Don McGowen

Arrowmont Connections: Don McGowan continues to find Beauty in landscape photography

Arrowmont is a special community full of creative people – a family who know that coming together and making art is important. We talk a lot about the Arrowmont Experience – connecting through craft and community. That connection exists beyond physical proximity. It is in shared memories and new ideas. It lives in the friendships we make with each other. It grows when we learn and support one another.

Whether on campus or off, we are connected as members of the Arrowmont family. Over the next few weeks, we are going to share stories from our community of instructors, residents, and students in a new series, Arrowmont Connections.


Don McGowan is an Arrowmont instructor and long-time friend and supporter. A native Georgian, Don moved to Sevier County, Tennessee in 1993 to live in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. When his work was judged to be the “Best of the Weekend” at a nature photography workshop conducted by the Great American Photography Weekend in Gatlinburg in the spring of 1994, McGowan knew that his path was a career in photograph primarily in nature images. He now lives on the non-crowded side of the Smokies at the head of Beaverdam Valley in Buncombe County, North Carolina.

Don said, “My purpose as a photographer is to share, through my images, the great beauty of the natural world and in the dialog that stems from that sharing to encourage the conservation of that beauty.

I believe beauty can be found at any time, in any place, with the only required effort being the momentary reflex to look closely and see.

I have found over the years that I best connect with the world through the creation of images; and I best share that expression – my love of this earth – through the eyes of a camera and lens.”

Don currently owns and operates EarthSong Photography, specializing in on-location, natural light commercial imaging; fine art nature prints and note cards; nature stock photography; environmental photojournalism; photography workshops in locations across the country; and photo tours/coaching in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Today, Don shared that, with the support of his community, EarthSong Photography has been rated ‘Highly Recommended.’

Each week, Don updates his website with a new image and reaches out through Facebook for feedback and conversation. This week, he added The Appalachians of Spring:

The Appalachians of Spring, Don McGowan

He describes the piece and his process:

Because they are some of the very oldest of their kind on Earth, the Southern Appalachians have had more practice being mountains than just about all of the others. One of the decisions they made a very long time ago was that they would excel in the production of flowering species; and, indeed, they have. More than 1500 such beings live just in the Great Smoky Mountains alone. In May in the upper elevations (5000-6500′), one of the most striking of floral displays is the delicate smooth shadbush, or serviceberry, or sarvis, if you happen to be a senior-aged mountain person, tree (Amelanchier laevis). Often the display reaches the tops of the high ridges about the same time the green-up arrives. In this case, this past Friday [May 15, 2020].

A focal length of 56mm, just beyond normal-land, gave me the angle of view I wanted, to include the valley between Lickstone Ridge and Bunches Bald (behind me) and parts of the Soco Creek watershed beyond. An aperture of f/18 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/6th second at ISO 100 allowed me to freeze the motion of the slight breeze and to achieve an overall medium exposure.

As a propriety matter, the land within this Image is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and while the Tsalagi certainly wish to develop their lands to the comfort of all of their citizens, one can’t help but note the naturally unsullied nature of the scene, which is another tribal wish, that the land of their ancestors remain as pristine and unblemished as possible. When it comes to public lands, perhaps we should take a cue from the Tsalagi.

For the past three years, Don has offered Road Scholar workshops: week-long immersive photography adventures in the Smokies. He writes, ” [My wife] Bonnie and I, along with Wilma Durpo, our intrepid naturalist, will begin our third year of workshops with the Road Scholar program under the auspices of the Intentional Growth Center at Lake Junaluska North Carolina.  The programs are entitled ‘The Great Smoky Mountains Through the Photographer’s Lens'”.
See this short video of Don leading an Arrowmont 2016 workshop below to get a snapshot into his workshop experience.


Don McGowan’s website: http://www.earthsongphotography.com/

Facebook: @don.mcgowan.71

Arrowmont 2016 Instructor video: https://youtu.be/rpMdzCfSsNI

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