About Me

My Photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why I Photograph





Why do I keep coming back to New England photography. Why do I get up early, endure the bitter, finger numbing, winter cold, wade in fringed water and spend hours wandering rutted back roads? It's a valid question.


Rye Beach Ranbow
Ewing Arts Awards
Recently I was honored to be named one of the recipients of the first James and Ruth Ewing Arts Awards. The Awards are sponsored by the Keene Sentinel and Arts Alive and recognize local artists who, "through their work define excellence". Needless to say I am thrilled to be considered among the first recipients of this award. There is so much incredible creativity in the Monadnock region and it is wonderful that I was thought worthy to be among such company. But there was a problem, 

The Question.



Numb Fingers


THE Question

Michael Moore, Dedication
Photographers hate to be placed in the spotlight. We love to hide behind the camera, and so, over the last week, it was with considerable trepidation that I was subjected to an
interview and photo shoot for the special magazine that will be published to acknowledge the Ewing Award recipients. Additionally I endured a video interview to be shown at the Awards event on July 23rd.

Except for the fact that I was the reluctant subject, the photo shoot was surprisingly enjoyable. Sentinel photographer Michael Moore and I got to stand in the rushing water of Wilde Brook at Chesterfield Gorge. I was shooting him while he was shooting me, and, while we both struggled to avoid being washed down stream. The problem came with the interviews and especially the recurrent question, "Why do you photograph?". Terry Williams and Cecily Weisburgh were relaxed and professional inquisitors. They both gave me every opportunity to sound accomplished and intelligent, but I stumbled through various awkward explanations of why I do what I do. I'm terrified to see how it comes out in print and video.



Its not a question that I have spent much time considering or trying to put into words, but all my fumbling attempts at an explanation caused me to ask the question of myself. So here is an attempt to express some of my reasons for continuing to try to capture the New England experience in photographs. Hopefully it will come across more coherently than from my jittery interviews. I apologize for these personal and blatantly self-indulgent musings. This process of self-examination is obviously a very individual endeavor, but I believe it can be of value to photographers and others involved in artistic expression. Whether or not it is stated formally, an appreciation of what drives us can go far to establish a path that is both successful and fulfilling.

Why Do You Photograph?

I Do it Because I Must


Numbing Cold
Years ago, and without much forethought, I discovered that I needed a creative escape. Medicine is a challenging and rewarding profession, but it is also stressful, and at times both physically and mentally exhausting. Since early in my medical career I found myself searching for decompression through creative outlets. Photography offered such an outlet. My photography evolved over the years in response to specific needs and opportunities. At first I shot to supply the images for the hospital and Chesterfield Conservation Commission web sites and of course to record the growth of my family. As these imperatives melted away, I was finally able to focus my eye on the unique beauty of the New England landscape.



 
The Empty Chair

Professional photography is both a business and a path of artistic expression. In retirement I have been able to pursue both aspects and although sometimes the business demands can seem excessive, I enjoy working with clients and striving to respond to their needs. I also find special rewards from the opportunity to use my photography to benefit worthy local causes.  Most notably, the sale of my New England Reflections Calendar has supported Cheshire Medical Center's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, to which I have a long and personal connection.

But it all comes back to the photography. I can come up with a long list of reasons for my photography, but they all seem to be organized around two essential joys:
Being there and Sharing





Two Essential Joys


1) Being There

Chesterfield Rainbow
 Photography has provided a reason to explore New England, especially in my home base of the Monadnock Region and Southern Vermont, discovering the beauty and history of the region in all seasons. Photography is about being at the right place at the right time and that has provided me with a sometimes reluctant excuse to make the difficult trip to spots that I might otherwise have never seen. Ungodly hours and miserable weather are the life blood of great images and without photography to push me out of my snug house and warm bed, I would have missed the marvelously dramatic moods of natural New England. For me, everyday of photography is a fresh and exciting treasure hunt. I often start with a vague idea about where I want to go and what I expect to see, but I always come home with images that I never expected. New England has a funny way of dictating the agenda.
Being There,  Last Touch of Alpine Glow




Layers


Photography has drawn me out to discover the forests and pastures, the farms and animal of this remarkable area. Once on location the excitement comes from "Working the Scene", finding the best arrangement of light and the physical elements of the location. Trees, hills, barns, silos, clouds, streams and animals are all stirred by the direction and quality of the light to make a balanced and dramatic image and I get to be the cook. Each location provides a set of problems to be solved and it is marvelous when it all comes together.







