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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Snowy Morning Ride

On Wednesday of this week I awoke to a lovely coating of white.  About 4-5 inches of light fluffy snow had fallen overnight and the temperature was cold enough to keep most of it clinging to the trees.  There was still a light flurry and I was anxious to get out to explore while everything was fresh, but I had to take care of my usual routine duties. I filled the bird feeders, prepared a quick breakfast and of course managed a cup of my favorite Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee.  I have been hooked on Peaberry since our trip to the coffee plantations of Costa Rica. Finally, I had to clear the snow from the driveway.

My priority goals for the day were to go to the bank and hit the gym.  I also needed to help Michael take down the chairs and tables from my Lightroom Class at Monadnock Imaging in Keene, New Hampshire.  Unfortunately, the travel over Chesterfield Hill was paralyzed by the snow and I couldn’t get in until after noon.

Of course, when I finally headed out, I was hobbled by the “Winter Wonderland” beauty along the road. I worked my way into town first along back roads, around Stonewall Farm in Keene, NH. 
Snap Moments
Grimes Brook Snap

As I drifted along, I was reminded about one of my favorite phenomena of road-side photography, the “Snap” Moments. The views along wooded back roads are often clogged with dense road-side trees, making any sense of depth impossible, but occasionally, as I float along, scanning right and left, an opening will flash by revealing an interesting perspective.  For just a second, the scene can snap to a view of interesting foreground and a complimentary background.  I swear, when these magic scenes pop into view I hear a soft “Snap”, and then the magic is gone.  The snap moments are not just openings in the forests.  It also occurs when the foreground and background elements suddenly come into alignment with a flash of recognition. These magical moments can occur without warning, but they can also be anticipated from special situations.  As I approach fields I always watch carefully for even the smallest openings that might reveal a lonely tree, rocks or perhaps animals grazing in the pasture.  I look for roadside railings that could mark an interesting raven or perhaps a brook flowing under the road. 

Farm buildings can also provide a nice colorful break from the monotony of the passing trees. I find it relaxing to scan the forest for the "snaps", but I must occasionally remind myself to check to see if I am going off the road. Lonely back roads are the best for this kind of scanning, since, on busier lanes, it is all too common to suddenly find yourself with a line of impatient drivers following close behind.

Left, Right and Snap

On my exploration of the roads around Stonewall Farm, I did my share of scanning for snaps.  The snow was falling and there was a soft overcast light, I had to stop (safely) off the road and take time to slowly explore the lovely forest “dark and deep”.  But I had “promises to keep” and had to move on.
I enjoyed shooting around Stonewall Farm’s back buildings, especially where the red structures contrasted with the trees and the glistening white, and the detail of farm equipment carried a creamy frosting of white.  Buildings and streams offered their own snap opportunities.  The red barn, with the flanking Apple trees in foreground, snapped momentarily into alignment.

It was beginning to get dark, but before I ran off to the bank and the gym, I had to cruise by the Monadnock Market Place area to look once more for Hillary the Snowy Owl.  She was on one of her favorite poles next to the Days Inn.  I had to grab a few more shots including a cute glance over the top of the beam.  I have been hoping to get a few sharp shots of Hillary in flight, but the light was nearly gone, and my images were sadly blurred.

I finally made it to the bank and my desperately needed work-out.  I got home very late for supper, but it is days like this that are too perfect to be ignored.  If we did, what would this photography stuff be about?
Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hillary the Snowy Owl Visits Keene

Hillary, Keene NH, 2018

Rye Harbor 2014 
During the last couple of weeks Keene, New Hampshire has been honored by the presence of a majestic Snowy Owl.  These Artic creatures occasionally venture south, tending to arrive in occasional “eruptions”.  They are most frequently seen along the seacoast and my first encounter was during a particularly intense visitation back in the winter of 2014.  On that occasion I had to travel to Rye New Hampshire and Salisbury Beach, but was rewarded with several sightings.

Male Salisbury Beach, 2014

My first encounter was on a rooftop in Rye, but later I caught a couple of birds in more natural habit at the entrance to the beach.  These birds are amazing in any situation, but the holy grail is to catch them in trees or settled into the grass, and most notably when in flight.  In 2014 I was lucky to shoot the Snowys in all of these situations, although my one “in flight” picture was only a partial capture on take-off.  

