Behind the Lens: Beauty Spot

Autumn’s morning light, Appalachian Trail, Beauty Spot

Recently, I decided to take a sunrise drive up to one of my favorite local spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains to assess the impending fall colors. Beauty Spot (altitude 4,400 ft) is in the Unaka Mountains, along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Access is easy due to FS Road 230 (Beauty Spot Gap Road) and by the Appalachian Trail. This easy access can be a double-edged sword though, with regards to people and on beautiful weekends be aware that you will always have campers scattered throughout the open bald. Also, know that sunset is almost always crowded in the summer and fall seasons.

Beauty Spot is most notably a sunset location, but I love working with early light as it filters in over my shoulder. I’d planned this fall season composition in my head many times, but just couldn’t get all the needed elements to align. The foreground elements are never the problem if the autumn goldenrod and golden grasses haven’t been mowed, but this does happen every few years, just as it does on Round Bald in the Roan Highlands.  Also, it’s much better if the wind is light, but that’s not a huge factor with the modern digital camera and their ability to capture beautiful image files at high ISO. Anyway, on this day everything did align, minus epic sunrise color, with the clouds streaming in exactly like I wanted.

My goal in this composition was to use the iconic Appalachian Trail as my leading line and all the elements, including the sky, to converge on the far peaks in the center of the photograph. I used an ultrawide angle lens to exaggerate the visual movement through the photograph. An Ultrawide lens distorts the composition and adds to the feeling of depth. I don’t feel that this image is diminished due to the missing orange glow of sunrise. The wonderful fall grasses and wildflowers with the addition of the cloud movement makes this a powerful image and it will certainly find its way into my Blue Ridge Mountains portfolio. I’ve added a visual aid below showing my design idea for this composition.

I used a Canon EOS R with drop-in CPL filter mount adapter EF-EOS R and Irix 11mm f4 Firefly lens (Exposure: 1/30 sec; f/14; ISO 800). Support was provided by a Feisol Elite Tripod CT-3372 Rapid and Carbon Fiber Ballhead CB-50DC.

Jerry is a professional outdoor photographer and author with a focus on conservation and the environment. Jerry is also a photographic book printing consultant/broker with 20 years of industry experience. He leads photography works throughout the United States. To see his work, purchase image licenses or prints and review his workshop schedule visit You can also follow him on Instagram, twitter, and Facebook.

Accepting Change and Starting Again

So, where do I start? It has been a while since I’ve written about my photography. Hell, it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a real camera to take a photograph–my last actual big photo trip was in 2013. Many issues, personal and financial, influenced my decision to step away from it back then. It didn’t help that we photographers were all still feeling the effects of the 2008 Great Recession that changed our industry forever, but the main issue was that I’d become bitter with the industry because it had seemed to have come to care more about a photographer’s social media rankings than their experience and actual images. While I don’t think things in that regard have changed that much, the break helped me clear out the cobwebs and work through my bitterness. Change is unavoidable and I’m at peace with it all now.

Deep down I never really lost the desire to be a nature photographer and during my time away I was still publishing my calendar, up until its retirement in 2018, and had continued my work as a print broker and consultant. It’s been good to still be working in the natural history publishing industry and I’ve been happy to help many nature photographers bring their photos to life in print. But I’ve missed being in the field, behind the camera, and working my creative instead of analytical side. (my print brokering and consulting will continue so contact me if you’re in need of these services)

This past winter, while working on multiple publishing projects, I was driven into searching through thousands of my digital files from past assignments, shoots, and workshops / tours and I came across a file that made me laugh out loud. It was a photo of my good friend, former co-workshop/tour leader and business partner, Richard Bernabe, hanging onto a pond cypress at Cathedral Bay Heritage Wildlife Preserve. I remember it like yesterday. It was on the last day of our South Carolina Photo Tour. My years in the field, co-leading tours and workshops, working on book projects and just hanging out with Bern was always a 100% great time, full of laughs and hard work. He has been a big influence on me and is one of the hardest working professional photographers I know. Finding that file made me realize how much I missed doing what I used to do. When I got back in touch with Bern in March, he said “I hope you’re considering getting back into photography again,” to which I replied “I’m really thinking about it…”