And Then There is 'OUR' Mountain

First Circumnavigation, 2004
On the day that I decided to take my photography more seriously, my first act was to circumnavigate Mount Monadnock. It was a damp overcast early spring day and there was no foliage on the trees. While Susan was at home playing bridge with her friends, I escaped to the car and headed out on my first adventure. I had no goal other than to drive around the mountain. It was strictly a scouting expedition, but in those few hours of rambling I found countless locations that I knew would be rich sources of beauty in all of our varied seasons and for years to come. I also began to understand that I wanted to focus my attention at home. I didn't need to travel around the world to find remarkable beauty and drama. Instead of being one of millions to capture the Grand Canyon at dawn, I would strive to be one of the best at recording the more subtle, but no less special, beauty of our own corner of New England. 


Monadnock in Infrared


The People

Tom at Roads End Farm
Photography has also given me a pathway to meet the remarkably interesting and varied people who encircle the mountain. I try to approach people on my shoots and they have been nearly uniformly friendly, interested and helpful. As I have returned time and again to favorite locations the locals appreciate that I share their love for the land. Many have become good friends and often are patterns in my efforts to capture the beauty. The phone rings and I hear John's breathless voice, "Jeff you better get over here right away, the sunset is going to be amazing !". As I run out of the door, It is then that I realize the rewards of shooting locally.




Glenn Stonewall Farm


 



















2) Sharing the Experience
Prime Roast Show
The second joy comes when I am able to share my experiences in the natural world. As I said in a recent article, the most satisfying compliment that I can receive about my photography comes when someone says,"Your pictures make me feel that I am standing right there in the scene". For me that is the magic and the
Hubbard Falls
art of photography, the ability to transport. Dating back to my first time spent in the inky darkness of the wet darkroom, I have been challenged by the desire to bring images of nature as close as possible to the look and the feel of natural experience. Many photographers are annoyed by every minute they must spend at home editing their images. They say, "I want to be out shooting, not staring at a computer monitor." But I feel that editing is the natural and necessary extension of the careful work that I do in the field. To bring my vision to life, my images deserve my full effort and I enjoy working with the expanded visual canvas that programs like Lightroom and Photoshop provide. 



Monadnock, "Super" Moon Rising

So, why didn't I say something like that in the interviews? Come to think of it, I could have answered the question much more succinctly.

"Why do you photograph?"

"To see and to show"

Now go look at the work. 


Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Newfane Vermont Album





Quintessential New England


The Green in Autumn
What is the "authentic Vermont experience"?  Its hard to define, but we know it when we see it.  The Four Columns Inn in Newfane Vermont describes itself and its environs as "the closest, authentic Vermont experience to New York or Boston" and although that claim might be debated, there is no question that Newfane is iconicly New England and a great place for photographers to capture that "Vermont experience".
Newfane Inn in Better Times
This week I'm doing a article for the New England Photography Guild Blog, another in my "Favorite Places" series, this time on Newfane Vermont. The article will be published on the NEPG site tomorrow.  Newfane has all the classic attributes of a quintessential New England village. As I mentioned in my NEPG blog, I just love to find any excuse to use the word "quintessential", but, in the case
 of Newfane, the term is just as apt as it is pretentious. The town has a beautifully arranged village center with all the correct, gleaming white, buildings dutifully encircling the green with the imposing Windham County Courthouse in the center. Meanwhile, The surrounding country-side is filled with rural New England charm. Its many back roads wind through lovely forest and farm land, opening occasionally on grand vistas and cool ponds. 




Baker Brook


Check out my NEPG article for much more about the natural and historic attractions of Newfane. As in the past I have reserved this week's "Getting it Right in the Digital Camera Blog" for an album of some of the images that wouldn't fit in the NEPG article. 
I'll let the pictures tell more of the story.


