When the Destinations.com people began looking for a "character" who embodied the spirit of the area to feature on their Falls web page, they didn't have to look far.
They found their man about 15 minutes down Niagara Falls Boulevard in North Tonawanda, headquarters for the "Masterworks" photography studio of Kurt Ross.
Ross, 42, has made his living photographing the roaring Niagara for the past 15 years. Recently, he's become far and away the leading distributor of Falls postcards, publishing and selling in the "hundreds of thousands" each year.
The renowned nature photographer has also had his work honored on a United States postage stamp -- a stunning, full-color night image of the American and Horseshoe falls.
Ross is not the only photographer shooting the falls -- not by a long shot. It's just that his images are among the best available, a reflection on a man who truly enjoys and respects nature and can depict the wonder as only a native Western New Yorker can.
Ross said that he prides himself on doing his own photography, with an eye for "a little more unique quality" than is typically available.
"I take my shots from all the same vantage points, from behind all the same railings" as the millions of other photographers capturing images of the falls each year, he said.
"The quality of the imagery is what we attempt to sell," he said. And the attempt has paid off handsomely.
Since leaving the graphic arts/advertising world in the 1980s, Ross has quickly established himself as the top distributor of Niagara Falls artwork on either side of the border.
His postcards are offered in scores of hotels, motels and gift shops along both sides of the river. He also offers posters and small, matted keepsake prints through finer gift shops.
In the near future, he plans to move into screen savers, "generic" note cards and "tons of different stuff."
"It's been kind of a breakthrough year for me," Ross said during a recent interview. "We're heading off in a lot of different directions."
He was as surprised as anyone when he was contacted last month about the Destinations.com project.
"They look for some local character to explain their ties to the tourist industry," Ross said. Since "Niagara Falls is definitely my favorite attraction," and given his stature in the local publishing trade, Ross was a natural for the Falls web page.
"It mentions some of my favorite areas to shoot," including wilderness areas and national parks -- places like the Adirondacks, which Ross describes as "thousands of square miles of pristine wilderness, second to none if you enjoy nature of any form."
For a guy who started out simply trying to "offer something a little different than what other publishers offered," Ross has carved out quite a niche for himself.
The postage stamp honor was the icing on the proverbial cake.
"The Postal Service people contacted me a couple years ago," he explained, but the project was delayed because they wanted the release to coincide with a planned rate increase.
Ross's stamp -- a late-evening shot from the Observation Tower deck at Terrapin Point that depicts the Horseshoe Falls bathed in blue shadows while the American Falls stands out in the foreground in pink -- was finally issued in mid-May as a 48-cent stamp, first-class postage to Canada.
"It was a little bit bigger deal than I realized," Ross said, recalling a ceremony with local dignitaries and first-day-of-issue autograph signings that took place at the Niagara Reservation's Orin Lehman Visitors Center.
"It was quite a little boost for business," he said.
To check out the complete Masterworks line, visit Ross's website at www.kurtross.com.