Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Beyond The Range Of Light
From her home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Elizabeth Carmel is focused on capturing dramatic vistas in transition
In the field, Carmel uses 35mm-sized DSLRs and Hasselblads. At first, she relied on the 2 1/4-square format to give her maximum compositional versatility as well as image quality when she shot film. Now, as a digital photographer, she still uses Hasselblads, but she has traded in her film magazines for digital backs. Although it has been derided as a lukewarm format—lacking both the large size of 4x5 or 8x10 and the convenience of 35mm SLRs and DSLRs—the reality is that medium format has traditionally been seen by its devotees as the best of all worlds. The large image sensors on Carmel’s Hasselblads combine with the optics that are legendary for their sharpness and contrast in a package that’s much smaller than any large-format setup. Smaller-format DSLRs have caught up in many respects, but for some shooters there’s still no substitute for medium format.
Because photography is an imperfect medium, visionary nature photographers like Carmel spend considerable time and effort developing techniques to bring their images back to what they originally saw in the field. Several years ago, OP worked with Carmel on an article that showed how to process two captures of the same scene to preserve bright highlights and deep shadow detail. Today, the technique is called High Dynamic Range photography, and there are several software options that make it simple to do. At the time, however, it was pretty revolutionary, and it shows Carmel’s consistent drive to find digital solutions to some of the fundamental problems of photography.
Using digital technology to defeat a high-contrast scene isn’t the only way Carmel has been a pioneer. She’s a woman in a field that some people still regard as male-centric. When she began her career in nature photography, that stereotype was much more accurate than it is today. Carmel remarks about the presence of women on the trails she frequents, saying, “It’s becoming more acceptable. It isn’t unusual at all to see a woman hiking alone in the Sierras. I’ve encountered very few problems in this career solely because of my gender. I think society has moved beyond a lot of sexist stereotypes with my generation, and I think it’s looking even better for my daughter’s generation in that regard.”
You can see more of Elizabeth Carmel’s work at www.elizabethcarmel.com.
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