Today we’re sitting down with Trent Sizemore, a young outdoor photographer and author of the popular blog SizemoreOutdoors. Trent’s photography work has been featured in numerous publications including The Fly Fish Journal, Coastal Angler Magazine and published on websites such as MidCurrent and Hatches Magazine, and of course right here on LetsBeWild.com.
Sizemore’s work transports the viewer to beautiful wilderness areas in the Appalachian Mountains, where pristine mountain streams and breathtaking landscapes abound. Many of Trent Sizemore’s images are taken in the 522,419 acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. Easy access to the park has made it the most visited national park in America, with more than 9 million annual visitors all hoping to catch a glimpse of wildlife and wilderness. With so many visitors jostling for the best views, it’s a good thing we’ve got Trent to share his local tips and tricks for escaping the crowds and photographing nature the way it was meant to be enjoyed – quietly!
Tell us a bit about yourself and what sparked your interest in photography.
First off, I’ll say I’m a lot younger than most of the other photographers that have been featured on the site, and it’s an honor! I just turned 22 this past September. Within only the past two years, I have taken photography from an occasional hobby to a full time obsession.
My interest in photography comes from not only my dad’s personal photography work, but also a family scattered with artists (and critics). My extended family has more than a hand full of designers, painters, photographers, etc..
While family may be the reason I picked up the camera, my interest was sparked after moving to the Appalachian Mountains to attend college. After a semester of studying architecture near the city of Atlanta, I made the decision to transfer to the small town school of Young Harris College to pursue a Fine Arts degree.
You’re working on your BFA in photography. How does your real world experience as a photographer compare to what you’re learning in the courses you take?
The Bachelor’s degree program at Young Harris College, especially the Fine Arts degree is relatively new. Because I am among the first of the students to ever complete this degree here, I feel like I have an influence on how it develops. Many of my classes are being taught for the first time, so it’s somewhat of an independent study. There are a variety of students studying everything from drawing to sculpture, so our critiques are very diverse among the mediums.
Most of the technical aspects that deal with photography, I’ve already taught myself in the past couple of years. I feel like the courses I’m taking are very conceptual and are going to aid me in the artistic side of photography.
The “real world” of photography and art in general isn’t taught that well in any college course; it’s something you have to learn by experience. Most art students have zero experience with the business side of being an artist. Unless you happen to be really lucky, you’re going to need good business sense. I took a year of business classes between my two degrees, which may or may not have helped. The business world today is changing by the minute, and textbook teaching is becoming outdated. I believe the experience of running my own business has helped more.
As a photographer, what is it that draws you to choosing the outdoors as your subject?
I feel like the outdoors is the main focus of my work because it is something a lot of people don’t experience as much as they should. I frequently visit places that are only a few minutes drive from the city I live in, but have probably only been seen by a handful of people in the past year.
My work brings back my experience with these places in hopes of encouraging someone to get out and try it themselves. Much of my photography is associated with a blog post about the location. People search google looking for information about hiking an area, and therefore see my photography.
The exception to this is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a place I’ve been visiting quite often in the past year. Being the most visited National Park in the country, there is no shortage of people getting out there and experiencing nature. The Park unfortunately often has a very faux perception of nature. The wildlife is nearly unafraid of humans, particularly the bear, deer, and elk. Photographing these in the park is somewhat like shooting a fish in a barrel; it’s just too easy.
People are able to see vast landscapes without getting outside their cars. Less than a decade ago, a few brave explorers like George Masa and Horace Kephart hiked for days to reach these same views. Making things like this so easily accessible to the public may degrade the impact of photographer’s work by allowing anyone to visit it themselves. We have to work to create stunning imagery by going when no one else is there, to photograph things no one else will see.
There are few places inside the park that aren’t frequently travelled. I’m in search of those places.
You frequently photograph fishing – the reaction to fishing is a mixed one in the outdoors and conservation world. Do you feel that recreational fishing is beneficial to conservation?
