Tag Archives: great smoky mountains

Book Review: “The Great Smoky Mountains, Behind the Lens”

I just completed reading Richard Bernabe’s ebook, “The Great Smoky Mountains, Behind the Lens.” Richard is a South Carolina based photographer and a fellow member of the Carolinas Nature Photographers Association. His book presents twenty of his favorite photos from the Great Smoky Mountains and builds a chapter around each telling of his challenges, thought processes and memories involoved in the making of each. The book is well written and enjoyable, the photos lovely with the stories ranging from amusing to inspiring. If you’re a nature & wildlife photographer you’re bound to be able to relate to the wonderful stories told in the book. On the other hand if you’re someone that enjoys viewing nature photos but isn’t a photographer you may be fascinated to learn of some of efforts and hardships involved in making these kinds of images. To check it out visit Richard’s website: http://www.richardbernabe.com/behind_the_lens_smokies.htm.

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Wild Elk in North Carolina!

A lot of people probably aren’t aware that Elk were once quite plentiful in the mountainous areas of the eastern United States. The combination of pressure being placed on thier habitat by an expanding civilization and over hunting resulted in these animals being eliminated from this part of the country. In fact the entire species was on the brink of extinction not all that long ago! It is believed that the last Elk was killed in North Carolina in the late 1700’s with the last one in Tennesee being killed less than fifty years later. Due to recent reintroduction efforts wild Elk again roam the Great Smoky Mountains in western East Carolina.

In 2001 the National Park Service released 25 Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Two possible reintroduction locations were considered based on the presence of pastures of grasses for the animals to feed on. Cades Cove in Tenneese and the Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina were the two areas given consideration. In the end the more isolated Cataloochee Valley became the release point. A second release of 27 Elk followed in 2002. An additional release for 2003 was planned but abandoned when North Carolina, along with several other states, banned the importation of deer and elk due to a fear of spreading Chronic Wasting Disease. Today the Elk population in North Carolina is estimated at 150 animals and growing!

Most of the Elk remain in and around the Cataloochee Valley area and that is the best place to visit if one wants to see or photograph the Elk. However, a few have spread out and fairly consistant sightings are rerported along Highway 441 near the Ocanaluftee Visitor Center outside of Cherokee, NC. I had the pleasure of coming across a Bull Elk, three or four Cows and a Calf feeding along the road when passing by the area one morning during my recent visit. Below are a couple of photos of the magnificant Bull Elk.

Elk were once a commong species in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The bulls shed their antlers in March after the mating season.  This Elk was photographed near Cherolkee,  North Carolina.

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Great Smoky Mountains Waterfalls in the Autumn

Juney Whank falls near the Bryson City, NC
For me one of the big attractions to Western North Carolina’s mountains are the waterfalls. There’s something special about the sight and sounds these natural wonders provide. Mix in some fall foliage and you have a receipe for real photographic fun. One issue with photographing waterfalls is that in many cases there’s a long hike involved to reach them. This can eat-up time, a precious commodity when one only has a few days to visit the mountains. Of course there are some falls that are more accessible than others. The downside to the ones that are easily reached is that they’re going to get a lot images taken of them. Finding a unique angle or perspective becomes more challenging when shooting popular locations.

In general there are three approaches to photographing a waterfall. One can use a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement of the water. While this can produce some interesting images it’s not a very realistic way of representing a falls. Another method is to use a shutter speed that will allow some blurring of the water, but not too much. In this case you’re probably going to use a shutter speed somewhere between 1/30 and 1/2 second. This results in an image that closely replicates the way the eye inturprets a waterfall. The final technique, and the one most commonly used, produces an image where the water has a blurred, etheral apperance. To achieve this look use shutter speeds of 2 or more seconds. The difficult part of the last method is to avoid over-exposing the image. Typically the lens needs to be stopped-down to the smallest aperature (largest f/stop number) and a polarizing and/or neutral density filter may need to be added to the lens to restrict the amount of light entering the camera.

Here are a few shots from my recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. All of these locations are easily and quickly accessed. While I’d like to have visited a few of the less easily visited waterfalls in the area, time was an issue on this trip. Maybe I’ll use that as an excuse to return to the mountains in the spring for some more waterfall photography!

Mingo Falls is on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Western North Carolina.

Indiean Creek Falls is part of the

Soco falls is located between Cherokee and Maggie Valley in North Carolina.

Tom Branch Falls is found near Bryson City, NC.

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Nature Photography at Cades Cove, Tennesee: It’s a Love/Hate Thing

A doe stands alert in a Cades Cove pasture near Townsend, Tennesee. Mention the words “National Park” and the mind drifts to examples like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier National Parks. But did you know that the Great Smoky Mountains National park hosts the greatest number of visitors of the 58 National Parks each year? With an area of 521,085.66 acres, roughly half in Tennesee and half in North Carolina, over 9 million people visit the GSMNP each year. While that’s an impressive number, consider that the Cades Cove portion of the park consists of a scant 11 mile scenic loop road yet attracts over 2 million visitors each year. That equates to a heck of a lot of passenger vehicles navigating the one-way loop through the lush mountain valley. It is the almost ever present traffic jams, affectionally known as “bear jams,” that brings the “hate” element to the equation. It can easily take two or three hours to make the 11 mile trip! Now add to the mix the level of rudeness and the lack of knowledge about properly viewing and approaching wildlife many of these visitors posess and you have a receipe for frustration. Fortunately most professional photographers have learned to tolerate it with class.

But what about the “love” part of the story? Simply put, the Cove is a magical place for anyone with a love of wildlife. There are few places where the odds of viewing Black Bear, Whitetail Deer, Wild Turkey, Wild Boar, Coyotes, Foxes, Racoons and other animals are so high. Combine that with the shear natural beauty of the valley and it’s no wonder so many nature photographers tolerate the huge crowds to visit Cades Cove.

During a recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains I spent two nights camping at Cades Cove. I planned the trip so my stay would be during the week, choosing to avoid the weekend for obvious reasons, and after Labor day in hopes of enjoying a reduction in traffic. Of course off-setting the timing was the arrival of peak fall color in the park. True to it’s reputation, the Cove presented many wonderful photographic opportunities during my short stay. Below are a few of my favorites from the visit.


The Carter Shields log cabin reminds one of times past in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A small waterfall in the stream along Cades Cove Road creates a swirl of water.

A dead tree is framed by autumn foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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