I have this hopelessly romantic notion that ‘spirit of place’ is a metaphysical reality; that as humans we can be in a place and somehow communicate with our surroundings, allow ourselves to feel the emotion that’s wrapped up in the ‘spiritual energy’ of any given location.
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Galen Rowell


‘Mountain Light’, Aiguille du Dru, Les Praz, Chamonix, France
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 120mm, 1/10 sec @ f/8.0, ISO 100
LEE Polariser filter.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO4 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“I spent hours in the mountains shooting glorious ‘chocolate-box’ scenery, I shot through cloud-engulfed freezing snowy terrain at almost 4,000 metres in the Mont Blanc massif; but despite all my adventurous image scouting antics, this photograph actually involved very little effort; it was made from my second-floor hotel room window.”

Galen Rowell

My image this month was made in homage to intrepid mountaineer and photographer extraordinaire, the late Galen Rowell. His book ‘Mountain Light – In Search of the Dynamic Landscape’ remains profoundly inspirational for landscape photographers, despite being written in the pre-digital era, in 1986.

Galen used 35mm cameras, preferring portability to the technical perfection he could have realised with medium format; 35mm enabled him to walk, climb and photograph in otherwise inaccessible areas. How he would have loved to use one of our current top compact system cameras or digital SLRs, the image quality available now is in a different league.

Galen was very fond of ‘edges’ as natural photogenic oases: geographic ‘edges’ where land meets water, temporal ‘edges’ when day meets night, and more fleeting phenomena created by moving weather or light shaping the landscape. He understood that when we actively seek to frame such contrasts, more dynamic images can result; moreover, if we are able to juxtapose several ‘edges’ in the same place, then our images can transcend expectation.

I travelled to the Alps full of pre-visualised intentions, I spent three days traveling around Chamonix and up into the mountains looking for evocative imagery that captured the beauty and magnificence of this unforgiving place. I spent hours in the mountains shooting glorious ‘chocolate-box’ scenery, I shot through cloud-engulfed freezing snowy terrain at almost 4,000 metres in the Mont Blanc massif; but despite all my adventurous image scouting antics, this photograph actually involved very little effort; it was made from my second-floor hotel room window.

This was one of those fantastic occasions when all the elements fortuitously came together, seemingly without any effort. I awoke before daybreak and opened the shutters in my hotel room. Even before twilight, the silhouetted jagged horizon of the Aiguille du Dru against the western cloudscape offered some compelling possibilities. With the tripod on the huge window-sill, the 100-400mm zoom allowed me to quickly find the optimum composition. With the camera in AV mode, I selected f/8.0 and ISO100 for optimum image quality, and ensured image-stabilization was switched off. My graduated filters were redundant because I wanted to ensure the mountains were rendered as a featureless silhouette; a polariser helped to maximise contrast. Then I watched the light-fantastic and made a series of bracketed exposures until I was certain the twilight colours had disappeared.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.