It’s often said by fly fisherman that fish don’t live in ugly places. That is especially true of the mountains of North Carolina. One of the prized fish that lives in the most pristine, untouched streams of the Appalachians is the native Brook Trout. This fish, actually a Char species, has been around since the ice age.
A good majority of the fisherman I associate with are very conservation aware and always catch and release. People that catch and release their prized fish want to get the best memory of their catch they can. There are quite a few artists, including myself, involved in the sport of fly fishing that capture not only the beauty of the fish, but the places that they live, and the people who catch them.
What steps can fisherman and fishing photographers take to minimize their impact on the environment? Is there an etiquette that should be followed?
I actually have a popular article on my blog, SizemoreOutdoors, that deals directly with the “etiquette” of fly fishing photography. Some of the points are to work? quickly, minimize the time the fish is out of the water, and to keep the fish off the ground. The most important tip is that you handle the fish with wet hands and keep them off the rocks so you protect their slime coating. This coating protects them from disease and cannot be replaced once it’s gone.
Fly fisherman and their photographers are usually very clean on the river. The nature of the sport involves very little trash, unlike the worm containers, beer bottles, and food trash of the less caring fisherman that often visit the same waters.
What tips would you share with would-be fishing photographers?
A couple tips that I would give are to know your camera’s settings and what they can do to affect the picture. Just a simple white balance adjustment could probably improve half the fishing snapshots you see! You also want to know your camera so you aren’t fiddling around taking a picture and keeping the fish stressed for too long.
Another tip is to avoid the “grip and grin” shot of the angler holding his catch and trying to smile. Creativity plays a big role in making an interesting shot.
Most current point and shoot cameras, as well as DSLR cameras, allow you to focus really close up to your subject. You can get a lot of beautiful colors in the scales and eyes of trout, especially brook trout.
As an outdoor photographer you get a first-hand look at nature, and while the views you might choose to show in your work are often pristine and unspoiled, you undoubtedly see the impact humans have on the environment. What are the biggest threats you see & what can photographers and outdoor sportsmen do to make a difference?
When I visit the Great Smoky Mountains, during the busy season, I have to pass through areas with very busy traffic and people everywhere. These places are undoubtedly suffering from extreme overuse. Trails like the Alum Caves and Rainbow Falls are so used on a busy day, it is impossible to even get a parking spot. There are cars literally lined up along the side of the road for a half mile on both sides.
As photographers and outdoorsmen, we can’t really do much in changing the word that these are the “must visit” places; people will always want to see the best views. We can however, find and show new places that people might consider visiting. As the most visited park, the people are going to go anyways.
On the other hand, maybe it’s best that the drive-by “tourists” and day hikers that disrespect nature are confined to one area. That leaves most of the park untouched, undisturbed, and clean.
I have read that park rangers can’t control the crowds of people following the deer and bear in the highly visited places like Cade’s Cove. Something the “professional” photographers can do is to keep a safe distance themselves. The crowds will see that they aren’t getting any closer, so maybe they shouldn’t be either.
In tenth grade, you got the news that both your retinas were detached. Tell us about how this happened, the surgery & recovery, and how this made you re- evaluate the importance of being able to see.
On a regularly scheduled eye doctor visit, probably to renew my contact prescription, my doctor wanted to use a new machine they had to photograph your retina, just to be safe. It just so happened he noticed what was a tear in the retina and sent me to a retina specialist in Atlanta the same day. That next Friday I was in surgery!
Luckily, it hadn’t progressed enough to affect my central vision. After the surgery, my overall vision actually got better. The retina doctor also saw a less imminent tear in my other eye that was repaired after a lengthy recovery of the first. He says most of these injuries are caused by traumatic sports injuries, but mine was caused by being highly nearsighted.
Needless to say, today I am grateful for my vision. It’s somewhat ironic that I got in to photography more seriously after the surgery. Before, it was just a hobby that I happened to take pictures every once in a while.
By no means do I want to beg for attention from my viewers for being visually impaired and almost losing my sight completely, but for those who do know, it makes my story inspiring.