Pond Cypress in spring at Cathedral Bay Heritage Wildlife Preserve

With a little more digging, I found the RAW files from one of the most beautiful and enduring sunsets I’d ever witnessed. I shared that moment with my longtime friend Dr. Nye Simmons. We’ve traveled thousands of miles together in the “big red van” shooting for books that we have co-authored, or just hanging out in the high country with our cameras. When I met Nye, I’d spent the morning shooting at the base of Linville Falls down in the Gorge. As I was slowly making my way back up the trail hauling a huge backpack full of large-format gear, I met him hauling his own huge backpack of large-format gear down into the Gorge. I joked “you might as well turn around because I’ve already taken all the good ones”. But as photographers generally do, we talked about the shoot and technical aspects of the location. We swapped business cards and became great friends and colleagues. Nye has been instrumental in getting me back out shooting this spring. I’ll be writing about my first shoot back with Nye soon.

Autumn sunset over the Cowee Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway

Probably my biggest and longest-standing push to get back behind the camera has been from my six foot red haired twin brother from another mother, Todd “Cloudman” Caudle. Man, what can I say about one of the most inspirational photographers and supportive friends in my life? He’s pushed me to come back from the early days of my hiatus until I called him and told him I had, and he has always pushed me to be the best photographer that I can be. Todd and I have been through so many life changing events over our twenty-year friendship, personal and professional. Photo trips to the Colorado high country with TC is always a blast. From him scaring the hell out of me driving to Porphyry Basin and crossing the very tight section of road with horrifying exposure we aptly named Pucker Point, to the time we spent the evening in Cascade Creek trying to keep Marmots from eating our gear. I’ll never forget a butt-kicker hike we did down a near vertical rock wall to the lake below New York Mountain and then coming to the realization that we had to climb back out. What else can I say other than I can’t wait to get back to the Colorado backcountry with my brother.

With a little soul searching and numerous discussions with my wife, we decided that I should do what I love and start taking photographs again. So, where do I go from here? For over a decade, I’ve photographed almost exclusively in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My focus was in conservation and taking photographs for my books and calendars. The only time I ventured away from the Blue Ridge was for an assignment or a photo tour that I was co-leading. But from today forward, my focus as a nature photographer will be one without boundaries. Maybe I’ll meet you out in the wild!

Todd “Cloudman” Caudle, near New York Mountain, Colorado

Jerry Greer Photography featured on the cover and inside – June 2012 Issue of WNC Magazine

I just received my advance copies of the June issue of WNC Magazine and I had a wonderful surprise! I was aware that they had chosen to use 5 of my photographs for a photo essay titled Calm of the Wild but I had no idea that they were going to use an image on the cover as well! It’s great to be back on the cover and on the inside pages of such a beautiful Magazine (and they did a great job with the images). Here’s the cover and the full bleed spreads. All of the inside images were printed  as  “full-bleed double-truck”, or  two page, full-bleed spreads. If you get a chance stop by any book retailer and pick up a copy!







Wetlands Destruction at Laurel Run Park

On Thursday morning I received an email from a concerned citizen from Kingsport, Tennessee, informing me of an article the Kingsport Times News had ran that day. Its headline, Hawkins County intends to fill in a swampy section of Laurel Run Park near the entrance gate at the far west end of the park (written by Jeff Bobo),  got my attention and I wanted to know what exactly was going down in Hawkins County.  I immediately called the news room and asked if someone could email me the article so that I could better assess the situation. Within an hour I received the message with the attached article.

