Tag Archives: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Loose Ends and Random Thoughts

“Haunted By Waters” Spruce Flats Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The image above was taken in April of this year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. This is an excellent example of what I try to teach my students when photographing waterfalls: We are not taking a portrait here. We are creating a landscape image with a waterfall as one of the elements. Walking up on the rocks and filling the frame with the waterfall would have been an easy thing to do but the end result would have been boring and banal. This composition includes the waterfall as a crucial element – as well as the primary focal point – but the image has an elegant visual design that goes beyond being just a portrait or documentary photo. Primarily, the flow of the stream and the placement of the rocks below the falls gets the eye moving back and forth through the frame giving it a dynamic quality that a static portrait would lack.

“Haunted by Waters” is a new addition to my Smoky Mountains Galley and depending on the conditions, is a location we will be visiting on the Smoky Mountains Autumn Workshop in October.


Speaking of workshops, there are two new workshops listed for the first quarter of 2014. For the 4th straight year, Ian Plant and I are leading another tour to Patagonia on March 10 – 19.

For the very first time, I am offering a Winter in Yellowstone photo tour and workshop in February that will combine the very best winter landscapes with wildlife photography. Jackson Hole professional wildlife photographer, Jared Lloyd will be my partner on this trip.

I’m sorry to announce that Arches and Canyonlands, Utah in November is now full, as is Acadia in October. Joe Rossbach and I still have a few openings for the Tetons in September so let me know if any of you have questions about this trip.

Photographer Christina Donadi has written a detailed review of my Smokies workshop from this past spring. Check out the rest of her blog for more excellent photography!


Last week I was listed as one of the top 100 travel photographers in the world for 2013 by ChiliSauce, a travel blog in the United Kingdom.  When I made the announcement on Facebook and Twitter, as a courtesy to the the owner of the blog, I made the announcement with a controversial preface: the words, “For whatever it’s worth…..” This was met by more than a few emails and private messages by annoyed fans and followers. Most began with a mocking, “For whatever it’s worth….” and eventually got around to making the point that I was not being grateful or gracious about the “honor.” For whatever it’s worth, you’re acting like an ass.

Look, this is not merely false modesty on my part. I do appreciate being listed with at least 99 other very accomplished photographers. But the list is just one person’s opinion and there are some very conspicuous names missing as well as some people I’ve never even heard of. So that’s what it is, one person’s opinion and that’s about what it’s worth. Sorry to offend.

So now I’m off to Africa for two weeks. I’ll try my best to post some crappy phone images here as well as a report or two on how I’m doing. Be sure to Subscribe to Earth and Light to keep up with my  latest travels realtime.

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The Water’s Edge

“Water’s Edge” Porters Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I’ve just returned home after spending twelve days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Springtime in the Smokies is an annual rite of seasonal passage for me. The new season really hasn’t arrived until I’ve made my annual pilgrimage to these ancient mountains to watch the leaf buds break open and the many thousands of wildflowers bloom right before my very eyes. The Smoky Mountains I left behind was a very different place than what welcomed me a dozen days earlier.

During those twelve days, I led two workshop groups (one review of the experience you can read here) and led two private trips as well. During the private trips in particular I really tried to push the proverbial envelope in order to get new and unique images of a place I have photographed…..well, I can say honestly, many hundreds of times. In the process, I got soaked, muddy, frozen, and went tumbling down a 15-foot cliff onto some rocks without breaking any bones. A few bruises, cuts, and scrapes never hurt anyone and besides, I didn’t have my camera gear on me at the time. I had a filter in my hand, which I did not drop nor break, I am proud to report.

For the image above my client and friend, Lance Warley and I stood thigh-deep in the rushing water during a cold rain as each of us took turns shooting the scene while the other held an umbrella to keep the lenses dry. Lance, being the smarter photographer, wore waders while I experienced the full force of the icy water’s stinging wrath (when I said the water was “thigh deep” I might have been on the conservative side of the truth). During the fun and mayhem, one of my wading shoes became wedged between two rocks, dislodged from my foot, and floated downstream.

