Few can speak about building a hobby and passion into a successful business with the authority of acclaimed aviation photographer Paul Bowen. Over a more than 40-year career, his photographs have graced in excess of 1,000 magazine covers, four coffee table books, and thousands of advertisements for products inside and out of the aviation industry.
Recognized by Flying in 2013 as one of its “51 Heroes of Aviation” and recipient of the International Society for Aviation Photography (ISAP) Award of Excellence, Bowen has photographed thousands of aircraft, many from his preferred shooting platform: a WWII-vintage B-25 Mitchell specially outfitted with an optically correct Plexiglas nose. When taking head-on shots of aircraft in flight, Bowen sits at the Mitchell’s tail gunner station — canopy removed, open to the elements.
Bowen isn’t just another aerial photographer, but one who pioneered a whole new genre of the art by showcasing high-end aircraft in their element, rocketing skyward from a remote airstrip, cresting snow-capped mountains in the morning light, or whisking along the tops of a cloud deck, the wingtip vortices creating signature swirls behind them. He’s photographed warbirds and bizjets, sport planes and Reno racers, always bringing a timeless sense of motion and beauty to his subjects.
“I pinch myself for all I’ve been able to accomplish,” noted Bowen.
Those accomplishments came following a marked departure from what Bowen once thought would be his calling. After graduating from UC-Santa Barbara with a degree in Zoology, Bowen’s involvement in his local church led him to start a halfway house in Wichita, KS in the early 1970s.
“I was a serious amateur photographer who used it to make a few dollars on the side,” he explained. “Someone in Wichita introduced me to the advertising agency handling Cessna at the time, and they in turn introduced me to their freelance photographer. He hired me as his assistant for $1.75 an hour.”
“It was pretty easy to point a camera in any direction around Wichita and capture an airplane,” he said. “I actually got airsick on my first air-to-air shoot, but I think my tenacity impressed them because I got another chance.” For the past 20 years Bowen has concentrated exclusively on flying subjects. His work has taken him across the country and around the globe, photographing some of the most remarkable airplanes ever built.
“If someone is looking for a stable, non-stressful, boring profession, then being an entrepreneur in any field is not for you,” Bowen concluded. “There are many ways to combine interests and passions into your profession, and I would challenge people to go after directing their passions into a career.
“I am a believer that if you put effort and energy into something you have a passion for, chances are you’re going to succeed.” In Bowen’s case, that success has exceeded his highest-flying dreams.
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