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Capturing the Great Outdoors: An Interview with Photographer Carl Heilman II

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By Nancy O’Brien

Carl Heilman IICarl Heilman II is well known for capturing the beauty of the Adirondacks in his photographs, along with images of National Parks and other areas of natural beauty. He lives in Brant Lake, on a piece of land that has been in his family since 1958, overlooking the lake itself. Heilman’s business, Wild Visions, Inc., offers stock photography, visual panoramas, workshops and programs along with his books, calendars and more. The Free George caught up with Heilman recently for an interview.

The Free George: How did you get started in outdoor photography?
Carl Heilman:
I started hiking in the Adirondacks in 1974, and did some hikes in the High Peaks. I made snowshoes so I could get to the top of the High Peaks in the winter, and I wanted to capture the feeling of being there, so I bought a used camera. In 1975, I started hiking with a Minolta 101 and a roll of Kodachrome. I took one black and white photography course in college in 1976-77 but that’s my only formal training. The rest has been trial and error and hard critiques of my work.

TFG: When did your photography become a full-time business?
I sold my first image to Adirondack Life magazine in 1980, but it wasn’t until 1997 that we had grown enough to be a full-time business. It evolved over the years, while I was busy raising a family.

The Trout House in Hague, Photo by Carl Heilman IITFG: What did you do for a living before the business went full-time?
I was a carpenter. My first job was in a sawmill in Lake George, and I worked in carpentry until 1988. I also made snowshoes and manufactured crampon straps.

TFG: When did you publish your first book?
In 1999 Adirondacks: View of an American Wilderness was published. I now have nine books with my photographs. I just finished a book on photographic techniques, A Field Guide for Landscape Photography.

TFG: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Anything outdoors. I like to go camping, hiking, skiing, snoeshoeing or bicycling if I get any time outside of my work.

Dawn View of the Boreas River Flow, Photo by Carl Heilman IITFG: What kind of camera equipment do you use now?
Now i’m using a Nikon D300S and D300. I still have my panoramic camera, but that uses film. My photography goes in cycles; if something grabs my interest, I’ll go that way for awhile. I’m always trying new ways to see things with my camera. I did panoramic photography for about 10 years, but now I can do panoramic with my digital camera by stitching the images together. With digital photography, you don’t have to worry about how much film you have, and you can work in all different kinds of light. With film, some photos wouldn’t work because of the lighting, but digital accepts so much more. I look for details and creative effects.

TFG: Where do you go to find subjects for your images?
I’m generally looking for the lighting in a specific location, like this morning, I went to Lake George, but the lighting wasn’t what I was hoping for. But on the way home, I stopped at a ledge along Route 8 and took some great shots. My favorite location is right here, at my home. Whenever I’m out with my camera, I’m having fun. I also take people to different areas of the Adirondacks for my workshops, looking for a new way to shoot. I’ve always been partial to the High Peaks, and climbing above the timberline. There are so many options to create a photograph.

TFG: What’s next for Carl Heilman?
I like to think the next thing is going to be unexpected. This is the last year that Kodachrome film can be developed, and I’m working on a project for Adirondack Life that I like to call that last Kodachrome moment. That project will come out next year.

–Nancy O’Brien is a Contributor to The Free George.

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