The Adirondack Review
Interview with
Carl Heilman
Q: When did you first become interested in photography?

I've always had an interest since playing around with a small box camera when I was growing up. I remember really concentrating on getting just the right composition back then whether taking photos of people or scenery. It was soon after I started hiking in the High Peaks - after moving up here in my late teen years - when I bought a Minolta 101 and really started trying to capture on film the feelings of being in the wilderness of the Adirondacks.

Q: Have you always focused on nature photography, or have you done other genres as well?

My primary focus is on nature photography: landscapes, macro environments, people in nature, and panoramics. I have photographed wherever I go though, and enjoy working to capture the feeling of the environment I am in, whether it's an urban landscape or natural. My preference, though, is as wild a place as I can find in nature.

Q: What have been some of your favorite locations to shoot?

Really just about any place that has a truly wilderness feel to it. I particularly enjoy being above timberline, so I tend to gravitate to the High Peaks. But, I've also found the qualities of a wild kettlehole bog are just as special as the view from a mountaintop. And there are some locations in the foothills that offer views just as stunning as those from a High Peak. There are so many locations in the Adirondacks I've enjoyed photographing, it's really tough to limit the list. I've also enjoyed photographing in Acadia National Park, Montana, southern Utah, the Tetons, and the Big Sur in California.

Q: Do you have a preferred season to take pictures?

I used to especially enjoy photographing in winter, but find there's something special about each season, and enjoy working to captuer on film the sense of wht each season has to offer. Pretty much I simply enjoy working with a camera - wherever, whenever, and the wilder a location is, the better!  I especially enjoy a location with mountains, and having mountains and waterways is even better. So, how can you get better than the Adirondacks?  Mountains, lakes, streams, bogs, hardwoods, evergreens, wildlife, wonderful fall colors, a variety of spring and summer flowers, and abundant recereation opportunities! While I enjoy traveling and photographing all over North America, it's a great place to be able to call the Adirondacks - home.

Q: Do you have any favorite equipment to use, or do you not swear by any particular brand?

I've used Nikon equipment for years - and like the way modern lenses still can be used with older camera bodies. There are many good cameras out there though.

Q: How important a role does the equipment play in getting a great image? Is it possible to take an outstanding photo with an inexpensive camera?

A camera is simply a way to hold film until the shutter is opened to expose it. Some cameras do it with more whistles and bells - but the end result is just the simple opening and closing of a shutter to expose the film. The quality of the lens used - and the sturdiness of the tripod that holds the camera - are more important than the camera itself. To capture the quality of the variations of light in some images, it helps to have different filters for the camera lenses. And again, buying the best quality filters will give the best results for the final image. Nothing though beats being there when the quality of the light is just right!

Q: What was it like working on your book, Adirondacks: Views of an American Wilderness?

Working on the book for Rizzoli was one of the most enjoyable projects I've done. It put me in the field, exploring the Adirondack Park, trying to find unique light and views that captured a sense of the what the Adirondacks means to me - as well as to all those who would be reading the book. It ws a busy time, but quite enjoyable.

Q: How long did the entire project take?

The project can be viewed as taking 25 years - or as a 6 month project... Incorporating photography from all my years of photographing the Adirondacks gives the 25 year perspective. From the time I knew I had the contract in March to the finish deadline of September gives the 6 month perspective. I shot about 100 rolls of film through late winter into early fall - mostly panoramic, and also wrote the chapter narrative. A couple of extensions brought that into October, and then my part was done - except for approving proofs.

Q: What was the most difficult aspect for you?

I'm not nearly as spontaneous a writer as I am a photographer. Holding a camera comes much more naturally for me than holding a pen, but I enjoyed doing both. It just took a bit longer for all the words to come together for me. Then my wife, Meg, always helps with the crafting of the final verison before it goes out the publisher for final editing.

Q: What was the most rewarding?

I've thoroughly enjoyed any photographic project I've done - from the various multi-image slide shows I've produced, to calendars, and then the coffee table book. I can put my deepest feelings into images and words and hopefully touch other people in a way that helps them feel how these special places and times have touched me.

Q: What are some of your personal favorite areas of the Adirondack Park?

Pretty simply - the wildest and most primeval feeling places I've found are the most special. This could be a rocky High Peak mountaintop, especially in the winter with the wind blowing ice and rhime over the summit; or an untouched bog or wetland way back in the backcountry where someone would hardly think of looking for one. I've been so many wonderful pristine places in the Adirondacks it would be hard to say which is favorite... Pretty much wherever I am in the wild backcountry is my favorite place at the time.

Q: You have said "75% of photography is knowing when to go to photograph, and when to stay home."  When do you photograph? When do you stay home? What's the other 25% of photography?

Luck... No matter how well I plan for conditions, there are always the times that don't work out - and then the times when things happen you just never expect. I find it a lot more fun than playing the lottery!

It all comes down to weather and lighting conditions. I've gone out many times when I never unpacked the camera. Working at photography professionally, it's important to maximize my time in the field for coming back with quality photographs. There's such a high percentage of time spent with running a business in photography, that I need to make the best of the little time I have to actually go out and photograph.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring nature photographers when starting out?

Keep it fun. There's a real fine line between working and having fun... And, make sure you know all of what you're getting into before you ever think about leaving your day job! As long as you simply enjoy photographing, and it's something that comes from deep inside you, you can't go wrong.

Q: Besides your book and your website, where can your work be seen (on display)?

I try to set up an exhibit somewhere in the Adirondacks each year. This year was at the Interpretive Center at Paul Smiths (2002). August of 2003 I'll have an exhibit at the new Tannery Town Hall space in North Creek. The easiest way to find where I have exhibits or slide shows is through the calendar page on my website. We keep that updated whenever new dates come along.
ADIRONDACKS by Carl E. Heilman, II