In an earlier post, I interviewed Carl Heilman II, a landscape photographer who knows how to expand the boundaries of a frame to bring his photos to life. We talked about how he gets those great images―particularly his panoramas of the Adirondacks―and how his career has evolved from the beginning.
Classic Carl Heilman II Adirondack Panorama
Now we’re getting down to business—the freelance photography business. Here, Carl shares his personal formula for freelance success.
Carl is kind of a one-man-band of outdoor photography. He takes the photos, processes them digitally, teaches workshops, writes books, does lectures, develops programs, and spends a great deal of time doing things other than photography to keep his successful business enterprise going. His family, including wife Meg and married daughter, Greta, also work fulltime in the cottage industry known as Wild Visions, Inc.
In June of 2010, Carl released his latest book, Contemporary Landscape Photography, a book that captures his knowledge about his craft, and walks you through how to do your own beautiful landscapes using digital cameras and equipment.
ARTS ENCLAVE: What makes this book different from your others?
CARL HEILMAN: This is a how-to photography book, rather than a book of photographs. It’s really all about landscape photography from A-Z, from aperture and shutter speed to weather, lighting, equipment, depth-of-field, and creative techniques, and includes a section my daughter Greta did on Photoshop techniques.
AE: It’s basically a course in a book…
CH: It’s part of the evolution of things. I’ve had an idea in my head for 3-4 years now to do a project like this and I’ve been fortunate with my other projects. Then, all of a sudden I got an email to do a panoramic photography techniques book, and although I didn’t end up getting that project they said, “Hold on, we have another project that would work perfectly for you.” The book kind of all fell into place and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it—it was kind of an extension of what I’ve been doing for years in my workshops.
AE: How long have you been doing the workshops?
CH: I’ve been doing photography [shooting] workshops since the early 1990s and more steadily since the late 1990s. We started doing early Photoshop workshops for photographers back around 2000, in addition to the photo-taking workshops.
AE: You are working at landscape photography as a fulltime sustaining business—how many people are actually able to do that?
CH: I know, it is our sole income here. My wife, Meg, and my daughter, Greta, work with me, and this is our business. It’s been as much of a challenge as anything I’ve had to do, to grow and maintain a photography business….
AE: Who does the marketing and the website?
CH: The website is still based on a lot of the work that I did during the first few years I worked fulltime in photography. Greta maintains some sections of it and I still maintain some. I’ve also gone to Facebook now.
AE: You’re also doing speaking engagements, writing books, and you have many hyperlinks on your website—that’s a pretty elaborate business model for an individual photographer, because that’s larger than just doing photography… Do you have a marketing plan? Do you sit down and decide what kinds of things you might be doing in the coming year?
CH: It just kind of happens… Oh sure, we are incorporated, so we do have a business meeting each year and talk about what directions we want to go in―what’s worked, what hasn’t, what needs to be republished, whether we want to publish anything new, and whether there are new book projects coming through. I’m always trying to look down the road 4-5 years, but most of the time I’m working about a year out on projects and lining things up.
AE: Who handles the business side of the business?
CH: Meg does the actual Quickbooksâ work. Greta has taken off on her own with the travel mugs and other aspects of using my photography for retail-type products. So it’s a joint effort all around. I probably do most of the actual business contact stuff, whether it’s stock photography, pursuing speaking engagements, or setting up workshops―that sort of thing.
AE: You seem to be going constantly. Is it 7days a week most of the year?
CH: Mostly, yes. Last winter I had to slow down a bit. After I finished my latest book, Contemporary Landscape Photography, I actually took some time off to read a bit and catch up on some sleep and recoup a bit before summer came around. And yes, many weeks, it can be a 7-day affair that goes from early in the morning until suppertime. Most people think I’m out in the woods 90% of that time, but if I look back over a year or several years time of how much time I spend shooting to the office, it’s only about 10% outside shooting and 90% in the office.
