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

Asheville Photographer J. Smilanic shooting the sunset at Craggy Pinnacle on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Asheville Photographer J. Smilanic at Craggy Pinnacle near Asheville, NC. Photo by Jake Springfield

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.”

Trail dog Fox accompanies J. Smilanic on the Craggy Pinnacle hike

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 6 year-old rescue dog chased a bear through the woods recently and lived to see another sunset.

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. in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina.

Asheville Photographer J. Smilanic walks the path to Craggy Pinnacle, NC

Smilanic on the trail to Craggy Pinnacle. Photo by Jake Springfield.


'Top of the Mornin' won the amateur category of the WNC Magazine '2017 Images of WNC' Photo contest.

Smilanic photo 'Top of the Mornin' won the amateur category of the WNC Magazine 2017 Images of WNC 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.”

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

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

Want to find great photography spots near Asheville? Smilanic recommends three locations.

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

Ashveille photographer J. Smilanic at sunset

Asheville Photographer J. Smilanic

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