Photo by Mike Lynch
Carl Heilman gives pointers during a photography workshop organized through the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
View similar articles:
By Location:
Tri-LakesTupper Lake
By Category:


Standing on the bridge above Bog River Falls, photographer Carl Heilman II aimed his camera at rushing water emptying into Tupper Lake.

It was a few minutes after 8 p.m., and Heilman was the last to leave the falls. After most people had driven home or put away their cameras, he continued to stand on the bridge. His camera was propped on a tripod, and he was capturing the Bog River as it disappeared into the large lake below. His viewfinder showed streaks of white cascading down the river into the still water.

Without prompting, he noted that he never left until his camera stopped working — meaning he didn’t leave until it got dark. It was obvious Heilman has a deep passion for his work.

On this particular mid-May day, Heilman was leading a workshop on photographing water, particularly ponds, small streams and waterfalls. The workshop was organized through the Wild Center and included eight photographers and himself. The participants ranged from Heilman fans who just wanted a guided tour of some picturesque landscapes to more serious photographers toting high-end camera equipment.

The class itself started at the Wild Center, where Heilman introduced himself and talked about the basics of photography. He talked about the importance of understanding things, such as how aperture settings related to the depth of field, how shutter speed relates to motion, the importance of color contrast in photography, and how to break the photos up into thirds when determining how to compose the image.

A sense of place

Heilman himself is a very well-known and experienced photographer whose interest in the trade began in the mid-1970s. Heilman said he first got published about five years after he started playing around with cameras.

  “I believe it was 1980 in an issue of Adirondack Life,” said Heilman, who lives in Brant Lake. “It was a photo of my wife with a pack on in snowshoes.”

He said the pair traveled into the middle of Lake Colden in the winter. He snapped “a picture of her with wetlands in the background and Mount Colden behind her. It was a nice, blue, sunny day. So that was the start.”

Heilman didn’t achieve instant fame. He worked as a carpenter, making hand-crafted wooden snowshoes on the side, and when he had time he took photographs. At that time, photography was more labor intensive than it is now and more difficult to learn. So, like other aspiring photographers in the 1980s, Heilman used film and developed it on his own. Unlike today with digital cameras, he was limited in the amount of photos he could take and also by the expensive nature of the profession.

In the late 1990s, though, he had a breakthrough. He bought a panoramic camera, and in 1997 he published his first book: “Adirondacks: Views of an American Wilderness.” He has since published numerous others, with another coming out this summer titled, “The Landscape Photography Field Guide.”

Since the late ’90s, Heilman has been able to make his living as a photographer. He makes posters, sells calendars, prints, teaches workshops and does whatever it takes.

One theme that has been prevalent in his work is the concept of wilderness. It was a concept that inititally inspired him and still does.

He described climbing his first peak, Algonquin, in the winter. While on the summit, he stood there with the wind rushing around him and a grand view before him.

“That felt like where I belonged,” Heilman recalled.  

After that experience, he “wanted to find ways to ... recapture the feeling of being in that place ... I wanted to have an emotional impact that held on to, that evoked that feeling of being in that place.”

Beauty in the details

Heilman doesn’t necessarily need to be atop a mountain with a majestic view deep in the wilderness to capture great photographs, he told the class.

He did take the group to Buttermilk Falls on the Raquette River and the Bog River Falls, which seem to be obvious places for great photos. But we also stopped at a few small streams and ponds that one could have easily overlooked. All the spots were just off the road, which was by design so the class participants were able to spend most of their time in the field taking photos, not hiking to their destinations.

We probably made about 10 stops, with Heilman pointing out the uniqueness of each one. At one stream, he would photograph a bunch of gnarly roots tangled alongside a stream. In another spot, he would photograph a flower in the foreground, with rushing water in the background.

The class was a great exercise in looking at the world in a new way, with a fresh perspective.

It was also a great opportunity to see the process that leads to a great image.

At each stop, Heilman would chat with the students, giving them pointers and feedback. But he would also go out on his own and capture his own images.

Using a tripod, he would set up alongside the water. Sometimes he would focus in on the overall image of the stream. Other times, he would ignore the river or stream and focus in on something minute, just feet from his lens.

Each time he set up his tripod and camera, he worked with precision, fine-tuning the depth of field, focus and color, hoping to capture the moment.

Frequently, he did.