Galen Rowell was born August 23, 1940 in Oakland, California. He died just 12 days before his 62nd birthday.
Rowell was only 10 years old when he started climbing mountains. He continued climbing and exploring the wilderness for the rest of his life. He started taking pictures during his adventures to share with his family and friends.
After studying physics at the University of California for four years, he dropped out to follow his passion for climbing.
Although Rowell had no formal training in photography, in 1972 after selling a small automotive business he had built, he became a full-time photographer.
He had his first major assignment within a year, a cover story for National Geographic Magazine. Originally Rowell was going to be helping another photographer, Dewitt Jones, who got called away from the job. National Geographic decided to run a story using the pictures that Rowell had taken instead. This is how Galen Rowell’s career began.
He introduced a new type of photography where he was actually in the scenes that he photographed. He considered” the landscape part of the adventure and the adventure part of the landscape.” Rowell liked using Nikon cameras because he felt they were both reliable and portable which allowed him to photograph during his climbs.
Galen Rowell traveled extensively pursuing his love of climbing and exploring wildlife. He climbed numerous mountain peaks around the world such as the Andes, the Karakoram Himalaya in Pakistan, Greenland, Tibet, China, Alaska, Nepal, and Sierra Nevada. He had also explored Mount Everest many times. Through all his travels, Rowell was able to create seventeen photo books.
He had the ability to capture sudden changes in nature and lighting with not only perfect timing but also at the best camera angle. This daring and original way of taking pictures made Rowell’s work quite popular. He referred to these landscape photos as “dynamic landscapes.”
Rowell had several photographic assignments for Life, National Geographic Magazine, Outdoor Photographer, and numerous other publications. His works won him the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography in 1984.
Known not only for his photography but also for his writing, Rowell wrote about multiple topics ranging from photography, humanitarian and environmental issues, human visual cognition, and mountaineering. He published numerous magazine articles and eighteen books throughout his life. Two of his more famous books are “In the Throne Room of Mountain Gods” and “Mountain Light: In Search of Dynamic Landscape.” The first of these was considered a classic of mountaineering literature and the second is one of the best-selling how-to photo books ever.
Rowell helped advance photography in a technical way as well. He developed a way to lengthen the dynamic range of films with a set of graduated neutral density filters. Also through the use of balanced fill flash he was able to lighten the deepest shadows in a subtle way.
While returning from a photography workshop in Alaska, Rowell, his wife Barbara Cushman Rowell, pilot Tony Reid, and Reid’s friend Carol McAffee were killed in a plane crash.