Galen Rowel Huge Prints with 35mm ?

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by jay_huse, Jan 8, 2008.

  1. Just curious ran across some of Galen's work and checked out his website.

    Am I correct that most if not all of his work was done on a 35mm system ?

    It looks as if they are selling 48X72 inch art-work, They have some huge photos.

    Not sure if he went to MF cameras or he is strickly a 35mm guy.

    I thought that he was a 35mm purist ?

    Your thoughts ??

  2. As far as I know, he was a 35mm 'purist'. 35mm enabled him to travel light and get to locations that would have been difficult to reach packing the weight associated with larger formats.

    People discuss resolution, format, and enlargement potential ad infinitum. The simple reality is that while a larger format will produce a better large print, all other things being equal, having an image worth printing large in the first place is the most important thing. His images were spectacular regardless of whether or not a larger piece of film would have imparted some minor technical advantage.

    Photography isn't about line pairs or standing with your nose on a print counting blades of grass.
  3. I read that he liked the lighter Nikon FM10 cameras for backpacking. If true, that would take
    it even farther into the realm of the unusual for the Nikon purists who reject Cosina-made
    equipment. I agree, it isn't about the hardware as much as the eye, and the skill to translate
    the image onto a medium, effectively.
  4. The FM10 is a sweet little camera, very much underated.
  5. I agree with Bernard. After all, you attach a nice Nikon lens to it and it's light, small and you don't have to worry about it.

    I carry mine from time-to-time just to remind me about photography.

  6. "... having an image worth printing large in the first place is the most important thing. "


    Much also depends on the subject matter. Images of cloudscapes is more amenable to enlargement than say those of Chris Jordan's work.
  7. About Galen and his might find this article interesting:
  8. jtk


    Early in Galen's career he used Nikon (F2?) and routinely carried a Minox clamshell 35...and made highly salable large prints using it when, on a peak (McKinley?) the Nikon failed/froze.

    At the time (late 70s) he used Faulkner Color Lab in San Francico...we inventoried a large number of dry mounted full frame prints for him (as we did for several other print-selling photographers) on 30X40 and other sizes (perhaps a half dozen of each of twenty images) made with 4X5 internegs. There would have been no reason not to make much larger prints. Color was exquisite.
  9. You should check with Justin Black, he worked with him.
  10. If your subject is special, and your light is good, and you're not completely unknown, you can use whatever gear you like!

    Clearly, going to the places where he went was very important to him, and that meant 35mm. MF SLRs would substantially increase the bag weight, and MF rangefinders are not easy to use with neutral graduated filters or polarizers.
  11. He made a 6 foot print of "Horsemen beneath giant sand dune,
    Pamir Range (China, 1980)" that he says (in his mountain light book) held up quite well -- 35mm Kodachrome 25.
  12. Many of Galen Rowell's images are stunning, and I absolutely agree that having an image worth printing is more important than starting with a large size original. And yes, those 48"x72" prints are made from 35mm photographs. I have seen beautiful 35mm photographs by Jim Brandenburg printed at 40"x60" and this, at least to me, is too big. An original image the size of a postage stamp doesn't hold up very well when enlarged to the size of a door. This is subjective of course and depends on, among other things, how closely one views the print. However, you don't have to be very close to a 40"x60" or larger print from a 35mm original to see the problems inherent in this degree of enlargement. I would have a hard time printing a drum scanned 4x5 transparency as big as 48"x72", but to each his own I guess.
  13. All you need is a sharp image, a good drum scanner and a smart technician. Amazing what can be pulled out of 24x36 mm. Consider viewing distance -- billboards read from a block away, 48x72 from six feet or more. Only pixel peepers get their noses up to big prints.
  14. I have an excellent drum scanner and know how to use it, and at sizes like 48x72 the detail from even the sharpest 35mm transparency is mush. See here for an example:

