Bowmer says the AP was late in coming to online slide shows, but once they started doing them, there was a big push for them. Two and a half years ago, the AP selected Bowmer and three other photographers (out of 116) to shoot HD video. He “heard the word experiment quite a bit” — the AP wanted to see what was possible. There was a learning curve — “It’s like still photography on steroids” — but he’s gotten a new appreciation for the medium. He used to be annoyed by news videographers — “They were always in the way” — but now he has a better understanding of what they do. He had to learn Final Cut Pro, and he’d come home at 7 p.m. and work until 3 a.m., playing with video. “After a while, it started making sense.” After about six months, he could pick up the video camera and it felt as familiar as the still camera. He can program it with his eyes closed. Now it’s fun, but for the first six to eight months, it wasn’t. “It’s a labor of love.”
Colleagues have accused him of selling his soul, but Bowmer tries to explain to them that it’s a rewarding medium. Capturing audio was very powerful for him — adding sound to images adds a deepening element to the story. Each of the four photographers who participated in the pilot program approached it differently. Bowmer abandoned stills at first and focused on video, then realized that perhaps he had “stepped over onto the dark side.” After about a year, he started working with both together, which he thinks is a lot more powerful.
“When I go on the road,” he says, holding up his still and video cameras, “these are my weapons. These are my tools.”
With the economy the way it is, it might not seem like the right time to expand into a new medium, but at the same time, video offers more market opportunities.
He’s now sharing one of his first videos — it’s a roller derby story. He opens with a long slow-motion shot of a racer picking herself up off the track as the other skaters move by in the background. He tries to use as many stills as possible, and he likes to use slow or fast motion — “It gives you the power to really tell a story. Using video to go from point A to point Z, you tell the entire story.” Surprisingly, he doesn’t really watch too many movies (although he did take one film class in college).
“It’s just a fun way to tell a story.In another video, about extreme kayaking, he sets a voice-over of a kayaker talking about feeling like he’s moving in slow motion over a slow-motion shot of the same kayaker descending a Class Five rapid. He also uses still shots with the voice-over, which he says he thinks can have a bigger impact than just video. For the video stories, there isn’t a lot of canned voice-over; he tries to use more natural sound to tell the story.
I guess I drank the Kool-Aid.”
In a recent story about an Oregon family that recently found itself homeless, Bowmer uses long still shots taken from video — close-ups of the family members’ faces in particular. Don’t feel handicapped by video, he says; it’s easy to frame-grab for stills.
Bowmer thinks video is a “pretty powerful medium,” and as an example, he shows two episodes from an AP video series called “Lucky Charms,” about American soldiers serving in the Middle East, and their families back home. Again, he uses organic audio over video and stills, and the effect has a deep emotional impact.
He shows a photo of a man, covered in blood, being carried away from an explosion in the West Bank. It has impact, he says, but without the audio, the story isn’t as complete. There are elements you need, he says, and still photography is a powerful medium, but it is missing something that video can provide.
Take a look at some of Rick Bowmer’s AP videos.
— Maia Nolan