About the Artist
I think of wilderness landscape photography as the pursuit of visual “peak experiences.” I’m borrowing a term here from humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, who studied human potential ‒ the heights to which humans can aspire, not the depths to which they can sink. According to Maslow, peak experiences can give “a sense of the sacred, glimpsed in and through the particular instance of the momentary, the secular, the worldly.” Whoa! That sounds awfully pretentious. But when I think back on the most beautiful scenes I've ever witnessed, they start to approach what Maslow was talking about. Visual peak experiences are moments of extraordinary natural beauty, often ephemeral, that I seek to capture in such a way that a viewer of the photograph can share my sense of wonder and joy. Granted, my photographs rarely, if ever, achieve such lofty heights. Perhaps they never truly will. But it is the pursuit of visual peak experiences, and the arduous, ecstatic struggle to capture them on my sensor, that keeps landscape photography endlessly fascinating.
For me, these marvelous moments occur most often in wild places, particularly in the mountains. More than forty years later, I still remember a peak experience that occurred during a camping trip with my parents in the desert mountains of southern California. I was 12 then, yearning for independence and hungry for child-size adventure. Alone, I walked away from our campsite to a saddle in a ridge overlooking an endless desert valley and the mountain ranges beyond. It was a journey that an adult would have measured in mundane yards and minutes; I measured it in emotional light-years. For a timeless interlude I meditated on the ridge, soaking in the silence and the unfathomable sweep of land. I remember feeling utterly isolated in a desolate world, and yet I recall no desire to flee back down the path to camp. Something about the sheer unrepentant emptiness of the land, its total indifference to human vanity, compelled my awestruck attention and has demanded my return to the mountains again and again.
F.W. Bourdillon, a British mountaineer who attempted Everest nearly a century ago, captured my feelings then and now when he explained the secret motivation of mountain-lovers as “a feeling so deep and so pure and so personal as to be almost sacred ‒ too intimate for ordinary mention.” Mountains, he went on to say, “... move us in some way which nothing else does ... and we feel that a world that can give such rapture must be a good world, a life capable of such feeling must be worth the living.”
In my early teen years I hiked the mountain valleys and scrambled up the easy peaks in California's Sierra Nevada. Then, at 15, I took up technical rock-climbing. When I moved to Boulder, Colorado, to go to college in 1975, I added ice-climbing to my quiver of mountain skills and began tackling difficult routes from Alaska to Argentina. In my mid-30s, after 20 years of intense mountaineering, my interest in climbing high peaks began to wane, while my interest in photographing them blossomed. Landscape photography, I found, could be just as much of an adventure as mountaineering. True, the challenges were different, but the pulse-pounding excitement and the need to perform gracefully under pressure were still there. Once I had struggled out of bed at 1 a.m. to climb a long, demanding route on a high peak before the afternoon thunderstorms struck; now I rose at the same ungodly hour to race the rising sun to a photogenic vantage point. My motto for these shoots is simple: “Sleep is for photographers who don’t drink enough coffee.”
I'm now well into my fourth decade of full-time freelance writing and photography, and have much to be thankful for: the support of my wonderful wife Cora, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Colorado; the love of our two daughters, Emily, born in 1994, and Audrey, born in 1996; and the career advice my father, a down-to-earth civil engineer, gave me long ago. He said, "Find the job that makes you want to get up on Monday morning and go to work." I'm grateful I found that job, which I prefer to think of as a calling. I hope you find it as rewarding to view my images as I found it rewarding to make them.
I I believe that authenticity still matters. Or, to put it more precisely, I believe a landscape photograph can only have lasting impact if it is an authentic record of a truly memorable event. Authenticity is at the core of my artistic philosophy. I think we value landscape photographs primarily because they allow us to vicariously experience the wonder and joy that the photographer felt when they were standing there. If the photograph has been constructed in some way rather than captured, and we realize that the photographer never felt the emotion that the image seems to be conveying, we feel manipulated and betrayed.
I recognize the difficulty of defining a "constructed" image. There's a large gray area in between absolutely straight photography and clearly surreal images. In a wide variety of ways, our visual system does not see the world the way our sensors do. But there is also a clear line beyond which everyone can agree, "That's not what you saw." Adding elements that weren't there and subtracting elements that were is certainly beyond that line.
In the digital age, even more than in the film era, the impact and meaning of an image is determined as much by the intentions and integrity of the photographer as it is by the content of the image. While this has always been true of photography, the advent of digital has brought the issue into much sharper focus. I want the viewer of my images to exclaim, "Wow! What a beautiful world we live in!" not think, "Wow! That guy really knows Photoshop." I want to be able to tell my viewers, "What you see in my prints is what I saw through the lens."
When I became a professional landscape photographer in 1993, virtually all landscape photographs were taken in daylight, and my distinction between captured and constructed images seemed quite clear-cut. Then cameras became available that could capture the night sky as we see it, with apparently stationary stars. A new genre within landscape photography was born: night photography. I started shooting landscapes on moonless nights, when the only light sources were starlight and sky glow. The images revealed an amazing abundance of stars as well as the detailed structure of the Milky Way. Suddenly I faced a conundrum: how can I claim that my prints reveal what I saw through the lens when it's so dark I can't see anything through the lens?
In a way, the problem was ironic. For years I had battled the limitations of the capture medium. My philosophy was never, "What you see in my prints is what the camera recorded." That was always unsatisfying because in daylight my eyes could always see much better detail in the highlights and shadows than the camera could.
Now for the first time I had a camera that was better than my visual system, at least in terms of its ability to record extremely faint light at night. My eyes, no matter how well dark-adapted, could barely glimpse the colors and details my camera so easily recorded. Should I suppress those colors and create a near-monochrome image that resembled what I actually saw? Or should I celebrate the camera’s ability to reveal an unseen world and show night scenes in color as the camera recorded it? I experimented with desaturating my night images or converting them to black and white, and concluded quickly that while they might be closer to a literal representation of what I saw, they came nowhere close to evoking the emotions I felt when I was standing there.
