Category Archives: Smokies

Shoot It Now, One More Time

Here’s another example of how an unexpected change can affect a photographic subject for many years.

There is a great water wheel at Cable Mill in Cades Cove in the Smokies. It had been quite photogenic, especially with its thick coating of moss. Here’s an image of the wheel made in April 2014.

Cades Cove Grist Mill with moss. (Made 04/30/14 with Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 85mm on Nikon D800E.)

This photograph of the wheel was made in May 2018.

Cades Cove Grist Mill with new moss-free boards. (Made 05/03/18 with ZEISS Otus 85mm f/1.4 on Nikon D850.)

The paddle boards had recently been replaced, making the wheel much less photogenic. It will be years until moss fully coats the wheel again. In fact, there was no reason for me to even make this photo except to illustrate what can happen if you don’t make an image when you first see the possibility.

If you make an image, you can always make a better one later if the light, the conditions, or your equipment are better. If the subject later changes or is gone, you’ll always regret not having made the image when you first saw it. Shoot it now.

©2018 Tom Vadnais Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Shoot It Now, Revisited

In the first Shoot It Now post, I described how a scene can unexpectedly change at almost any time when part of the subject is removed. Scenes can also be irrevocably altered when potential subjects are torn down, uprooted, broken, burned, or collapse. I had originally posted this a couple years ago, but not only did the subject cabin gradually collapse, it has now been torn down and almost completely removed. These photos show the progression.

During the Spring and Fall workshops at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont (, we always take participants to photograph details of the old, deteriorating homes in Elkmont. It’s one of our most popular shooting locations. There used to be dozens of old cabins, but only a few of them are now being saved and renovated by the National Park Service. All the rest have been torn down and removed.

As an aside, before the remaining houses are restored, they are in varying states of disrepair. The National Park Service prohibits anyone from going in some of them, and will ticket you if they catch you inside. This makes a lot of sense, since the floors, walls, and roofs could (and do) give way without warning. If you’re planning to photograph old structures anywhere, please be very careful about exploring inside them, and stay out if there is a No Trespassing sign. It’s for your safety.

One of the houses along Little River had a beautiful wooden staircase. Both the stairs and railing were dark brown, which contrasted well with the white ceiling and walls. I have photographed it several times from the collapsing wooden front porch through the always open front door. Fortunately, in addition to the front door, there were three windows just to the left of the staircase, and two across from it that let light into the room.

The first image shows the staircase in 2008. While it is the obvious subject, the subtle shadows on the wall beneath it add interest. Also, the window to the left both gives light and provides depth by showing part of the outside of the house.

Elkmont House Staircase - 2008

Elkmont House Staircase – 2008

By 2013, the roof began to cave in. Somehow, the window screen was still there, despite the window having fallen out. The staircase and its shadows are still the main subjects, but the story now includes the deterioration of the house around it.

Elkmont House Staircase - 2013

Elkmont House Staircase – 2013

Just a year later, the entire roof had collapsed into the room. The arrow highlights all that could be seen of the staircase anymore. Obviously, it could no longer be the subject of any photograph—except this one!

Elkmont House Staircase - 2014

Elkmont House Staircase – 2014

During 2017, the National Park Service took down and removed many of the cabins in Elkmont, including this one. All that remains of those are the stacked stone chimneys and the stone foundations. I certainly miss the old cabins, but am grateful I was able to see and photograph them before they were gone. Here is a view of what’s left of the cabin from where the front porch and door used to be.

Cabin with Elkmont staircase was removed by NPS. (ZEISS Otus 28mm f/1.4 on Nikon D850.)

So if you come across a potential subject, photograph it right then and there. You’ll never regret making an image of a particular subject, even if you make a better one later. But you’ll always regret not having photographed it, especially once it’s gone.

©2018 Tom Vadnais Photography. All Rights Reserved.

The Recency Effect, So Don’t Delete

Foothills Parkway, Smokies. (ZEISS Otus 85mm f/1.4 on Nikon D810.)

Foothills Parkway, Smokies. (ZEISS Otus 85mm f/1.4 on Nikon D810.)

