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, October 19, 2014

Lessons from Autumn





Ancient Sugar Maple, Guilford, Vt.

The fall colors are still building in the Monadnock Region, but my October file directory is already filling with stuff that I can't
Spofford Lake Fog
wait to bring into the digital darkroom. Right now I am spending much of my post-processing time uploading, naming, labeling and assigning GPS locations, but as I go along, I can't resist diving into some of the most promising images. My favorite pictures all seem to have there own stories and I've realized that they also seem to illustrate various aspects of photography, many of which extend beyond the special challenges and opportunities of autumn. This week I thought it would be fun to show a few of my most recent images and use them to illustrate a collection of quite random thoughts about photography. Ok, It is really just a lame excuse to show some of my fall pictures. This time of year, the volume of new material makes it difficult to decide which few deserve to be splashed across the social networks.

So, I no particular order:


 

Color Doesn't Need to Overwhelm
Through Birches
With so much color around this time of year, it is easy to overwhelm the viewer with a cacophony of brilliant reds and golds, but this is a situation in which less is often much more. It is important to consider what you want the color to accomplish in your image. In the picture of the birches in Reading Vermont, the small colorful tree provides a nice focus of contrast against what would otherwise be rather oppressive columns of black and white. 


Dummerston, Vt






 
I have always liked the way the grassy road leads to the small house in Dummerston, Vermont, but the bright orange trees were just enough to, even more strongly, draw the eye.



 






 Small Compositions 

Harrisville, NH
I must confess that I generally hate pictures of broad hillsides dominated by a chaotic blend of fall colors. No matter how richly saturated, I get a bit dizzy as my eyes have no idea where to go. With fall foliage, the smaller you go, the easier it is to create an image that draws the eye to a strong focus. The guidelines of good composition apply
Climbers Pomfret, Vt
equally for small subjects as they do for grand landscapes. As I drive the autumn backroads, I am always scanning for these small tableaus, usually with a strong single color and contrasting elements. On my way to Harrisville last week I saw this simple combination of bright red and gold leaves splashing behind a white birch trunk. All I needed was a simple two image focus stack to get both elements in sharp focus.

 



 

Bad Weather is Your Friend
Spofford, NH
It may seem surprising, but we photographers generally hate strong light and it is especially true in the autumn where reflected sunlight can prevent the rich colors from shinning through. Cloudy skies, mist and even rain are great times to get out and capture the foliage. Sadly wind and rain also tends to knock the leaves to the ground, but while it lasts, foul weather is great weather to capture the full beauty of the season. A couple of days ago I took Nellie for a early morning walk to Spofford Lake. The fog was slowly rising, but I was still able to use the mist to provide a sense of depth and drama to the color. Nellie had no idea why I was running around trying to place the fog in as many interesting places as possible. 


 


A week ago I was cruising central Vermont for foliage. The weather began bright, but, as is often true, the clouds gathered as the day progressed. As I explore the road through Pomfret I found this old barn engulfed in foliage that was enriched by the soft light. Even in the overcast my polarizer helped to bring out more of the deep colors.











Focus on the Foreground
"Focus on the foreground", is an often heard axiom of landscape

photography. A strong foreground provides depth to an image and
Jenne Farm, Reading, Vt
gives the viewer a sense that they are in the scene, what I like to call "the feet on the ground effect". The spectacular hillside color of autumn can sometimes draw our attention away from the foreground, but it remains a key part of many strong compositions. The Jenne Farm in Reading, Vermont is thought to be the country's most photographed farm. You have undoubtedly seen the iconic images from the hill overlooking the farm, but I always try to find different angles. When I circled by a couple of weeks ago, I was early for the peak color, but I went to one of my favorite views, down the hill looking along the serpentine fencing that leads the eye to the classically red barn and farm house. Here I could focus more on the interesting overgrown fence in the foreground making the lack of full color less important. 




Sleepy Hollow Drop





Another over done classic is the Sleepy Hollow Farm along Cloudland Road in Pomfret, Vermont. On this day the imposing, video monitored, gate was inexplicably open and I was able to sneak to the side of the drive to focus on the colorful foreground leaves. This seemed to add warmth to this often cold and too perfect scene.