    Of course you can stand back and even huge prints from 35mm shots will look OK. I'm afraid though if I had a massive print hanging on my wall at home I would be tempted to view it from closer than 6-10 feet on occasion, and I wouldn't feel like a "pixel peeper" in doing so. Just my style I guess; others are surely different in this regard.
  15. "Only pixel peepers get their noses up to big prints.
    Let's not get carried away here. Photography, like life, is most often about trade offs rather than absolutes. Galen Rowell made the trade offs he felt were appropriate for his style and method of working, and his results speak for themselves.
    From a personal perspective, I never would've gotten some of my favorite images had I not been using a small format camera at those times. Size, portability, fast focus, fast shutter speeds... all can, at times, be critical in just "getting the shot". Translated, that means that, despite small format cameras generating inferior images, I was still using the "best" tool for the job at those moments. But that doesn't mean that the laws of physics magically get repealed when it comes to making sizable prints.
    And no, you don't have to "pixel peep" to see the differences. Case in point was a show I attended a few years back. There were excellent large format landscape shooters from much of the western US in attendance, and some stunning work on display. All but one of the guys I visited with were shooting 4x5 LF. The one exception was the last booth I visited, and was I ever glad it was the last, as everything else suddenly looked second rate after seeing this gentleman's work. While his images were certainly top tier anyway, his prints just stood out from the pack. It was all 8x10, drum-scanned and Lightjet printed, and you could see the difference from 2' away or 20' away.
    If you think it doesn't matter except for when you leave noseprints on the glass, then you really haven't looked at quality LF prints when directly compared to smaller stuff.
    I love Galen Rowell's work, but at 48x72? I'd pass, thanks.
  16. jtk


    Plenty of billboards have been filled handsomely with Kodachrome.

    If one wants "sharpness" one can always interpolate...the interpolation figures will be as sharp as ceramic tiles and will in themselves be attractive in the same way.

    The limited thinking that says 35 has limited enlargement potential is the same limited thinking that dislikes grain in B&W and prefers optical enlargement in 2008 to good scans and inkjet.

    To say that one can "see the difference" between 35mm and large format
    makes no point whatsoever.

    There are no MF cameras as sturdy as the mechanical Nikon that failed for Galen and there are no LF cameras that anyone could have toted to the places he went, or whose shutters would have functioned.
  17. jtk


    Please pardon the tone in my post, above.

    We all know 35mm isn't ideal for every application, but to question it in Galen's case seems odd.

    Perhaps some folks have not actually seen Galen's prints. If they have, they'll know that many would be shockingly wonderful at any size.
  18. John, nobody on this thread questioned Galen Rowell's use of 35mm. It was clearly the best tool for his needs, and he wouldn't have been able to make many of his classic images with a medium or large format camera. What some of us are pointing out is that there is a point at which an enlarged 35mm image starts to lose its aesthetic quality. I have to disagree with your claims that it is "limited thinking" to suggest there are limits to the extent to which 35mm can or should be enlarged, and that it doesn't make sense to talk about seeing the difference between 35mm and large format. I wouldn't dream of questioning how wonderful Galen's photographs are. I would however be willing to take issue with the aesthetic quality of the prints of any photographer who enlarges an original image so far beyond the point where obvious degradation occurs. As before, the extent to which a person is bothered by this degradation is a matter of taste, and I freely admit to having very high standards for the quality of photographic prints even at close viewing distances. This is why I use a 4x5 camera.
  19. Is it possible he could have used a larger format camera to make a duplication negative, from his 35mm negs? I'm not sure I have the terminology right. I thought I had read this somewhere. I could be wrong. - Sean
  20. Creating an interneg used to be common practice in making prints from positives; 4x5 or 120 could be used.

    Mark off 6 feet on a blank wall, then step back until you can comfortably see both edges without moving your head. That's your viewing distance. Getting any closer would be for reasons other than absorbing the entire image.

    At any rate, the majority of Rowell's images are made on 35mm and good as they are, 48x72 is probably not their optimum display size.

    There are a lot of factors that go into selecting the optimum print size. 48 x 72 is pretty extravagant, even for good 8x10 negs. The ancient ones among us will remember the Kodak exhibit prints that used to take up one end of Grand Central Terminal in NYC.
  21. Galen, commonly made 70mm internegs from his slides, for printing purposes.

  22. Whoa there John! Looks like you're a big Galen Rowell fan, but...

    First of all, I thought I made it clear that I am as well, and yes, I've seen large prints of his. I understand and appreciate why he chose to work the way he did, and chances are pretty good that had he forced himself to do otherwise, his images would've suffered for it or simply wouldn't have been made. I have nothing but contempt for those who sneer and look down their noses at someone who chooses to do landscape and nature work in 35mm, because that's what works for them. But Rowell's decision to work largely with 35mm does have consequences, just as it does for less celebrated folks like you and me. Life is about trade offs, and you can't get around that.

