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'Helping people is the goal': Photographer teaches others so they can experience the Smokies

When a photographer told him locals didn't help outsiders, Nate Nelson created his own business to help everyone capture the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — Nate Nelson has made a career out of his two loves: helping others and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Born on the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware and raised in Florida, Nelson knew he wanted to get back in the woods and mountains.

He picked up photography nine years ago and has been exploring the Smokies with his camera for three years.

Nelson created Smoky Mountain Photography Excursions, a tour business where he teaches beginners and experts alike how to capture the beauty of the national park with their cameras. 

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The business was born out of frustration when Nelson was turned away by a photographer in the park who said they didn't help outsiders shortly after he moved to the area. 

"But in the same week, three people asked me how to use a camera so I'm like well, 11 million tourists, it's a great opportunity to help people because, you know, helping people is the goal," Nelson said.

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He said he never really had to advertise. He just started posting some of his best shots on Facebook and the messages started rolling in.

Portraits and events help his business survive, but Nelson thrives on the excursions.

"You can get so many different shots and so much diversity in such a small area. Plus, it's a reasonable climate. I don't know how you could ask for much more," Nelson said.

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Even though the tours are fun, he makes sure his clients understand all the park rules, especially in regard to wildlife, so everyone can fully enjoy the experience. His business is also licensed, insured and GSMNP permitted.

"Before they even put a deposit down, I make sure they know they can't approach the wildlife," Nelson said.

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For those who cannot make it out for an excursion, Nelson has published guidebooks on Amazon to help beginners called "Fall Foliage," "Shooting Stars" and "Waterfalls."

"I just can't describe how wonderful it is to live here so I want to share that experience with everyone that comes," Nelson said.

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If you are interested in doing an excursion, here is what Nelson recommends: a camera (he has a spare if you need it); a tripod; a wide-angle lens for Milky Way and nighttime photos; and a zoom lens for wildlife photos.

He can be reached on Facebook, via email at thedarkskyguy@yahoo.com, or through a call or text at 865-507-0337.

Nate Nelson's Tips for Quality Smokies Photography:

  • Gear: tripod, polarizer to cut the glare, good "glass" (lens); He said, "a cheap camera with great glass will get you better pictures than an expensive camera with a kit lens."
  • His favorite spots: Cades Cove, Newfound Gap at night, Bald River Falls
  • Best photo conditions: rainy/cloudy days, sunrise, sunset


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