Capturing the inspiring images of the earth’s natural wonders is the bailiwick of nature photographers. Whether shooting mesmerizing sunsets, pleasantly rolling landscapes, cunning wild animals or other-worldly botanical forms, nature photographers deliver a wonderous, be it ephemeral, glimpse into the other lives with whom we share this planet. Nature photography reminds us that we are not alone on this planet and, hopefully, through its passionate force, instills each of us with a stronger sense of stewardship for our natural surroundings.

The history of nature photography is as long as the history of photography itself. Pioneering 19th century photographers focused primarily on two subjects – humans and landscapes. William Henry Jackson used his landscape photography of the mid to late 1800s to spur the creation of public parks, including Yellowstone National Park in 1872. This began the long-standing tradition of using nature photography to advance conservation efforts. No nature photographer was more prolific or well-known in this realm than Ansel Adams, whose work continues to inspire and excite other artists and thrill admirers. Even today, many nature photographers are drawn to the mission of conserving their subjects, whether they be endangered ocean wildlife, rare spring wildflowers or vanishing wilderness landscapes.

At the Appalachian Arts Craft Center, we have the privilege of featuring the work of several talented East Tennessee nature photographers, including Kelli Thompson, a retired Knoxville attorney who has lived among her subjects for years, first on Norris Lake and now along the banks of the Clinch River. Kelli is drawn to a wide range of natural images, with her favorites being landscapes, large birds and wildflowers. She particularly enjoys capturing Bald Eagles, Ospreys and Great Blue Herons that frequent the waterways of our region. A pair of eagles nest close to her riverfront home and she enjoys finding and photographing them in their natural element.

She recently added a more powerful lens and a gimbal to her tool box, allowing her to capture both stationary and in-motion images in greater clarity and sharpness. If you’re not familiar with the term “gimbal,” you’re not alone. But, if you’ve watched football on TV, you’ve likely seen one attached to a hand-held, on-field video camera.

A gimbal is a pivoting support apparatus that allows the photographer to rotate an object along a single axis. A typical 3 axis gimbal permits the mounted camera to move independent of the person holding it. This, in turn, creates more stability for heavier and larger lenses. Another advantage to the gimbal, according to Kelli, is that it allows the photographer movement in finding the “right shot”, unlike a tripod.

Kelli finds great pleasure in the “hobby” that’s become a part-time second profession. She practices nature photography to “capture the beauty of God’s creation and share that and her enjoyment of it with other people.”

You can find a wide array of spectacular nature photography, including Kelli’s work, at the AACC Gift Shop, located just off of Exit 122 on I-75 between Knoxville and Rocky Top, Tennessee or at our on-line store at

Dean Johnson