Book Review: The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography
The following review was originally published on my website BlueBeyond.com.au. I’ve decided to move it over here for reference.
Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is a book that I have been meaning to review for some time, but with the recent, tragic death of the author in a light plane crash, it’s time to put pen to paper. For my money this is one of the outstanding books on photography philosophy, and should be part of every photographer’s library.
Galen Rowell was one of the outstanding adventure photographers of our time. A major proponent of participatory photography, Rowell’s unique approach was based less on equipment and technique, and more on vision and philosophy. Participatory photography is an approach where the photographer is not a passive observer of the subject, but someone who is interacting with the environment and the subjects. Rowell was an active participant, and as such was a noted mountain climber and hiker, skills that allowed him to get a unique perspective that most photographers don’t even get close to.
Most of us have seen those photos of a climber hanging delicately from a cliff face, and marvelled at the extreme situation in which that climber has got themselves into. Yet few of us stop to think about the photographer, who is right there in the same place taking that photo. Many times that photographer was Galen Rowell.
His remarkable photographs have been featured in National Geographic, Outdoors and Outdoor Photographer. He wrote 18 books; some of them coffee table books, others more instructive about his approach to photography, and some of them about climbing.
The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is one of Rowell’s most recent books. Inner Game is a compilation of various articles that Rowell has written over the years for Outdoor Photographer magazine.
Clearly underwater photography is a form of participatory photography—it is difficult for the photographer to be passive. Although not known for underwater images, Rowell’s philosophy and approach is one that underwater photographers should consider. Few other photographers become so much a part of their environment as underwater photographers!
As a matter of interest, Rowell did in fact do some underwater photography, and some of these pictures are published in Inner Game. When you look at these, underwater photographers may notice some backscatter—a curse that most land based photographers never learn much about. But the composition, the organisation of the elements within the photo and the technical exposure are up there with the best, as you would expect. His landscape and adventure photography are without equal.
Many underwater photographers have an extensive library of books on our subject. Many of us read up on photographic fundamentals, landscape photography, macro photography and so on, due to the parallels between topside and underwater techniques. This book is different — it focuses on the philosophy and approach. These are aspects independent of environment.
The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is a superbly written and beautifully illustrated book. I would recommend this book highly to underwater photographers, landscape photographers, and indeed to any photographer who understands the importance of vision in image creation.
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