Salisbury Beach, 2014

Salisbury Beach 2014
The Snowys were definitely worth the long, early morning schlep to the seacoast, but this winter I was thrilled to hear that a Snowy Owl had taken up residence right next door in Keene.  Given the fact that I am primarily a landscape photographer, I was initially able to assume a nonchalant attitude.  After all, I had photographed snowys in the past, and they probably hadn’t changed much in the last four years. But I kept seeing great pictures in social media and, since she was only fifteen minutes from my house, I had to check it out.  Most of the observations centered around the Monadnock Market Place and the industrial park on the opposite side of Route 9. Both developments are built on marshy lowlands on the west side of Keene, and was the focus of my search.

Red Tail Hawk
My first drive-by was unsuccessful, but since these locations were conveniently placed on my normal route home from Keene, it was easy to return.  I was successful on the second visit.  Snowy owls are famously easy to observe, first because they are calm birds and not easily disturbed and secondly because, unlike most owls, they tend to be out during the daylight hours.  All you need do is scan the light poles and telephone poles for small blobs of white.  My first sighting turned out to be a lovely, although quite common, Red Tailed Hawk, but I spotted my first white blob on a light pole in the Subaru parking lot.  When I returned later in the day , she had moved across the lot to the Hundai Dealership. 

Resting at the Days Inn Keene 2018
Two days later I caught the bird on a telephone pole across route 9 next to the Days Inn. The Snowys are wonderfully photogenic when seated imperiously surveying the fields.  She was easy to approach and I got some nice shots perched on human created poles, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to catch the bird in natural habit or in flight.  So I decided to have some photoshop fun and try to place the bird in a nicer setting - otherwise known as cheating horrible with Photoshop.

I searched my archives for winter photos which matched the lighting and which provided somewhere for the snowy to perch. 
Hillary 2018
I ended up with a shot from several years ago of a pasture fence in a snow storm and combined it with the snowy image at the top of this article. I wasn't trying to fool anyone, but the challenge was  to make the images blend together naturally.  I had to adjust the snowy’s color to match the warmer tones of the scene and then I blended in claws from another image to make the bird appear to be more naturally perched.  Finally, I made a highlight selection to capture some of the snowflakes and layered them over the “unsnowy” Snowy.  Ok it was all “fake news” but it was a fun activity, and not fake as long as I admit the deception.

Magical (And Make-believe) Snowy in the Storm

Over the last few days I have not seen our Snowy.  I fear that all the attention might have sent her to parts unknown, but I’ll keep looking, as I continue to search for that prefect airborne image.  Regardless, I felt  honored to spend more time with these remarkable creatures

*** My Mistake ***
As of  last evening 1/15, Hillary was still with us. 
Keep looking!

Someone Has to Name Her
Did I mention that, since no one else has done it, I have taken the liberty of naming Keene’s 2018 Snowy “Hillary”.  Let me assure my conservative friends, that Hillary is just a name.  The bird ia apolitical and  IS a female, and I refused to call her “Kelly Anne”.  I promise, if we get a male next year we can name him “Sh**hole”.

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What’s New in Lightroom CC Classic

There have been some big changes in the Lightroom world of photo management and editing.

The Big Split

Lightroom CC
Recently Adobe split the Lightroom Program in two.  There are many good discussions of the differences between these very different programs, but simply speaking, the new Lightroom CC is an entirely new cloud based program, with a simpler interface, but significantly pared down capabilities.  It is designed for more casual photographers, and those who work primarily through a mobile interface.

Lightroom CC Classic
For more serious photographers who store larger image archives locally on hard drives and who want to use the full features of the old Lightroom, the new program has no significant place.  That includes me.

Many of the Lightroom Classic devotees have been concerned that an ‘old” program might be neglected in favor of the shiny new cloud version.  Adobe’s commitment to the desktop version remains to be seen, but they would be crazy to abandon their power users.  The optimistic news is that the new Classic program does have a few significant improvements, and new features.

Range Masking of the sky

I can get the usual boring stuff out of the way first.  As is true with most Lightroom upgrades, Lightroom Classic includes compatibility with new cameras.  

Other major improvements include:

·      Broad Improvement in Performance

o  Faster response when launching applications, generating previews, switch between Library and Develop Modules, adjusting sliders and brushes, scrolling through images in Library and develop modules, Smart Preview generation and more.

