Book review — Galen Rowell’s “The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography”


Image copyright by Galen Rowell

The name Galen Rowell is certainly one of the most recognized names in outdoor photography. For years Galen published a series of essays in Outdoor Photography magazine that discussed his philosophy of what makes great outdoor photos.

Galen and his wife, Barbara, were killed in a plane crash at Bishop, California in 2002.

For Galen how the photographer creates the photograph was one of the most important aspects of the process of making pictures. Galen wanted to make photographs that conveyed his sense of the moment to the viewers of the picture. To this end he discussed not only the mechanical and technical aspect of the process such as f-stops but also the importance of understanding atmospheric conditions, how they affect light and how that light is rendered on film. That’s right film.

The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is a compilation of the 66 essays that Galen wrote for Outdoor Photography and includes more than 140 color photographs. Each essay is presented individually as it appeared in the magazine rather than being combined into a single narrative style. Most essays are no more than two pages in length which is in keeping with the print format of Outdoor Photography’s essays.

While there is some technical discussion of things such as f-stops, lens choice, etc., the essays focus more on the emotional and intellectual aspects of the creative process.

Even though the book contains 140 color photos, it is not what would be considered a photo book since the page size is about 10”x7” and most photos are positioned as multiples on a page.

As you read through the essays you begin to gain an appreciation for Galen’s deep connection to the natural world. If you pay attentions to the lessons contained in each essay and incorporate them (when appropriate) into your photographic methodology, you should become a better outdoor color photographer.

As previously mentioned, the essays do contain some technical details but this is done only to set the stage for the reader. Galen’s focus is on the aesthetic view and emotional experiences he brings to his photography and this makes the book’s audience, in part, anyone who is interested in the art of outdoor color photography. Moreover, these views and experiences translate directly to other types of photography such as documentary, street, and fine art. So I would recommend this book to anyone interested in developing their artistic vision and expression.

By Jim McKinniss

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