Zooming in tight on the horizon, a dramatic orange line divides the fading blue sky and the deep green forest. Treetops that form this line are tasting their last sunlight of the day. The striking contrast of the fiery horizon on the muted woodland should yield some photos worthy of sharing. As I rotate the lens counter clockwise the rolling landscape becomes more apparent. The tone of the photo is altered as more trees become visible in the foreground and detail is reduced in the center of the image.

I am searching for something. Past my camera lens, miles away, somewhere between the blackening evening sky and the ground at the foot of the mountains there is something I need. The only peculiarity is that I can only find it through my camera’s viewfinder.

My love for the Great Smoky Mountains was established long before I moved to the area and as long as the sun continues to rise and set over this beautiful land, my love will endure. Photography has been a passion of mine for even longer, dating back to my middle school years. I spent those days wandering around my neighborhood finding tiny bits of nature to photograph. The passion only grew as the years stacked up and my ability to travel matured.

Throughout my early 20s I took every opportunity to hit the highway and explore. Most trips would be to the mountains, but I also found a considerable amount of inspiration in Florida’s beaches. Earth’s natural beauty seemed endless and I was steadfast in my goal to capture it all. Once I reached full speed something crucial went missing and from this moment I could only focus on getting it back.

This acute focus has led me deeper into nature. I’m confident that what I’m searching for is out in the wilderness. Most weekends I spend in pursuit, scouting new locations, photographing the natural wonders of North Carolina and the Smokies. Over the years I’ve grown considerably patient so the hunt is no vexation to me. On occasion I have the opportunity to shoot other subjects like portraits and cityscape, but I have difficulty committing to the creative process while my mind is still out in the forest. In spite of this, I have taken the chance to practice portrait photography with some creative people who are experienced in the art of posing.

Arriving to the location of a shoot, I am immersed in a crowd of equal parts photographers and models. The environment is familiar to me although a slight contrast to my usual style of shooting, as here the models are the primary focus of every photographer’s attention. I’m open to the change and I begin shooting.

For my first dozen or so shutter clicks I am concentrated on the backdrop and surroundings of the person I am photographing. The subject is important, but the atmosphere is priority to me. I am shooting among a group, 7 cameras directed toward one person. Some lose interest quickly however and the number gradually declines. Just a few minutes into the set I find myself one-on-one with the model and my focus turns from atmosphere to anatomy. I take a moment to gather my thoughts and decide what I want these photos to portray then I bring the viewfinder back up to my eye.

As I peer through, I notice the vivid color of the eyes and the defined curves of the cheeks, nose and chin. The sun highlighted facial features in a way I had not noticed in my years behind a camera. There was a tenacious energy piercing straight through my lens, driving my creativity. Excitement overcame me as I rapidly clicked the shutter button and captured images of commanding eyes staring back at me. I realized that I found what I’ve been searching for.

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