People of Note: Jenny Keller, Author

People of Note:  Jenny Keller, Author

Here is an installment in my new series, Person of Note, that highlights the people whom I photograph for their headshots.  Meet Jenny Keller, an up-and-coming write of Christian fiction whose book is set in one of the most beautiful spots in the world - the Great Smoky Mountains!

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Happy Trails to David and Marleth: a Marriage Proposal in the Saddle

Happy Trails to David and Marleth: a Marriage Proposal in the Saddle

What could be more romantic than to ride horses along a wooded trail in the beautiful Smoky Mountains to the top, and with the mountains spread out below you, ask for your lady's hand in marriage?  It is great fun for me to not simply photograph a marriage proposal, but to assist the groom-to-be in planning the right spot and making it happen.  The world is my studio - let me be there with you!

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A Marriage Proposal Along a Country Lane, Planned: Jessica + Sean

Spring is almost here, but a young man's fancies turn to love way before it arrives, trust me.

I was contacted by a delightful fellow named Sean.  Seems he did a search online for "guerrilla proposal photographers" in the Knoxville area - at least, that is what he told me - and my name came up.  We chatted and soon Operation Jessica was underway.

But where to have it?  Sean wanted, as most guys do, some privacy, but preferably a place easy to access and near a stream - it seems the first date he had with Jessica was a picnic by a stream, and he wanted to preserve that memory.  Oh, and in the Smokies, of course, as they would be visiting from Alabama and staying in Gatlinburg.

And horses, if at all possible.

Unfortunately, this time of year sees all the stables in the area closed.  But . . . deer.  At least some nearby.  With that in mind, we decided on Cades Cove, after some discussion and me emailing him pictures of various sites as suggestions.  Specifically, this would take place along Sparks Lane at Abrams Creek.  Picturesque.  Semi-private.  Water.  And a plan was put together.

No, I mean it - a plan, written down.  The image above is one of the pages sent to him.  When I do a proposal, I go out to the site and take pictures, so the groom-to-be can see where it will take place, and have arrows or other marks to show him how it will be set up and directions to follow.  We exchange phone numbers so things can be coordinated.  Which proved useful when Sean and Jessica got delayed driving up and he was afarid he would not make it to the rendezvous spot on time - Forget GPS, I was able to give him an alternate route that not only got them to Cades Cove on time, but spared them the misery that is the Friday traffic of Pigeon Forge.  Son, I got you covered - and I am bound and determined to see this proposal take place!

I told Sean, take your time - walk down to the creek, relax, stretch your legs.  Wait for cars to pass by so they are not in the shot (fortunately, this was a Friday afternoon in February, so the Cove would not be crowded).  When the time is right, whip out the ring and get to business!

And this happened:

Sean looks around to note my position.  Okay, this is happening. In the meantime, I have nicely asked a car coming on my side of the creek to hold back for a few minutes.  People are happy to help. 

Yes, yes, enjoy Abrams Creek.  Reminisce about your first date.  Set the mood.

Ah, good - head over the designated spot.  But, wait, is that a . . .?

Cars coming!  Sean remembers to wait, and after they've passed . . .

Will you marry me?


And happiness this ensued . . .

A few hiccups but this is real life.  Now they have this moment to share with friends and family (if not someday their children and grandchildren) and will be able to return to "their spot" by Abrams Creek along Sparks :Lane in future visits.  Sure, it takes some reconnaissance and planning, but you'll be the hero for arranging this.  

Congratulations to Jessica and Sean - may they have many years together in health, prosperity, and happiness!

A Son Comes Home to Cades Cove: Elizabeth and Andrew's Engagement Shoot

On the bride at the trail head for the Abrams Falls trail.

When I photograph an engagement session, it is important to me to help choose a location that has meaning to the couple.  With the case of Elizabeth and Andrew, that selection also gave me the chance to shoot in my beloved Smokies.

Despite the number of visitors this time of year, the three of use decided the best place would be Cades Cove.  Cades is VERY popular because it follows an 11-mile loop around the cove and is one of the prime spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to view what so many people hope to see: the black bears.  Even if you don't see bears, the cove usually offers the chance to spot deer, wild turkey, and coyotes.

At the Primitive Baptist Church

But we were not there to shoot wildlife.  Instead, we chose to find well-known spots in the cove.  You see, Cades Cove was first settled in the early 1800's and the last resident left in 1999, after the federal government bought the homesteads and farms to create the national park.  Andrew is a historian who has done projects about the cove's residents - but much more than that, he is a direct descendant of the families who lived here.

He's kin - and in East Tennessee, that carries a lot of meaning and importance.

Strolling along Hyatt Lane.

Elizabeth had asked me if I thought it odd that they wanted to be photographed in one of the cemeteries, since they are both aficionados of visiting old graveyards.  Not at all!  In fact, I daresay since we visited the resting place of some of Andrew's ancestors, they would be delighted to see their future generations come back to share in their happiness!

At the Cable Cemetery near the mill.

Remember, pictures are for now AND the future.  These images may well be viewed by not only their children, but their grandchildren and maybe even beyond that - and they will be able to see where their roots lie in the mountains.

And know where home begins.

Click on any image above to view in a larger size.

Sunday morning in Cataloochee Valley - and for the love of elk

Towards the end of the valley.

I don't know why the leaf-peepers flock to Cades Cove to see "color."  Sure, Cades is beautiful in its own right, but although it is smaller, Cataloochee Valley on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is better for Autumn foliage, in my opinion.  And you are guaranteed to see the resident wildlife: the elk.

Provided, of course, that you go at the right time.  The elk like to spend their time during the day and at night in the woods.  They come to graze in the valley right at dawn and right at dusk.  How long they spend before heading back to the woods depends on factors such as the time of year, the temperature, the availability of food, etc.

