Category : Pilgrim’s Chronicles

5 months, 3 weeks ago 35



The other day I got an email that I thought was very thought provoking and that should be shared as this is an interesting and vital discussion among all of us that go into the field to do workshops and just enjoy shooting the natural history environment!  I have not named the person who sent the email in respect to his privacy and I think his message was well crafted and with a lot of  merit.  I have included the responses from myself, Bill Lea and Jack Garham and I hope this will spur more discussion of this issue among my readers!!!  The orange is the origianl email the responses in blue.


Bill, Jack & Bill,


I respect each of you as photographers and have followed your work for some time. Bill Fortney, I met you when you were affiliated with Nikon and we were both photographing a scene in the Smokies. You impressed me then as a kind soul, encouraging me to join NPS even though our conversation was brief. Bill Lea, you and I have bumped into each other several times in Cades Cove and at the Morton Overlook as we stood side-by-side photographing and enjoying the wonderful scenes in front of us. Jack, I’ve not met you but have followed your work.


Recently Jack and Bill Fortney have commented in blog posts about the crowds at “iconic” photography sites – Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Monument Valley, etc. – and I have seen similar posts from other photographers and workshop leaders (Tony Sweet is one that comes to mind). Your posts struck me as ironic and somewhat self-serving, so I thought I’d share my thoughts privately (“Praise in public, criticize in private” was something I learned early in my corporate career).


I’m a resident of (DELETED) and have lived here for more than half of my life. I enjoy the diversity of scenery and seasons and combine my love of the state with my love of photography. Since 1998, I’ve traveled to the Smokies almost every fall to capture the fall color. Lately though, the venues have been overcrowded, and in some cases almost impossible to photograph due to the number of workshop and tour groups that arrive in vans, buses and carpools, all with tripods and cameras (and/or smartphones) in hand. You all are involved in a workshop (The Great Smoky Mountains Photography Summit), that is now in its second or third year, that invites 200 photographers and 15 workshop leaders to the small town of Townsend, TN during the peak week of fall color. Similar workshop “collisions” occur in Acadia, the Tetons, Yellowstone and other popular destinations (even Brooks Falls in Alaska).


As the photography business has changed, more and more professional photographers have resorted to leading workshops, as their print sales, stock image sales, and online revenues (Scott Kelby’s enterprise, for example) have dwindled. I understand the business model transition and don’t have a quarrel with it. But it has produced an unwanted consequence – every workshop leader wants to be in each iconic location at the same peak time. The last week of October happens to be that time in the Smokies for fall color.


My message is simple. Understand that you, the workshop leaders, are a part of the crowding problem. As an individual photographer, I’ve had to fight my way into a tripod row to get a shot I wanted, as workshop leaders were all instructing their acolytes on proper long lens technique rather than on photography etiquette. I saw it begin to happen in Bosque del Apache with Art Morris’s workshops. The crowds aren’t all Asian tourists. They’re photographers who arrive at these locations in groups of 10 to 200, each wanting to “get the shot”.


I won’t be heading to the Smokies this year. I can’t imagine trying to park along the narrow unpaved Tremont Road or getting into Cades Cove for sunrise with 200 of my closest friends vying for a spot for their tripods. Yes Bill Fortney, the “good old days” are behind us.




My response:


Dear Sir,
Thanks for taking the time to chime in on this issue!  My response is meant to be from just me, I cannot speak for Jack or Tony or any of the hundreds of others that teach workshops in the National Parks.  First I plead guilty, I and all the rest of us do definitely contribute to the crowds.  With the nature, outdoor, landscape, stock markets crashed it seems everyone is trying to make most of their living teaching  and leading workshops and tours.  There are a large number of bus companies and non-photography tours out there too.  I’ve run into a lot of  Chinese an Japanese, but certainly every European country has joined that list as well.  Outdoor Photograph magazine list all the great places in every issue and of course that has not helped.