© Jerry D Greer / EnviroStock Media

In the article, Alderman Joe McLain, a member of the Hawkins County Commission who serves on the Parks Committee, explained to the Board of Mayor and Alderman Monday that the county intends to fill in a swampy section of Laurel Run Park near the entrance gate at the far west end of the park. Laurel Run Park is located along the south bank of the Holston River just outside the Church Hill city limits. “It gets worse every year, and if it gets too bad they will eventually declare it a (protected) wetland and you can’t ever do anything with it,” McLain said. “Right now the state has said we can fill it in with dirt. We have to leave the drains in it, but we can fill it in with dirt and reclaim that property basically because right now you can’t even mow it.” After reading the entire piece I felt that I needed to make a call to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). While waiting on a call back I did a little research. Here’s Tennessee’s definition and delineation of wetlands.

Wetlands definitions and delineation

The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977 defines “waters of the state” as:  any and all water, public or private, on or beneath the surface of the ground, which are contained within, flow through, or border upon Tennessee or any portion thereof except those bodies of water confined to and retained within the limits of private property in single ownership which do not combine or effect a junction with natural surface or underground waters. Wetlands are defined in the TDEC rules as “those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.”Tennessee relies on the delineation criteria in the Corps’ 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual.

Wetland related statutes and regulations

The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977 and the corresponding Aquatic Resources Alteration Rule establish the state’s Aquatic Resources Alteration Permit (ARAP) program that regulates wetlands and wetland activities apart from those covered by individual §404 permits. Physical alterations to waters of the state that require either an ARAP or a §401 water quality certification include: dredging, excavation, channel widening, or straightening; bank sloping; stabilization; channel relocation; water diversions or withdrawals; dams, weirs, dykes, levees or other similar structures; flooding, excavating, draining and/or filling a wetland; road and utility crossings; and structural fill.

§401 certification program

Tennessee uses §401 certification to protect wetlands by approving, conditioning, or denying federal §404 permits. In 2000, rules for implementation of the state’s §401 certification and the ARAP programs were formally adopted. The rules specifically define wetlands as a category of waters of the state and establish a “no net loss of water resource value” standard for permitting. Section 401 certification is required for any §404 permit approved by the Corps. However, if the Corps issues a Nationwide Permit (NWP) for a project, or doesn’t have jurisdiction over the impacted wetland, then the applicant must obtain a state ARAP permit. TDEC issues approximately 400 to 500 wetland permits per year, split about equally between ARAPs and §401 certification. These qualitative factors are described in TDEC’s Aquatic Resource Alteration Rules in relation to assessing water resource values and in the Tennessee Antidegradation Standard.

TDEC’s wetland assessment methodology is still evolving. The division is incorporating Tennessee’s antidegredation rules and tier evaluations into the permit assessment process. TDEC reviews all applications to assess the proposed impacts and determine if a tier assessment must be conducted. The antidegradation guidelines, which apply to all waters of the state, are more stringent for impacts to Tier 2 and 3 wetlands than those for Tier 1 wetlands. A field review is conducted for projects impacting all three tiers of wetlands; these are coordinated with TWRA, the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and occasionally the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The department also has an EPA grant to develop a new assessment methodology for permitting purposes. TWRA reviews public notices for §401 certification and ARAP permits to ensure that the proposed impacts and mitigation comply with the Basic Minimum Compensatory Mitigation Requirements developed by TDEC, TWRA, EPA, Corps, and FWS. TWRA also ensures that permits follow the mitigation ratios laid out in the TDEC mitigation rules.

© Jerry D Greer / EnviroStock Media

Around 5:30 pm, the call came in from the TDEC field officer. I explained the situation and reviewed the article, and then emailed the entire article to the office so she could read it in its entirety. While on the call, she looked up Laurel Run Park in the TDEC database and found a 2009 permit issued for work on the east side of the Park, it was to help with water removal during flooding. It didn’t include any alteration to the documented wetlands. She also stated that they had not applied for any new permits for the wetland fill project that was mentioned in the article. Before we ended the call, I let the officer know that I would be visiting the Park the next morning to investigate and photograph the possible dredging of part of the protected wetlands.