Since the only way into Cataloochee Valley is either via a long rutted, dirt road or a shorter, rutted dirt road, most tourists will come for the "sunset show" since they don't want to drive in the blackness of a pre-dawn morning along these roads.  Fair enough - this leaves the sunrise for the photographers to come.  Besides, in the morning you can get some nice mist.  Yesssss . . .

Mmmmmm . . . ground fog . . .

But really, it is all about the elk and right now Cataloochee has one big, dominant bull.  There was another bull who got together a harem, but he had to be put down due to a wasting disease - that allowed this bull to combine his harem with the deceased bull's harem of cows and live a happy life.  

BTW, in the pictures that follow, I have cloned out the collar on the bull; he's wearing one so the park can monitor him to ensure no more disease.  Unfortunately, it is a bright orange with a box, so I took it out; as a rule, however, all mature females are collared by the park so I left those in.

It's good to be the king

"Hey baby, hey baby, hey baby . . ."

" And moree, much more than this . . . I did it myyyyyyy waaaayyyyyyy!"

Okay, a confession - in the picture above, Big Guy is curling his lip, not bugling.  I guess he had kicked a** earlier in the season, because none of the younger bulls were bugling to challenge him, but he did bugle about three times while I was there.  Have you ever heard an elk bugle?  It's pretty damn funny.

"Amazing grace . . . how sweet the sound . . ."

Here he is bugling and I figured he was just singing a hymn by the old church.

As I said, I think the color is better in Cataloochee Valley.

Younger bulls play with mock battles, getting bigger and stronger, until they can challenge the dominant bull and acquire a harem of cows for themselves.

Here is a gallery of remaining images.  I hope you enjoy them and I would be grateful if you can pass on the link to this post, so others can enjoy the images but also because of what I am about to say.

Okay, while most of the people out early in the morning are photographers, the overcast and cool of the day meant that the elk would remain in the valley longer - but this also means that by 8:30 am, more tourists were coming in.

Tourists + morons = tourons

There are numerous signs informing people that (1) they need to stay away at least 50 yards from the animals (sometimes that is not possible, such as when they are crossing a road, but stay back a good distance and remain still while they pass) and (2) you cannot go into the fields during the rut in Cataloochee, i.e., the mating season.  And the rut is on now.  These two lovely tourons decided they would ignore those rules and walk out towards the old church (I am shooting this from the road where they are supposed to be) . . . placing themselves right between these two cows and the dominant bull.

Now, he could see them as a threat - and charge them.  If he had done that, it could mean they would be killed or seriously injured.  The bull, however, despite doing what a bull elk in rut do, would pay with his life.  The park staff would have to put him down.

He didn't . . . BUT every incident like this, as seemingly innocent that it may look, contributes to the wildlife losing their natural fear and/or avoidance of man.  They get used to man being there.  Then they start seeing man as a food source.  And that is when they become "nuisance" animals and are euthanized by the park.  Cataloochee already lost one young bull when he "played" with a photographer; I heard from a knowledgeable source that this elk had been fed by tourists and that the photographer encouraged him by remaining there despite the opportunity to move.  The result?  The elk was put down, lest he do any more harm to visitors.

So, please - don't be a touron.  The rules are there to protect both you and the wildlife.  I would like to think my grandchildren will be able to come and see the elk, the deer, the bears, the mountain lions, the coyotes . . . but behavior as demonstrated above little by little dims that chance.

It is the public's park, but it's the animal's home.  Remember that.

Blue Moon in the Smokies

Last night afforded me the opportunity to shoot a blue moon.

For the record, no, the moon is not blue.  A blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month.  It does not happen often, hence the expression "once in a blue moon" to mean a rare occurrence.

Moonrise over the Great Smoky Mountains, looking towards North Carolina.

I had posted on Facebook that I would be heading up to Clingmans Dome, a high point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to capture the moon.   I love the Smokies and a 90 minute drive was not out of the question (the biggest headache being the Friday night traffic in Pigeon Forge, but there are ways around that).

Just remember, how many countries are in the "Visited the Moon" club?  Thass right, just one - 'Murica!

I made some discoveries while there.  First, the flashlight on my cell phone makes a handy little LED light to use for night portraits, as I did here with my dear friends - and great photographers in their own right - Brenda and Eddie (bonus points if you start singing the song featuring a couple named Brenda and Eddie).

They say guys only buy big lenses to compensate for something, but I dunno . . .

Second, a method called "expose to the right" that can be used to pull oput detail in a night sky polluted by light does work.  Here, despite there being a very, very BRIGHT full moon to camera left, I caught the galactic center of the Milky Way.

Third . . . despite it being July 31st and the dog days of summer, it got cold.  Temperatures dropped to the lower 50's and a stiff wind came up, making it feel chillier than it was.  No matter, I went prepared and relished a taste of the autumn weather to come.  Next time, though, a thermos of coffee is getting thrown in with the gear.

I finally packed it in at 11:00 pm. knowing I had a drive to Charlotte the next day.  However, on my way off the mountain, I had to stop at Newfound Gap, a popular spot sitting on the Tennessee - North Carolina boundary.  I have learned that at the end of a shoot, always look for "that last shot" and I wanted to see if I could find it there.

And I did.  I noticed this couple sitting on the low wall, enjoying the blue moon.  I approached them and asked, "Howdy, folks - say, I got this idea for a picture . . ."  And they obliged - many thanks to Phil "Doc" Johnson, the director of the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, and his wife, Mary, who told me that she and him were "good friends and spouses" for the last 25 years.  

What could be more romantic than a longtime couple who stopped for a kiss beneath a blue moon while out for a motorcycle ride under the stars?

Love is what it's all about, people!

If this is lunacy - the word derives from the Latin word for moon, luna - let's have more of it!