    You seem to be saying that this is somehow not true in his case, and you're offended that his work should even be questioned in this regard, and I find that point of view hard to understand. In fact, I find the idea that any photographer, no matter how admired and accomplished, can't be examined and questioned to be absurd.

    My point was and is simply that this isn't about pixel peeping. A well made print from a larger source has qualities that can't be matched by 35mm prints from anyone, and the differences aren't about "sharpness", and can't be made up for with post-processing techniques like interpolation.

    Do you really disagree?

  23. jtk


    35mm of fine photos doesn't "lose aesthetic quality" at any size. That's a low-brow urban legend that has to do with high school photo teachers and inferior techniques.

    "Ideal viewing distances" refer to distances adequate to hide bad work, not anything theoretic about formats...especially given high resolution scanning, interpolation, and digital printing.

    I'm not just a "big Galen Rowell fan," I admire many photographers. I do think it's pathetic to question the potential in good film and fine images, such as his.

    I don't know if Galen used any 70mm internegs, don't know why he would have, but I do know he relied heavily on 4X5...we made easily a hundred for him.
  24. John, what do you mean he relied heavily on the 4X5 heavliy. Are you saying a 4x5 large
    format camera or a different way of processing the original 35mm slide film he used ??

    No I have never seen his work up close but people have said it is high quality 35mm
    photography that most traditional folks say that could not be achieved with 35mm film

    Is this true, I assumed it was ??

    I guess my question now is How did he do it ? Did he print directly from the slide or what
    Can his method still be done ??

  25. As many here are already aware, Galen used 35mm Nikons for their portability, their ability
    to respond quickly to fast changing situations, their reliability, etc. He was interested in
    having one camera system that could do everything he needed from landscape to
    adventure to wildlife and macro, for the sake of complete familiarity and simplicity. He
    would also test his lenses and his film to determine how to get the most out of them.
    Galen was a genius at getting the most out of 35mm, but he would have been the first to
    admit that a larger formats are capable of greater resolution. He would have also pointed
    out that much of his work would have been practically impossible, and for him the point
    was to document amazing moments in nature and human experience. It was the essence
    of the image that was importantant to him, not the absolute resolution.

    Before he got seriously into making Lightjet prints from drum scans in the late '90s, Galen
    mostly made Type-C prints from 4x5 internegatives (70mm slide dupes were for stock
    distribution and publication), as well as some dye-transfers, and a few Evercolor pigment
    prints. He printed larger than 20x30 with relative infrequency.

    Now, Galen's best selling print of all time routinely sells off the wall of the gallery in the
    32x48 size. Our clients think it is beautiful, despite the fact that it is enlarged 1,024 times
    from the original. It was shot in 2000 on Velvia 50 with a Nikon F100 and a 24mm f/2.8
    Nikkor on a tripod, drum scanned, and is printed on Fuji Crystal Archive Type-C paper
    using a Lightjet digital enlarger.

    In any case, a 48x72 print from a 35mm Kodachrome or Velvia slide is of course going to
    suffer in terms of resolution when viewed from one foot away, but as others have pointed
    out, they are meant to be viewed from at least six feet away, and they look just like a
    smaller print viewed from the proper distance. At Mountain Light Gallery, I have noticed
    that most of our visitors naturally stand at an appropriate viewing distance. Curious
    photographers, on the other hand, tend to be the ones who press their noses to the big
    prints, as one would expect I suppose. I did the same thing when I started working for
    Galen back in '99.

    The 48x72s are actually too large to mat and frame, so they are mounted to half-inch
    foamcore and displayed with protective film over them, but are otherwise naked. Frankly,
    there aren't many people who have a place to hang a print that large, and they take up a
    lot of gallery wall space, so we usually only have one on display in the foyer.