Friday morning, I arrived at Laurel Run Park around 9am and found that someone had replaced the tile for the road that crossed the wetland and they had, in fact, started to dredge the west end of the wetland. I photographed the work that had been done, made a few notes, and decided that I had enough to make a report to the field officer. But before I could leave, the field officer pulled onto the road where I was parked. It was a great meeting, I was able to review the TDEC data and maps showing exactly where the documented wetlands are located, and we were able to confirm that the dredging was exactly where we suspected, right down the middle of the protected wetlands, on the west side of the property. At that moment, she confirmed that there were violations and that she was going to talk with the Park manager. I took a few more photos and made my way back to my office in Johnson City.

Late Friday evening, I received a followup email from the field officer detailing her meeting with the Park officials and how the violation would be handled.  She explained that the individual who had dredged the wetland and replaced the tile now understands that no one can place any fill material in the protected wetlands and how he would be restoring the wetlands with the material that had been removed while dredging.

I’m very happy to announce that currently, all is well and the Laurel Run Park wetlands are safe. We will be monitoring the situation by continued visits and also checking with TDEC to make certain that no new permits have been applied for. I am certain that this is not the end of the threat and at some point the county will apply for the ARAP permits. At that point we will do whatever it takes to insure that any permits to fill the wetlands be denied. So stay tuned!

The Blue Ridge Ancient and Majestic – Awarded the 2011 Reed Environmental Writing Award

On March 19, 2011, I traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia were Charles Maynard, the essayist for The Blue Ridge – Ancient and Majestic, was awarded the prestigious Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment . It was an honor to be a part of this ceremony and to support Charles in this wondrous event for him and our book. Take a moment and read about the Reed Environmental Writers Award and watch the video that I produced of his presentation. Also, I would like to thank the Southern Environmental Law Center for all that they do to ensure the protection of the region that Charles and I both call “home”.

Information from the Southern Environmental Law Center:

In the long, proud tradition of southern literature, writers have often drawn on the region’s unique natural heritage for inspiration and insight – from the haunting cypress swamps of Georgia, to the tall mountains of western North Carolina, to the rolling fields of the Virginia piedmont. As the South grows and changes, southern writers are increasingly exploring the relationship between nature and man. SELC’s Reed Writing Award honors these story tellers who capture in words our landscapes and traditions in transition.

© Jerry Greer Photography / Mountain Trail Press

In the Book category, Charles W. Maynard won for The Blue Ridge Ancient and Majestic: A Celebration of the World’s Oldest Mountains, published by Mountain Trail Press. An ordained United Methodist minister, native Tennessean, storyteller, outdoorsman and activist, Maynard chronicles the life of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from geologic time up to present-day culture, literature and music with a knowing and loving touch.

About the Reed Award

SELC’s annual Reed Writing Award has two categories: Book, for non-fiction books (not self-published), and Journalism, for newspaper, magazine and online articles. Entries must be at least 3,000 words, published in the previous calendar year, and pertain to the environment in at least one of the six states in SELC’s region (Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia). Prizes of $1,000 are awarded to the winner in each category.  Our panel of judges include some of the top environmental writers, journalists and activists of our time, including Lee Smith, Bill McKibben, Nikki Giovanni, Janisse Ray, Jim Detjen and Don Webster.


Mission of the Award

SELC created the Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment in 1994. Its purpose is to enhance public awareness of the value, and the vulnerability, of the South’s natural heritage. The award serves to recognize and encourage writers who most effectively tell the stories about the South’s environment. The award is named for SELC founding trustee Phil Reed, a talented attorney and committed environmental advocate who deeply believed in the power of writing to change hearts and minds.

Back on the Cover!