I think it is fair to say that anyone that wants to go to any of these, now overcrowd, spots has the perfect right to be there!  I do not in any way think those magical places should belong to just a few of us.  I think the frustration that Jack and I were expressing simply was that things are changing and it is no longer the pleasant experience the it once was. I am going to personally do something about it and walk away from going to all those places where the crowds have grown so large, mostly so the people that go with me don’t feel that frustration. I not only understand your feelings of frustration with our groups, but I go out of my way to offer a prime spot to people that are not with my groups understanding that to hike into Mesa Arch and not be be able to shoot it is something no one should have to experience. On more than one occasion I have not made a single shot to accommodate others, not with my group, so they could “get the shot”!  As to the Summit I helped the late owner of the Tremont Lodge, Wilson Reynolds,  plan it, but begged him to not make field activities a part of what we offered, it was not my event and I was over ruled.  I still think even doing very early morning field trips is not a good idea, but I guess when people come to the Smokies for a week in the fall, it is understandable they want to get out and shoot.

I hope you change your mind and come to the Smokies this fall, you would be welcome to join me in anything I was doing or maybe I could give you a heads up on places that might be less crowded!  If you come to the Summit, I will personally get you in and have the fee waved.  I know we do not go to Greenbriar, which I think is still prime spot!

In closing, I’ve spent my life enjoying the parks and other photographers and have never wanted to be a source of frustration for anyone else.  When I have been, I’ve done everything I could to lessen that impact on others, so for any way I might be the source of personal frustration for you, I sincerly apologize and hope we can stand in the field some day and have a great time and laugh about the whole situation!

With much respect,

Jack Graham’s response:

Dear Sir,


First thanks for your note. It’s always great when folks who have something to say make their points…all vary valid and well taken.


I won’t speak for Bill regarding the Smoky Mt event, but this event is primarily an inside, breakout sessions etc. event. Yes, about 4-5 small groups venture out in the am for a few hrs., but the summit is really about the breakouts and group sessions.


It’s really quite ironic that in most of my workshops the amount of “photographers” ( everything from pros to amateurs) have not really increased in the past 5 years in many locations. The amount of photo workshops at Schwabacher Landing in the Tetons in late September is no more than it was 5 years + ago. What has increased is the amount of “individual photographers” and tour busses filled with both US and foreign tourists. The tour bus folks are the folks squeezing their way in with their selfie sticks and iPhones. The individual photographers are almost without exception great to be around and are very respectful.  However there are also a few that listen on my teaching sessions knowing full well they are not part of my group. If it doesn’t bother my paying folks it doesn’t bother me. This happened last week in California. I even get questions from individuals on where to go etc. Depending on my mood  and or how they go about asking me, I help them or sometimes not.


In addition, I and other workshop leaders I know are increasingly taking their groups to the less than iconic locations with equaling appealing imagers. I just returned from the Eastern Sierra. Yes we went to Mono Lake one morning ( the Inyo NF limits photo workshops to 3 per day, not a lot at Mono Lake) but for three other mornings we are in locations with no other workshops and made some great images. Responsible workshop leaders are not the problem believe me. ( Yes there are many no so responsible). Also there were many “individual photographers” literally climbing all over the tufa. I actually had to remind one that the tufa is fragile and they are not supposed to be  climbing on it. My attendees are instructed not to do so.


Believe me, not every workshop leader wants to be in each iconic location at the same peak time.


I am in the field about 250 days a year. To sum up what I see


1)      Are there more workshops every year … not really

2)      Are there more individual photographers ( most think they know more than they do) definitely YES!

3)      Are there more individual photographer at your level—not really ( I looked at your images and work Joe and your work is superb, as good as any Professional I know, including me!!!)

4)      Are there more tour busses and pardon my French, half ass photographers—Definitely YES!!!!

It’ not workshops Joe, it’s not folks like you… it’s the other categories that are making things tough.  We can’t eliminate them from being in locations so it’s just a tough time to be a photographer. It will probably get worse ! 


Just my $0.02… and thanks for your input!


