Shelves: books-i-have May Galen Rowell rest peacefully in the light and the wind of the high mountains where he found such peace during his human time. I cannot thank this man enough. To my recollection, the best dollar I have ever spent. Even at the current price of 20 or so dollars, it is well worth that amount of physical resources. Galen introduces a unique perspective of how to interact with the wild environment, and arrive at a photograph.
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Mountain ranges stand as some of the most magnificent geologic formations on our planet. In the era of film, long exposures and reciprocity failure would do some dramatic things with the colors at the edges of day. One could argue that current camera sensors and processors have made photography in this low light even more possible and often more surprising. It never fails to amaze me when sharing sunsets with other tourists at well-known viewpoints how many of them leave right after the fire fades.
Few, if any, wait it out for the next half hour—the Galen hour. Galen was a founding contributor, columnist and mentor for Outdoor Photographer from the launch of the magazine in to the end of his life. His contributions to photography and the scope of his published works are well documented. We take the opportunity to ponder some of the lessons of Galen in the most tangible sense.
He was both an artist and a teacher, and the teacher was forthright and straightforward about the mundane secrets of creating lasting images. The operative word is mobile. The photograph factored into my life in a very offbeat way. I had great hopes of photographing the Diskit Monastery and its treasures. I was instantly frustrated and tempted to be irate, but knew that would be unproductive, so I let my wife and our guide chat it up with the monk.
It was mentioned that we were friends with the man who took the famous photo of the rainbow over Potala Palace and that Galen also was a friend of the Dalai Lama. Immediately, the monk knew the photo and his entire mood toward us changed. This photo and the story behind it involving running a considerable distance at high altitude to line up the elements speak to the never-out-of-fashion need to recognize quality over quantity.
When traveling, pick your best opportunity and focus on it. Give yourself the time to get it right. GoPro cameras are common on many bike, ski and moto helmets. The iPhone and other smartphones have self-portrait modes. Galen made an art of the self-portrait, for the most part out of necessity. His photo adventures often found him above the treeline, and he knew the importance of showing scale in locations where boulders and slivers of granite could overwhelm the size of a person with their enormity.
This photograph was used as a cover for Outdoor Photographer, and I can recall the involved story behind the shot whereby Galen conducted some considerable previsualization and preplanning to set it up, climb the pinnacle and be in position for the perfect rim-light effect, then a friend tripped the shutter.
Galen employed this technique in more than one memorable photograph—all done without the benefit of instant LCD review. Galen Rowell worked frequently with grad NDs and helped popularize them with nature photographers.
Galen built his business on the notion of mountain light, from the Sierras to the Himalayas. In this realm, the range between bright and shadow is significant, so it would be natural for him to embrace the graduated ND filter.
I can recall that there was a time when we would write about grad NDs in the magazine, and the response by readers would be great, as though people were being introduced to a single filter that surmounted the greatest shortcoming in the abilities of film to record the natural environment. Today, the topic of HDR solicits a similar popular response as the modern software solution to controlling high-contrast photos. Some photographers overindulge in HDR while others engage in moderation and keep its effects as undetectable as possible.
The correct answer is always the one that you have with you. This gear was downsized compared to the pro models, and it was designed to appeal to amateurs. Galen was extremely fit and would admit to a genetic advantage for coping with altitude in places like the Rongbuk Monastery in the Everest region—not a bad trait for a mountain climber.
He would tell stories about running to the tops of mountains or speed-hiking to less accessible locations with this lightweight gear, sometimes just an SLR body and a zoom lens. As a professional, Galen had the advantage over most of us to spend extensive time in the outdoors to be at locations when the light was right. Penguins on an Antarctic iceberg, a clearing storm at El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall like a thread of gold all come to mind.
Despite the paradigm shift from film to digital and the extreme sophistication of modern equipment with its fixation on megapixels, subject always trumps quality with the exception of sharp focus, which is always critical and unfixable. In the category of outdoor photography, Galen was influential in bringing legitimacy to 35mm. The larger the format, the more unadventurous or stiff the composition, as the photographer is encumbered by the sheer weight of camera and tripod.
Originally Published August 21,
Lessons Learned From Galen Rowell
Learn how and when to remove this template message Rowell was introduced to the wilderness at a very young age and began climbing mountains at the age of ten. For the next 52 years, he climbed mountains and explored landscapes. He began taking pictures on excursions into the wild so he could share his experiences with friends and family. After graduating from Berkeley High School in , he stayed in Berkeley to study physics at the University of California but dropped out after four years to pursue his love of climbing. He was never formally trained as a photographer. That is what he did for himself.
Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape