profile: corporate / event shooter Mark Bowen

I recently had a chance to sit down with Cincinnati corporate photographer Mark Bowen to discuss what he does for a living and just how he does it. Mark is well known in local photo circles and, more importantly, in local business circles. He’s at the top of the photographer list for many corporate public relations and marketing departments, along with independent agencies hired by both large and small businesses. One of his favorite photo jobs is serving as the official head photographer at the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC.

PPL: Mark, can you give me a little background on just what it is you do and what you call your type of photography?

Mark: I call it corporate photojournalism, photographing events like ribbon cuttings, award presentations and groundbreakings like a newspaper photographer would do.

PPL: How did you begin doing this type of work?

MB: For years I have also shot freelance photo assignments for the Cincinnati Business Courier and, before that, the Cincinnati Post. On assignments I always leave a business card and am sure to let them know I also shoot events. I also offer to show them outtakes from the newspaper assignment in case they would like to license those photos for their corporate use (this adds possible residual sales from one photo assignment).

PPL: So relationships made through the Cincinnati Business Courier have created opportunities for additional work. How did you first break in with The Courier?

MB: Their photographer at the time was moving more toward studio work and was ready to transfer the location assignments to someone else. I shadowed him on a few jobs and have been doing it ever since. After awhile, when the relationship with The Courier was working well, I proposed we create a yearly contract. In exchange for a certain number of regular assignments a month I could guarantee my availability and pricing. It’s worked out well.

PPL: That’s a very proactive approach, identifying The Courier’s needs and proposing a solution for mutual benefit, then using the newspaper assignments to lead to other business relationships. You’re obviously doing something right because you seem to keep busy. What do you think are the keys to your success as a corporate photojournalist?

MB: I give people what they want, communicating with them before and during a shoot, making sure they get what they need from the photography. We talk before the event to lay groundwork and then during the job I have a designated contact person that lets me know what they’re looking for. I communicate and work hard to get what they want and need.

I also show up with a good attitude, happy to have the work. And I don’t make excuses. At one time I worked as a newspaper photo editor and hated nothing more than when photographers would make excuses for not getting a shot, saying “here’s why I didn’t get that picture or this picture”. That just doesn’t fly.

PPL: You also show up for your assignments looking the part of the professional.

MB: Yeah, just dress the part. My goal is to blend in. I’m not a suit and tie guy but I’m there in my Dockers when other photographers or videographers are wearing jeans or shorts.

PPL: What’s your favorite part of the job?

MB: My favorite thing is doing on-location portraits with CEOs that hate having their picture taken. I roll in, happy to be there, and make the whole process easy for them. Within a couple minutes I will be showing them a photo of themselves that they really like. A lot of them haven’t been photographed since their wedding, which may have been twenty years and thirty pounds ago. When they look at their portrait and say, “hey, that’s a good picture of me!”, that’s what I really enjoy.

PPL: Is there much competition for this type of work?

MB: Really, no, it is just me and one other photographer sharing this type of work in the city. Corporate photography isn’t flashy enough to attract the young photographers but it has been a great niche for me.

PPL: Do you have a staff or work with assistants?

MB: No, I really prefer to work by myself and just keep things simple. I show up at the event, do the photography and then hand them a quickly edited CD of medium-resolution JPEGs before I leave.

PPL: Really? You don’t do any post-production? No RAW files?

MB: No, most of it ends up in newsprint or as smaller prints. The JPEGs are just fine for their purpose and there’s always someone else that will be doing image selection and post-production to prep the images for publication. They may come to me for prints later or additional CDs.

PPL: I’m a bit envious, that’s a really simple way to operate.

MB: It works well for me and the clients seem to be really happy.

PPL: Just a couple last things, Mark. What kind of photo equipment do you use for most of your work?

MB: I carry a Nikon D3 and D300, currently. The D300 was my favorite for awhile because it is really quick to use and quick to magnify images on the LCD screen. At the Spelling Bee this year I used the D3 more and now that’s my favorite camera. The full frame sensor makes full use of a 24mm lens and the images are so nice, much nicer than any other camera I have used. The D3 is my favorite, along with the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Lens and an SB800 flash used at arm’s length, off to the side.

A Macbook Pro with Photo Mechanic software is used to edit the images.

PPL: A lot of your event photography takes place in conference and banquet rooms under low light, doesn’t it? Are there any particular settings you use?

MB: I am often shooting at 1/40 or 1/50 of a second with the 24mm lens at f2.8 or f3.5. That picks up the ambient light and then the strobe will be on TTL using a warming gel (full CTO). The camera ISO is usually between 400 to 800 with the white balance set to incandescent.

PPL: You’ve also been transitioning into video, correct?

MB: Yeah, I am really excited about video, it is a new challenge and seems to be the way online communication is going. Right now my editorial and corporate clients are beginning to realize the benefits of video and I will be there, helping them move in that direction.

PPL: It sounds like a plan. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, congratulations on your success and good luck with the new video venture!