I made this image in October 2015, but never thought of it again until December 1, 2017. Why did I let it languish? Obviously, the scene struck me enough to make the photograph. But I can’t explain why it took two years to do something with it.

Often, when I come back from a trip, I’m initially disappointed with the collection of images I made. Sure, I’ll have a couple I’ll send to friends to show where I’ve been shooting, but they’re not anything great. Later (and sometimes much later), I reluctantly look through them again, and am pleasantly surprised to find a couple, or even a few, images I really like. That’s always a fun discovery.

How about you? How many times have you gone back through your older, forgotten images and wondered why you hadn’t done anything with a specific image? Or, more poignantly, not only do you not remember making that image, but don’t even remember seeing an image like it before? Yet you made it!

Or how about the opposite effect? Several of my photo friends come back from a week shooting, and struggle for a few days to get down to their top 100 favorites from that trip. Ask them again in a couple months, and they’ll tell you they didn’t get anything at all from that very same trip!

What in the world is going on? That phenomenon is often called the recency effect. It can affect photographers in different ways—initially for good or bad. For some, their most recent images are all masterpieces, and they have a hard time choosing just a couple to show. But then, they lose interest in most of them. Others, like me, after an initial period of disappointment, find images they come to really like out of what seemed like a batch of rejects.

This leads to an important point. DON’T EVER delete images that don’t resonate with you the first time you see them. You made them for a reason. Let them simmer, and revisit them on occasion. You might be pleasantly surprised what’s already in your files.

You Can’t Control Mother Nature

While scouting in preparation for our Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont (GSMIT} fall photography workshop, I visited one of my favorite cascades to make sure it would be a good place to bring the participants. This first photograph was made on Thursday, October 19, 2017—the day before the workshop was to begin. Water levels were so low, that even the full bottle of water I had with me wouldn’t help the situation! No rain was forecast until the last day of the workshop. Obviously, we’d have to find other subjects to shoot.

Tremont Cascade 10/19/17, (ZEISS Otus 28mm f/1.4 on Nikon D850.)

Tremont Cascade 10/19/17, (ZEISS Otus 28mm f/1.4 on Nikon D850.)

It poured rain overnight Sunday, October 22, and continued through when the workshop ended mid-day Monday. Monday afternoon, I returned to the cascade. This time, it was almost overflowing with silt-filled water. Still not photogenic.

Tremont Cascade 10/23/17. (ZEISS Milvus 50mm f/2 macro on Nikon D850.)

Tremont Cascade 10/23/17. (ZEISS Milvus 50mm f/2 macro on Nikon D850.)

Water levels change rapidly in the Smokies, and by the next day, the water was clear and at nearly perfect levels and flow rates.
Tremont Cascade 10/24/17. (ZEISS Milvus 50mm f/2 macro on Nikon D850.)

Tremont Cascade 10/24/17. (ZEISS Milvus 50mm f/2 macro on Nikon D850.)

These were good reminders that landscape and nature photographers are completely reliant on Mother Nature for the conditions we face. We must incorporate whatever water levels, fall color changes, light, clouds, fog, wind, rain, snow, dust, drought, fire, etc., we encounter. That’s why it’s so difficult to duplicate an image we’ve either made or seen before. It’s also why we need to remain flexible when we go out to shoot.

NANPA Field Event in the Smokies

From April 30 through May 3, 2015, NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) hosted a Regional Field Event in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Smokies). I helped lead the event with my great friends Willard Clay and Bill Lea. Together, we have led many Smokies workshops over many years, and had a lot of fun with a most wonderful group.

Jakes Creek in Elkmont in the Smokies.

Jakes Creek in Elkmont in the Smokies.

We were based in Townsend, TN, known as The Quiet Side of the Smokies. Townsend is a wonderful little town just a 20 mile, half hour drive from the Knoxville airport. Our base, Talley Ho Inn is only about a mile from the Park entrance.

Spring Tree in Fog in Cades Cove in the Smokies.

Spring Tree in Fog in Cades Cove in the Smokies.

