Bad Weather and Good Friends at Tremont

great smoky mountains institute at tremont - val in real life

Let’s face it, life dishes out the unexpected and undesired. A lot. The only thing we’re in control of is how we respond, right?

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Georgia. Part of the time was dedicated to hanging out with Fred and George. The rest was mostly allocated to attending the spring photography workshop at my beloved Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.


great smoky mountains at tremont - val in real life
One of the best groups we’ve had at the workshop to date! Fabulous folks who know how to go with the flow. (Photo courtesy of the supremely talented Steve Zigler.)

Returning to Atlanta at the moment means dealing with the insanity that is I-85 being closed in the heart of the city. Along with other catastrophic transportation issues that seemed to have come in a relentless onslaught on the heels of that event, Atlanta is not a great place to be right now—if you actually want to get anywhere.

On top of that, my arrival at Tremont coincided with massive storms—one of the reasons I opted to drive instead of ride. While a nice soft rain makes for excellent photography, flooding and torrential downpours don’t exactly make for ideal shooting conditions.

My main goal heading to the workshop this time was to stretch my boundaries by bonding with my telephoto lens, a piece of equipment I’ve always struggled to use effectively. I made some attempts but the weather simply made it the wrong tool for the job. That’s a challenge that will have to wait for another time.

I’ve been to this workshop a dozen times and this session presented a unique and unprecedented challenge with the flooding rains. We managed one decent day of shooting but only after rearranging the entire workshop schedule to accommodate the incoming storms. To have a day that we didn’t go out to shoot at all is unheard of at this workshop but it happened this time. The storms meant no early morning trip to Cades Cove which is one of the major perks of this workshop. Our Foothills Parkway morning was completely socked in. And the uncertainty of the storms meant no trip to Elkmont as a group.

foothills parkway time lapse - val in real life
A time lapse from Foothills Parkway on the first morning of the workshop.


great smoky mountains snail - val in real life
“Speed Racer” refused to stay in the frame. Little trickster!

In spite of this year’s challenges, I still call the workshop a resounding success. We immersed ourselves in shooting along Tremont Road and the Lynn Camp Prong. For me, the conditions meant embracing my wheelhouse—macro photography. That normally means a metric ton of flower shots but this time I made a little snail friend which is about as close as I get to wildlife photography. Even keeping up with Speed Racer as I affectionately call him (her?) was quite challenging.

And we were still able to shoot the birds of prey brought in by Upstate Bird of Prey rescue. They are extraordinary to work with and are doing excellent work with these birds.

In the end, the Tremont workshop is my reunion with my photog family. While that has historically been a small core group of instructors and repeat participants, the Tremont photography family is growing as participants connect and find peace here. Of the 36 participants this time, 21 were repeat attendees. It was such a comfort to see familiar faces and share our love of Tremont. More heartening still was seeing the newcomers embrace it and want to return as well, even with the challenges thrown at them for their first experience at the workshop.

It’s a testament to the workshop and its leaders that these challenges can be absorbed and still run a successful workshop. It’s also a testament to the caliber of the participants. Everyone rolled with it. They understood weather can’t be helped and appreciated the efforts of the instructors to still deliver a valuable experience.

The big picture

Of course, there’s a lesson, or reminder if you will, in this experience. Flexibility! Remaining flexible in travel, and life in general, means you can adjust for the unexpected without angst. That ability to dance with the circumstances means you’re likely to have better experiences because you aren’t focused on what didn’t come to pass. It means you look at the changes as new or different opportunities, not losses to be lamented.

With that in mind, here are few shots I’m pleased with from a very soggy weekend.

great smoky mountains snail - val in real life
Snails get a bad rap for being “slimy” but the elegance with which they move is worthy of appreciation.
great smoky mountains snail - val in real life
The textures and lines on this little guy are entrancing.
solomon's seal - val in real life
So the funny thing about the snail is that I only discovered him when I almost stepped on him in my quest to shoot this Solomon’s Seal. It was a close call.
great smoky mountains - val in real life
When in doubt, or when the weather is challenging, I dive back into my safe place… macro world!
great smoky mountains aster - val in real life
The aster was way more ready for its closeup than Speed Racer was.

Cheers, friends! Adventure on and stay flexible.

Many, many kudos and thanks to the instructors who made a great workshop possible through continual challenges: Bill Lea, Tom Vadnais, Steve Zigler, Sue Milinkovich, Todd Moore, and Jeff Miller. Y’all rock!


  1. […] here to read more and see a few of her […]

  2. Leave it to ValinRealLife to bring a unique vision to the Tremont Photo Workshop. Well done! I love the Speed Racer shots. I think a nice exercise would be to add some racing strips in Photoshop. Try doing that in Lightroom!

    Great work and thanks for taking the time to put this together!

    1. I like to keep you on your toes, Stevie! Now where’s that eyeroll emoji…? The Lightroom/Photoshop rivalry is one to eclipse Canon vs. Nikon.

  3. You nailed it, Val! Great summary of a wonderful weekend where the acceptance and flexibility of everyone overcame awful weather during what was supposed to be mostly a shooting workshop. It is such a wonderful family that just keeps growing and getting closer. Wouldn’t trade time there for anything. Thanks for being part of it for so long.

    1. Thank you, Tom! It was a great weekend even though it was not at all what we anticipated. 🙂

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