Posted by: kerryl29 | December 13, 2022

The Story Behind the Image: Porter’s Creek: Vision Realized

I spent about a week in the Smokies this past April (this will be the next photo trip that I’ll chronicle). This region is one of my favorite spots to photograph during spring time, as evidenced by the six trips I’ve taken to the Smokies over the span of 16 years. Even when the overall conditions are less than optimal, Great Smoky Mountains National Park always yields a multitude of memorable experiences. And this trip to the Smokies was filled with less than optimal conditions.

The vast majority of the days I was in the region were of the endless blue sky variety; the dogwood bloom was stunted, the result of a late spring freeze that zapped most of the blooms just as they were emerging; and the wildflower bloom was just so-so. All of this led to more scouting than photographing on most days.

On the morning of the second full day of the trip, a warm, clear, breezy AM, I spent first light on a mostly unsuccessful attempt to make some images along the Ramsey Cascades Trail in the Greenbrier section of the park. It wasn’t long before the light turned bad, and it would remain that way for most of the remainder of the day. When I gave up at Ramsey Cascades, I made the quick drive over to the Porter’s Creek Trail, which is also located in Greenbrier. I have photographed at this location several times previously and decided I would use this part of the “bad light” part of the day to scout Porter’s Creek, an area that is far more pleasing in even light. I figured that, if I found something, I could plan to come back at a more suitable time.

Most of the scout was disappointing. The fringed phacelia that carpets the ground along parts of the trail at peak bloom, was past, as were many of the spring ephemerals, which are typically a highlight of this area. But one spot caught my eye, even with the awful light conditions. I found an area of the creek filled with mossy rocks and fronted by a nice batch of wild geraniums. I actually went to the trouble of setting up my tripod and camera just to see what the ideal focal length would be. The more I looked at the composition the more I liked it and, eventually, decided that I would have to make it a priority to come back to this spot in even light, which meant either a cloudy day (ha) or first thing in the morning/the tail end of the day. The location was about a mile from the trailhead and, because I knew I would have to focus stack to obtain what I was looking for, dead calm conditions would be required. Even the slightest breath of wind would make the flowers dance.

The return trip came two mornings later, my second to last day in the park. There was an image I had found near the Ramsey’s Cascade trailhead that I wanted to try to get first, and then I planned to rush over to Porter’s Creek and double time it up the trail to my chosen spot. This was another clear morning so I had to hustle if I was going to get to my location before direct sun spoiled the scene.

I hit the Ramsey’s Cascade area in the early morning darkness and after the light came up enough to see what I was doing, determined that I’d never get the image I hoped for, as the river itself was creating a copious breeze that was causing the dogwoods I hoped to photograph to sway endlessly. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, I quickly abandoned the effort and drove to Porter’s Creek and literally ran up the trail. Shortly before I reached my spot, I could see sunlight beginning to kiss the treetops. I knew I had very little time.

When I arrived at my destination, I estimated that I had ten minutes, tops, to finish my work before the scene was spent, so I moved rapidly. The scout two days prior really aided my cause as I knew exactly where to place my tripod, which lens to use and how many frames (four) I’d likely need to complete the stack. I quickly metered the scene, set up the focus stack protocol and let it rip. I was ultimately able to photograph the scene both as a horizontal and a vertical. A couple of minutes after I finished, I could see sunlight hitting elements that had been part of the vertical frame.

Both images appear below.

Porter’s Creek, Greenbrier, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Porter’s Creek, Greenbrier, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee


  1. Thanks for writing this blog, I enjoy reading it even though I don’t comment often. Have a wonderful holiday season and Merry Christmas!

    • Thanks very much for the feedback, it’s greatly appreciated.

      Here’s hoping that you have a great holiday season!

  2. I especially like the vertical comp, Kerry. Nice job of making lemonade when Mother Nature handed you lemons. I was underwhelmed on my one Spring trip to the Smokies because I didn’t find very many flowers. I liked the park much better in the Fall.

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Different strokes, and all that, but I encourage you to give the Smokies in the spring another shot. I’ve been to the park in both spring and fall and while the latter was very nice, there are numerous other locations I like in autumn as much or more. But the Smokies in the spring–if your timing is right and it’s a good bloom (both of which are easier said than done, admittedly)–can be magical. I hope that my chronicle of this past spring’s time there will attest, in some small way, to that statement.

      While I’m far from an expert, I’ve gotten to know the park–and some of its immediate surroundings–pretty well, so if you decide to go back and would like some suggestions, just holler.

      • Thanks, Kerry, I’ll keep that in mind. I’m accustomed to the vagaries of spring blooms in the desert SW, but had expected more consistency in the more-temperate East. I wonder whether the changing climate is affecting spring blooms in the Smokies the way it is in the Northeast? I know that the flower-drenched hillsides of my childhood in western MA disappeared long ago. Blooms are sparse in the places where they were consistently lush.

  3. Beautiful photo indeed. Thank you for sharing.

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