Rediscovering Galen Rowell
Photography on the Run
Entering 2023, I rediscovered the late Galen Rowell. That eventually led to the creation of this blog.
I had read about Galen Rowell in the 1990s during the film era. Galen was a legend in landscape and nature photography. He wore many hats. He was a world-class rock climber. He perfected many photographic techniques1. He was an inventor who had invented a number accessories2 when nothing on the market satisfied his needs. He was a teacher and prolific writer. He played an important role in making the 35mm SLR the successful format and form factor.
As my wife and I started traveling more after the Covid lockdowns, I wanted to make the most out of our trips. I wanted to take exceptional first-rate photos. After all, holiday trips are not cheap. I came across a few articles written by Thom Hogan3 about Galen Rowell and his philosophies, which got me into a frenzy mode. I bought a few of Galen’s books and started reading them to cover to cover.
(The photo above was taken in our first overseas trip in Dec 2022 since Covid lockdowns. The building on the right is Párisi Udvar Hotel Budapest. The building on the left is Klotild paloták.)
It will be a disservice to Galen’s teachings if I attempt to summarise them. There is no way I can cover their breadth and depth. However, there are 3 points that have been most impactful on me.
First, “Be there”. Or to use Thom Hogan’s words: “Galen put his body in places where others don’t and can’t get.” A photo tells a story in a still frame. Tell a unique and one-of-a-kind story. Get to places where others don’t go.
Second, don’t waste the magic hours (the 2-hour window around sunrise and the 2-hour window around sunset). Light quality matters. Mediocre light begets mediocre photos. Great light begets great photos. Sunrises and sunsets are in limited supply. If we live to 100 years old, we only experience them 2 x 356 x 100 times.
Third, Galen wrote an article title “Photography on the Run”. Its first 2 sentences reads: “For years I kept photography and running separate. If I saw remarkable light and form on a trail run, I would say, ‘If only I had my camera’ ”. That sounds familiar. I always love hiking and have got into running since the Covid lockdown. Then, why not trail running? Why not combining photography and trail running? Why not planning my running at pre-dawn so that I will at interesting places under interesting lighting conditions around dawn?
Galen Rowell’s books that I’m reading:
Articles about Galen Rowell:
Chasing Galen by Thom Hogan
Lessons Learned from Galen Rowell by Steven Werner, Outdoor Photography, 2019.
e.g. Galen shot slide films which have about 5 stops latitude. (I think modern image sensors have about 10-12 stops?) Galen employed many techniques to modify the contrast. He used gradual ND filters heavy. He used fill-flash and pefected the -1.7ev fill-flash exposure compensation making the flash light blended in and virtually undetectable.
e.g. Galen had designed gradual filters and a chest bag and a should bag. These were all commercially available.