 



Newfane Village Center
Newfane is the Windham County Seat, or "shire" and, in addition to the Courthouse Features the 1832 Union Hall, the First Congregational Church, the Four Columns Inn and restaurant, and the Old Newfane Inn. Sadly, the Newfane Inn is closed, but the Four Columns is undergoing the finishing touches of a major renovation and will be opening in July. Across Route 30 is the general store and the Windham County Historical Society and just south a quick snack can be had at the Newfane Cafe.



Congregational Church Spire
Four Columns Inn Gardens
 


























 
Courthouse from the Inn Porch


Newfane Autumn
Courthouse and Memorial























Heavenly Portal, Congregational Church
 

Newfane Cemetery
Sad Harvest
 






















In the Country-side
Away from the busy center, Newfane's back roads seem made for wandering, inviting the photographer to get joyously lost for hours
Old Village Marker
of rural New England discovery. I would especially recommend a trip along the Newfane Hill Road which features dramatic views to the south and is the site of the original Newfane Village, now remembered with granite markers. Newfane's other two villages, South Newfane and Williamsville, are much lower key than the "shire", but each has its own character. In Williamsville. the Covered Bridge is worth a stop. Just west of the bridge, a grassy path leads down to Rock Brook, with some nice view up to the span.



From Newfane Hill

Newfane Hill Cemetery
Rock Book Williamsville Bridge








 

















 
West River





 Newfane is located on Route 30 just a few miles Northwest of Brattleboro Vermont. It is well worth a visit as you explore the other wonders of Southwest Vermont and the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire.










Kenny Pond

Visit my New England Photography Guild Article for more details on the "authentic" history and natural attractions of beautiful Newfane.


Anticipation: Nellie at the, now closed, Country Store


Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tips for Sharp Focus

 


Finding Focus

Over the years I have published a number of articles about achieving sharp focus in digital photography. I have spent much time discussing the use of focus stacking, blending several variably focused images to obtain otherwise impossibly wide depth of field. It is a perfect example of how digital photography has opened creative options that are not possible with film. In special situations, focus stacking is a powerful tool, but most of the time sharp focus has more to do with careful adherence to good technique, which applies to both the film and digital processes. This week I would like to discuss just a few tips that may improve your photographic focus. Let's start with the digital cameras and those giant LCD screens




LCD Focus

Zoomed Live View Focusing

It may be surprising, but some people actually still gaze through a viewfinder to compose and focus their images, but with the proliferation of larger sharp LCD screens many cameras have dispensed with the optical viewfinders all together. The LCD provides an excellent real-time view of the scene and, when zoomed in, can be helpful in the fine adjustment of focus, especially in low light, but the viewfinder is better for routine focusing when a quicker response is necessary.

Although helpful in some special situations, manual LCD focusing is general awkward.  The screen works best to compose the image while relying on auto-focus to control; the focusing.


LCD Brightness
 One major challenge LCD focusing is the difficulty seeing the image clearly in bright light. It is a simple thing, but adjusting the LCD brightness to its maximum level can make a difference. Just remember to have a spare battery on hand, since the bright screen will more quickly drain power from the camera.




Through the Viewfinder

If your camera is still blessed with a good viewfinder, it offers some definite advantages for manual focusing.  It is less bothered by bright light, but I find that, on occasions, I still have to shield the eye cup from glare using my hand or hat visor.  Here a few other points to consider on your search for perfect focus.


 

Diopter Adjustment

If, as you gaze through the viewfinder, you never seem to get the scene to appear sharply in focus, the first step should be to adjust the diopter. Most cameras have a knob on the side of the viewfinder which adjusts the optics to match your vision. Start by focusing the best you can and then turn the knob until the view becomes clear. The adjustment will vary from person to person and with or without glasses. My diopter knob tends to easily get knocked out of focus, so I need to readjust every so often.