It’s been a few years since one of my photographs have been printed on the pages of WNC Magazine. For the first two years of their existence, as a new magazine release, my photographs were a regular fixture. Then the economy took a dive and the funding to pay for beautiful images from working photographers dried up. I still have the email sent to me explaining the reduction in funding and the elimination of the “Vistas” series. It was just another hit on a long list of photo budgets for working photographers trying to pay the bills and feed the family. Later that year I received an email that requested an image but they could only offer a credit due to the, still in effect, photo budget freeze. And as I always do, I refuse to allow the use of my images without proper payment. Credits just do not pay the bills and I’ve yet to find a bank that would accept those photo credits.

I commend the good people at WNC Magazine for deciding that it is important to offer payment to working photographers for the use of their images,  it shows that they truly care about those full-time photographers that strive to offer beautiful photographs. I’m so glad and encouraged to be working with WNC Magazine again. So, for all that are subscribers and for those in the region that buy off the shelf, check out the July 2011 issue, you’ll see my “Roan Highlands” photograph on the cover. Here’s a quick shot of my issue that I received in the mail today.

WNC Magazine_July 2011_Cover

The Southern Appalachian Beech Gap – Critically Imperiled!

At high elevations pure stands of American beech trees are know as beech gaps. Beech bark disease, a complex made up of the beech scale insect cryptococcus fagisuga and a closely associated fungus Nectria coccinea var. faginata poses a serious threat to this community. Most all of the beech gap communities in and around the Great Smokies have succumbed to the beech bark disease or a combination of the disease, pests and pollution.  This trend is being felt throughout the southern Appalachians, with the possible extinction of this forest community in the next few years. The beech gap community is assigned a Global Conservation Status Rank of G1. A G1 ranking translates to – Critically Imperiled—At very high risk of extinction due to extreme rarity (often 5 or fewer populations), very steep declines, or other factors.

During my Roan Highlands workshop this past weekend I found that one of my favorite locations to spend time studying and photographing in is sick, very sick. It looks to be a really tragic end to another huge beech gap. I’ve thought that this location was OK in terms of health with good leaf coverage and little tree kill. This year is drastically different. It looks like 70% to 80% of the beech trees have not leafed out and this is not good. It all happened in one years time. Not sure until the botanists get in to the location and study the trees. The way I see it is this, the trees will not survive if they do not leaf out and this was not a gradual die-off. It is real sad to see one of the largest beech gaps remaining in the southern Appalachians succumb to the disease. Over the next couple of years we will see this forest community make a dramatic shift and those beautiful flowing grasses will eventually die off as well. This was a very sad day for me and for those that have felt the same connection to such a unique ecosystem. I’ll be posting more images from this location over the coming months. My intent is to personally document, in stills and in motion, its transition, and to bring botanists, biologists, photographers and other scientists to this location as well. Maybe, just maybe, there is a slim chance that there could be a recovery but the cards are stacked against this notion.

At least I did have the chance to spend the past few years working and bringing friends and colleagues into this wondrous location. And I can say for certain, every person that witnessed this community first-hand came home with a strong connection with this unique and beautiful place.
Canon EOS 5DmkII w/ TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II

Fern in summer beech gap, Roan Highlands, TN & NC

North Carolina Coastal Landscapes and Wildlife Workshop – a great success!

This workshop started off with a loud BANG (or series of goose calls)! Richard, me, our participants, and about 200,000 snow geese, it was a truly humbling experience.

Here’s a few still images from the scouting days before the workshop. I’ll make another post with images taken during the workshop in a few days. Also, stop by and see other images taken by me and co-instructor Richard Bernabe.

Richard and I will be offering this workshop again next year, so stay tuned! We will be posting the dates very soon!

Tundra swans in flight, Pungo Unit, Pocosin Lakes NWF, NC

Sunset and tundra swans on Pungo Lake, Pocosin Lakes NWR, NC

Tundra swans in flight, Pungo Unit, Pocosin Lakes NWR, NC

Snow geese taking flight, Pungo Unit, Pocosin Lakes NWR, NC

Snow geese taking flight, Pungo Unit, Pocosin Lakes NWR, NC

Snow geese taking flight, Pungo Unit, Pocosin Lakes NWR, NC