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Obsession: Chasing the Next Great Shot Turns a Web Designer into a Mountain Photographer


360-degree Views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Craggy Pinnacle in North Carolina

A few years ago, freelance web designer J. Smilanic bought a used DSLR from a friend, watched a few Youtube tutorials, and developed a healthy obsession for mountain photography. “And now instead of going out and going for a hike or going backpacking, I’m going out to take photos. It’s consumed my outdoor life,” says Smilanic, who shares his work on Instagram @dawnfirephotography. “I plan each hike and each backpacking trip around photography. What’s going to have the good views. What’s blooming at what time.”

Photographer's hiking dog Fox, a Chorkie (Chihuahua and Yorkie), loves to explore

Smilanic never leaves home without his sidekick Fox, a Chorkie (Chihuahua + Yorkie). Fox has a healthy fear of heights, says Smilanic, but not bears. The six year-old rescue dog chased a bear through the woods recently and lived to see another sunset.

Craggy Pinnacle path on Blue Ridge Parkway with beautiful North Carolina mountain views.

As a ten year-old kid, Smilanic would hike alone for miles up into the Rockies near his Colorado home. He moved to Savannah, Georgia as a teenager and naturally gravitated to the highest peaks in the eastern U.S. - the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina.

Craggy Tree on the path to Craggy Pinnacle in the Blue Ridge Parkway

J. Smilanic photo 'Great Craggy Tree' won the 'Flora & Fauna' category of the 15th annual Appalachian Mountain Photo Contest.

Smilanic’s hobby is getting attention. He recently won two regional photography awards and had his first paid photography assignment in Louisiana for Outdoor Project. “I’m right there on the verge of being a professional.”

Photographer and hiking dog enjoy the sunset on the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville

Want to find great photography spots near Asheville, North Carolina? Smilanic recommends three locations:

  • Craggy Pinnacle. A short hike right off the Blue Ridge Parkway for 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Roan Highlands. On the Appalachian Trail, the hike has stunning purple Catawba Rhododendron gardens in the spring.
  • Linville Gorge. For more experienced hikers, the rugged area is sometimes called the 'Grand Canyon' of the East.

Grassy Ridge Bald in the Roan Highlands, award winning photo by J. Smilanic

J. Smilanic photo 'Top of the Mornin' taken at Grassy Ridge Bald in the Roan Highlands won 1st place in the amateur category of WNC Magazine '2017 Images of WNC' Photo contest.

Asheville, North Carolina nature landscape photographer J. Smilanic

Asheville, NC landscape photographer J. Smilanic


1 comment


  • Brenda Springfield

    So inspiring! Beautiful photos of this photographer, his work, his pup and special places!


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