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Interview with Elizabeth Carmel


Elizabeth Carmel's serene color landscapes transport you to those classic wilderness places we would all like to visit. A highly successful landscape photographer, gallery owner and Hasselblad master Elizabeth discusses her approach to photography and how she makes her art and business come together.
From what I can work out you have been shooting seriously a comparatively short time, yet in this time you have managed to shoot some amazing images, establish a successful gallery and become a highly recognized photographer in what is a tough business to get a foothold. You are obviously doing something right - what have been the things which have created success for you?
I started selling my work locally since I have many images that appeal to my local market - I think that is a good way to get started. It is difficult to sell the iconic images since everyone photographs those, so I have tried to offer unique images based around a certain style I have perfected. I spend more time marketing and selling my work than I do taking
photographs - I think that is a requirement to be successful in the art print market. I have also had a lot of success with my recent book "Brilliant Waters, Portraits of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and the High Sierra". The book is currently in its 3rd printing and has sold over 6000 copies.

I also have a photoblog at which is how I can stay in touch with people interested in my work. My website is where I display my online portfolio. My husband and I recently opened a new gallery in Truckee, California.

When it comes to marketing your images how significant was being awarded the title of a "Hasselblad Master"?
That award helped me get more recognition in the European countries, and probably has opened some doors for me in the US as well. From a marketing perspective, I think more people have been introduced to my work via my Brilliant Waters book than any other marketing approach I have tried.

How would you describe your photographic style and from where has it evolved over that 7yrs both artistically and to meet the expectations of the fine art market?
When I started doing prints over 7 years ago I used images from scanned slides and from lo-resolution digital cameras, and so I retouched those images to make them look more like paintings, which helped me make them look good in larger print sizes.When digital cameras finally got to the point where you could make a large photographic looking print, I invested in one of those (at the time a Canon 1ds, since then I have worked up to a Digital Hasselblad with a 39 megapixel count). I now develop all my prints with photographic sharpness and clarity that comes from using a state of the art medium format digital system. I think this has given my work a very clean contemporary and crisp look that appeals to art buyers. I also really love working with color, so I do not spend alot of time on black and white images but instead prefer to work with a large range of color tones and palettes. I also enjoy printing onto the cotton matte fine art papers such as the Epson ultrasmooth paper, and more recently I have been working with the Crane Museo Silver Rag to create images that have a more luster finish. All my prints are done fairly large, from 16 x20" in size up to 4 x 8 feet.

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Tell us your method of working in the field does your digital workflow on the computer influence the way you shoot - for example are you using more traditional technqiues like graduated ND filters and shooting hyperfocal etc or are you merging multiple images to give a crisper depth of field (sometimes called focus stacking) and using HDR techniques to increase the dynamic range.
I use all the digital tools available to make an image that has a broad range of tonal and color detail. I also will combine an exposure for the shadows with one for the highlights, and also combine images with different focus points to improve depth of field. I find that I still use polarizer and split ND filters in the field since they produce base images that are more useful when I develop them in camera raw. I will not create places that do not exist, all my images reflect actual moments in time but they have been optimized for focus, color and tonal range in photoshop.

In many respects you are the quintessential modern photographer using a high end Hasselblad H3D kit and large format Epson inkjet printers - But Hasselblad's Flexcolor approach and raw file system isn't really as well integrated with the tools that are commonly used for the modern shooters workflow eg raw files into Lightroom into Adobe PS or software like Lightzone - Tell us about your workflow and whether you have had a chance to use Phocus?
Right now I use Flexcolor to export dng files which I open in Adobe Camera Raw in PS CS 3. I like this workflow since I really enjoy the tools in ACR and the layers in photoshop. I am looking forward to trying out Phocus as soon as it is available, I may switch my raw file processing to that program since it looks very promising. I do not have a need to process huge volumes of images like a wedding or portrait photographer, so my approach would not work for someone in those specialties.

You have taken many images in regions where some very famous photographers have also done so (eg Yosemite, High Sierra). Its hard not to get drawn to these places because of their wonderful landscapes but when traveling to these places do you do so with some trepidation and how do you manage to keep your vision of these places unique.
I have found that it is nice to have the iconic images in my collection, so I will take the classic shots when I have the chance. Places like Yosemite are so diverse that there are many other opportunities for macro shots or small detail shots, so it is a matter of wandering around with your eyes open. I think it is important to look at a lot of images, both your own and others, so that you can train your eye to see a good shot when it appears. It is like learning a different language, it takes persistence and dedication to train the photographer's / artist's eye.

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In Robert Pirsig's book he used the statement "quality is a pre-intellectual thought..." I think this applies to the experienced "photographers eye" but can you deconstruct your "photographers eye" and explain what you now look for when you look into the viewfinder or review you images on your monitor - what makes a good picture?
I think that a good nature image must have a certain amount of simplicity to it. Nature is naturally messy, and the challenge is always to find simple and meaningful compositions. I also look for a sense of depth in all my images. This can be done with the foreground to background style of composing, and can also be done in more subtle ways with shape and color.

Which photograhers have influenced you and whose images or websites do you most enjoy looking and whose do you go back to time after time?
I really enjoy the work of many photographers in many different genres. I have seen many great exhibits at SF MOMA. NY MOMA, and the Getty. I enjoy seeing work at the contemporary shows like Photo LA, and also online and in magazines. I have been influenced by the great landscape photographers such as the late Galen Rowell, who celebrated the color landscape, along with Michael Kenna, who creates surreal zen-like images. I try to keep up with the careers of the most successful contemporary photographers to see what they are creating, where they are exhibiting, and what types of books they are producing.

How do you see the roll of nature photography as a form of expression at both a personal level and to the wider community / client. And do you think being a women gives you a different perception of nature (eg emotional spiritual metaphysical) and does this translate to your images - the sometimes discussed "woman's eye".
I think I summarize the role of nature photography for me and the larger audience in my artists statement: I believe that experiencing the Earth's beauty has the power to help nourish and unify us, both on a personal and global level. Through my photography I endeavor to translate these experiences into fine art prints.

I try to contribute positive imagery to the world in a time when we are bombarded with so many negative and sensationalistic images. I hope my photographs help nurture a sense of hope and affection for the natural world.

Sometimes when on a photo shoot I feel pulled to a specific location to take a portrait of a place, and know that the resulting image is the product of serendipitous events that will likely never be repeated. Some of my images are more my own constructs, where I seek the realization of a specific vision in my final print. I strive to create images that link us to feelings and perceptions we may not access regularly in our daily lives. I believe that great fine art photographs are a gateway through habitual thinking to a larger perspective.

As far as being a female photographer, I am not sure if it gives me a different perspective from a man, I guess it must in some ways. I really enjoy color, and see color very well - I have heard that men can be more color blind so maybe that is why there are so many male black and white photographers!

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I'd like to thank Elizabeth for providing insight into the way she approaches and thinks about her photography as art and business. She is great role model for those thinking about taking their landscape and nature photography into the professional realm.

For more information on Elizabeth's book "Brilliant Waters, Portraits of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and the High Sierra" visit http://www.hawkspeakpublishing.com/ and keep up with Elizabeth's photography journey at her blog

You can see her portfolio on her website or visit the gallery she runs with her husband and artist, Olof Carmel.


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