 









 

Soft Focus to Draw the Eye
Landscape photography is about clearly seeing the landscape, and I spend a great deal of my photographic efforts trying to get images that are sharp, front to back. The argument is that this best duplicates the way we see a scene with our own remarkable eyes,

Marlborough, NH
but that is demonstrably false. Just stare at your thumb held at arms length and you will notice that everything beyond that point falls off to soft focus. The remarkable thing about our visual system is that we rapidly and unconsciously shift our focus to keep whatever we are looking at clear and sharp. Cameras, at least most cameras, don't work that way. I often use a small aperture or focus staking to bring everything into unnaturally sharp  focus, but what our eyes do so remarkably is to allow us to pay attention to what we are looking at while letting other parts of the visual field fall off to non-distracting soft bokeh. This is an overly apologetic way of saying that everything doesn't have to be sharp. Selective focus is a wonderful way to draw attention to the subject of an image in a way that more  closely approximates how we actually see the world. I frequently visit a classic sugar shack hidden in the woods of Marlborough, New Hampshire . I've captured the shack from all angles, generally trying to keep everything sharply in focus, but a few days ago, I decided to let the mist and selective focus draw attention to the lovely ferns that engulf the stone wall, suppressing the eye's natural tendency to follow the line of stones to the shack. Autumn is dominated by strong, colorful themes and sometimes it is nice to let the eye rest a bit as it explores an image.



Travel Both Ways
A few days ago I was exploring the fall color around Harrisville and Nelson, New Hampshire. It happens less often these days, but I

Harrisville, NH
actually found a few roads that I had never traveled before. I was attracted by a "Dead End" sign and traveled until it began to look like I might soon have trouble turning around. It was a nice dirt road with some patches of bright foliage, but nothing especially notable or spectacular. Then I turned around. Heading back on the road, I came upon  what appeared on the way out to be an ordinary sheep pasture, but from the new direction I realized that Mt Monadnock was beautifully visible, looming over the field. It was a perspective that I noticed only because I had been  forced to turn around. It happens all the time.  The lesson is never to  think that you know a road until you have traveled it both ways. Sounds like this could be an important life lesson, but I'm not quite sure how to apply it too the world.



Never Trust a Cow
The challenge of cow photography is to try not to be seen. Whenever I find a classically bucolic scene with cows randomly grazing in a pasture, I know that I have to be quiet and stealthy. As
soon as they are aware of your presence cows typically stop doing cow-like stuff, turn toward the camera, often wandering over to say hello. They consistently follow this pattern EXCEPT when you want them to do it. A few days ago, I was shooting a cow grazing a field in Chesterfield. She was wandering along the fence and I wanted to frame her looking at the camera with the background of fall foliage along the road. No way. She stubbornly presented me with her business end and no amount of clicking, stomping or arm waving could induce her to say hello. I had to settle for an image of the lonely heifer gazing down the road for, who knows what. Cows are very undependable animals.

 





Keene, NH




 


So these are just a few thoughts from my recent autumn photography. Most are not restricted to the foliage season.  Every picture we take has its own story and lessons to teach.  By carefully considering why each image succeeds or fails you can steadily improve your ability to communicate and inspire.  

It looks like the coming week will be persistently stormy and that may blow away this year's color, but, while some color persists, get out there and have fun and learn something.  November is fast approaching.





 




Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall Foliage Photography, The One Essential


It has been a lovely Columbus Day fall foliage weekend. In this weeks blog, I have already whined about being stuck at home entertaining autumn peepers in my studio while the color outside has been peaking. I feel a bit guilty, not only about the whining, but also about posting before my usual Sunday time-frame. The Studio Tour has been a success. I saw a steady stream of visitors and actually sold some pieces. Most enjoyably, I got to spend two whole days showing and talking to folks about my work. As partial atonement for my whining, I'm doing a short bonus blog about the one essential piece of gear for fall foliage shooting, the polarizing filter.

