Cades Cove is located in the northwest corner of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Cades Cove is also my favorite spot to watch and photograph deer. I have spent many an evening there watching herds of deer go by. By herds I mean groups of deer numbering in the thirties.
This particular evening was in 1989. I remember it clearly because I brought a friend of mine along to share this spectacle of nature with. My friend Phil and I have backpacked among many of these mountains and seen our share of wildlife.
This evening I shot almost two rolls of slide film. The first roll went quickly in a field that backed up to some dense woods about 50 yards from where I perched. I had crawled in slowly with my camera and tripod. According to the distance scale on my lens, I was shooting pictures of deer between 50 and 80 feet away. To say it was intimate was an understatement. There were people around, but they were at least 100 feet behind me and everyone was quiet. This was nature at it’s finest.
I slowly pivoted around from my vantage point and found a few deer eating in the field with some great lighting. The deer were in the shadows from one of the peaks and the mountains beyond were still lit by the sun. I pulled my camera around with me and tightened everything down, lens pointed straight ahead. I tilted the camera up to get a vertical shot showing the sunlit background. Then something happened that you cannot prepare for.
Something started the deer. It was a sound, although I cannot remember what the sound was. I just remember the adreniline rushing. The three deer were perfectly still, looking away from me. I was almost intruding on their gathering, but they didn’t see me. I didn’t disturb them. They weren’t looking at me, the were looking at something else.
I had no idea what the exposure should be. I knew I had been shooting in the shade and that the deer were in the shade in spite of the sunlit background. I focused and shot off a few frames, worried that each shutter press would startle the deer further and lose the moment. It was so quiet the air almost felt solid and unmoving. I adjusted the exposure opening the aperture slightliy and shot off a few more frames. I was adjusting a third time when they returned to eating.
The moment was gone. It lasted only about ten seconds although it felt longer. At that time I had no idea whether I captured the image on film. I tried to shut my eyes and carve the image in my brain.
I still have the memory of that image – that moment and the feel of excitement to know I had an opportunity for a unique picture. As it turns out the slides came back great. I have applied the workflow I am recording here to this image. I have printed this image at 11×14 and hung it in my office. Whenever I need a moment to relax and pull together my thoughts, this image is where I turn. I hope you enjoy it too.