Bill Vaughan

North Laurel resident Bill Vaughan found one of his photos of the Pentagon, taken in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks, on display at the Newseum in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Bill Vaughan / August 23, 2012)

Bill Vaughan, of North Laurel, has gone from being part of the excitement to watching it through a camera lens.

The son of a firefighter, Vaughan spent 28 years with the Montgomery County Fire Department and reached the level of master firefighter before retiring in 1996.

Looking for a new challenge, Vaughan turned to photography and became a contract photographer, or free-lancer, with a focus on sports.

"It is my own personality. You shoot something and from there you can say this is my work," Vaughan said in explaining what he loves about photography. "It is no different from cooking a meal. It is your own personality. It is like writing a story. It is yours."

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He has done work for the University of Maryland athletics department, the Washington Redskins and the Bowie Baysox, a minor league farm team of the Baltimore Orioles. For several years he made the drive to Virginia to take photos of the Richmond Renegades, a minor league hockey team.

His non-sports work, including shots from the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, have been featured at the Newseum in Washington.

He was also the lead photographer for the Million Mom March, and his work has been featured for nine years in Brady Campaign materials. His clientele has included Joe Biden and the Discovery Chanel and his photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, National Geographic and Sports Illustrated.

Vaughan first took photos of Biden when the then-senator spoke to the International Association of Firefighters.

"I started talking to his aide and became buddies with them," said Vaughan, who also took photos of Biden when he spoke to the group in Washington as a candidate for vice president.

He also took photos of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama when he spoke to the same group.

On the Republican side of the ledger, the Laurel resident snapped images of President George W. Bush when he welcomed the University of Maryland men's basketball to the White House after the Terps won the national title in 2002.

One veteran photographer who helped Vaughan get started in sports was the late Jerry Wachter, the former team photographer of the Orioles who also worked for Sports Illustrated.

"I was his assistant for two years. I learned a lot from him," Vaughan said of Wachter, who died in 2005.

In the late 1990s Wachter was able to get an extra credential for Vaughan to shoot the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Vaughan said one of his early challenges was to not get caught up in the action on the field and to focus on taking solid photos.

That was the case in 2001 when Vaughan, who had become good friends with then-Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen, was the photographer for the Terps as they won the ACC title. He was also at the Final Four in Atlanta in 2002 as Maryland won its first-ever national title in men's basketball.

"You have to shoot, shoot, shoot and hope you get everything," said Vaughan.

One of his long-standing assignments as a contract photographer has been with the Baysox, a Class AA farm team in the Eastern League. He began work with the team in the late 1990s and one of his first contacts with the team was through Dave Collins, who was then the public relations director and the team's radio announcer.

"We had a contract with him and he went above and beyond the contract," said Collins, now the radio voice of baseball's Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League.

Vaughan tries to attend every Bowie home game in April in order to get photos of every player for the team. His contact with the Baysox these days is Phil Wrye, the Bowie assistant general manager and a long-time team employee.

"The toughest pictures to get is of our relief pitchers because you never know when they will get into a game," Wrye said. "Bill is respectful to the (players) on the field and with our staff and tries not to be in the way (during games). He is a pleasure to work with."