·      More Powerful Auto Adjustments

o  Lightroom CC Classic uses Adobe’s Sensei technology’s advanced machine learning to automatically apply the best edits for many slider controls including: Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Saturation, and Vibrance.  As before, the Auto buttons may not provide the perfect solution, but they may be a better first step in making adjustments.

·      Faster Image Selection

Image previews open more quickly.  This is activated when images are uploaded with the Preview set as Embeded and Sidecar. 

·   Range Masking for fine selection control  

   This is my favorite new feature.  Range Masking provides additional control over the application of local adjustments including with Adjustment Brush, Radial Filter, or Graduated Filter.  After defining a rough mask, Range Masking can be used to refine the selection based on color and tone based criteria. 

Darkening the Greenery

I wanted to selectively darken the leaves behind the yellow lilies.  I could have done a rough selection of the leaves and then use the color Range mask to sample a few of the green leaves to refine the selection.  I found that a simpler approach was to select the entire image and then the color sampling worked as well to isolate the greenery.

Original Image
All of image selected

Range mask adjusted to darken greens

Village Sky

Original Image Spofford Village
Another frequent use is to use Range Masking to isolate the effects of Gradient and Radial mask.  Again, an initial rough mask can be refined by sampling the unique color or luminance under the mask.  Here I was able to achieve independent control of the sky above the complicated horizon at dust in Spofford village.  The was to add a touch of color without affecting the branched below.  This would be an impossibly complex mask to draw by hand.

Gradient Mask Applied to sky

Final Image
By applying a luminance Range Mask to the initial Gradient Masking, I was able to select the sky for adjustments in tone and hue.

Range masking improves the ability to apply local adjustments and, if your editing is limited to Lightroom, it is a great addition.  The selection and masking features in Photoshop remain much more powerful and precise.  One obvious limitation in Lightroom CC Classic’s Range Masking is that it can only work if there is a difference in color or luminance between the selected and unselected part of the image. I will continue do most of my global editing in Lightroom, Photoshop remains my choice for most local adjustments. 

With a few significant improvements in the first Classic Lightroom CC, we can hope that Adobe will continue upgrade the "Pro" version of this important program.  We will be watching!

AND if you want learn more, there are still a couple of seats available for Introduction to Lightroom "Classic" which starts this coming Tuesday.  

Jeffrey Newcomer, NEPG

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Seeing the Snow with Lightroom and Photoshop

So far this has been a great winter for photographing the snow. We have been hit by several storms, creating a nice clean cover of white, and the fridge temperatures have allowed the snow and ice to stick to the trees creating a classic “Winter Wonderland”.  

I love shooting in the snow.  The dark trees, stone walls and buildings stand in stark contrast to the brilliant white of the snow.  It creates scenes of near pure black and white, but the few remaining colors can stand apart in subtle relief.  It is all crisp and beautiful, but too often the snow can appear washed out without showing any detail.  Happily, there are several post-processing tools that can bring out enough highlight contrast to show the interesting detail in the white cover.  I discussed some of these techniques in the past, but with all the winter wonderland outside, it seems like a good time to review the wonders of snow photography.

First, Get it Right in the Camera
Left alone, your camera’s light meter will do what it has been taught to do, it will adjust the exposure to average everything, including your brilliant white snow, to a muddy middle gray.  Like when shooting on a bright sandy beach,  you will need to increase the exposure by a stop or two.  

The important thing is to avoid overdoing the adjustments and blowing out the highlights.  It is great to shoot to the right, but use your histogram to assure that detail is left in the highlights.  The picture in your camera’s LED screen may look overexposed but the right shifted image will give you the best control over contrast in the final edited image.  Trust the Histogram!!

Now that you have the perfect image from the camera you can start working to increase the contrast in the snow.  The goal is to see the detail that was visible in the field.


Unedited RAW Image in Lightroom

Let’s start with the dramatic image of the dog howling against the storm.  Actually,  he may have been howling against the photographer, but I prefer my story of the noble beast opposing the bitter elements.  The picture showed the dog in nice detail, but the snow was washed out.  No detail was apparent.

The goal is post-processing is to slightly reduce the brightness and
Highlight Adjustment in Lightroom

enhance the contrast in the snow, without excessive darkening of the mid-tones and shadows.  You never want to make the snow appear a muddy gray.  These days, my first approach is to use Lightroom’s highlight slider.  A combination of a decrease of the highlights, darkening of  the shadows and a subtle increase in the brightness can often be enough to make the snow texture more visible.  As with all of these tools, the important thing is to avoid is over-doing the adjustments.  The goal is to show the snow as you remember seeing it in the field.