Best regards,



PS—Take a trip up to the Cuyahoga NP in Ohio  in October and some of the Cleveland Metro parks—they are amazing good for color, as good as anywhere else. Bill and I are going to be there in 2017. I’ve been doing events there for over 10 years now!  Small crowds, great color, great locations! There is more to fall color than the Smoky’s! How many times can you shoot the Tremont river from “the” bridge or Cades Cove… it’s been done—-do we really need more images from Mesa Arch?



Bill Lea’s Response:


Dear Sir!
Thank you for your note and for sharing your thoughts and concerns with us – I appreciate it.
Your points are well-taken,  I pretty much agree with everything you wrote.  Last year the Summit was held Oct. 28 – Nov. 1st.  This year it is a little earlier and thus has a greater impact on the numbers of people during PEAK fall color season in the Smokies.  I personally would like to see the Summit held during the first week of November.  It is amazing how the number of people coming to the Smokies drops off drastically and almost immediately on November 1st, even in those years when the colors are still very nice at the lower elevations during that first week of November.  In addition, having the Summit during the first week of November would help local businesses during the time that tourism drops off drastically in Townsend.  Meals at local restaurants would also be easier to obtain in a more timely manner for participants, due to the fewer people in town at that time.
I would love to see the Summit moved to the first week of November in the future and am hoping this is something we could consider.  Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us, Joe.  I look forward to the next time our paths cross.
Take care,
Bill Lea


I think that this is a real issue we must all face and I am very proud of the way in which my freinds responded, I hope we can all continue to have a meangful discussion on such issues and work together to remdy the problems we all face!
the pilgrim
The lead shot is of Mesa Arch in Canyonlands N.P., one of the worst places to run into large crowds of photographers on almost any day at sunrise!


5 months, 4 weeks ago 6





This morning my music pastor sang a wonderul song that I’ve heard many times before, but this morning, it hit me like a ton of bricks, falling right on my heart!  I love my family, my wife, I love my photography buddies, and I love    this life, but nothing comes close to my love for, and debt to Jesus.  No matter what people say, no matter what they think of me, I will spend all my remaining days trying to introduce them to Him.  Steve Green’s wonderful, Holy Spirit inspried, song tells everything you need to know.


Everyday they pass me by,
I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care,
Headed who knows where?


On they go through private pain,
Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries,
Only Jesus hears.


People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He’s the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?


We are called to take His light
To a world where wrong seems right.
What could be too great a cost
For sharing Life with one who’s lost?


Through His love our hearts can feel
All the grief they bear.
They must hear the Words of Life
Only we can share.


People need the Lord, people need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He’s the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize that we must give our lives,
For people need the Lord.


People need the Lord.


I feel no greater desire than to tell others about my Savior, and my friend, Jesus Christ.  I’m having a shirt made for the people who are part of Artists Standing For Christ,  It says it all.  He sacrificed everything for me, I can do no less for Him.




the pilgrim


Enjoy it here:




and here

6 months ago 1



The image above reminds me of how incredible a life of photography has been for me. This image may not resonate with you, and that is fine, the point is……  it resonated for me. Photography is a craft, but it is much more than that, it is a life.  You have all been where I was when I looked down and saw this rope, the boats bow and the reflection in the water.  I was stunned by the simplicity and the poetry of the lines and the textue and that is it!!!  For me,  photography is about all those things, line, form, texture, color and composition, it’s alive.


Photography will only speak to you when you speak to it!  Live it, breathe it, and embrace it!  The rewards are unfathonable!  Enjoy your journey!




the pilgrim



6 months ago 4



Many thanks to all of you that have sent me an email so I could recapture your email addresses!!  Now in Entourage when I  got an email it apparently auotmtically listed the email  address on my contact list or email list, whatever it is called!  With Outlook, it does not, I wonder if anyone out there knows where in preferences you can turn that automatic function on, or how ot click on an email and capture the email address in my list of email addresses????


In Enterouge if I typed in the name “Chuck” I was offered several friends with the first name Chuck to choose from, (Chuck Summers, Chuck Barnes, etc) to address an email, it was very convient!


Any help anyone might offer would be very much appreciated!




the pilgrim