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Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s home to approximately 10,000 species of plants and animals, including old-growth forests and a large black bear population. I captured this image in the Great Smoky Mountains from the deck of our cabin that looks out over Walden Creek, near Pigeon Forge, Tenn., off Highway 321. The road to get to our cabin was a bit startling to a “flatlander” from the plains of north Missouri like me, but to appreciate the beauty of the Smokies, you need to see them from above. So be prepared for steep climbs, winding roads and thoughts of “Who would think to put a road here?”
In the summer, this area is very humid, with more annual rainfall than in most parts of the U.S. Frequent showers and storms pop up, so a waterproof jacket and gear bag can be essential. I also carry a lens cloth to wipe the occasional water droplets from the lens. Winter weather can be mild with little snow, except at the higher elevations. Because of the rapid changes in elevation, the park often has alternating weather conditions from the peaks to the lowlands. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must because of the 800 miles of park trails.
A reliable zoom lens with a wide focal range is a must for photography in this area. I use a Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G because this lens minimizes the gear I have to pack, and the wide angle allows me to record the panoramic views in Cades Cove while the zoom gets me closer to the occasional black bear or helps to avoid a straggling tree limb as I frame shots. Another must is a tripod, like my SLIK PRO 700 DX with ballhead. Since this area has miles of trails along streams and waterfalls, the tripod is essential for blurring the water movement or capturing the early-morning light diffused by the famous fog. Trails such as the Roaring Fork Trail have a rich, overflowing tree canopy that keeps the light low, even in midday, so a tripod is often required. A quality macro lens (I use a Nikkor 105mm ƒ/2.8G) will let you get close to wildflowers, tree bark and hundreds of odd-looking caterpillars that populate the area.
When capturing video panoramics or behind-the-scenes movies with video-capable D-SLRs, lighting up a foreground requires more than just a single burst from a typical flash. With up to six hours of continuous light, the LED soft-light MicroPro camera light from Litepanels provides ample illumination while also taking the guesswork out of using a flash for still shots. The MicroPro anchors to the hot-shoe of a D-SLR and delivers in 5600º Kelvin daylight color temperature, while also including three filters for warming a scene, adding diffusion and changing white balance under different lighting conditions. The MicroPro also can be dimmed from 0 to 100 percent for optimum exposures. Estimated Street Price: $475. Contact: Litepanels, Inc., (818) 752-2437, www.litepanels.com.
Every season in the Great Smoky Mountains provides ample photographic opportunities. There are wildflowers and blossoms in spring, rocks and waterfalls to shoot in the summer, stunning colors from large old-growth forests in the fall and the white calm of winter. A beautiful image is waiting to be captured all year round, but the best time in all of these seasons is the early morning. The silence is stunning, and the morning light always makes for the most dramatic images. So I get up early to set up the camera and tripod to be ready to catch the first light of the day. The famous Great Smoky Mountain fog draped over the hills makes everything peaceful and quiet. So grab some coffee, a tripod and a camera, and make a lasting memory. Contact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200, www.nps.gov/grsm.