Being an avid mountain photographer myself, when I opened the first page of Galen Rowell’s, “Mountain Light”, I’ll admit, I was pretty excited. As I flipped from page to page, however, my excitement grew more than I’d expected.
“Mountain Light” is more than just a book on photography. It’s an album of some of Rowell’s best nature photographs ever taken, in a stunning full-color presentation.
Eight Exhibits, Seven Chapters
The book is presented with eight photo exhibits with commentary and several chapters. Both merge together, providing a wealth of insight, techniques, and powerful photographs.
The exhibits display several photos of his with commentary on the situation that led to the photo and his way of dealing with exposure to capture the moment.
Each of the eight chapters in “Mountain Light” give useful guidance, tips, and insight on the craft and art of photography. It is in these sections of the book where you get a real feel for how Galen worked and saw the world.
“When the magic hour arrives, my thoughts center on light rather than on the landscape. I search for perfect light, then hunt for something earthbound to match it with.”
Expression First, Camera Second
Galen Rowell was never formally trained in photography. Instead, he pursued his lifelong passion – climbing mountains. This passion, and this passion alone, is what took Galen to such prominence in the photography world, being featured in prominent publications such as National Geographic, Life, and Outdoor Photographer to name a few.
When a strong, true passion for something is there, great photography will come naturally.
In “Mountain Light”, Galen Rowell shares this insight and approach to photography, always putting his perspective and philosophy first before any shutter speed or expensive camera.
“Describing a series of starts, stops, clutchings, shifts, and turns no more explains a journey than a description of camera brands, f-stops, shutter speeds, focal lengths, and films can explain my – or anybody else’s photographs.”
With that said, Galen’s book covers some of the most difficult lighting situations a photographer can encounter in the outdoors and how to conquer them.
Difficult photo situations covered include:
- Photographing the moon
- Star train photography
- Flower photography on a windy day
- Ensuring a sharp landscape
- Capturing rainbows
- And more…
An Expansive Breadth of Knowledge
As you read through Galen’s thoughts on each photo showcased in his book, you realize that he knew more than the superficial about his subject.
Galen describes the names of various trees, how light enters the atmosphere, and other natural subjects with exact details that only an expert on nature would understand.
A look into his experience verifies this:
- Rowell began climbing mountains at age 10
- He studied physics from the University of California Berkeley
- He has over 52 years of mountain climbing experience.
Galen’s thorough knowledge of his subject is both admirable and inspiring. As I read through his book, I questioned why I didn’t know as much about the nature I photograph.
It also, however, sparked an idea in mind.
Maybe the reason Galon took such magnificent photographs wasn’t so much because he was a great photographer. Maybe, instead, it was because he cared more about his subject.
When he pointed his camera at a tree, he wasn’t just hoping to have another image to add to his collection. No, he was doing much more than that. He was in a personal, passionate relationship with that subject. He truly cared.
When he saw a tree, he didn’t just see a good image. He saw a living, real subject that meant more to him than most would ever imagine.
When you see your subject with that much intensity, you’re going to have a hard time not capturing a great photograph.
A Conservative, Moralistic Approach to Photography
Some photographers hunt for anything that looks beautiful or will catch the viewer’s attention. As you read through this book, you’ll quickly find out that Galen is not that type of photographer.
There is a memorable passage when he describes getting out of a yellow cab in the middle of the desert and wondering if he should take a photo. The juxtaposition of the cab and the desert would most definitely have made a catchy, interesting photo for a trendy publication.
Sensationalism and attention-getting devices for the sole purpose of sparking interest, however, are not tools Galen likes to use. So, as you may imagine, he skipped the shot and captured photos that meant more than something purely superficial that day.
“My rule of thumb is to hold back from making an exposure unless it directly involves me either intellectually or emotionally, or in both ways.”
While his conservative, moralistic approach to what he captures with his camera does not align with my exact approach to photography, it does make me think about my work.
What am I saying with my photos?
Am I putting everything into every image I take? Or am I just capturing the superficial?
Galen put everything into his photographic work. It was his life’s purpose and when you learn from a photographer with that much passion, a whole lot can rub off on you.
When I read this book, I found myself continually questioning my approach to photography and my passion. It’s highly likely that if you read this book, you’ll do the same.
The point is, this book gets you thinking. Because of that fact alone, “Mountain Light” is a keeper.
You can check out other resources from Galen Rowell here.