see the entire gallery).

The full moon shown below was captured about 10 minutes before sunrise.  The alpenglow lighting produces some amazing colors, yes? Light at a low angle (pre-dawn or post-sunset) reflects off particles in the atmosphere to create this phenom. Click photo for high res image & full gallery.

The Hites Cove Trail, approx 10 miles outside the park features a boatload of poppies and an airforce of colorful butterflies.

What kind of flowers below?  Lupine!

Click the link below to see more photos(see them in high resolution)! https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Nature-Travel/Galleries/Yosemite-2021/n-L2MW9h/

Snitz hits Death Valley & points West!

I just returned from my first trip to Death Valley.  I also had the op to visit some bomber places on my drive out there!

The trip began in Steamboat Springs, Colo.  About three hours Southwest lies the Colorado National Monument, located in Fruita.  The 23-mile scenic drive has a series of spectacular vistas.  Absolutely worth checking out as you venture West on I70.

The following day, I took some remote jeep roads into the mountains to explore the San Rafael Swell.  Accessed off I70 this area is known for an amazing overlook referred to as “The Wedge”.  The image below was taken immediately after a breaking snowstorm with a drone.  The best part of the canyon can only be shot effectively remotely.  I flew about 1 mile into the canyon to get this perspective.

Day three (& another 3 hours West) lies the town of St George, Utah, and Snow Canyon (often referred to as the little sister of Zion Nat Park).  This uncrowded State Park features interesting pools of water that form immediately after a good rain or snowstorm.

The image below was taken with a drone, looking North.

And finally, the main event: Death Valley. There are certainly some amazing sand dunes:

But also some otherworldly landscapes, like Badwater Basin (shown at dusk and under the Milky Way below).

Talk about unusual, “Race Track” (NW corner of the park) is known for unique rocks that appear to be walking along the clay desert floor.  In reality, ice forming under these bad boys, along with fierce winter winds actually cause the movement.  To grab this shot under the Milky Way, a buddy and myself ventured out on the 2-hour drive to the destination at 1 am!  Then we walked about 2/3rds of a mile to find a suitable rock.  BAM.

At sunrise, a few minutes down the exit road, we were greeted to this crazy image.  The jagged foothills to our east formed the unusual shadows below.

Want to see more!  Click the link for more images (full Death Valley Gallery): https://www.snitzerphotos.com/Nature-Travel/Galleries/Death-Valley-2021/n-Z2KGRD/

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