Written by Will Clay and Ken Thompson, professional nature photographers and instructors

Spring and fall are understandably popular seasons in the Smokies for nature photography, but winter is also a wonderful time to capture the beauty of the mountains in a different light.

Winter is quiet time with no crowds, and it’s a black and white world—there is not a lot of color in the park, but there are many, many stunning images that can be made in black and white that utilize the stark contrast of the landscape’s tones.

A black-and-white photo of a stream with snow-covered rocks by Willard Clay
Photo by Will Clay

Photography in winter in places like Cades Cove is so much easier without the masses of people that are encountered in the fall. Clingmans Dome and a few other places may be closed by the National Park Service, but there are plenty of opportunities for great images. Elkmont is a good place for architectural images, just as in the rest of the year, only without the people. When exploring and photographing places such as Elkmont, be sure to obey park rules and do not enter any closed buildings.

Bring your landscape lens and a macro lens also. Foliage can still be a good photographable subject, especially when coated with dew or ice. Look for ice on branches. There is a world within the landscape that is always worth exploring.

Water drips from berries by Ken Thompson
Photo by Ken Thompson

If you are lucky and a storm comes in, two things will probably happen. First, the snow creates a magical landscape, and second, the snow usually melts rather quickly, creating water flow. A big storm can create waterfalls in places not usually seen. After a storm Tremont Road is a “target-rich environment.”

Flowing water in the Smokies. Photo by Ken Thompson.
Photo by Ken Thompson

When shooting flowing water, try several shutter speeds to smooth out the water, but leave some structure in the flow. Ice formations also make great abstracts.

Frozen water along a mountainside in the Smokies by Willard Clay
Photo by Will Clay

The 2021 Winter Photo Master Class will be February 5–8. We invite you to be a part of a magical scene.

Winter Photo Master Class, February 5–8, 2021

Join master landscape photographer Will Clay and close-up specialist Ken Thompson for this special weekend featuring the “creative uses of winter light.” The class will emphasize the use of winter light, sunrise and sunset, overcast, and midday light to create master photographs in the Smokies.

Register Online »