The recent death of Galen Rowell led me to read one of Rowell's classic books, "Mountain Light". The book was originally published in 1986 and then a second edition was published in 1995.
Rowell's outdoor photographs appeared as the background for many advertisements, but he was also regularly featured as an artist and adventurer in many outdoor magazines, and often appeared in the National Geographic. For many years he was a columnist in Outdoor Photography magazine, and several volumes of his collected essays have appeared, as well as many books of photographs.
Rowell was both an observer and a participant. Indeed, at an early age, he was a famous mountain climber and only took up photography to document his ascents. His athleticism is famous. The story is often told of one of his most famous pictures taken when he saw a rainbow in the ski in Tibet. He ran a few miles cross-country to photograph this rainbow touching down on the roof of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.
"Mountain Light" is two books in one. First, there are a series of "exhibits" that consist of photographs with a description of the circumstances under which the individual picture was taken. Interleaved with the exhibits are chapters in which Rowell tells of life as a photographer, talks about his photographic philosophy, and describes some of his trips.
The pictures are spectacular. There is a feeling that they must have been manipulated outside the camera but Rowell convinces us that they were not by his descriptions of the circumstances of their taking. Moreover, Rowell instructs us about how to find the same lighting effects. He calls these conditions "Magic Hour", "Backlight", "Soft Light", "Sundown to Sunrise", "Artist's Light", "Figures in a Landscape", "Light against Light" and "Unexpected Convergence". If you can keep these conditions in mind, your mountain landscapes will certainly become more spectacular, although I wonder how some of these conditions can be applied by a flatlander like me.
For instructional purposes the discussions of Rowell's life and philosophy, as told in the chapters, and some of the lengthy descriptions of individual photographs, may be more problematic. Some of us will undoubtedly be able to take inspiration from the stories of ascents of Everest. For me, at least, the chance of getting sponsorship for a trip to Tibet by National Geographic is so remote, that I found it hard to make a connection to this great photographer. On the other hand, for those who find travel tales interesting, Rowell's adventures will be entertaining.
If you have encountered Rowell elsewhere you will already either love him or hate him. I myself keep one of his essay collections, "The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography", near at hand to read whenever I feel the need for a quick jolt of inspiration or technique from a rare photographic thinker. If you are a Rowell lover and you haven't read "Mountain Light", read it. If you're not familiar with Rowell this is as good a place to start as any.
#1. "RE: "Mountain Light" by Galen Rowell" | In response to Reply # 0bobj Charter MemberFri 10-Jan-03 02:04 PM
I never had the pleasure of meeting Galen, but his "Mountain Light" was my introduction to what photography could actually be when it first came out.
My father always took the typical "family vacation" shots all the time, but I never thought of outdoor photography as anything more until I read Galens's book.
Galen and Barbara are greatly missed.
As a side note, Galen did later admit that the cover shot of the cloud over the split rock silhouette was manipulated to fit in the space of the cover. The cloud was lowered and the crevice filled in a bit to allow the type to be completely over the black. This is from the video series he did with Frans Lanting entitled "Creative Outdoor Photography." Hightly recoommended.
Nature Photography from the Pacific Northwest and beyond
#2. "RE: "Mountain Light" by Galen Rowell" | In response to Reply # 0mwagner1 Basic MemberFri 24-Jan-03 08:35 PM
I have yet to see a copy of "Mountain Light" but I will state that one of major favorites is "The Inner Game of Outdoor Photograpy"...
I love this book because he talks about the why of a photograph, and not the camera....
I have read the book once,a nd plan on doing so again soon!!
Still sad that Galen and Barbara died!!!
Mark, an Austin Nikonian!!
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#3. "RE:" | In response to Reply # 2anitasm Registered since 20th Aug 2002Mon 10-Mar-03 08:13 PM
I am currently reading "The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography" (for the first time Mark!).
I'm sad to admit that I only looked up the book to find out more about Galen Rowell following the publicity associated with his untimely death. I now wish I had read the book years ago. Even my wife (who is an ocassional photographer and NEVER reads photography books) has picked up the book and admits that the photographs combined with Galen's essays make a very thought provoking read.
Not your average photo book.
Regards, Rob Cruse.
A Melbourne Nikonian
#4. "RE:" | In response to Reply # 0
I think one of my favorite parts of that book is where he discusses his instruction method for getting students to realize how to use light. He goes on about a two-page explanation of how to think from the point of view of the film - it "sees" differently than we do. Those couple pages in that book really changed how I approach photography.