I have to think I’m not alone. Last fall, after six months of COVID-19 isolation, I found my finger sliding down my bucket list to try to find a destination that didn’t require getting on an airplane. Or driving for three days. Here’s one, the Great Smoky Mountains. Never been there, never done it. I hear they have waterfalls, and I love waterfalls. I think everyone does. They are universally fascinating, conveying both sublime power and at the same time, a sense of peace and serenity. I’ve tried for years to photograph them but my efforts have never been very satisfactory. I had never found the secret to conveying in my images what I was experiencing. It was time to try harder. So, in late October, Jeanne Marie and I headed east from St. Louis. My primary objective was to find and photograph as many waterfalls as I comfortably could, but the fall color would be reaching its peak and there’s a lot of wildlife in the Smokies, so who knew what else would jump in front of my camera?
Interviewed by Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
Ten talented and promising young photographers were slated to enjoy—and be challenged by—an immersive field experience at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in Townsend, Tennessee, in July 2020, as part of NANPA Foundation’s High School Scholarship Program. Since the week-long experience was postponed due to the pandemic, we are profiling the young photographers over the next few weeks. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Jacob Eckels.
A day in the great outdoors has become increasingly attractive during the coronavirus pandemic. With many entertainment, sporting, and recreational activities constrained by safety precautions, people are flooding into national and local parks and recreation areas, as well as some previously little-known places. The crowds, congestion and litter have now forced a new set of restrictions. Some parks are limiting the number of visitors and some lesser-known locations are closing. If you’re headed out to a park or natural area, avoid disappointment by checking for the latest information before you head out the door.
A time-tested piece of travel advice is to check the status of things at your destination before you depart. The last thing you want to encounter is a key location in your once-in-a-lifetime trip that is CLOSED. That’s happening now, as various national parks and points of interest are in varying stages of reopening during a pandemic. But a virus isn’t the only thing that can impact availability. Today you’ll find roads, campgrounds and entire sites that are closed or open only for limited hours almost anywhere you want to travel. It pays to know before you go.
Because I always have something to say and am pleased to share many stories with people, I am often asked to address audiences ranging from the Garden Club of America to National Park visitors and staff to camera clubs. These talks accompany slide shows featuring some of my favorite images of our National Parks and other ‘Scenic Gems of America.’
Once my prepared bloviating is done, we open it up to Q&A. The first questions that will invariably come from any audience are,
“What is your favorite national park?” and “What camera do you use?”
As a nature photographer, one of my favorite things is showing someone a picture of a beautiful elk bull, and then asking them where it was taken. They usually guess the Rocky Mountains or somewhere out west. It’s fun to see their expression when I tell them no, it was taken in North Carolina!
Perhaps one of the most important things we do as nature photographers is educate and help bring awareness to the plight of animals in the wild. Equally important is highlighting the programs where thoughtful, patient intervention has helped ensure that these wild places remain wild for future generations. One such program is the United States National Park Service’s reintroduction of the majestic elk to the Great Smoky Mountains. That’s the why. But where are the best places to photograph elk and when are the best times?
I have been a NANPA member for a year and a half. Even in that short time, NANPA and its supportive community have influenced me in many meaningful ways. Life seems to be full of wonderful flukes, and my introduction to NANPA was one such instance. One morning in November of 2012, when I was a high school senior, I received word from a fellow photographer of a great photographic opportunity that existed for high school students. Though just three days away from the deadline of NANPA’s High School Scholarship Program application, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I quite honestly remember thinking it looked too good to be true – a chance to spend a week in the field and at the NANPA Annual Summit, all the while learning and being inspired. I wondered to myself a little incredulously, How could I not have heard of NANPA before?It looks awesome!
Do you know a high school student who will be between the age of 14-19 and a rising sophomore, junior or senior during the dates of July 6-11, 2020, who might be interested in exploring nature through nature photography while having fun too? Perhaps this might be one of your children, grandchildren or even a non-relative.
Please consider encouraging eligible students to apply to the NANPA High School Photography Scholarship Program in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Applications are available at http://nanpafoundation.org/high-school-scholarships/ and must be submitted online by January 31, 2020.
If you know an educator who might interact with interested students, please inform them of this program. You can download a flyer to share.
Winter will soon be upon us and while many photographers revel in the unique opportunities for winter photography, I always look forward to spring in the southern Appalachian Mountains with my camera in hand. My annual visits there quite literally put a spring in my step. Birds sing for mates from the newly green trees, waterfalls flow from spring rains, flowers bloom in profusion and it seems that the whole world is new again.