Great Smoky Mountains, Photography, Travel

Fall in the Smokies 2017: Part 7

I didn’t do much shooting on Friday, except for about 30 minutes along Laurel River Road and Tremont Road with the new 80mm macro lens that Fuji kind enough to lend me.

The rest of my day was spent in sessions at the summit.


Saturday brought a few layers of fog overhead and increasingly brilliant fall color as it reached its peak. I joined a field session led by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, who has a great story and a very cool approach to photography that’s somehow simultaneously analytical and emotional.

She took our group out to Tremont road and asked us all to think of something we like to do, and then a word ending in I-N-G related to that activity. After we had that, Colleen said to pair that word with “water” and then take fifteen minutes to wander the area and find the shot. Without camera gear.

The activity in my mind had been hiking, and the related word was “grounding” because time in the woods centers me and grounds me. I picked my way among the slippery rocks down to the stream and immediately found a great boulder in the river with a gray textured area that seemed to fit “grounding plus water” quite well.

After the fifteen minutes of scouting, we gathered up, grabbed our gear, and then went out to get our shots. I used a wide angle lens to highlight that rock and shot it a few ways for fifteen minutes or so.

Tremont River at GSMNP. Fuji X-T2 w/Rokinon 12mm lens.

Then I decided to go sit on that same rock, so I carefully made my way out there and just sat still for 30 minutes or so, just having a conversation with the river. The sounds of the cascades, the bubbles, the swirls, the way the water changed from smooth to bounding to dropping and then back to smooth again.

After a while, I heard one of our group behind me and I turned in panicked terror to ask if I had been in his shot. He replied, “You WERE my shot.” so that was a relief. Here’s the picture that Randy took:

I then moved off the rock to leave the space for him to shoot without me in it, and walked up the road a bit to get some shots of the base of Spruce Flats Falls. I headed back towards our meeting point and ran into Colleen, where we had a great chat that didn’t have much to do with photography – at least not directly.

When the group returned, Colleen took us through some more excellent tips and then we headed back to Townsend for the day’s classroom sessions.


The final day. I checked out of my room around seven, and then was going to walk across the street for some coffee.

And then our featured speaker for the morning showed up: Ken Jenkins. Let me tell you the story of how I met Ken Jenkins, because it will give you a good idea of how wonderful this community of outdoor photographers is.

For my fortieth birthday, in April of 2014, I decided to spend a week hiking alone and taking pictures at Great Smoky Mountains National Park – my first time in the park. My first morning in the park, I ventured east to the Big Creek area and hiked up to Mouse Creek Falls.

I took it as a good sign that I passed several photographers with expensive tripods photographing wildflowers. I had a nice brief conversation with one of them, and then went on my way up the trail. On my way back down the trail, I saw that same photographer again, and he asked me if I had gotten any good pictures.

We talked for a few minutes more, and he asked me about my photography interests, where I was planning on spending my week in the park, and then invited me to his store and gallery in Gatlinburg. That photographer was Ken Jenkins, a decorated and accomplished photographer.

I did catch up with him back in town a few days later, and Ken graciously told me about his photography and publishing businesses.

Let’s jump forward to my first time attending the Great Smoky Mountains Photography Summit in October of 2016. I knew Ken would be a presenter and instructor at the Summit, so I was looking forward to meeting him again, but I was shocked when he walked up greeted me with a warm “Hey Tay-ed” in that great Tennessee accent of his. Ken Jenkins may be the nicest person on earth.

Anyway, back to the foggy Sunday morning in Townsend at this year’s Summit. Ken and I enjoyed a nice quiet conversation while we were waiting to get into the conference center building, and then we moved through the morning’s sessions.

Prizes were awarded, the instructors gathered for a panel session, and then it was time to head home.

As I made my way through the park heading home, I was sad to leave so many friends, but my heart was full with joy and inspiration.

Stay tuned for my video of this trip – I’ve got tons of great footage if I can ever finish editing it.

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  1. 1

    Thanks for sharing Ted. I agree that the folks at the Summitt are a wonderful group of people and photographers. I am a newbie to this adictive obsession and felt very welcomed by the group.

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