Channeling My Inner Galen Rowell

Last Light on El Capitan
Last Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park. December 30, 1990.

Few photographers have had as much of an influence on me for as long a period of time as Galen Rowell. When I became seriously interested in nature photography I read his articles in Outdoor Photographer and his book Mountain Light was one of the most important books in helping me up my game as a nature photographer. I still consider it one of the three most important books any budding nature photographer should read. So my first visit to Yosemite was like a trip to the Promised Land and I felt like I was walking in Galen’s footsteps.

Snow Hummocks, Merced River

Snow Hummocks, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California. December 30, 1990.

For my first visit I only had a few hours at the end of a winter’s day. I had looked at so many Yosemite photos by Galen that I wanted to make the most of it. He did El Capitan so I did El Capitan. He did the Merced River so I did the Merced River.

Storm clearing over El Capitan, Yosemite, 1973


Storm clearing over El Capitan is one of my favorites. I didn’t have a storm for my first, but I did have nice light on El Capitan at the end of the day (lead photo at the top of this article).

Winter Sunset, Gates of the Valley, 1990

In later trips to Yosemite I tried to capture some of Galen’s magic. Winter Sunset is another of my favorites.

El Capitan Reflection, Yosemite National Park, California
El Capitan Reflection, Merced River, Gates of the Valley, Yosemite National Park, 2015.

From the same location at Gates if the Valley my eye was attracted to a reflection of El Capitan in the Merced River.

Vermilion Lakes, Banff, Canada, 1980.

There were other locations we shared. He was at Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park for a gorgeous sunset.

Sunset, Vermilion Lakes, Banff National Park
Sunset, Vermilion Lakes, Banff National Park, 2012.

It was my good fortune to have a beautiful sunset when I was at Vermilion Lakes.

When I learned Galen and his wife Barbara died in a plane crash in 2002, I felt such an incredible sense of sadness to lose him from the world of photography. Somehow his death impacted me more than when most well known people die, photographers or otherwise.

I still revisit some of the articles he wrote. I still pull one of his books off the shelf to read a bit and to remind myself anew of the things he taught me. And thanks to the Internet Archive I can still revisit his web site.

Whether or not I am thinking about Galen when I create an image, he helped transform me as a photographer.


Mountain Light (Galen’s web site) at the Internet Archive.

Nature Photography Books: The Three Essentials. If you only read three nature photography books, put these on your “must read” list.

Nature Photography Books section at my photography store.

Purchase Link

Mountain Light by Galen Rowell