Cades Cove, located in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, is on the Tennessee side. I have seen lots of great photos of the area but really didn’t know what to expect. It is definitely not like anything I’ve ever seen on the North Carolina side of The Smokies. The mountains look different and I’m not sure how to explain that to you so that you can understand…they just are.
This trip was set up by the Charlotte Nature Photography Association which I joined about a year ago. I wanted to learn more about nature photography and meet some like minded photographers.
For this trip Maxine Gordon and I decided to go up a day earlier to “get the lay of the land”. We got there early afternoon, checked in the hotel and decided to go to the park to check out the layout of the roads in the cove. We knew this would make us better prepared for an early morning shoot without bumbling around figuring out where we needed to be.
It was overcast and in the 40’s which is nice for shooting. We drove into the park and not far along the trail we saw some cars over to the side, so we stopped to see what they were looking at. There was a mother bear and 3 cubs, however they were so far away that with a 500mm lens on I could barely make them out. Of course that is about as close as I would want to get to a mother and her cubs. Back into the car and on our way, we spotted about 10 wild turkeys. Two big gobblers that were strutting, trying to entice the ladies to come be with them. I put the 500mm lens on and started snapping. Even though I had the tripod on I didn’t seem to be able to get a good sharp image. It was beginning to get dusky and that added to the problem of having to jack my iso up (which adds noise).
If you’ve never experienced dark in a national park, it’s hard to imagine how black it actually gets in the wilds. What a spectacular site to begin our outing though. We also saw lots of deer before it started getting dark.
We got up and left the hotel around 6 so we could get an early start. It only took us about 10 minutes to get there and when we finally arrived there was a line of cars. People were out milling around, mostly photographers, some in camouflage. Max and I were thinking, we’re going to miss any sunrise for sure. I ask someone why we were in line and they told us the park doesn’t open until 7:15. What??? So much for planning for any sunrise shots. The good news is there was fog which we hoped for, but since we were later getting into the park, it didn’t do us much good.
It surprising how close you can get to the wildlife here. I suppose since it is such a well traveled spot, they have become quite accustomed to people. We were able to get some really close deer shots.
The next morning we didn’t get up quite as early and actually it worked out great, because we just drove right in, no waiting. It was a beautiful cold morning with a good heavy frost. Max and I were really excited about that. What we didn’t consider was, that as beautiful as it was, the wildlife was sleeping in. It was hours before they actually started moving around. I did take some photos of deer in the frosty fields but they really didn’t turn out like I had hoped. Max and I ended up taking photos of frost covered trees and paths, and a little macro work on frosty weeds.
I learned quite a bit on this little excursion.I really don’t have the patience I thought I did.
- Wildlife photography is hard work and a lot of waiting.
- You have to be willing to hike back into the wood where the meadows meet the wood line and wait (there’s that word again).
- You might also have to be willing to take some risk as far as getting close to bears and other wildlife to get those great photos.
- Know your subject, i.e., when they eat, when they sleep, and their habits and idiosyncrasies.
- Spend a lot of time being very patient and waiting (oh wow there’s that word again).
- You need some massive equipment, the 500mm lens that I borrowed was still not long enough to do some of the wildlife I wanted to capture.
- You need to spend at least a week on this kind of outing to hopefully capture something that you might consider part of your portfolio.
So I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a wildlife photographer but I thoroughly enjoyed Cades Cove and my time outdoors. I know that I’m going to give this another try because being outdoors on a crisp cold morning seeing the sun sparkle off the frost is magical. I can always concentrate more on macro work and if I have the privilege of capturing some wildlife, it will be icing on the cake.
I now have a much greater appreciation for Wildlife Photographers, so all of you who are reading this, my hats off to you on so many levels.
If you are interested in reading more about this awesome place click on this link.