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."
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."
"During the month of April I attend every (home) ballgame and try to get every player shot by May 1," Vaughan said. "Our goal is to get the images done so you can get the (baseball) cards back by the middle of June" so they can be sold in the gift shot at Prince George's County Stadium and online by the team.
Beyond sports photos
Nearly 15 years later, Vaughan is still taking photos of Baysox players, several of whom have worked their way up the minor league ladder and made it the Major Leagues. That includes current All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, who played with Bowie in 2008, and Orioles All-Star closer Jim Johnson, who was with the Baysox in 2005 and 2006.
One of Vaughan's favorite Bowie players was second baseman Brian Roberts, who played for the Baysox in 2001 and has made return trips during rehab assignments during an injury-riddled career with the Orioles. He has also taken photos of former Bowie infielder Manny Machado, who was called up to the Orioles on Aug. 9 and hit two homers in a game Aug. 10 at Camden Yards. Vaughan was also in Bowie Aug. 14 for the Baysox debut of pitcher Dylan Bundy, one of the top prospects in the minor leagues who had been with the Frederick Keys.
Vaughan has expanded his photography to non-sports as well, including assignments to cover the Million Mom March. "That was exhausting, but then you go home and see your images on CNN," said Vaughan, who has made the transition from print to digital as a photographer. "The Mall was packed. That raised the hair on your neck."
Vaughan was on his way to Redskins Park in Northern Virginia on a Tuesday in September more than 10 years ago to take photographs at a luncheon for team wives put on by Marty Schottenheimer, the Redskins coach that season.
"When I got there they said the facility was closed and they were fearful of an attack," he said. Vaughan had not listened to the radio in his car and was unaware of the 9/11 attacks. Soon after, he got a call from his friend, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency and told him to get to the Pentagon as soon as he could.
"I still had no idea. I looked in the sky (near the Pentagon) and saw this great black cloud," he recalled.
Vaughan was able to use his photography credential through Corbis/Sygma, a New York company that uses his images, to get close enough to take photographs of the burning Pentagon. One of those images has been displayed this summer at the Newseum as he was among the first photographers on the scene.
Vaughan, who is single, grew up in Colmar Manor in Prince George's County and graduated from Bladensburg High School in 1965. Soon after that he began working for the Montgomery County Fire Department and was based in Kensington during his tenure. He lived in Beltsville before moving to Laurel in 1989 and remains a member of the International Association of Firefighters.
After one career trying to put out fires and save lives, he is now enjoying his work in a less stressful field.
"I am loving this," he said.