Spring Photography in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I’ve been to shoot spring photography in Great Smoky Mountains National Park a lot. When I say a lot, I’m not saying that I’ve been two or three times. A lot means that I’ve been to the Great Smoky Mountains for spring photography almost every year for the past ten years. The best part is that it’s constantly changing and there’s always something new to photograph based on the conditions you’re dealt.

This year I took a personal photography trip with my good friend, Kevin Jordan. Kevin had never been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so I was excited to show him around. The first evening we arrived, it rained… a lot. However, being the stubborn landscape photography enthusiasts we are, we decided a brief break in the rain would be a great chance to go photograph some waterfalls.

Spring plants in bloom in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Spring plants in bloom in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I’d been to the waterfall we went to several times, so I wanted to try and shoot some different compositions with my telephoto lens. The photo above is what I decided to compose. The composition shows tons of contrast. There’s moving water against still plants and trees, small trees with large trees, and new plants verses old growth forest. The neon green colors of the Smokies were definitely showing off.

After we’d been photographing for about thirty minutes, the bottom of the clouds opened up again and we had a mile-long hike back to the car in a monsoon. Luckily some warm Mexican food warmed us up.

After a rainy night’s sleep in our tents, we woke up slowly to go explore more. Since the weather was partly cloudy skies, we decided to head up into the mountains to photograph the light dancing on the spring trees of the old Smoky Mountains. I kept my telephoto lens attached to my camera to compress the mountain ridges in my compositions and looked for interesting light and textures.

After a long morning of shooting, we decided to return to our campsite and rest before sunset. Typically when I rest during a photo trip, I actually want to rest. That wasn’t in the cards this trip because while we were eating and refueling, a huge blue heron landed right beside us and started eating his own lunch!

We immediately looked at each other in silence as to say, “We can’t let this opportunity pass!” Slowly and quietly, we grabbed our cameras and followed the heron along the river as it fished and danced through the spring leaves and afternoon light. I love how its neck and body mimic the shapes of the trees all around.

 
A blue heron searching for food in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A blue heron searching for food in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

Every year I try to get a good sunset photograph at a popular spot in the Smoky Mountains called Morton’s Overlook. I’ve been to it countless times and have NEVER been successful. I kept this in the back of my mind and to myself as Kevin and I set out on the hour long car ride to the overlook. He didn’t need to know how many times I’ve been skunked there. Only hope and good vibes this evening.

When we arrived at Morton’s, I was even more nervous that I’d be skunked again because of the low hanging clouds on the horizon. There was a small chance that they could move out of the way for a brief moment as the sun set over the western mountain ridges. Luckily for us, it looked like that was going to happen. We quickly set up our cameras and hoped that everything would work out.

It did.

Right before sunset, the clouds edged out of the way. Orange and yellow beams of light filled the mountain valleys and kissed the tops of ridges. We had a field day watching the show!

Mountain ridges during sunset at Morton’s Overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mountain ridges during sunset at Morton’s Overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunset rays at Morton’s Overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Sunset rays at Morton’s Overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The sun ducked behind the last mountain ridge and the show was over. I turned to Kevin and told him I’d never shot a good photo at Morton’s Overlook and he laughed.

The curse of Morton’s Overlook is broken!

We had one more morning shoot ahead of us at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, so we got back to our tents and grabbed a few available hours of sleep.

We woke up at 4:45 AM to a brisk morning with some lingering fog. “This is a good sign,” I said to myself. We jumped into the car (without coffee I might add) and started the drive up to Clingman’s Dome.

Unlike Morton’s Overlook, I’ve been able to witness some spectacular sunrises at the Dome. It’s truly my favorite place to watch a sunrise in the world. That being said, the weather is never the same at the Dome as it is in the valley. You can never predict what it’s going to be like. This particular morning it was cold. I’m not talking kind of cold with a little breeze. It was about thirty degrees with thin foggy winds blowing at a consistent high pace. Where were my long johns you might ask? Not on me. I was freezing.

The funny thing about landscape photography is that when conditions are typically thought of as miserable, that’s when you get the best photos. And you never really think about how bad you physically feel while you’re shooting because you are so involved with your photos. As I watched the fog blow over the back edge of Clingman’s Dome and set up my composition perfectly, I didn’t even notice that I couldn’t feel my legs, fingers, or face anymore. I only noticed when I tried to yell at Kevin, “This is awesome!” However, it probably came out as just shouts of unrecognizable joy because I couldn’t move my lips.

Sunrise at Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunrise at Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 
Sunrise at Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunrise at Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

Another year, and another great trip to shoot spring photography in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I can’t wait until next year to see how the park has changed and how conditions will impact the landscape. The Smokies truly are a diverse and magical place.

If you want to come with me to photograph spring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, check out my workshops page!