On Being A Postcard Photographer

Part 3 of A Conversation with
James Blank,
America’s Most Prolific
Postcard Photographer

By Andrew Hudson

( Part 1 here, Part 2 here)

What do you photograph with?

I used to shoot mainly medium-format. Distributors loved the big images. But now most companies only want. So I have a Nikon D200 (10.2 megapixels). I have 200,000 transparencies on file here, my house looks like a library, but very few clients look at film anymore so I’ll have to get them scanned.

Is there a “trick” to postcard photography?

Good weather. I choose the days to shoot very carefully. I only photograph when the air is clear and the skies are a bright blue, preferably with white, fluffy clouds.

How do you do that?

I wait! When I’m traveling, I spend more time sitting around in my motel room than shooting, waiting for the perfect day. Storms are best. Right afterwards the air is fresh and clear. Photographers may enjoy “moody” gray skies but postcard companies only buy bright and colorful shots.

Where do you shoot?

All over California, plus Utah, Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, anywhere that’s warm. In the winter, when the air is clear, I photograph San Diego. In the fall, I photograph Vermont and New Hampshire. I have postcards in all 50 states except one — Alaska, It’s too cold — plus parts of Canada.

Is any place harder to photograph?

New England is my favorite place, but It’s also one of the hardest. In the fall, the skies are often overcast and it rains a lot. I can be there a week before the there’s a day of sunny weather.

What’s your favorite place to photograph?

My favorite region is New England. In the fall the colors are terrific and the place is a joy to travel around. My favorite city is San Diego, as there are so many different views.

I notice you have a lot of aerial shots

I’ve been photographing aerials since 1983, when a client asked me to shoot the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Aerials are about a third of my postcard sales and one fifth of my sales to other media.

What do you use for aerials?

Helicopters are best, they can fly lower and hover in one spot, so I can bracket the shots and get different views. If I can’t get a “chopper” I’ll take a Cessna. They have a high wing so I can shoot beneath it.

Do you have any career highlights you’d like to share?

I arrived at one distributor and he gave me a check for $500. I said, “I haven’t shot anything yet.” He replied, “That’s not for photography, that’s just for showing up.” He was very appreciative. Every year, he let me stay at his beautiful house by a lake. He’d leave the house unlocked for me, fully stocked with wine and food, and I’d stay there for a week.

In 1987, I got a herniated disc and I couldn’t carry equipment, so I called my St. Louis client to cancel a trip. Instead he said, “Come out and I will do everything for you.” Sure enough, he picked me up at the airport, carried my bags, drove the car everywhere, set up the tripod, got me food. Another time, all my equipment got stolen so the next day he took me out and bought me a new camera, lenses, the lot.

My work appeared with that of David Muench in a book called “Beautiful Colorado.” (1979, no longer available). The publisher put my name first, as he did it alphabetically. To do a book with a photographer I had always considered the finest color landscape photographer in the country was a real honor and certainly one of the highlights of my career.

What advice would you have for people starting out as postcard photographers?

Be bold and call companies. Tell them what you’ve got and build yourself up, have confidence. Start small and branch out.

Thank you for your time and advice

Thank you for your interest in what I do, and good luck to your readers.

Learn more with:
Links to Postcard Companies
Photo Tips for Postcard Photographers

Copyright 2006 Andrew Hudson for Photo Tour Books, Inc. Written for PhotoSecrets. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email Andrew Hudson for permission.



Reply by Shally

December 7, 2015

Also, should I wait until Smithsonian sends me information if I made the finalist cut and then tell them I don’t have the original negative of my marina shot? Or should I tell them before they decide the winner? I didn’t know until after the deadline and realized if i had to do a high resolution Im not sure what mp that means exactly and Samy’s Camera in Santa Barbara insists it would ruin my image quality so now I’m confused on what to do.

Reply by Shally

December 7, 2015

Hi, my question is regarding creating high resloution from a 2mp or 4.5 mp low res scanned black/white negative image saved to my email. It was approved in the top 70 finalists of the Smithsonian Photo 2015 contest. If my image is picked in Feb I must make it a High resolution for display in the magazine. How can I do this? I’m also calling North Coast Photographic to ask otherwise they have to pick another winner for the top prize. The original negative is out of state in storage that was broken into last year. I don’t know if i have it until I can get back there with a car in Utah.

Thank you for any input.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 8, 2016

Hi Shally,

Congratulations in reaching the top 70 in the Smithsonian Photo 2015 contest, that’s a great achievement.

Wait until the Smithsonian requests something before investing time in this.

MP means megapixels. 1 MP is one million pixels (pixels are picture elements, as in dots). You can see the size of an image by dragging into a browser window. The top tab might state the pixel dimensions. On this website, my pictures are typically 640 pixels wide and 427 pixels high, which is 640 x 427=273,280=0.27 MP. Magazines are more detailed and require 300 dots (pixels) per inch (DPI). Thus, to print 10 inches wide, the image needs to be 300 x 10=3,000 pixels wide.

The Smithsonian contest defines “high resolution” as “3,000 pixels on the longest side”. For a typical 35mm aspect ratio of 3:2 that’s 2,000 pixels high. 3000 x 2000=6 MP. So your email scan is not a “high resolution” scan.

Note that the contest rules say “If a photograph taken on film does not have a slide or negative, it cannot be entered into the contest unless you have a high resolution digital scan.”

Do not make a larger-resolution file from your email scan. Samy’s Camera is correct that is would ruin the image quality. The magazine will want the original negative, so that would be a trip to Utah.

Thus, wait until the Smithsonian requests something before investing time in this.

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