Tag Archives: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains: Behind the Lens, Second Edition

I’ve just finished writing and assembling my newest ebook project, a second edition of my Great Smoky Mountains: Behind the Lens. So how is this version different from the first?

– More content (80 pages versus 42)

– Optimized for mobile devices and retina screens (hi-res, horizontal format, sized to fit the iPad)

– New locations, new essays, and more images

– Map of the Great Smoky Mountains with marked locations

– Same low price of $7.95. Wait, that’s not different.

For more information and how to buy your own, follow this link.

Just like the first edition, this ebook chronicles many of my favorite images from the Great Smoky Mountains. With each image there is a personal essay that gives some insight with regard to the photographic process I used, my personal experience when the image was created, or information and history about the location. You’ll learn more about landscape and wildlife photography, you’ll have a better understanding of the Smoky Mountains, you might cry, you might laugh, you might accidentally spit coffee all over keyboard.

Below is a sample of the book’s 80 pages. It’s really really hard to read so you might want to buy and download a full-sized copy for yourself. Enjoy!

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Of Radiance and Lameness

“Radiance” Some insane light at day’s end. Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah USA

Driving long, empty stretches of highway alone often lends itself to contemplation and introspection. If I’m not listening to audiobooks or music, I’ll sometimes but not always reflect on some of my shortcomings and how I can improve myself as a human being. Those who know me might find this to be surprising, but I do find that examining yourself – from the outside looking in – can be quite illuminating.

In the process, I think I’ve identified two major personality defects in myself that are somewhat troubling. One is a general lack of patience while the other is the fact that I get bored too easily.

I address the former defect by consciously trying to relax and accept frustrating situations that are beyond my control. This is a challenge and a trial to me but still well worth pursuing. For example, tourists in busy national parks tend to swarm into the scene I’m trying to photograph – all while seeming to have far too much fun in the process. At times like these I feel as if I should carry with me a rectal thermometer to gauge and monitor the onset of becoming an old fart.

Then I remind myself that they are, after all, entitled to be there too and I quietly accept the situation for what it is and wait for them to leave. After all, it’s difficult to justify a disdain for tourists while pretending you aren’t one of them yourself.

The latter defect has no known antidote of which I am aware. So instead of fighting it, I usually feed and propitiate the beast it by giving in and letting it have what it wants. In addition to a strong antipathy toward boredom, I do all I can to not be boring. That means that sometimes instead of agreeing with a conventional line of reasoning, right or wrong, I’ll happily play the contrarian or sarcastically protract an argument for its own sake rather than be bored or boring. In some social circles it’s called being a smart ass but it’s how I sometimes amuse myself nonetheless.

So when I wrote on my Facebook page yesterday that Balanced Rock in Arches National Park is the lamest photographic icon in the world, or something to that effect, I wasn’t necessarily feeding the aforementioned demons of ennui, although some of the comments and outraged private messages I received did amuse me greatly. That was well worth the effort.

George Carlin once quipped, “Somewhere in the world is the world’s worst doctor. Has to be! Process of elimination. And what’s truly terrifying is that someone has an appointment with him tomorrow morning.” George wasn’t disparaging doctors. He wasn’t even putting down the world’s worst….well, maybe he was a little bit. The point is that the world’s worst doctor could still be a pretty damn good one, there just has to be a best and a worst if you’re ranking them.

And so it goes with photographic icons. If I had to rank iconic scenes in U.S. National Parks, I would put Balanced Rock at or near the bottom of the list. It just doesn’t do much for me, especially when compared to Yosemite’s Tunnel View or the Tetons’ Oxbow Bend or the dozen or so other vistas that dwarf the bizarre phallic-looking rock formation that draws carloads of tourists with iPads and smartphone cameras in tow. It’s not a matter of respect for nature, as some accused me of lacking, it’s just that I have really good taste, that’s all.

Oops, I think I’m doing it again.

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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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