To help get out of the water, we each unknowingly grabbed a hairy poison ivy vine to help ourselves back up on the bank. After realizing the composition of the useful handhold, we washed our hands thoroughly after finding easier access to the water further downstream. There, miraculously, was my missing wading shoe sitting atop a midstream boulder – as if it was patiently waiting on me to arrive. All in a day’s work.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my Smoky Mountains Online Gallery. Or you might also be interested in attending my Smoky Mountains Autumn Workshop this October. Or you can simply Subscribe to Earth and Light for more entertaining posts like this one.

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The Spine of Time

The title, The Spine of Time is borrowed from a book by Harry Middleton, On the Spine of Time, which chronicled Harry’s journeys through the Smoky Mountains as a young fly fisherman. It was a very influential piece of work in both its writing style and its infusing in me a desire to explore the Smoky Mountains as both a hiker and angler. The words from chapters such as Bagpipes on Hazel Creek, Mountain Stones, and Deep Creek Time are still with me today when I visit the Smokies on my frequent photography trips, even though it’s been well over ten years since I’ve read the book. It’s still in print today and in my opinion, no better word picture of the Smokies has ever been written. The image above is dedicated to the late author, because as I was creating this photograph the title immediate sprang to mind.

Today I am making the 3-hour drive to the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and will be spending the next 10 days there. Before leaving, I uploaded a new gallery to my website which showcases some of my favorite Smoky Mountain images.

Smoky Mountains Collection

I hope to add to this collection upon my return.

I’ve also updated the Earth and Light Collection as well, so please take a look when you get the chance. I hope to soon add to this collection as well if I can ever find the time.

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Great Smoky Mountains Creative Photography Workshop

Only three more spots open for the Great Smoky Mountains Creative Photo Workshop this coming April 14-17. There are more details here and you are free to contact me directly for more information or to ask any questions you might have. See you in April!

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Breaking Storms

“Breaking Storm”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, USA

For landscape photographers, storms are a double-edged sword. Too much storm stuff – you know, clouds, wind, rain, etc. – and you can be shut out. Too much storm stuff is almost as bad as no storm stuff – clear, blue, cloudless skies. Oh yeah, that’s bad too.

I can’t remember where I was at the time, but I was staying at a hotel doing photography for an extended stay. Every morning, the front desk clerk commented on the weather, knowing I was a nature photographer.

“Looks like you’re in luck today,” he would say happily. “Beautiful sunny skies ordered up just for you.” I would explain that sunny blue skies kind of sucked, but I would do the best I could in spite of them. He seemed confused, but after some explaining on my part, I think he understood a little bit.

The next time I saw him a day or two later, the weather was lousy. The sky was completely socked in with a featureless, grey pewter ceiling with the wind gusting.

“So, is this more to your liking?”

“Ummm. Not exactly. Say, do you have any of those fresh-baked cookies and coffee ready?”

This illustrates a couple of things. First, we photographers are never really happy with the weather. We too easily forget the fantastic successes we’ve had in the past and focus only on what the weather conditions are at the present time, and those conditions are usually the wrong ones – or at least appear to be wrong.

“Clearing Storm”
Fitz Roy Massif, Argentina

Secondly, “bad” weather for us usually applies to the extremes. Low pressure is bad. High pressure is even worse. What pleases us most are the edges – particularly rotten, stormy weather as it starts to clear. How many images have you seen with the title, “Breaking Storm” or “Clearing Storm?” Too many, you say?

That’s because for sheer drama, both light and clouds are what we want in our images. Approaching bad weather is usually slow and methodical with accumulating high cirrus clouds followed by flat grey skies. Before you know it, the sky is dreary and you’re getting drenched. It just sort of happened. There doesn’t appear to be any singular or dramatic event to capture. But a clearing storm always seems to have a defining moment when the clouds break and something magical happens. It doesn’t always happen, mind you, but I want to be in a good place, ready to go, if and when it does.

So if I’m home for a couple of weeks, – as I am now – and I want to go out in the field for a day or two, I’m going to watch the weather closely and pick my moment when a rain or snow system is breaking or a cold front is approaching. You can never control the weather but you can increase the odds of getting dramatic light by timing your photography trips around clearing storms.

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