Richard Bernabe Photography Workshop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Backlit Smoky Mountain Ridges

  Last October I attended a Great Smoky Mountains National Park photography workshop with the renowned nature, wildlife, travel Photographer Richard Bernabe, In the weeks leading up to this trip, I told my friends that I was going on a trip of a lifetime.  That was a true statement at the time, because I had never attended a photography workshop before, and it had been at least 20 years since I had spent any significant amount on a vacation.

 The workshop began on a Thursday afternoon at 3:00 PM, and after some brief introductions we all car-pooled off following behind Richard’s car in our four assorted vehicles. Of course with it being late October, and being the Smoky Mountains, it was overcast and drizzling when we arrived at our first destination.

 As we all piled out of our vehicles, I scanned the group making quick assessments as to where I fit in with this new group of photographers. Some appeared to already know Richard, and I learned over our time together at a group dinner that evening, that indeed, they were repeat participants. About half the group had been through other workshops with Richard before. This fascinated me, and I pondered the idea of why people would repeat? I’d soon learn why!

Richard’s Tree

 The following two and a half days were nothing short of incredible! With Richard guiding our path, each and every stop we made was more breathtaking then the last. I’d seen beauty in nature before, but witnessing it through the eyes of a photographer with a respected and illustrious career, brought a heightened sense of purpose to my photography, and beauty to me personally. As an example, we had a sunrise shoot scheduled at Ocanoluftee Outlook.  We arrived there in time so that we had the prime spots for our tripods and gear packs. It was very dark, windy, and so cold that hand warmers were the hot commodity! As the morning sky started to lighten and the mountains before us went from black to dark greens, the excitement, expectations, and urgency for getting the shot grew. The eastern sky lightened more, and Richard began shouting out his get ready countdown. And then after all the build-up of anticipation, the sun peaked over the mountainous horizon, spilling glorious colors of ambers, peach, and subtle yellows across the sky. I fired my shutter off to what seemed like a million frames, I didn’t want to miss one second of this glorious show! My face seemed to be getting colder at one point, so I put my hand up to my cheeks to add a little warmth, which is when I noticed that my face was wet. The event had been so moving and visually spectacular for me, – that I hadn’t realized that I had been weeping!

Sunrise at Ocanolufftee Outlook

  Every stop after that was just as inspirational and appealing. We went to waterfalls and rapids, tall straight tree tops, Clingman’s Dome for a sunset, and a section of the Cades Cove Loop. If one needed assistance with composition, and in some cases camera settings, Richard was there to help and guide. He shared skills and techniques that were new to many, including one experimental technique involving a longer shutter exposure and dragging the camera while the shutter is open. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t display a very excited demeanor over this technique, but have now grown rather fond of the results of those images… My apologies Richard!! I hope you’ll forgive my short sightedness on that one?

Tall Straight Trees
The woods are lovely…
Capturing SunStars

Another moment that was compelling for me was at a waterfall. It was down a fairly steep trail with slippery rocks and roots to step over. I had backed off, thinking that the vantage point was beyond my navigating skillset, given my particular challenges of bad knees, etc. I happily watched as the other photographers made their way down to the waterfall in groups of no more than two at a time. As everyone else had had their turn, I heard Richard call out my name. I responded by saying that I didn’t think I would be able to handle the trail. Richard’s response? “Absolutely not, I don’t take no for an answer!” So together we made our way down and back up that trail, while he instructed me on where to put my feet, and how to use three points of contact as I walked. And guess what happened? I shot some of the best images of my life! I was never in danger, and he patiently walked me through my apprehensions. Woohoo!

Smoky Mountain Waterfall
Richard helping with composition
Richard offers advice
One of the spectacular waterfalls
The darkening gray blue sky at Clingman’s Dome before a sunset…

 Thank you to all the workshop leaders out there that are willing to share their knowledge, and guide those that need a little push, or help those to find their focus. Before my workshop experience, I had called it a once in a lifetime trip, and it was! I discovered things within myself as a photographer. I pushed my envelope of what was challenging to my comfort level. I learned skills and techniques that has improved my outdoor nature images. I gained great friends through the camaraderie of car-pooling and shooting together. We still stay in touch through social media. And, I have come to realize that it wasn’t a once in a lifetime trip, I’m planning to go on more workshop trips in the future. It was however, a life changing trip. I see the world differently through my camera lens now. I returned home a totally different, improved, renewed photographer.

