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News & Insight

Galen Rowell’s photography articles: A treasure trove for any visual artist

By Matthew Saville on November 28th 2012

Galen Rowell is one of my biggest heroes . He was an adventure and landscape photographer who died tragically in a plane crash in 2002, right as he was reaching the pinnacle of his creativity in photography both around the world and in his back yard of the Eastern Sierras.  Not to mention, the exciting changes that were taking place in photography itself from a technical standpoint. Digital was becoming very prominent, but film was still very preferred among purists, especially outdoor and landscape photographers. Fuji Velvia was the “sensor” of choice for many.

In this context, Galen’s vast collection of articles on photography are an incredible collection of both artistic inspiration, and technical wisdom.  A bit wordy at times, and often pertaining to outdated techniques from the heyday of slide film, they probably go unnoticed by the likes of today’s DSLR toting, cutting edge geeks.  Which is why I thought I would take the time to mention that there are many gems, many pearls of wisdom, scattered throughout the articles.  Although they often refer to older gear, the overall technical philosophy rings true-  don’t let your camera or geekiness get in the way of your vision.  You can read Galen’s articles here:


When I made the mistake of showing off my new Nikon FTN with the lame excuse that I didn’t dare leave it in my car, two pony-tailed graybeards (a bit younger than I am now) turned to their drinks and proclaimed the impending doom of automated photography. After agreeing that all great art must come from simple tools guided by hand and eye and that every camera setting is potentially creative, they concluded that real men shouldn’t be caught dead using through-the-lens meters, much less shooting color and not processing it themselves.

My translation was that the more time you spent diddling with that extra meter or fiddling in your darkroom, the more your somber black and whites might be worth when you were dead. I was more concerned with spending as much time as possible in the wilds doing the things that gave my life meaning. The experience came first. Where technology could aid my ability to share my passions through images and words, I readily embraced it, but where it might interfere, I opted for simplicity.


Another query, sometimes delivered as a statement with an edge to it, asks how I can possibly sleep at night knowing that my writings and photographs have created environmental impact by exposing little-known places to the public.

While I accept responsibility for attracting people to specific wildernesses, I don’t think that there is any clear and simple way of looking at it and saying that a person is wrong because they published writings or photographs about an area and therefore caused greater impact. If you look at the history of environmentalism, those who opted the other direction had zero effect. They’re dropouts. Every person who has made a difference, every Ansel Adams, David Brower, Jacques Cousteau or John Muir, opted the other way to communicate their special passion for parts of the environment that they love.


Until next time, keep clicking!

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for sharing.

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