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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Mountain Digital

Elizabeth Carmel's expressive landscapes are a combination of subtle details and majestic scenes

Elizabeth Carmel - Mountain DigitalThose wonderful areas in the Sierra foothills also meant a new love affair for Carmel—the Sierra Mountains. A long way from the flat, piney woodlands of her southern upbringing, the high Sierras became her source of inspiration, further serving as a spark igniting her passion for photography. "Once I saw the majestic peaks of the Sierras, I became smitten," she explains. "The mountains, with their varied and dramatic landscapes, became my favorite photographic subject."

Mountain Preparation

Home these days for Carmel, her husband, Olof, and their seven-year-old daughter, Abbey, is the mountain community of Truckee near Lake Tahoe. The jagged peaks surrounding her home beckon her to step outside the ordinary comfort of shooting from the highways winding through the area.

Carmel relishes the challenge of the mountains, much preferring to photograph far from the road system. "For me, roadside photography is very limiting, since it’s difficult to find an image that hasn’t already been taken," she explains.
"My best images are from areas miles from any highway."

To plan for treks into the Sierras, Carmel spends more time preparing physically for the experience than doing anything special equipment-wise. "While I do make sure my gear is in good working condition, it’s critical for me to have myself 'mountain-ready,' she says. "I stay fit by running, cross-country skiing and mountain biking. I use these modes of transportation to get into the backcountry. I also use horses to carry my gear for extended trips into the mountains. With horses, I can carry much more gear."

Elizabeth Carmel - Mountain DigitalFor equipment preparation, Carmel has a tip: "The main issue for mountain photography is the weather, particularly with cold temperatures. I’ve discovered that non-rechargeable lithium batteries work best in cold temperatures."

As far as special techniques for mountain photography, she has some suggestions to consider, as well: "I do multiple exposures both for aperture and shutter speed. This way, I can combine exposures for maximum depth of field and dynamic range. I also use a split ND filter most of the time since that helps tone down highlights. I always use a tripod—it makes no sense to carry around a 22-megapixel digital back Hasselblad and handhold it."

Unlike most landscape photographers, Carmel often forgoes the ultra-wide-angle perspective. "While I like sweeping-vista compositions, I especially like to use my 300mm to isolate on compositions. I also like images that are slightly abstract but with features that are still recognizable" (300mm for 21/4 medium format is equivalent to about 200mm for 35mm).

Elizabeth Carmel - Mountain DigitalDigital Medium Format In The Mountains

Carmel prefers the image size coming out of medium-format digital cameras compared to 35mm size (full frame or small format), but she still has her ties to the 35mm format. "I prefer a rectangular format," she explains, "probably since I developed my eye looking through a 35mm viewfinder. However, I was looking for a mobile camera system that could produce big, clear prints. Medium format does just that."

Why not just go for large format? "I don’t have the patience and personality for the large-format film systems," says Carmel. "I move around much more and take more images than a typical large-format photographer. The image quality with the 22-megapixel digiback for the Hasselblad is amazing—I can create prints that are 60 inches wide." Carmel credits excellence in her equipment as well: "An important part of getting that kind of quality is using good glass—that’s why I like the Hasselblad system."



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