Lesson Learned from Galen Rowell


Lesson Learned from Galen Rowell-Galen Avery Rowell, was a wilderness pothographer, adventure photojournalist and climber. He was born in Oakland, California and became a full-time photographer in 1972.

Beyond his talents and his enduring and inspirational art, Gallen Rowell was a great mentor to many intrepid outdoor photographers. We discuss a few of his most famoust techniques and how you can apply his approach to your photography.

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Galen Rowell

Mountain ranges stand as some of the most magnificient geologic formations on our planet. Their iconic landforms and dependable dramatic light have made them the choice subject matter of Galen, Ansel Adams, David Muench and many others.

Galens’s photography would counter that there’s always alpenglow if one is willing to depart in the dark defore dawn or linger long past sunset to the very last night. 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 proccesors 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 Rowell

Galen was a founding contributor, columnist and mentor for Outdoor Photographer from the launch of the magazine in 1985 to the end of his life. His contributions to photoghraphy and the scope of his published works are well documented. So much has happened in the world of proffesional and amateur photography over the past 10 years; a true paradigm shift changed everything except the fundamentals of seeing and capturing a remarkable photograph. He was both an artist and a ateacher, and the teacher was forthright and straightforward about the mundane secrets of creating lasting images. That’s what made him so accesible to our readers. The operative word is mobile. It encapsulates his methodology then and represents the new freedoms that modern digital equipment-from formidable pro DSLRs to full-featured compacts to smartphones-has afforded us in much the same way that the advent of 35mm equipment buoyed a new era of extemporaneous photography beginning in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Galen Rowell

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Galen Rowell

The desire to include ourselves in photos and videos has spawned a number of highly popular cameras and camera features designed to satisfy our egotistical need to record our being there or our stunts. Many DSLRs and compacts have swing-out LCDs. The GoPro HERO and Contour video cameras are common on many bike, ski and moto helmets. The iPhone and other smartphones have self-potrait modes. Galen made an art of the self-potrait, 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. There was something about watching his shadow in relation to the camera that helped compose the shot, especially if a camera’s self-timer is used. Galen employed this technique in more than one memorable photograph-all done without the benefit of instant LCD review.

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