Finding good photos for history books is challenging

A postcard of the moonlit Baltimore wharves in the early 1900s, courtesy of The Historical Society of Cecil County.

There’s something about finding good images for history books like GREAT STORMS OF THE CHESAPEAKE or DELMARVA LEGENDS AND LORE that requires a totally different thinking process from the actual writing and research for the writing. I find that writing these books draws a lot on storytelling—being able to take historical facts (or sometimes the whiff of historical fact … let’s call it myth) and sharing it in a way that is entertaining and informative.


Images are much more straightforward. There is no interpreting them for the reader, who is perfectly capable of seeing them and drawing his or her own conclusion—with a little help from the image caption. That’s why it’s important to have great images in these books because they must stand on their on. And finding the best images takes a lot of detective work.


It also takes enormous amounts of time digging through files of photos, old books, or trolling the internet. What’s available online remains limited, but it’s far more accessible and efficient. But hours and hours of late night research might turn up one or two useful images.


For the uninitiated, there can be a shock value in the cost of obtaining a good picture. Some archives and small museums are quite reasonable, but others are outrageously expensive. It’s hard to fathom at times. The Maryland Historical Society has such steep fees that most authors now steer clear of even bothering with them. Recently, after a great deal of research and preliminary expense in obtaining copies of the images, I had to pass on two nice images from the Associated Press because the rights to use the photos would have been more than $300. Mind you, that was for the publication rights alone because I already had good copies of the photos taken back in 1972.


It’s all a treasure hunt. I’m glad to say that I found some really nice images for the Delmarva Legends book and for the upcoming Great Storms, mainly thanks to the help of some wonderful local history buffs, artists and amateur photographers. I can’t thank them enough.


We are in the process now of getting the images ready for the Great Storms book. There are 68 images and I think readers will really enjoy them as they dip into the history of the Chesapeake Bay’s legendary hurricanes, blizzards, fogs and freezes.

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