I just got back last week from teaching at the Great Smoky Mountain Photo Summit and all I can say is WOW! This was a sold out event within days of being announced and now I know why. It’ll go down as one of my favorite photography events that I’ve ever been to. From everyone who put the conference on, and the killer job they did in organizing it – to everyone who came out. It was just a landscape photography love-fest and I had such a great time.

What Event Am I Talking About?

I wrote about it a while ago, but it was called The Great Smoky Mountain Photography Summit and it was really the first event of it’s kind for landscape photographers. I got the call back in April and instantly thought it was an awesome idea – apparently everyone else did too because it sold out within days of being announced, and had over a 100 person waiting list. Why? See, I think there’s lots of large conferences and shows out there. But nothing really for landscape, nature and outdoor photographers. We have small workshops, but they’re more expensive and you usually only get access and inspiration from one or two instructors, instead of 10 or more. This event, along with a very manageable cost, made it really easy for landscape and nature photographers to get a very personalized week, full of shooting, training, and socializing/meeting with new people.

I equate it to going to WPPI (the wedding and portrait photographers conference). An essential element of that show is that you get to shoot, interact with instructors and other photographers, learn post processing, and get inspired all at the same time. For me, any successful landscape photography conference has to do the same. And this one delivered.

The Location

You couldn’t ask for a better location this time of year. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited of all parks and a large part of it happens during the fall. The colors, scenery and wildlife are amazing. And the summit was hosted at the awesome Tremont Lodge & Resort. It’s owned by one of masterminds behind the entire summit, Wilson Reynolds. He’s a great photographer, great teacher and has done wonderful things with the lodge to make it a really nice place to stay. Plus, it’s super close to the park.

The Opening Keynote

I had the honor of kicking things off with the opening keynote address to the conference, on the first day.  I ended up talking about something I’ve been making little notes to myself about over the last year or so – Things that Nobody Tells Photographers (But They Need to Know). It went over great. I couldn’t have been happier with how it came across, and I think everyone had a lot of “ah ha!” moments throughout it. I’m thinking of writing a small eBook on it, so I won’t go over all of it here. But let’s just says there was a moment where I showed a bird with a Trekkie emblem shaved in to it’s feathers as an example (and it made sense at the time). How’s that for a teaser 😉

Photography Mixed with Classroom

One of the most successful parts of the summit was that photography and classroom time was intertwined throughout. We’d wake up in the morning, break up in to groups and go shooting. Each instructor had a group to take out in to the field, and people go to experience several different instructors throughout the week. Then, when we got back, after some down time usually, there were several classroom sessions planned throughout the day. To me, it was a great mix of being behind the camera, as well as getting in to the classroom to learn Lightroom, Photoshop, camera techniques, composition, and overall inspiration.

Gear and Post-Processing

All of the photos below were shot with:

• the Sony A7R II and either the Sony 16-35mm, 24-70mm, or 70-200mm.

Really Right Stuff TVC-33 and BH-55 Ballhead


• Lightroom CC and ON1 Effects 10

Sunrise Along Tremont Road

On two of the mornings, my group and I went to Tremont Road. It’s this incredible area that, honestly, you could go to for a week and never see enough of and still find something new every time. There’s a ton of areas with mini-waterfalls to shoot at. The colorful leaves were everywhere. And while rain isn’t something photographers always want, it helped out at Tremont. First it keeps the rocks nice and wet which makes for better photos. And it keeps the skies overcast which helps to get longer exposures and deeper colors. And let’s not forget that it extends your shooting time at places like this. On a sunny day we’d have been outta there by 8-9am. But because of the rain, we were able to stay as long as we wanted, and still get great shots.

(Click to see the photos larger)

Great Smokies

Great Smokies

Great Smokies

Great Smokies

Great Smokies

Random Things That Run Through My Head

I have this series of small ideas/tips/thoughts/whatever-you-want-to-call-them that run through my head when I’m out shooting. It was starting to rain so the weather was blah. But then I saw a hole in the clouds where light was shining through on to only part of the trees. So whenever I see something that looks semi-cool, and light is only shining on one part of it – shoot it! The fact that light is only on part of it, makes it look so much more interesting. So I did 😉

Great Smokies

Sunset at the Foothills Parkway

The nice part about the way things were scheduled is that I saw people band together in small groups to go out shooting during down times (or even skip a class here and there to shoot). A few of us tried to shoot sunset at the Foothills Parkway area. Since the sun goes down behind you, there’s not much light on the foreground. But we did have some nice clouds.

Great Smokies

Great Smokies

I had to get home for Halloween so I couldn’t stay for the whole weekend. But I did manage to squeeze in a sunrise shoot on the way to the airport. We went to the Foothills Parkway again because we hadn’t seen a nice sunrise from there all week. Wow! We got the most fiery red sky I’ve seen in a long time.


Great Smokies

Hiking to The Falls

One of my favorite shoots was a small hike to Spruce Flats Falls. Me and several of the other attendees got up early one morning and did the 35 minute hike in. It was still dark most of the way but got lighter as we got closer. It’s a really pretty waterfall and we were alone for the entire time we were there which was a nice bonus.


What About Next Year’s Conference?

I’ve already had a ton of people ask about next year. They’re going to get the registration going soon and I’ll make sure I post it when they do. Here’s the website as well if you want to keep an eye on it – https://tgsmps.wordpress.com

Yes, I Brought My Mom

The photo below is my mom and I at the Atlanta airport. Delta has a really cool service for Diamond status flyers (which means you fly entirely too much by the way), where they may meet you at the gate with a driver and a Porsche to take you to your next gate if it’s a tight connection. I’ve only gotten it once before, but it’s a pretty cool thing to happen when you’re already stressed about missing your next flight.
Side Note: I’m very proud to say that I WILL NOT make Diamond status next year (which means I didn’t travel a crazy amount this year). Sure I’ll miss the occasional perk of the drive between gates and maybe some upgrades, but nothing beats being at home more with my wife and kids 😉


Anyway, yes my mom came with me. Everyone needs some one to carry their camera bag right? 😉 Seriously though, my mom has gotten in to photography lately, and I think she’s felt a bit stagnate in her growth. Partially because she’s in Sarasota, FL and there’s just not much to shoot that interests her around there. Beaches… check! Mountains, streams, changing leaves, waterfalls… not so much. I’ve told her many times that she needs to get her camera to a prettier place, so that she’ll get her confidence level up in making some great photos, and this was the perfect opportunity. Plus, it was a great way to spend some extra time with her 🙂

If you’re wondering if this event would have been for you, well, she’s totally new to this. She didn’t even own a tripod (I let her borrow one though, in exchange for her carrying my bag of course) 😉 Unless she’s lying to me (which is possible because I’m her son), she said she had a fantastic time and learned a ton.

Anyway, I’ll make sure I post about next years conference as soon as registration is open. Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!


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