The Joy of Photographing the Smokies – Smoky Vistas

The golden light of a Cades Cove morning. The crisp, clear water of a rushing Tennessee river. The sun setting in pastel hues over the rhythmic ridges of the Appalachians. These are the things that bring me back time and time again to photograph in the Smoky Mountains.

It was almost twenty years ago that my family first visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park on our first real vacation. For accommodations, we rented a beautiful log cabin in the hills above Gatlinburg. In my travel bag was a new digital camera that my employer purchased for marketing projects. Barely able to locate the on/off switch, I smuggled it out of the office in hopes of documenting the beautiful nature we expected to see.

yellow tree in the autumn in the Smoky Mountains

The East Tennessee nature was beautiful indeed, unlike anything I had witnessed before, and I tried my best to capture it with the newfangled digital camera. The first images I took were awful, yet despite that, a quest to learn the art of nature photography began.

The Smokies are not far from my home in Southern Illinois. It takes the better part of the day to make the drive, including the bare knuckle section as I pass by Nashville. Once Music City is in my rearview mirror, the remainder of the trip is smooth sailing. I visit as often as my vacation days will allow, preferring the autumn and spring seasons.

My shooting days start before sunrise and end well after sunset. On the passenger seat beside me is my camera, a tripod, handwritten plans for the day, and a few granola bars. A travel mug of coffee and adrenaline gets me through the hikes. I chase the light and seek out dynamic compositions of rivers, trees and mountains. It’s pure bliss.

rushing creek surrounded by autumn trees in the Smoky Mountains

I’ve come a long way with my photography yet there’s not a chance I would consider myself a master of the art. In my mind, I’m only as good as the last photograph I’ve taken. But what I have become good at is encouraging people to visit the Smokies through the images and enthusiasm I share at art fairs, online, and in social media. My humble photographs bear testimony to nature’s majesty and the beauty of the Smoky Mountains and I intend to visit many more times.

Brady Kesner is a professional nature photographer from Highland, IL who creates soothing nature images for homes, corporate offices, and medical facilities. His images are available for purchase at art fairs or through his website at