Our journey to the Smoky Mountains National Park began on the first day in Gatlinburg, TN with an introduction to our Mentors for the weekend. Layne Kennedy and Wolfgang Kaehler presented some of their fabulous work and led a discussion about telling a story through your photographs. After lunch we departed for the park. Our first location was the Mountain Farm Museum. This area provided us with a collection of farm buildings and agricultural equipment depicting life over 100 years ago. Some of the group also ventured along the Oconaluftee River Trail to capture photos of the flowing water and some fishermen. We then visited Mingus Mill. This was a working gristmill, built in 1886, that uses a water-powered turbine to grind corn into cornmeal. The “silky smooth” flowing water effect was the shot everyone was after at this site. Inside the mill provided great opportunities for close-up photos of the inner workings of the mill. Our first day finished with a sunset shoot at Clingman’s Dome. At 6,643 feet, this is the highest point in the National Park. Intermittent cloud cover prevented us from hiking up to the Observation Tower, but Mother Nature did not disappoint. We were treated to a colorful sunset over the spruce-fir forest. Long lenses provided a compression effect, which really made the “layers” of forest pop.
Day two started bright and early with a sunrise at the Newfound Gap Overlook. This provided a spectacular view of the lowest drivable passage through Smoky Mountains National Park. Our mentors had us experimenting with various white balance settings to alter the look of this dramatic scene. Following our first digital review session and lunch, we headed to Cades Cove. This 6,800-acre valley is the most visited area of the Park. We traveled along the 11-mile loop with stops at the John Oliver’s Place, Methodist Church and Cable Mill. We were surrounded by breathtaking landscape vistas throughout the day. At John Oliver’s Place, our mentors gave a quick lesson on portrait photography in less than ideal natural lighting. The Methodist Church allowed for intricate close-up work inside and the Cable Mill provided running water for those “silky smooth” water photos. Driving back to the hotel, we stopped along the Little Pigeon River before losing the last of the day’s “golden” rays of sunshine. The low water level proved to be a fun challenge for finding the perfect photo op.
Our final day of the trek started with a sunrise at the Oconaluftee Overlook. This vantage point provided inspiring views of the mountain range. We even had some fog which gave the scene a truly “Smoky Mountain” appearance. After the sun rose, we ventured to Laurel Falls. This was a 1.3-mile hike to an 80-foot high waterfall named for the mountain laurel that blooms along the trail in May. The water level was rather low, but the falls beautiful nonetheless. Our Mentors encouraged us to “dissect” the scene and focus in on those smaller details that tell the story. The return hike provided an opportunity for our Mentor, Layne, to teach some “light painting” techniques.
We wrapped up the weekend with our final digital review session and slide show. As usual, it was a well-organized trek packed with photo opportunities. If you’ve never been to Smoky Mountain National Park, add it to your must-see list!! Jeff Eby