I only found out this week, that ‘Mountain Light’ – a must read for any landscape photographer or adventure photographer, was re-released in 2011.
For a long time, this book was out of print and I know many friends and workshop participants who had to scour second hand book stores on the internet to secure a second hand copy of it. So I’m pleased to see it’s been reprinted and available again.
The new edition is exactly like the first one in all respects, with one change – the introduction is written by David Muench.
This is a very important book for me, as it gave me a lot of enthusiasm and inspiration to go out there and make photographs in the wilderness. Mountain Light freed my thoughts from equipment and steered me towards the art of seeing, the art of being inspired and of finding my own sense of vision. Galen Rowell is an excellent writer and in this book, he covers the essentials of what a landscape photographer is, and he does it without much mention of technology, or equipment.
As David Muench states in the apt introduction, Galen’s photography ‘lies in the art of seeing, in the awareness that light ultimately dictates art in making photographs. This book is a classic because that truth never changes’.
I would wholeheartedly agree with David’s observation. Mountain Light is a classic book. It’s very true that the art of making good images has always lain with the eye of an artist – in the art of seeing. Technology may have changed, but the ingredients of good landscape photography have not.
As Galen says in his preface ‘if we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only to make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better’. This has been something I took very much to heart upon reading it in these very pages. I feel that when we start off making images, we almost need someone to give us license to do what we please. Galen told me it was alright for my images to have no close relation to reality and that I should strive to look for myself in what I created with my camera.
‘In search of the dynamic landscape’, was phrase I also took very much to heart. Galen states that the ‘dynamic landscapes are photographs that combine a personal vision with splendid natural events‘. I’ve always thought that with my own photography, just creating a pretty picture isn’t good enough. It has to have soul as well. There has to be that extra something special about it, that sets it above just being a photograph.
I’ve found re-reading this book, has helped me enormously. I’ve been able to reconnect to who I was when I first started out my photographic journey, and to remind myself of the passion that I have for it. This book isn’t about bagging shots, or treating photography as a trophy sport, but instead, it takes me back to the more traditional values that I still very much subscribe to and care deeply about.
The first chapter starts with ‘Magic Hour’, which is in a nutshell, where all landscape photographers should begin their journey. To make great pictures, you need great light and as Galen states ‘most landscape photographers think of landscapes simply as objects to be photographed. They tend to forget that they are never photographing an object, but rather light itself. Where there is no light, they will have no picture; where there is remarkable light, they may have a remarkable picture‘.
Three chapters in, Galen discusses soft light which is something I spent a good few years learning about. Once we’ve mastered the Magic Hour, it’s perhaps time to turn our thoughts to other light qualities and soft light is the most important one. It allows us to capture great detail and subtle tones and it is available throughout the day when the sun is hidden behind a cloud. As Galen says, many photographers tend to put away their cameras when the sun disappears behind a cloud. I find these days that I’m pleased if the weather is overcast and if the light appears flat and boring to the human eye. Because this means there are no hard shadows as the light is bounced around the landscape like a big soft light box.
This book then, is a bible for me. It inspires me in ways that reading a book about Lightroom does not, it also inspires me to forget about the pressures that are placed upon us all to keep up with the technological race that is out there. I don’t have a digital SLR and sometimes I feel I should. I don’t know all the features of Lightroom or Photoshop, but then I don’t really need to know. I do care however, very much about the spirit of an image and finding my soul out there in the landscape. This book teaches me that I have to find inspiration and be inspired if I am to develop my own voice.
If you can connect to yourself and be inspired, then your work will illustrate that, and good work never needs to be explained. It speaks for itself.
I’ve just looked around to see where you can buy this, and for once, Amazon.co.uk don’t have it for a reasonable price – they are selling items for over £100 ! So if you want to buy it, my good friend Neil from Beyond Words book store here in the UK is selling it for £21.99.