Q&A: Adventure and Lifestyle Photographer David Bowers
In his contribution to a thread on our RMSP Facebook alumni page, 2014 Career Training graduate David Bowers mentioned that a recent highlight for him in his photo business was a 12-day assignment for an outdoor adventure company that took him through three states. Combined with his stories of photographing avalanche search dogs, flying in helicopters to get the shot, and continued work with local and regional publications, I knew I had to hear more from him about his current business and how RMSP helped him get to where he is. (All images © David Bowers Photography)
David, why did you choose RMSP to study photography?
I found that RMSP was the most comprehensive school in an intensive educational format, which is what I needed. Because I have lived in a mountain town virtually all my life, Missoula’s size and proximity to mountains were also important factors. Ultimately, the layout of the schedule, the quality and resumes of the staff, the facilities, and RMSP’s learning environment convinced me to commit to RMSP.
What were your goals in attending photography school?
My goals at RMSP were to go in open-minded and learn as much as possible so that I could confidently apply my newly acquired skills as a professional photographer.
Did you have a certain path you wanted to take prior to attending?
No. I wanted to learn as much as possible and simply see which strengths would rise to the top.
Did that path change once here? How?
Yes, somewhat. I have been a mountain guide and ski patroller for two decades. Everyone assumed that I’d move in the direction of so-called extreme sports and high adventure photography. I seemed to gravitate more toward the traits of photographer Galen Rowell, who loved the mountains, and also captured scenery, details in landscapes, cultures, and personalities of the individuals of his travels.
What did you do after graduation?
I resumed my normal careers to make ends meet financially, and I continued to move forward and apply my newly acquired photography skills. I began marketing my photography and found that I could communicate with customers and perform assignments with confidence.
How did RMSP’s Career Training program prepare you for the life you’re living today?
RMSP provided me the tools, skill set, knowledge, and confidence to begin my career as a photographer. More specifically, RMSP taught me a lot about subjects I was uncomfortable with, such as marketing, legal issues, business aspects, and market trends.
Are you a full-time photographer?
No. I still enjoy the diversity and challenges of my other careers as mountain guide and ski patrol. I find these three careers to very much complement each other. Each of them have positively contributed to each other.
It sounds like you are drawn to adventure-style work. What about this niche do you find appealing?
For one, I love the health benefits, as well as adventure. Adventure, to me, is entering into a realm of risk and reward, with a mix of exploration and excitement, yet not knowing the outcome. The fine balance of caution and courage allows us to live life to its fullest, if you’re into that sort of thing!
Tell us about some of your favorite photo experiences since graduating? (Cool jobs?)
I enjoy good ol’ fun jobs where everyone involved is jubilant and happy and they walk away with their eyes and minds opened to the power of photography. Even more important to me is the challenge to make my photography more meaningful than simply what the eye sees.
For example, I have worked for over two years on an aerial photography project shot from a helicopter to document backcountry ski terrain for the purpose of backcountry search and rescue. This photo document is distributed to ski patrol, county search & rescue teams, and National Park Service rescue rangers. I feel that this is a way that I can combine my skills and contribute to rescues in a different way.
I also work with a raptor rehabilitation organization, providing photos for their promotion, awareness, and marketing efforts, so that they can continue treating birds of prey who have been injured. I also do photo work with wilderness adventure programs that introduce teens to the natural world, and I work regularly with our local avalanche rescue dog program. These images create awareness of not only the capabilities of these special rescuers, but also of the hazards that exist in the backcountry. This project has expanded to include a safety awareness campaign targeted at the growing population of skiers, particularly backcountry skiers.
What is your goal with your photography? Money? Getting published? Helping others?
Well, I need money to survive! Immediately following that is the goal of helping others. The value of human connection is difficult to put a price on. To provide a family a portrait of grandparents, or newborn, or their special dog or horse, or high school graduate, these images truly are priceless, if not now, in the future. I also enjoy the challenge of editorial photography. It’s fun to create a descriptive portrait that hopefully is unique and interesting.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The business aspect is the most difficult for me. Self-promotion is hard. Sending invoices and collecting payment is not fun for me.
Have you always wanted to be a professional photographer?
No, not always. The profession falls along the lines of being a professional mountain guide and ski patroller – fairly unlikely to actually make it work. So, there’s always been the doubt of making it as a photographer. But, here I am.
What was your profession prior to RMSP?
Mountain guide and risk manager in summer, and pro ski patroller and training coordinator in winter.
What is next on your photo horizon? I am currently working on an exciting fundraising project for a hockey team. Also, I am beginning a personal project that will focus on a variety of portraiture amidst nighttime star trails.
What is your advice for anyone considering a program at RMSP? Do as much research as you can and I believe you will find yourself confidently making the decision to attend RMSP. Arrange housing and budget for everyday living expenses. Then walk into the school as an open book, ready to absorb an enormous amount of knowledge, skills, experiences, and fun.
To learn more about David, his work, or to ask him questions about his Career Training experience, check out his site below and feel free to send him an email.