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“Grotto Falls” by Robin Conover Canon EOS 20D, 16-35 mm, 2.8 L USM lens with circular polarizer ISO 100, ƒ22 at 1 second, Bogen tripod

One place I always “find” myself is in the Great Smoky Mountains. A jewel in the National Park system, it’s right here in our own backyard. Trails range from gentle, meandering paths through the foothills to strenuous climbs up to Mt. LeConte and the Appalachian Trail.

The Trillium Gap Trailhead is found on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail near Gatlinburg. Trillium Gap leads hikers for 1.3 miles through the old-growth hemlock forest to Grotto Falls. Though the trail is a gentle, uphill grade, it is not too strenuous and is relatively short.

The mist from the 25-foot waterfall enhances this cool respite for hikers on warm summer days. The trail leads directly behind the falls, and the small pool beneath the falls forms an excellent foreground area for photographs.

There are several different viewpoints from which to photograph the waterfall and surrounding scenery. You can choose to stand behind the falls — as I did for this month’s cover image — or shoot from in front using the small pool to add interest to the foreground.

Wherever you choose to stand when photographing this area, take care to stay on the trail, and don’t trample any delicate plant or aquatic life. It’s easy to damage the ecosystem and not even realize it. Salamanders, for example, hide in crevices and are easily crushed as hikers wobble across loose rocks for selfies.

Take your time to shoot horizontals and verticals, and use the rule of thirds for interesting compositions. A circular polarizer will also help cut out distracting reflections. A tripod will add extra weight to your pack for the hike, but it will be well worth the effort to be able to shoot slower shutter speeds to blur the movement of the water flow. Don’t forget a bottle of water, and keep an eye out for bears!

Capture your images, then take a break, be still and soak in the forest. Capture that feeling.

“Grotto Falls” by Robin Conover


About Author

Robin Conover

Robin Conover has spent the last 23 years documenting the people and places of Tennessee with The Tennessee Magazine. After graduating from Murray State University, Robin began working for magazine in October 1988 as a communications specialist and photojournalist. She now serves as TECA vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. Her interest in preserving the environment and Tennessee’s beautiful natural areas has led her down many miles of trails to capture thousands of images. Robin is currently a board member of the Friends of Radnor Lake, a nonprofit in Nashville. Robin’s images can be seen in greeting cards, calendars, books and at a few fine-art shows she participates in each year.

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