Find Your Photography Bliss at Tremont

As you know, I’ve become a bit of a Great Smoky Institute at Tremont junkie. It’s becoming a second home to me this year as I’m working toward my Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification. I simply love my time there and it’s time to catch you up a bit on why.

Discovering a “floating” sycamore leaf in a spider web is all sorts of granola groovy.

A little background…

On my first visit to Tremont last October for the Fall Photography workshop with Will Clay, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’d taken a couple of day-long seminars but never a workshop. I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer in that respect (i.e. stubborn), protesting that I could pick up what I needed without having to break away for workshops and seminars.

After watching my progress stagnate, I finally attended a couple of seminars quickly that convinced me how wrong I was, or rather, that I was doing it the hard way. After hearing Will talk in Atlanta, I was rabid to soak up more of his awesome at the Tremont workshop. And it was a real eye-opener!

Exploring the textures of Elkmont’s past.

Musings on workshops…

So why am I a convert to workshops? Well for one, it greatly speeds up the learning process. To have the opportunity to listen to knowledgable instructors, go out and put that knowledge into practice, then return to get constructive feedback – all in a focused setting – is invaluable.

Essentially it’s the same experiential learning I promote as a roadschooler with Fred and George. So why in the world did I not allow myself the same rich experience before now?

It was partly not knowing how to pick a good workshop and be certain it would be worth the time and money. There are plenty of horror stories out there about bad workshops. Vetting them can be real chore and, since not all great photographers are great teachers, having an instructor that takes nice shots isn’t enough to guarantee you’ll come away with greater photographic skills and understanding.

Bill Lea is the wildlife photography guru…clearly I still have a lot to learn.

So why Tremont?

Will came to speak through our local nature photography club, the Georgia Nature Photographers Association, which is where I discovered he was doing the workshop through Tremont. Having loved his seminar, I knew I had a lot more to learn from him and that I liked his style. The unknown for me was the location, the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, which I ended up loving instantly. So that’s how I discovered Tremont and the workshop but…

What makes this workshop all that?

Well, there’s the adage…location, location, location but it’s much more than that. Certainly being nestled in the Smoky Mountains is an advantage, but the atmosphere of the Institute itself, in combination with the assemblage of talent of both staff and instructors, is what elevates this workshop.

In the workshop setting at Tremont, you get down to the meat of the creative process. You get to see others’ techniques from initial vision to finished image and it is very enlightening. It helps you re-evaluate your processes, techniques, and dedication, opening the path to being a better photographer.

Many folks love the colors of Autumn in the Smokies, but Spring can be just as eye-catching.

Going back for more…

In spite of having an epic time at the Fall Photography Workshop, I was still uncertain about attending the Spring session because I wasn’t familiar with the lead instructor, Bill Lea. At this point you’d think I would know better than to doubt anything about Tremont’s programs yet I waffled about attending.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that I went. I didn’t imagine that anyone could match the entertainment value of Will Clay but Bill Lea is just a much fun and just as talented a photographer and instructor. The beauty of attending both workshops is that Will and Bill have such different styles and experience to offer.

Cades Cove is a main event at the Spring workshop.

What you can expect…

If you’re considering attending a Tremont photography workshop, here’s what you can expect:

  • Lots of field work, rain or shine, and very early in the morning,
  • Educational sessions in between field sessions,
  • Inspiration from instructors and fellow students,
  • Instructors who accommodate all levels of skill, from total newbies on up,
  • Constructive and supportive feedback on your work,
  • and fun! The atmosphere at Tremont is light-hearted and and the instructors are a hoot.

Oh, and you can expect a lot of good-natured ribbing if you oversleep for a morning field session. Not that I know about that from personal experience or anything…

Final thanks…

So a big thank you to Will and Bill for just being awesome and genuine. And a big thank you to the other instructors who are all equally fabulous: Todd Moore for holding my hand through post-processing and not laughing too hard at my ineptitude, Ken Thompson for his macro inspiration, and Jeff Miller for asking me the questions I should have been asking myself in the field.

A final special thanks to instructor and fellow GNPA-er Tom Vadnais. Mad photography skills aside, he’s the one who started all this for me by bringing Will to Atlanta for that fateful seminar…

And sorry fellas, you’re not done with me yet…I’m a junkie after all. See you this October!

And now for your moment of green…

My favorite shot of the Spring workshop, a macro shot of a yellow trillium bloom in the rain.


  1. Val,

    One of the glorious perks of working at Tremont is the tremendous network of people who are dedicated to learning all they can about the natural world and sharing that love of learning. Thanks for adding your voice and being a real contributing part of the community. John

    1. You know I think that what distinguishes the type people who come to Tremont (and places like it…). The people who bring their talent and experience really want to be there. Like you said, it’s that genuine love of nature and learning that comes through in their enthusiasm. Always happy to add my voice to the chorus… 😉

  2. The variety of folks that attend Tremont workshops and the talent and enthusiasm that they possess is likewise inspiring. Val is one of those special people. Thanks Val for taking the next step of sharing your enthusiasm, awesome photos, writing, etc. with others.

    1. Thanks Ken! I’m always amazed by the new people I meet at Tremont and comforted by the familiar faces as well. It’s a remarkable place to bring people together. – V

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