    You might be interested to know that most of the other photographers we represent in the
    gallery print mostly from 4x5, and while people certainly buy them, they don't slow sales
    of Galen's prints. People respond to photographs based on the underlying image first and
    foremost. The format used isn't really of much importance to the non-photographers, and
    photographers tend not to buy other photographers' prints.
  26. Folks made 48x72" prints from 35mm before Galen got into photography. Folks also landed on uncontrolled airports on a dark moonless nights too before Galens fatal accident. Neither event has much margin of safety as more conventional ways. The pilot's total logged experience in the accident airplane was 52 hours, of which only 1.6 hours were at night; only two nighttime landings within the preceding 90 days. Getting tack sharp hand held 48x72prints is possible; but not with as high a success-ratio as using a tripod. One can best case things with photography, weddings, flying, sailing, parachuting but at some point one needs to consider some safety margins. The world is not forgiving with some mistakes; things happen.
  27. On that last post: WHAT?! Are you serious? I can't imagine how that analogy of incredibly poor taste is in any way a reasonable contribution to this discussion.
  28. No kidding, Kelly O!

    Kelly F, what exactly is your point?
  29. Hey, thanks for the answers. We as photographers tend to over think things. YOU guys
    cleared some things up . This was not as much about other formats but what would work
    for me.

    I have been have some confidence lacking moments with film vs my digital. As I have
    mentioned in other forums I want to simplify my photography as much as possible. I also
    want to lower my cost in certain way.

    Case in point I have some of the Leading DSLR gear and it no doubt is better than 35mm
    film in alot of areas. But my problem is It is Heavy compared to my FM10 35mm and I am
    getting sick of having to baby the camera.

    Now I know my DSLR gear can take punishment but I really really hate having to clean my
    sensors, or worry about dropping them or dropping them in a lake. To me carrying a
    1500 digital electronic camera outside into rain, snow just seems kind of asking for
    something to go wrong.

    I will do it but for other reasons it just seems like the shooting process is more of a
    hassled than a 35mm camera. That said LF cameras are a pain as well setting up a tripod
    meter extra film and bags. That just seems to bog down the process and makes it a chore
    hiking 3 to 5 miles up and down hills with it.

    SO as long as I know I can get excellent salable results STill and nothing has changed in
    the film processing to get large blow ups that make me more comfortable.

    Lastly, as you know I been chasing the Latest and greatest DLSrs. The improvements over
    the last 4 years has been crazy. It seem when I look at what the next version of DSLR out
    is I want to try it. I feel I need a system in place that is a little more grounded in the art
    versus marketing. Again if it is proven to work and the road has already been done then
    why not use that method ?

    Thanks again for your insight

  30. I work with both film and digital, and it is possible to make great photographs with either. The modern digital cameras (I'm a huge fan of the new Nikon D3, by the way), encourage experimentation, produce high quality images, and make life easier in some important respects for photographers who have to come home with a usable shot. That said, I personally seem to make somewhat stronger photographs when using film, but a lot of this has to do with the operational differences between using an SLR and the view camera that I usually use. I also enjoy the functional simplicity of manual film cameras, and I'm sure I always will.

    FWIW, I imagine that Galen would be shooting with digital cameras now (partly in response to demand from editorial clients), and in fact a lot of visitors to the gallery, many of whom don't realize Galen is deceased, assume the images are from digital cameras and ask what kind he uses. One thing that is for certain is that he would have had us (the staff) do as much of the computer-side stuff as possible. It would have been too time consuming for him to want to keep up with, and just wouldn't have been something that he would have been personally interested in at all. He had too many other priorities, and already felt that he spent too much time in front of the computer writing, though he loved writing. Of course, very few people have the benefit of a staff to handle the image processing and archiving.

    For some photographers, it's perfectly satisfying and practical to shoot with a twenty-year-old film camera, send off a roll of film for processing, edit and file the selects, and either store the box or toss out the rest. You're still making high-quality photographs, and you can still get great scans and make beautiful prints from your best work. There's nothing wrong with that, and it can be a lot less expensive and time consuming than getting into the digital arms race.
  31. Please see this:
    Practical sharpness test of a Zeiss Tele Tessar T* 200/3,5
  32. Galen Rowell - never heard about this guy, but I am glad I checked the links provided. This is a FIRST CLASS KITSCH! Artificial and unnatural colors , excellent for people who love pixtures of PINK POODLES and the like!

    Really bad taste, someting, if I can compare, with food stuff offered in supermarkets, where you have any natural product ruined, like for instance ordinary nuts, or other fruits, aritificially colored for an "avareage" consumer to attract his or her eye and his credit card for purchase!

    There must be some merits, however, to his work, judging by the fact that the guy has worked for the National Geographic, but unfortunately, rather by continuing to develop his talents and ideas, he has chosen to go an easy route and accepted easy commersialism.