Using Focus Points



My vision isn't as sharp as in my youth and the act of manual focusing is additionally complicated by my variable focus glasses. The result is that I have come to depend more on my camera's auto-focus capabilities. The accuracy and adjustments of auto-focus are different on every camera, but in general, modern digital cameras do a remarkable job at nailing the focus. The key is to grab your manual and take the time to understand how your particular camera focuses and then practice until the adjustments become automatic. The key issues include: the locations of the focusing points, how to select the individual or groups of focus points and which points are most accurate. Not all focus points are of equal accuracy. On my Canon 5D Mark II the center point is a "crossed" type, which means that it is sensitive to both horizontal and vertical lines. The other focus points are sensitive to either horizontal of vertical lines and are about one half as sensitive as the central focus point. When possible, I use the center point, but at times the peripheral sensors work better to nail the focus when the subject is away from the middle of the field. I have previously discussed the use of the full field of focus points to allow Hand-Held Focus Stacking .  Auto-focus is steadily improving and new cameras may have more focus points and a greater number of more accurate sensors. Grab that manual and figure out how your auto-focus does its magic and then practice, practice.



Following Focus
Once you have mastered your camera's auto-focus peculiarities, the next step is to read on in the manual about the various focus modes. My camera has a "One Shot" mode used to hold focus on stationary subjects, as well as two action modes, "AI Focus" and "AI Servo" used to maintain focus on moving subjects. It is a profound mystery to me that, when in AI Servo mode, the camera is able to adjust focus as a subject changes its distance from the camera.  Even more remarkable, when in AI Focus, the camera can detect when a stationary subject starts moving and follow it from there. It doesn't always work perfectly, but the fact that it succeeds so often is a miracle. Many cameras have these capabilities and if yours is so blessed, do it the honor of learning how to use it. Just think of the tack sharp images you will get as that ravenous Lion hurtles toward you with ever shortening points of focus centered on his gleaming white teeth!


Finding infinity

Although the broad concept of infinity may be impossible for our feeble minds to fully grasp, when focusing a camera the location of infinity seems quite comprehensible and finite. By definition, infinity focus is the point of focus beyond which all more distant objects remain sharp regardless of how far away.


Mount Monadnock - Infinity Focus

It would seem that all you should need to do, to focus on infinity,
would be to rotate the lens barrel as far as it will go toward the little infinity squiggle. Older lens had a hard stop at the infinity point, but today, most lens can rotate beyond infinity. As Buzz Lightyear would say, "To infinity and Beyond!".  In auto focus the lens is designed to stop at infinity, but when manually focusing it is possible to go too far so that proper focus needs to be pulled back and confirmed visually. Lens manufacturers give various reasons for the removal of the hard stop at infinity, including compensation for changes in the glass related to variable temperature, reduction in wear on the auto-focus mechanism and, undoubtedly most important, reduction in the price of manufacture. They argue that the ease of manual focus is less important now that most people are using their very capable auto-focus systems. Regardless of the reasons, the simply rule is to be careful when manually focusing to infinity. Again read your manual and experiment with the settings. In good light it is easy to focus visually on a distant object and then check the lens to see precisely where infinity lies. Many lens', including my workhorse 24-105mm, have a little check mark at the infinity point.



Be aware, on many zoom lens (those described as "Varifocal"), the focus will vary as the focal length changes. Zooms that maintain focus while zooming are called "Parfocal".  My 24-105 is of the Varifocal variety, and so I can't zoom in to focus and then expect to be able to hold sharpness as I pull back.



Hyperfocal Distance

The hyperfocal distance is the closest point of focus beyond which everything will appear sharp. This distance varies depending on the focal length and aperture. The hyperfocal point is key to capturing those dramatic landscapes, with both foreground detail and distance vistas in sharp focus.  There are various precise and a few approximate approaches to determining this distance, but I well save this more involved discussion for another blog.





Focus Stacking

 
As I mentioned at the beginning, Focus stacking is a technique in which multiple, variably focused, images are blended to create a potentially limitless depth of field. I've discussed this approach in previous articles, but it should be noted that this is another area in which digital photography has expanded creative capabilities and broken bonds to the physical limitations of our expensive optics.

Focus Stacking I

Focus Stacking II 

Hand-Held Focus Stacking




Hopefully these few tips will be of help in achieving consistently sharp focus. The key is to use careful technique to control both the sharpness of your focal point and also the size of the full depth of field.

And finally if you feel that you have done everything right and your images are still uniformly fuzzy, make sure that you are holding the camera steady. Perfect focus can't compensate for even a little camera jiggle. Get a tripod! and more than that, actually use the damn thing!!



Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com