I found my mojo, at this Great Smoky Mountains National Park workshop. I was looking for an opportunity to jump start my inspiration. I felt like I had exhausted the boundaries of home through many hours of shooting. I was challenged to find different ways to photograph the familiar that would be inspirational to myself and others. I found all of these things and more. I offer up a huge thank you to Photographer Richard Bernabe . I am enriched!


Light and Love- Leslie



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Yuneec Drone Crashed- What goes up, sometimes comes down, hard!


I crashed my drone, or UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Whatever one cares to call it, I still crashed it, and my once nimble but now mangled Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K drone had suffered the effects of gravity. The body was damaged, having fractured in two places on one rotor support wing, and there were 3 stress fractures lines that became evident upon closer inspection on the body. Three of the rotor blades were shattered into unspeakable fragments, yet oddly one was still perfect. I suppose it could have been worse considering the 40’ fall. There was also the “onboard 4K camera” and 3 axis gimbal that had smashed into 4 pieces, -I knew that that was going to be an expensive loss or repair.

With all candor, I’ll say that I felt very defeated when it happened. I quickly snatched up all the scattered bits, and hastily retreated into anonymity. Crestfallen, I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong, and all I could focus on was the cost of the loss. Realizing I had the choice to either grow from this experience or remain literally “shot down”, I began researching through the internet and You Tube about the topic of “drone crashes”. There is certainly no shortage of materials to explore!

I’m so glad I made the decision “to grow” from this experience. My exploration of the internet revealed that there are many, many drone pilots that crash their UAV’s, even the top “pros”. There’s even an expression “if you ain’t crashin, you ain’t flyin”!  I found out that my encounter with wind and a tree is a common scenario. This boosted my self-confidence again, and I pushed further outside my boundaries by joining forums. Within one Yuneec forum group I discovered an entire thread dedicated to the repair of a CGO3 camera and gimbal system. Possessing a modicum of technical skills, I set about making the repairs myself. I carefully followed the instructions, and then hoping for the best, reconnected the repaired camera system to drone body. I powered up the control station, and then the drone itself, and waited expectantly for good results. Shazam! The control station displayed a video feed, and the camera was responding to the commands to move upward and downward. Once I determined that the camera was working again, (possibly the most expensive element to the UAV itself), I ordered a new drone body as a back-up plan. I had learned through my reading that one could “bind” a new drone body to the control station.

With renewed determination, I then progressed on to repairing of the drone body itself. I first confirmed that all four rotor motors were working correctly, and responding to the control center. Seeing positive results there, I then collected the shattered pieces that I had collected, grabbed a super-glue bottle, and set about gluing the body back together. I reinforced all the shattered joints after the gluing process with a combination of “FixIt Tape” and “Duct Tape”. I also counter weighted the opposite side, mirroring the tape applications so that the drone would not be out of balance. Then I waited…. 48 hours of waiting, “cooling my jets” so to speak, allowing the bonding elements to become firm and durable. Finally, I attached four new rotor blades, fired up both the control station and drone, and ever so delicately I lifted off. I am overjoyed to say that my drone is now airborne once again, and “flying the friendly skies”!

I’m grateful for my dad, a true renaissance man. He was a 30 year retiree from Grumman Aircraft Corporation. When I was a kid, he would occasionally take me to the Grumman Wyandanch Plant where F-14’s were manufactured. Dad taught me to be a capable individual, to be “good with my hands” and tools, and that with enough propulsion anything will fly!  Maybe that had something to do with my efforts and desire to make repairs,… but then again maybe not. Maybe it’s more that he instilled in me a sense of not accepting failure! Whatever the case you may encounter, don’t accept defeat. Don’t let a mistake define you. Instead grow from it, and then get back out there, “spread your wings and fly”!

Light and Love- Leslie

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