In my childhood and early adult life, I always admired photography, but I never had a desire to get into it myself. At least until I took my first trip to Walt Disney World in 2007. I coach high school quizbowl and after my team won the state championship, we got to represent Ohio at the Panasonic Academic Challenge at the Contemporary Resort. During that trip, I fell in love with everything related to WDW. I remember going home at surfing WDWMAGIC and LaughingPlace.com for hours on end. While on WDWMAGIC, I discovered a photographer (and now blogger) named Tom Bricker. If you don’t already follow him, go follow him on Instagram, on Twitter and bookmark disneytouristblog.com – which is written by him and his wife and is my go-to for information. I was amazed by the photographs Tom took and posted and to be honest, I was kind of in limbo in my life, looking for some kind of new hobby to take up. So I took the plunge and with advice Tom had posted to his followers online, bought my first camera kit, a Nikon D90, two lens kit.
When you're behind the scenes of The Beast, but really want that Steel Vengeance shot.
I wish I could say I immediately became a solid photographer, but that isn’t even close to the story. I realized at the time that I liked taking sports pictures, except the problem is that I coached football and baseball, so I couldn’t take pictures myself. I found myself passing my camera off to moms and having them take pics, which for the kids and families was cool, but for me, it was pretty much a waste. I do not at all regret buying the camera, but I do regret not taking the time to truly learn how to get it off auto settings and control it myself. So I toiled around with it for 4 years, picking it up occasionally, trying to learn how to use it but really getting frustrated easily.
In 2016, I decided that I wanted to get more serious about photography from an artistic aspect. Part of this was that my run coaching summer baseball had ended after having been with my kids since they were 11. I was in a rut, trying to find something to do with myself. I’m not antisocial, but I’m a pretty quiet and shy guy, so I’m not the kind to go out and party or attend social events, etc. Having already been traveling a lot during the summers since 2010 or so, I figured combining my love for roller coasters and photography would be a cool thing. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a very niche field that only a handful of people concentrated on and were good at, but it lead to some amazing things happening to me personally.
I started by Instagram account in late July of 2016, just after I had met Peter Schwab, aka #PeterFromKentuckyKingdom, who convinced me that my pictures were good enough to be posted and get a lot of likes. Now, it was definitely a huge learning curve. I had a personal Instagram account that I used but I had no idea how to run one that would essentially serve as a fan page for my photos. It was around this time that I really started playing with editing software (specifically Lightroom and Photoshop). That also had a huge learning curve that I’m still trying to get better at today.
I upgraded my camera to the Nikon D7200 and bought a book Tom recommended titled “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson. I HIGHLY recommend it if you are trying to learn about photography. Bryan does a great job of breaking things down into understandable language as well as giving you drills to try. Here's a link to the 4th edition on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Exposure-Fourth-Photographs-Camera/dp/1607748509/ref=dp_ob_title_bk (Many libraries carry it, if you don't want to buy it).
My first couple months were really guess-and-check. If you look at my earliest pictures (have fun scrolling back that far), they were garbage. The composition wasn’t bad, but the editing on them was terrible. The process of learning how to edit and find angles was one of the best things of the last 3 years for me.
Looking back, my early attempts at editing were a trainwreck.
My first real validation of becoming a legit photographer came at Coasterstock 2017 at Kings Island. I entered a picture of Diamondback taken during the first night of Haunt in 2016. I had edited it some for color saturation, but it wasn’t a heavy edit to be honest. The colors of the sunsets on clear or semi-clear summer and fall nights at Kings Island (especially behind Diamondback) are very often some of the best in Ohio. Fast forward to dinner on the second night of the event and my photo made it into the top 3 along with a winter picture of Racer and a long exposure shot in front of the crashed car at Mystic Timbers, taken by another great Instagram photographer, @coaster_bean. After the vote, it turns out that I had won the contest. For my efforts, I received a KI beach bag, a piece of wood from the construction of Mystic Timbers, a giant sucker and the only thing I wanted regardless of the result, the giant print of my picture on the foam board. That picture still hangs on the wall in one of my bedrooms. That was my first Coasterstock and it quickly became one of my favorite events, not only because of all of the behind-the-scenes tours, ERT, food, etc. but because it was the first event where I met lots of new people, some of whom already knew of my photography. Some of these people, like coaster_bean, became good friends of mine after the fact. It’s the reason I went back in 2018 and will be going back again this year.
Winner winner chicken dinner.
Between the events I’ve attended like CoasterMania, GOCC Events, Koaster Kids events and just general traveling, I have met so many people that either have become friends of mine or that have at least told me they like my photos or that I’ve helped them in some way. For a guy that’s pretty quiet and reserved, photography has opened me up to a world that I never would have thought possible. As a teacher, I try to make an impact on high school kids every day, but as a photographer, I feel like I’m making an impact on kids, teenagers and adults of all ages and backgrounds. And truthfully, that’s a really cool feeling.
If you ever see me at a park, definitely come say hello. If you ever need advice on photography stuff or editing photos, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer them. While it would be cool to be a “famous” photographer someday, I feel like you can never be truly famous if you aren’t using your position to help other people.
For a guy that is pretty quiet, the response to my photos has been absolutely overwhelming and humbling. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the support and kind words over the past 2 1/2 years. Looking forward to seeing many of you at a park soon.
PS – If you’re on Instagram, go follow some of my friends and acquaintances (there are many more, but I had to cut off the list at some point so I looked at my recent DM list and just listed those folks).