This Field Event went from 5:00 PM Thursday evening at Talley Ho Inn and ran until the end of the optional critique session at 4:00 PM Sunday the 3rd. For more information on NANPA, including their Regional Field Events, check out this link:

Spring Tree in Cades Cove in the Smokies.

Spring Tree in Cades Cove in the Smokies.

This was a wonderful opportunity for participants to experience the most visited National Park in the country with three experienced nature photographers and teachers who have cumulatively led countless photo workshops in the Smokies over many years. All participants got to experience areas of the Park many of them had not even heard of.

Dogwood along the Middle Prong of Little River in the Smokies.

Dogwood along the Middle Prong of Little River in the Smokies.

Spring is a luscious time to photograph the Smokies. Photographic opportunities include all kinds of amazing wildflowers, plenty of waterfalls and cascades, and the classic receding mountain views. Among my favorites are the vivid and varying Spring greens that are everywhere. Deer, birds, wild turkeys, and even a couple black bears were there for the wildlife and bird photographers. And while not strictly nature, the fascinating historic buildings in Cades Cove and Elkmont were outdoor photography favorites.

Trillium and cascade along Tremont Road in the Smokies.

Trillium and cascade along Tremont Road in the Smokies.

Of course, Nature determined what we shot. Fortunately, She cooperated with us quite well. Areas we visited included Cades Cove, Elkmont, Tremont, and the Foothills Parkway overlooks.

Deteriorating Elkmont Cabin in the Smokies

Deteriorating Elkmont Cabin in the Smokies

Throughout the Field Event, the instructors gave an overview of every place we visited, along with specific suggestions of what to shoot there. We then worked with participants in the field, assisting wherever we could.

Spring Colors from Foothills Parkway overlook near the Smokies.

Spring Colors from Foothills Parkway overlook near the Smokies.

If you missed it, you really should watch the NANPA website for future events.

©2015 Tom Vadnais Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Best Smokies Workshops

Since 2005, I have had the honor of co-teaching two photo workshops per year through the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, or GSMIT. For the Spring workshop, I am one of four instructors, led by great friend and legendary Smokies photographer Bill Lea. (Bill is soon to be a legendary Everglades photographer, but that’s a subject for another post this weekend.)

Bill Lea’s newly revamped website is Our other instructors (and longtime friends) are wildlife and computer wizard Todd Moore ( and professional photographer and master printer Jeff Miller (

Trillium and Falls

The workshop is a fun, action-packed four days of talks, shooting, post-processing, and critiques. It all starts with a presentation about the Fundamentals of Photography in the Field by yours truly at 3:00 pm on Friday, April 20, 2012. It ends Monday, April 23, 2012, at 12:30 pm after a couple presentations by me on post-processing and on the challenges of landscape photography. (Don’t worry; I’m pretty quiet in between those. Well, not officially talking, at least!)

Bill will be presenting programs on Light (Friday night), Close-up Photography (Saturday afternoon), and Wildlife Photography (Sunday morning). Wow, sounds like a lot of presentations. It is, but wait, there’s more! Lots more.

During the workshop, we spend even more time out shooting in the field than we do inside for presentations. We are out before sunrise on Saturday and Sunday, with breakfast in the field. (How’s that for service!?!) We’re also out in the afternoon and evening until after the sun goes down both Saturday and Sunday, again with our meals in the field.

Spring Greens at Foothills

In the time between shooting sessions and talks (I told you it was action-packed), we help with your downloading and post-processing needs. We’ll help you select three images to submit for the critique Sunday afternoon before our final organized field session. For many participants, this group critique is the highlight of the weekend. Afterward, we go right back into the field to apply what we’ve covered in the critiques.

Before the presentations Monday morning, there are several choices for sunrise field trips. This gives you yet another chance to capture sunrise at a location of your choice. By the time the light is too harsh for good photography later in the morning, it will be time for the last two talks and discussions.

Spring Green Tree, Cades, Cove

We usually have quite a few returning participants every time. And that’s not because they flunked and had to retake the course! It’s because it is so much fun, and they can see improvements in their photography each time.

For more information, or to register, please check out:

Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions or would like more information. I hope to see you there!