Guest Blog: Theme Park Photographer Douglas Young

Photo by Sam Haddix

I Believe In Magic – Discovering the Magic in Your Photography
You are a magician, a sorcerer, an illusionist. You wield power that can inspire the soul and expand the imagination. Are you using it? Like any good story, you are yet to unlock its full potential. You overlook the opportunity sitting right in front of you. No, sadly, this is not your new age letter to wizarding school, nor is this the beginning of your superhero origin story. This is an invitation. An invitation to start wielding a type of magic that can suspend disbelief and change the impossible to reality. You are a photographer, and this is your chance.

My journey into the world of photography started six years ago. Like many of you reading this, I started by taking pictures of everything. Friends, family, landscapes, pets, wildlife, events, products, and weddings… you name it, I shot it. I waited for something to stick. I narrowed down what I shot, but nothing set my soul on fire. When the “real world” got busy, my hobby was put on the shelf. There it sat until 2016 when I moved to central Florida and became a Walt Disney World local. Here I rediscovered the magic of photography and found the spark I searched for.

November 1st, 2016, months after my move, I was bored. I settled into my new job, apartment, and life. I wanted to start something big. A soul-searching endeavor to help fill the void in the creative side of my life. I longed to find beauty and joy in my surroundings. My mind felt dull and sluggish, so I made a commitment to form a new habit. I forced myself to create something on a daily basis. My goal? Post once a day on Instagram for thirty days. With nothing but my cell phone and a mission, I set out on a new adventure that felt oh so familiar. I searched for a subject and found myself drawn to the theme parks.

My life changed.

Disney World was the setting of my dreams. Fireworks for long exposure, the dynamic lights of Tomorrowland, the beauty of princes and princesses that came alive on a daily basis. Yup, this is something I could get in to. I was a fan of Disney and Walt Disney World practically since birth, so it was natural that I gravitated there searching for inspiration. After thirty days of posting consistently I had built a habit, I kept posting, I couldn’t stop. I purchased my first DSLR in six years so that I could continue to do more with the subject I fell so deeply in love with. The theme parks of central Florida had awakened in me a desire to shoot and create again.

After hundreds of photos had passed through my workflow and out onto the web I felt stuck. All my pictures looked the same. The spark of creativity that was once a roaring flame dulled to the somber glow of embers. Something had to change, this is when I discovered the magic hidden in my images.

How could I take the same subjects I fell in love with and turn them into something new? Walt Disney World was less than likely to let me start construction in their parks, set up massive scenes with props or bring large groups of people in costumes to take my pictures… so I turned to post-production.

My first attempt? I added stars to a blank sky, adding some “pixie dust” to an image that needed something extra. It looked strange. I posted it anyway. I braced myself for ridicule and relentless comments for faking part of my image.

What happened? Nobody noticed.

The real kicker? My audience felt something. They loved the image. They believed, even just for a moment, that the beautiful starry sky behind Cinderella Castle was real. They got their fix of Disney magic for the day, and for those who can’t visit the parks often that is a big deal. This was exactly what I wanted. I made people who loved Disney as much as I do feel “Home” for just a moment.

I continued to add stars, change skies, and add sunsets to my images. Every so often I get a respectful private message asking what had been changed and how I did it, but never the outrage I originally expected. My social media platform became a mix of images edited to different extremes. Many images I barely touch, slight changes to exposure, contrast, and colors and I’m set. Others I’ll add a small sunburst, lens flare, or stars. In a select few I’ll create a composite with many photos to create a complete fantasy scene.

The variety of edits has created an environment where the lines of reality are blurred. What is real? What has been faked? Is empty Main Street USA really empty or were people removed? The end result for me can only be summed up as Magic. My camera is my wand and my computer is my spellbook. Together with a little creativity, we wield the power to awe and inspire. This magic has opened doors for me, and taught me some very valuable lessons.

The first lesson is that by using different techniques, post-processing, or just by traveling to somewhere new, we can create an environment where fantasy and reality meet. Our viewers can escape the norm and allow themselves to get entangled in the world that we have created for them. This escape is not only welcome but often sought after. Who doesn’t love searching for something impossible? Remember your way doesn’t have to be my way. Think back to the first time you saw star trails or long exposures of fireworks, it was almost otherworldly! These did not come from post processing but different techniques.

The second is that our images don’t have to be perfect; mine rarely are. What they should be is something we enjoy doing. The emotion we put into the process is felt by the viewer in the images we share. Do it with love even when you’re frustrated. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re on a downswing either. We all hit those and have to fight our way out!

The final lesson is to embrace the journey, not just the end result. I’m not ashamed of my beginnings. If you’re brave enough to venture deep into the early photos of my Instagram feed, there are some horrendous things lurking with far too many HDR filters and vibrancy that could blind you. If I submitted them to the Grid for a portfolio review, it’s likely that the studio would explode. I keep these images there as a reminder of where I’ve come from, and the potential of how far I can go.

With each new step you take in your creative journey, take pride in your failures. I fail often, more than I would like. Each time I fail, I try to learn something from it and apply it to my next image. Consistency in your work ethic is the key. There is no magic formula, just keep pushing forward! There will be a moment where you finally produce an image you love, look back on all those other images and realize the follies of your past were just the stepping stones to that moment.

Thank you for reading and being a part of my adventure. It has been an honor and a privilege being a guest blogger and will go down as a milestone in my photographic journey. I truly hope you find your own brand of magic in your photography and it brings you as much joy as I’ve found in mine.

Have a truly magical day,

You can view more of Doug’s work and connect with him on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

  1. Douglas – some wonderful shots – I really the like the fireworks composite which is exactly the feeling you get when you’re there – congrats

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