Camera in the Park: The End of the Season

Camera in the Park: The End of the Season

Nye Simmons

Story and images by Nye Simmons

After all the colors have faded and leaves have fallen, many visitors to the Smokies, including photographers, lose interest. After all, the pretty stuff is on the ground now, isn’t it?

Yet, this is the time of year when all the structure of the trees shows through. The color palette becomes muted into grays, browns, and rusts. The crowds have also thinned out, and so it’s a great time to be in the park with your camera. It’s also a time for contemplation, to slow your pace without the pressing need to move on to the next photo opportunity, real or imagined.

You can still find some lingering color in the park, particularly in areas with beech trees, which typically retain their dried-out leaves until the spring leaf-out. Look for areas where the trees are older and larger in Cades Cove and along Little River Road, Newfound Gap Road, and, until it closes on December 1, Clingmans Dome Road.

Color lingers on Clingmans Dome Road in isolated pockets. Park safely and be mindful of traffic and blind curves. When the cloud deck is low here, the entire road takes on a special mystique.

After Clingmans Dome Road has closed for the season, look for lingering color along Newfound Gap Road at higher elevations. Again, fog here adds its own mystery. It’s different from the ground fog in the coves and valleys—you are up in the cloud. When it seems you could reach up and touch the clouds in the lower elevations, that’s the time to find this higher-elevation magic. 

Color often hangs on in Cades Cove until mid-November, and the photo experience depends on the weather. On a bright sunny day, look for silhouettes and back illumination. On a cloudy, soft light day, search for strong forms and structure. Such conditions make for softer, more moody images. You may find juxtapositions such as this one with a bare tree next to one in full color. What sort of message can be hidden in the image? What allegories can ensue? The best images will not just be pretty pictures but instead evoke a response. 

When the leaves are all gone, it’s also a good time to look for images that work well in black and white. Here, tone, form, and structure are key. Contrast between light and dark subjects in the frame will make the image. And you don’t have to be a professional photographer or descended from Ansel Adams; your phone will do a fine job of this! Check your phone’s black and white capability and how to access that menu if you have not already done so.

The park offers something to enjoy in all seasons, whether hiking, sightseeing, or photographing. Your camera or phone travels well to mix with these other activities. Savor the slower pace, take time for reflection, and enjoy the upcoming holidays. Most importantly, don’t wait for dogwood and wildflower season to get out there. Many wonders and delights await at this end of the season. Walk in beauty.


Nye Simmons is a writer and photographer who has been photographing the Smokies since the 1970s. He is the author of the Greater Smoky Mountains Photographer’s Guide and Tennessee Wonder and Light. He is also a collaborating photographer on Great Smoky Mountains Wonder and Light, as well as several books about the Blue Ridge Parkway. He currently offers photography workshops in the Smokies and beyond. Find him on the web at

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