I returned to the idea of rendering night scenes in color but quickly ran into another conundrum. The colors my camera recorded sometimes seemed jarringly out of sync with what I imagined those colors ought to be. We all have a lifelong association of the sky with the color blue. Sky is a memory color, one of those colors where we tend to substitute what we want to see (e.g., an idealized, pure blue) for what we actually saw. It’s also a color where we tend to have strong opinions about what looks “right.”
On a moonless night, however, the sky is not blue. Its exact color varies, but it is often a shocking shade of green. So should I continue to celebrate my camera’s ability to record the unseen, or should I change the color of the sky to the blue I was expecting and that feels somehow “right”?
Ultimately, I reached this conclusion: photographing in color at night is like shooting in black-and-white during the day. It is an inherently subjective process. My goal at night is to create an image that captures the feeling I had as I stood there under a magnificent starry sky. To that end, I shift the color of the sky toward blue while preserving the color of the brightest stars, which I can actually see with dark-adapted eyes. I shift the color of the land slightly towards blue to help preserve a nighttime feel. If the image shows the Milky Way, a lunar eclipse, a meteor shower, the aurora, or star trails over a particular mountain or desert spire, it's because I actually saw those celestial phenomena soaring over that landscape. Are these images "authentic"? Certainly not in the sense that they show precisely what I saw, since my eyes couldn't see the colors these images depict. I do hope, however, that they evoke for you the same emotions that I experienced as I captured these images, and that they are authentic in that sense. Authenticity is still at the core of my artistic philosophy.
Selected Publication Credits
Longs Peak Tales Group of historical-fiction short stories about Rocky Mountain National Park, published July, 1981. Originally published by Stonehenge Books, then published and distributed by Glenn Randall.
Vertigo Games Pictorial history of hard recent climbs in Colorado. W.R. Publications, Sioux City, Iowa, 1984.
Breaking Point Narrative of first alpine-style ascent of the south face of Mt. Hunter. Chockstone Press, Denver, Colorado, 1985.
Mt. McKinley Climber's Handbook Guide to climbing Mt. McKinley, Alaska. Genet Expeditions, Talkeetna, Alaska, February, 1985. Second edition published by Chockstone Press, 1993.
The Outward Bound Guide to Staying Warm in the Cold. Guide to staying warm in cold weather. The Lyons Press, New York, New York, 2001. First edition published as Cold Comfort, 1987.
Outward Bound Map and Compass Handbook, 3rd edition Guide to route-finding with map, compass, altimeter, and GPS receiver. The Lyons Press, New York, New York, 1998. First edition published in 1989. Third edition published by Globe Pequot in spring, 2012.
Outward Bound Backpacker's Handbook Guide to environmentally conscious backpacking. The Lyons Press, New York, New York, 2000. First published as The Modern Backpacker’s Handbook, 1994. Third edition published by Globe Pequot in spring, 2013.
Rocky Mountain National Park Impressions Book of photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park, with introduction and extended captions by Glenn Randall. Farcountry Press, Helena MT, June 2004.
Colorado Wild & Beautiful Book of Colorado landscape photographs with introduction and extended captions by Glenn Randall. Farcountry Press, Helena MT, May 2005.
Sunrise from the Summit: First Light on Colorado's Fourteeners Stunning collection of images shot at sunrise from the summit of all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, the Fourteeners. Farcountry Press, Helena MT, May 2015.
The Art, Science, and Craft of Great Landscape Photography In-depth guide to creating superb landscape photographs. Rocky Nook, Santa Barbara, CA, May 2015.
Dusk to Dawn: A Guide to Landscape Photography at Night The most in-depth guide available to creating magnificent photographs of the Milky Way, auroras, meteor showers, lunar eclipses, star trails, and landscapes lit solely by moonlight. Rocky Nook, San Rafael, CA, May 2018.
Magazine articles Over 225 have been published to date. Many were accompanied by my photographs. Some of these magazines have also used my photographs to accompany other authors' articles.
America West Airlines
Colorado Homes & Lifestyles
Cross Country Skier
Healthy Planet Products
Natl. Geographic Adventure
People on Parade
Rock & Ice
Rocky Mountain Magazine
Take Me Away
The Territory Ahead
Clients for individual photo sales Over 1,800 photos, including 83 covers, have been published to date.
Cloud Cap Press
Colorado Kayak Supply
Colorado Outward Bound
David C. Cook Publishing
Great Pacific Catalog
Healthy Planet Products
Hi-Tec Sports, USA
Los Angeles Times
Lowe Alpine Systems
Lowe Gray Steele & Hoffman
Mountain States Specialties
Natl. Geographic Adventure
New Readers Press
New York Times
North Star Press
Rocky Mountain Sports
Runner’s World Calendars
San Francisco Chronicle
Sierra Club Calendars
The Territory Ahead
University of Colorado
U.S. Information Agency
Experience as a workshop instructor
Santa Fe Photographic Workshops Five-day workshops titled The Art and Science of Landscape Photography and Sunsets and Stars at Great Sand Dunes National Park taught for Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, January 2012 to the present
Rocky Mountain Conservancy Three or four weekend landscape photography workshops taught per year, August 2002 to 2015
Ah Haa! School for the Arts Weekend landscape photography workshop, February 2010, March 2011, September 2014
Colorado Photography Festival One-day workshops (one or two per year), August 2010 to August 2015
Glenn Randall Photography Workshops Private workshops from 2012 to the present; group workshops organized and taught by Glenn Randall, October 2015 to the present