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I’m in Townsend TN getting ready to lead the upcoming Spring in the Smokies workshop which starts in just a few days. I like to get to workshop locations a few days earlier and scout the area to make sure that when the students arrive, we’re heading to the best spots in the park.

I always say that any place with good light can make for great images, but there is something truly special about national parks that make them so inspiring for photographers. Mother Nature reveals her very best in super concentrated form – colors, textures, shapes, drama, pristine beauty, and a spiritual serenity that captivates us all. And certainly the Smokies has all of that and more.

For me it’s a chance to help students make visual and emotional sense of it all, develop their vision, and have lots of fun. Why is fun so important?

Consider the idea of intrinsic value. Kids do things just to do them, and they seem to have the most fun. We adults on the other hand seem to need a purpose for everything, and sometimes that adds a certain pressure and focus on achievement that I believe hinders creativity. Doing something for the fun of it, just because it makes us feel good, is healthy for us – it has intrinsic value. I know from my own experience that often when I just let things happen, without any attachment to the outcome, I feel more open to whatever comes up.

In landscape photography, I think this creates a space where we can look a little more, wait until something moves us, and then try to use our vision to express that in a photograph. And when we’re doing it just for the fun – whether shooting, or just experiencing nature and all of its beauty, it translates to our vision, our emotions, and to the images we make, and best of all to others.

Here’s a very recent example. Last night I was on Clingmans Dome in the Smokies (the highest point in the park at over 6000 feet) and really didn’t have any goal in mind other than to enjoy the sunset. There were several photographers there working really hard with their gear, though I don’t think they were shooting anything. The light faded fast without any real color, and they just seemed in a rush to move on to the next shoot. I may be wrong, but to me they seemed so fixed on an outcome. Each would drive up, set up his/her tripod like the others, check and re-check the camera…and then that’s it. Not exactly the mindset I described above.

No sooner did they all leave, twilight took over and I was able to make the image below. Did I get lucky? Sure. But I also had to find the right position, try a few compositions, and work fast. The point is I reacted to the situation rather than my expectations – I didn’t have any. Perhaps it has to do with purpose, and the point of it all. But that’s something I’ve talked about here many times before.


What do you think? Have you been in the same situation? Do you struggle with any of this?


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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Love this viewpoint! I think your innate love of nature (and the way you work with light) is what makes your landscapes shine. But the first thought that came to mind when I read this article was: Winnie the Pooh! (He never chased after songs; they found him) 🙂

    1. Thanks Rae for the feedback – glad I reminded you of Winnie, I never would have thought that! But it is true the more you focus on what matters to you, the more it seems to find you naturally.


  2. Yeh, that’s a big challenge: when I am visiting a place it’s so easy to get sucked into a sort of frenzy thinking of all the possibilities or even when presented with one, and realizing the window of opportunity is short, I’m so focused on the capture that I’ve lost why I am there. It’s definitely a tension. For me, I think the answer is simply to spend time with a place — a lot of time! It’s then that I can recognize when opportunities present themselves and I can attempt the capture while still feeling present. So I’m not at a place where I can do both — work fast and being; or at least, it remains a challenge!

    1. It is a balance for sure – sometimes the moment is so rare and amazing that working hard to capture an image is the only thing that matters- and that’s great when you’re inspired. I’ve been there many times, and getting into the “zone” is a wonderful experience that helps us focus on being as creative as possible.

      Find what you’re passionate about (which it seems you have) and make pictures that you think are worth sharing with others. Whether or not they work or are successful is not important, but the act of trying is what makes us better.


  3. I know what you mean by just letting things go and have fun. Problem (not a problem for you) is you’re experienced and they’re not…maybe. Also I’m not sure they have scouted it before either and it just so happened that they stumbled on it. Another thing is they may very well believe they’re a kid in a candy store where as there’s so much to do but they just can’t make up their minds what to do. I have certainly been in that situation before.

    1. Hi Al – thanks for the feedback, and I apologize for the delay, just getting back from teaching a workshop in the Smokies.

      I appreciate your perspective, and agree that experience is a factor. My point was to emphasize the idea of enjoying photography without the need to make it a win or lose activity. That’s one of the reasons I avoid photo competitions in general, but that’s a subject for another blog post.


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