Autumn Brilliance at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont

So what seems like an eternity ago but what was really only a few months, I got a little uber-mommy time. That’s right, I got to spend a glorious long weekend at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont for the Autumn Brilliance Photography workshop. With the boys shipped off to Gma for safe keeping, I got four days away sans all demands of homeschooling and domestic duties to soak up the awesome that is Will Clay and the Smoky Mountains.

Will's first test for us...sunrise on Foothills Parkway

First, The Workshop…

As you know, I was already a fan of Will and his work. He’s a rare combination of great talent, teaching ability, personality, and passion. After meeting him in Atlanta for a seminar, I knew it would be worth the time and energy to venture off to Tremont for his workshop. And while Will was the reason I ventured to Tremont for the first time, it turns out he had way more up his considerable sleeve than I imagined, and that was his assemblage of additional instructors.

Watching the sun rise over mountains and through trees is all kinds of granola goodness.

Not only is Will all sorts of groovy, he handed to floor over to some other wonderful photographers to help us photographer wannabes become more “be” than “wanna.” So I have to give a shout out to his other instructors…Tom Vadnais, Steve Zigler, Ken Thompson, and Todd Moore. It’s safe to say I learned a lot from each of them and they were the chocolate sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherry on top of the Will Clay sundae. And while I realize that’s probably a really odd metaphor for photographers, you get the idea.

At any rate, I won’t go photo-geek on you with all the minutia of the workshop, but I will say that it was very worthwhile. With visits to Foothills Parkway, Elkmont, and the Middle Prong River there was plenty of opportunity to put into practice all of the expertise they shared with us. They deftly handled all ability levels and we, as students, got to benefit from their extensive knowledge of the area. I thoroughly appreciated that Will kept maximizing our shooting opportunities as the top priority even if it meant breakfast in the field. As Will said…”We’re not here to eat.”

Aside from the opportunity to expand my photographic abilities, just having time to hang out in the Smokies with my camera and a bunch of cool, talented people was enough to leave a silly grin on my face for days. Be sure to check it out if you’re looking for a great workshop in a stunning location…

With countless cascades, there's plenty to keep you busy in the Smokies.

…which brings us to the location.

Tremont is a cozy little retreat that hosts all sorts of events…family weekends, courses, school groups, etc. Of course, I was so wrapped up in shooting the natural landscapes that I didn’t get any shots of the facilities themselves for you. Never fear, I’ll be sure to grab some when I’m there next month, but more on that later.

At any rate, the accommodations are simple and in keeping with the natural setting nestled on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. Obviously this isn’t a luxury resort but that’s ok. It’s what it needs to be and you know I’m not one for frills anyway so this is right up my alley. Having said that, as much as I like the simple life, I will say the that dorm rooms are not for the light sleeper…ahem, that would be me. (And I now know why many of the participants hoteled it in town!) In spite of the limited sleep, I still had a great time exploring Tremont and will be a repeat visitor.

The Middle Prong River has infinite details to capture.

Oh so full calendar…

…but in a good way. So yes, I will be returning for the Spring Photography Workshop…and probably the autumn workshop again in October. And because I can’t seem to get enough, I’ll be pursuing the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification in addition to honing my photography skills. So I’ll certainly be posting lots of Tremont fodder this year and next time I’ll be sure to take a few more shots of the place itself.

In the meantime, here are some of the shots I managed during the workshop, plus a few more over on my Flickr page for Tremont. Hopefully you’ll get a feel for the beauty of the Smokies if you’ve never had the opportunity to visit. Trust me, there’s a reason it’s the most visited park in the U.S.

The Smokies are an idyllic place to get lost along dreamy streambanks.
Foothills Parkway is a popular destination...and for good reason..
A study of reflection and shade.

And now for your moment of green…

One of Will's assignments...our zen word. This is my contribution to Intimacy.


  1. Val,

    Thanks for your kind words about the Tremont workshop. I’ve been involved with them for 12 years now, 2 years as a student and 10 years as an instructor. I have to admit teaching the workshops and being involved with the Great Smoky Mountains Institute a Tremont is one of most rewarding things that I have been involved in. I’ll see you at the spring workshop!

    Todd Moore

    1. Wonderful to find you here Todd! Looking forward to the workshop and al I can absorb. It’s a fantastic place to learn. See you soon. – V

  2. Val, what a beautiful pictures! The Smokies really sound like photography paradise to me.
    You have introduced Will to me when he linked to my blog in one of his articles on the blessing or the curse of our digital world (thanks for that by the way). His work is wonderful indeed and it must be thrilling to follow his workshop.
    Your moments of green are always some kind of landmark points in a week full of work and digital overload…
    Thanks Val!

  3. I am not much of a photographer, but your pictures are so beautiful. Maybe I should get a better camera and take a class…Or I could just keep coming over here to look at your pics.

    1. Thanks Tiffany! You’d be surprised what you can do with even a point-and-shoot these days. A little insight from the likes of folks like Will goes a long way in altering how you approach your shots, even those family travel ones. Given your outdoor inclination, you should join me at GNPA for a meeting. You can learn a lot there…great programs, great folks. -V

  4. Enjoyed your article! I was at the Fall Tremont workshop too and just loved Will’s presentations. I’m thinking you may be the lady who rode with me back to Foothills Parkway the last day.

    1. Yes indeed Rosemary…I was the flake who lost her glasses and hitched a ride with you so I could go back up to look for them. I guess I blocked that part out…forgot to put that little story in the post. Hope you’ll be returning to the workshop, you certainly raised the level of photography there. Beautiful work!

      1. Sorry we didn’t find the glasses. I’m considering the Spring workshop. I really enjoyed my first Tremont workshop.

        1. Ah well…lesson learned on my part. I got one of those stringy things for my new set of specs so I don’t drop them again. Hope you can make it to the spring workshop. I’m really looking forward to it!

  5. Being a Will Clay groupie, I know exactly what your mean about Will and his colleagues, Tremont and the Smoky Mountains. I love them all and Will helps all of us find the best of the best.

    I am glad you got to experience Will’s workshop at Tremont. It is not to be compared anywhere!

    1. Yes, Tremont is wonderful. Can’t wait to get back there in a couple of weeks and very much looking forward to the Spring photo workshop.

      I wonder if Will knows he has groupies! And how many do you think are out there?

  6. Beautiful pictures Val!!!!

    1. Thanks Gma! And bigger thanks for the kid-sitting services so I could go…

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