I should mention that I work almost entirely in Lightroom CC Classic, but similar adjustments of the highlights can be made in the new, cloud-based, Lightroom CC.

Into Photoshop
After making my adjustments in Lightroom, I always bring my images into Photoshop for final tweaking.  This often means working further on the appearance of the snow.

Curve Adjustments
Curves Adjustment 
Detail in the snow may be enhance with a selective adjustment with the Curves tool – a reduction in the highlights while protecting the darker tones.  Here I used a mask to limit the effect to the foreground snow area.


Shadow/Highlight Tool in the Image Drop-down

The Shadow/Highlights tool is a remarkable instrument for selectively controlling the highlights and shadows in an image.  Its effects are applied over the entire image, but I always apply the tool on a separate image layer to allow better control of the effect through masking and adjustment in opacity.  The tool is found in the Image drop down menu under Adjustments.  Separate controls are available to brighten shadows and darken highlights, with the Tone sliders controlling the tonal range over which the adjustments are applied. 

Shadow/Highlights Tool

Limiting the Effect to the Snow with a Layer Mask

The Highlights adjustment does a great job bringing out the detail in snow, but again the key is to avoid overdoing the change.  In the howler image I pushed the adjustment slightly beyond the level that I thought was optimal and then made a final adjustment by pulling back on the opacity of the layer, and limiting the area of the change with a mask.  By masking the background, I was able to protect the soft appearance of the distant trees.

Pushing too far on the highlight adjustment can result in unnatural appearing edges, especially in areas of high contrast, but, by making preliminary highlight adjustments in Lightroom or with curves in Photoshop, the final Shadow/Highlight modification need not be as strong.

Howl Against the Storm, Dummerston Vermont

Any of these tools can be effective at bringing out the natural detail and interest in fresh snow.  Give them a try, after all, tis the season.

Now stay warm out there!!

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, December 25, 2017

Pictures of the Holidays

This week’s blog is being published on Christmas day, so I thought it would be a nice time to share some of my favorite holiday images.

What represents a “holiday image”:

The Lights

Certainly festive lighting is a popular subject.  My favorite has always been the scene around Central Square in Keene New Hampshire.  The gazebo, the majestic white church and the illuminated Christmas tree makes for classic images.  Over the years, the trees have varied in size and the snow has not always been cooperative, but it is always the first place that I look for my holiday lighting.

Of course, there are other locations for Christmas lighting and I am always on the lookout.  

Boston Common Lights

I have written several articles about shooting holiday lights:

Festive Decorations

Vermont Country Store
Holiday decorations are not always dependent on bright and flashing lights.  Wreaths and garlands add a more traditional feeling of celebration, harking back to a time when holiday lighting was a candle in the window, and everything else depended on color and style.

Hancock Inn

The Fells,  Newbury NH
Christmas Cactus

Interesting Weather

Home for Christmas 2017
Christmas in New England also means winter weather.  Everyone prays for a white Christmas, but it may also come with impassible icy roads, fallen trees and power failures.  Recently, a tree crashed into the wires pulling two poles to the ground knocking out power for 12 hours. It was interesting to see the crews working through the night to restore service.  

Great December Ice Storm Outage 2008

Christmas Walk, Spofford NH, 2017
This year we have already enjoyed several storms and are promised a white Christmas, but two years ago, Christmas morning meant a stroll around the village in short sleeves.

Christmas Day 2016
The Warmth of Home and Hearth

Regardless of the weather household decoration stay pretty much the same.  These can include the lights on the Christmas tree, but, like many people, we add our own traditional pieces, including home-made decorations on the tree.  We have an ornament pieced together from the “No Mall” pins that we wore years ago, and for real history, we have Abigail’s old retainer, that we plan to pass on for her trees for decades to come.  Of course, we have bright stockings to hang over the fireplace and everything from a Santa wine bottle holder and, for no obvious reason, a dancing chicken.

Harrisville, NH
Well, I think I have manufactured sufficient excuses to show some of my holiday pics.  Enjoy and have a peaceful and happy holiday season.

For more Holiday Images check out my

Jeffrey Newcomer