AE: Really? You would never think that, especially since you have such a huge volume of work.
CH: Well, one of the wonderful things about landscape photography is that it doesn’t go out of date or out of style that quickly, so you can take years of work, scan the slides and add them into the database. And even still, if 10% of my time is spent out shooting, it’s not like when I was first photographing. Back then, if I went out to shoot in the morning, I’d come back with one or two really good photographs. Now I can come back with a number of them, and a variety of images that can be used for a lot of different purposes. It’s a better use of time, since I have a better understanding of the weather, and can use internet resources to check it. Now I can get up at three o’clock in the morning to check the satellite view of the clouds. That gives me a sense of how the weather patterns are moving, to help me know whether I’m going to have the sunrise I wanted or it’s going to be a washout. So now I can make better use of my time both in the office and when I’m out shooting.
AE: About the books―do you have one that was your favorite to work on?
CH: I haven’t had that question about the books before, but I get it about the photos all the time. People ask me, “what’s your favorite photo” and I tell them, “what’s the last one I worked on?” Every new project has a challenge about it, and I’ve enjoyed working on every one of them: The Coast of Maine, Lake George, going all around New York State, the Adirondacks, a project I did for Montana Fish and Wildlife—they’ve all been unique and special.
AE: If people want to order your books, how should they do it?
CH: If they want to order through my website, we offer autographed copies. Of course, they’re available in bookstores (especially in upstate NY), and online through Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.
AE: Anything you want to offer to someone starting out in outdoor photography, if they want to start a career?
CH: Persistence and patience.
AE: Do you think it can still be done the way you did it? Now, with digital photography, anybody can go out and point a camera at something—is somebody going to be able to make a fulltime career out of freelance nature photography if they don’t already have a long-standing resume like yours?
CH: I don’t think it’s all that different….digital photography gives many more people the option to capture photographs, but it also just raises the bar for those who do it. It offers the opportunity to capture better photographs than ever before, and in order to stay above the rest you need to really put your effort into digital capture as well as the final print. I think there are still options out there, it’s just finding what works for you.
That was how I pursued it. I could have gone into wedding photography and a lot of other things that have a much higher income base than what I do, but my decision when I got into this was, if I’m going to do photography, I’m going to do photography that I want to do, and if I can’t do that, then I’ll do something else, because then it becomes work. I’ve done a number of other things that I enjoyed that became work. It was important to me to keep this as enjoyable as possible because it was a passion, it wasn’t work. It does become a full time job, but when I have a camera in my hand, it’s still a passion, and I think it’s important to keep that kind of perspective if you’re going to go into it.
AE: Didn’t you start off with an engineering degree?
CH: I never had a degree in anything. I went to college in Pennsylvania for a while and had about 48 credits—what’s that, about a year and half? I was going for industrial arts because I wanted to learn more about cabinet making, and I found that they were just teaching me to teach, rather than teaching me about cabinet making. I found out that it wasn’t what I wanted to do and so I came back to the Adirondacks and started making snowshoes along with my carpentry. (Carl has written a number of articles on snowshoe design as well as snowshoeing and mountaineering. He has also led many snowshoeing treks and workshops for the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club.)
While I lived at home with my parents I had a great time going to college, and I took a course in black and white while I was there, which was good to have. I still have the course curriculum instruction sheet, which I used for a number of years while I was learning photography. But my passion has been the Adirondacks and the lakes and mountains up here.
For more on Carl’s artistic process, read Part I of our interview.
All photos seen here are provided under copyright by Carl Heilman II, and are available for purchase at his website. To see his gallery, learn about his workshops, buy his books, or read his articles on snowshoeing, visit his extensive website at: www.carlheilman.com or www.naturepanoramas.com.
Carl also invites you to become a ‘fan’ of his facebook pages: http://www.facebook.com/NaturePhotographyWorkshops and www.facebook.com/NaturePhotographyTips.
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