    His portfolio "Antarctica", for example! no mach with Herbert Ponting B&W originals of the 1920-ties. Who cares if he shoots with a 35 or with a million35mm box! Sorry.

  33. Read up on Galen a bit. You're going to feel sorry you said that.
  34. Color photography is not easy, primarily, because everybody is
    doing it. It takes much more than just to photograph sunsets in
    beautiful settings to be an -artist-.
    And I see sunsets on his site at Mountain Light. I will try,
    however, to find some of his books in a bookstore. Wonder why
    I have never seen any book by R.G. I routinly look at photo books
    in Barnes and Nobel and other bookstores, and often purchase
    selected works. They must be stocked under other keyword than
    -art photography-.
  35. Wieslaw,

    Find a copy of "Galen Rowell: A Retrospective," available at many Borders and B&N stores.
    Among the numerous essays by notable figures in a variety of fields, it contains a very
    favorable critical essay on his work by Andy Grundberg, former NY Times photography
    critic, and current Chair of the Photography Dept. at the Corcoran College of Art and
    Design. You'll be surprised to find the the word "kitsch" isn't present in the essay.

    The bottom line is that Galen worked very hard to capture dramatic and evocative color
    nature and adventure images in-camera, and the resulting photographs have touched and
    inspired a lot of intelligent, thoughtful people in a very meaningful way. He applied his
    work with good effect to various humanitarian and environmental causes. Since his death
    in 2002 Galen's signed prints are valued in the thousands and tens of thousands of
    dollars. I'm not sure what more one needs to know.
  36. This is interesting. Wieslaw's post is deeply offensive, and Rowell tied tragically and too young, but that doesn't mean anybody has to like his photography. Honestly, it does nothing for me, although I know many people like that style of color work.
    Since his death in 2002 Galen's signed prints are valued in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. I'm not sure what more one needs to know.
    This is an odd assertion, even for This could be said of Thomas Kincade, Robert Bateman, or similar artists. People pay a lot for their work, but that doesn't make it good.
  37. My asserstion, "I'm not sure what more one needs to know," applied to the entire post, not
    only to my reference to current signed print values. Of course no one has to like Galen's
    work, and there is no such thing as art that is absolutely "good." The Thomas Kinkade
    comparison isn't fair at all, however. Kinkade invents fanciful scenes, whereas Galen
    sought out and photographed real exceptional moments in the world. I know some like to
    lump all sublime nature imagery in with kitsch, the difference is night and day.

    He also photographed the things that he cared about most deeply, and effectively applied
    his work to the benefit of various important causes. Galen was the hardest working person
    I have ever known, he made a difference, and through his photographs inspired a lot of
    people to do the same. Personally, I think for someone to write him off as a kitschy crowd
    pleaser simply indicates ignorance of who he was and what he accomplised, as well as
    envy of his success.
  38. Whether you like Rowell's work may be a matter of taste, but anyone familiar with his writings can only marvel at how generous he was in his detailed descriptions of his philosophy and technique.

    I personally like his work, but even if I didn't, I would still regret that I never had the opporunity to meet him.
  39. Hallo,
    to-day I had an opportunity to visit BORDERS where I found RG's
    book - The Art of Adventure Photography-. His work is good and I
    liked it, though many photographer-climbers publish nowdays
    breathtaking photographs. I see them in almost every
    publication related to mountains.
    My original judgement was based on some pictures displayed
    on the internet, which were uninspiring, and I take it back. Sorry.
    Will try to look up more of his work.
  40. Glad to hear that you liked Galen's work. I should point out that those "many
    photographer-climbers" are all following in Galen's footsteps. He created the genre.
  41. I have reflected a bit about mountain climbing photography, and
    concluded that I have seen no more than 2 photographs which
    were in theirs own class. There was a picture published in a
    book (could the title be associated with PATAGONIA?) of a
    climber reaching the top of a rock, facing an abyss behind him.
    The gesture, the strained muscles of his hand grabbing the
    hold, and particularily, the expression on his face, have told
    everything about climbing, and its physical and mental

    Do not remeber the photographer nor the climber, except that
    the name sounded Polish. Could it be S. Glowacz?, who is
    German anyway, I think. The other photo was of the same class,
    but such photographs are indeed rare.

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