Chino’s Planes of Fame Museum host Aviation Photographer Paul Bowen

Chino’s Planes of Fame Museum host Aviation Photographer Paul Bowen

On Saturday, July 17, 80 aviation photographers, pilots and enthusiasts and I were fortunate to hear legionary aviation photographer Paul Bowen speak at Chino Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California (

Like many of us, I have a deep passion for aviation, especially military aviation.  I have been shooting aviation pictures since I was a young boy, although seriously shooting with “pro gear” since 2007.  With that said, if you would have asked me in 2007 or before that, who Paul Bowen was, I am embarrassed to tell you I wouldn’t have known who he was!

Paul Bowen began his 38 year career in 1972 shooting film and transitioning to digital in 2001.  Here is the short listing of Paul’s photography career:

  • 1,000 magazine covers – and counting!
  • Countless advertising campaigns, including Leer, Bombardier, and Cessna
  • Four Coffee Table Books (Air to Air-Mustangs and Corsairs, Air to Air I,  Air to Air II, and Air to Air Warbirds)

Paul spoke for an hour and a half about his experiences in aerial photography and how he gets his incredible shots.  One thing I learned from Paul is that his shots are highly rehearsed and briefed with the involved flight crews and personnel.  I was impressed with the amount of preparation and logistics that go into any aerial photo shoot.  Luck has very little to do with Paul’s photos!

Paul talked about shooting from a wide variety of aircraft including, T-6s, the rear cargo compartment of an OV-10, various military and corporate jets, and what he called the “ultimate” shooting platform – Chino’s Planes of Fames own B-25J called “Photo Fanny.”  According to Paul, what makes Photo Fanny the ultimate shooting platform is the ability to shoot an aircraft from several different perspectives?

First, the bombardier’s nose on Photo Fanny can be removed and replaced with a solid Plexiglas nosepiece.  This eliminates all the metal framework that’s on the original nosepiece.  Frame work that can hamper getting the right shot or what Paul calls the “powershot!”  Another “pro tip” Paul mentioned was when shooting through Plexiglas canopies, reflections can be a killer.  To reduce his chances of losing a shot to reflection and/or other optical distortions, he dresses in dark clothes, including gloves and shoots perpendicular to the glass in order to avoid any optical distortions.

Secondly, the tail gunner’s section can be removed.  It allows an open air shot that is clear and unrestricted of Plexiglas and/or portions of the aircraft.  Paul sits on a modified dentist stool and is secured to the aircraft by a safety harness and carabiners.

The last position in Photo Fanny is the escape hatch.  At this position, Paul is able to remain in the main portion of the fuselage and shoot effectively.

Regardless of the aircraft, Paul stressed that he is always in communication with his pilot.  If Paul needs his subject aircraft to change position, he simply relays this information to his pilot, who then relays the information to the aircraft being photographed.

Paul covered many other areas of photography, including setting up your orbit to maximize the background.  He’s been able to obtain some of his legionary “vortices” pictures and the use of fill flash during air to air photography.  Yes, Paul uses fill flash during low light type of photoshoots (i.e. sunrise and/or sunsets).  Mind you, this is done with a simple strobe light, nothing exceptionally special or high tech.  Paul added he has had the best success with fill flash during air to airs at ranges of approximately 50 feet.

When asked what type of equipment he carries, Paul likes to say, “a B-25 and a Canon!”  Frankly, I would have thought a photographer of Paul’s caliber would have been traveling with several large pelican cases full of gear.  In actuality, Paul travels with a case measuring 24x18x10 that is very simple and efficient!  His equipment list includes: 2 camera bodies, 70-200, 24-105, 17-40, and fisheye lenses.  Other gear in Paul’s case are spare batteries, a charger, flashlight, a flash unit, a large heavy trash bag (that can double as a poncho and/or cover for your camera), and memory cards.

Before Paul concluded, he left us with two additional “pro tips.”

Tip #1 – Remember include people in some of your shots.

Tip #2 – Don’t forget to include scenery/overview in some of your shots.

Afterwards, Paul signed autographs and answered questions.  I sat nearby snapping pictures of Paul signing autographs and talking with fellow aviation photographers.  I was impressed with the amount of time Paul spent with each person, answering each of their questions fully and completely.

I walked away from Paul’s seminar inspired and motivated to take better and higher quality photographs.  If I can shoot at 25% of Paul Bowen, I’ll be very happy.

I would strongly recommend those of you who haven’t seen Paul Bowen’s work, to purchase one of his books and/or go to his website –  Once you have seen his pictures, you’ll see why Paul is one of the worlds finest!

Phil Myers

Phil Myers, a military aviation photojournalist with a passion for telling stories and documenting the history of military aviation. In addition to his website publications, Phil’s articles and photographs have been published in several magazines. Phil resides in Southern California.

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