For many of my readers, the importance of a polarizing filter will go without saying. In the past I have discussed the use of a polarizer to enhance leaf photography, but this week I was reminded of the fact that the most important lessons can always

After I escaped from the "Studio"
bare repeating. I have been helping my friend Steve Hooper with his continuing education course on nature photography at Keene State College. Steve is a great photographer with many years of experience shooting for our local newspaper. His class at Keene State was quite large and I agreed to lead half of the group on the class shoots around the campus. This Friday, I was surprised to discover how many of my group weren't aware of the uses of a polarizer especially as we discussed approaches to fall foliage photography. So here it goes again. To those of you who already know this stuff, turn off the computer and go out shooting, Now!

For the Rest of You
A polarizer is designed to cut through reflection and is the landscape photographer's most essential filter. Direct sunlight reflecting off most surfaces becomes polarized to a specific angle which can be filtered by rotating the polarizer to block that angle. The degree to which a polarizer can filter out the glare is related to the direction of the light, being most effective when it is at 90 degrees to the subject. On the other hand, when the light is coming from behind or in front of the camera, the effect is essentially nonexistent. The filter is great for darkening skies, seeing beyond reflection into the depths of lakes and streams, but for fall foliage, its most significant effect is to improve the color saturation of the leaves. It is often noted that the ability of a polarizer to block reflection is one of the few filter effects that can not be duplicated by digital editing and it is for that reason that it is considered THE essential filter and it is why my polarizer stays on the camera for most of the autumn. 




 Examples are Best
 I've included a few examples of polarization effect. The first is of brilliant red leaves by a cemetery in Harrisville, NH. The light reflected off the leaves mutes the colors, but the polarizer cuts through much of the reflection freeing the rich color to shine through. The same effect can be seen in the pictures of the First Universalist Church in West Chesterfield. Compare the color in the leaves and the reflections in the church spire. Both images were processed identically in Lightroom and Photoshop. A number of my students in the Keene State course use point and shoot cameras with no way to screw on a Polarizer, but I was able to show them that they could get a small filter, just a bit bigger than their lens, and hold it in front of the lens.  The LCD display can be used to judge the optimal effect. I tried this with my iPhone. The difference was not as impressive, but I suspect it would be more noticeable with a filter that is better sized to tiny iPhone lens.


 





A Few Points
So that's it. The best approach is to get a polarizing filter and start experimenting. There are just a few additional points about the use of this most essential filter.

  • First, there are two kinds of polarizers, linear and circular. Without descending into a swamp of unnecessary detail, you should know that linear filters can adversely effect your camera's auto-focus or metering. Only use circular filters.
  • Given the optimal orientation to the sun, polarizers can dramatically darken a blue sky and this is often the most obvious effect as seen through the viewfinder. Because the polarization effect varies with the angle of the sun, the darkening of the sky can vary dramatically across the sky,
    Sky Gradient, Sugar Hill, NH
    especially when wider angle views are used. It produces an interesting, but unnatural gradient of brightness. One solution is to avoid the use of a polarizer when wide angle views are captured. Another is to stack two images, one with polarization and the other without, and then blend the images to avoid the brightness gradient in the sky. I will often reduce the polarization in these situations, but there are post-processing techniques which can smooth out the brightness gradient. A polarizer should not be used when shooting multi-image panoramas, since the effect will vary from image to image, making smooth blending very difficult.
  • By its nature Polarizers require frequent rotation and it is possible to inadvertently unscrew the filter, occasionally leading to a disastrous drop to the ground. Trust me, I know from painful experience. To avoid accidents, I try to rotate the filter only in the clockwise direction, keeping the filter tightly attached.
  • Finally, it is important to remember that polarizers reduce exposure by 1 - 2 stops. In low light situation the filter's effect may not be worth the loss of light.

The Foliage Tour ended at 5pm. It was actually nice to have a forced break from my frantic foliage chasing, but when the clock struck, I catapulted myself out of the door to try to catch some fleeting golden light. Of course my polarizer was firmly attached.

Into the Light, This Evening with Polarizer

Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com



Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Fall Foliage Art Studio Tour




Window on Monadnock, Marlborough, NH
I am, once again, publishing a few days early in anticipation of the coming Columbus Day weekend, to publicize the Fall Foliage Studio Art Studio Tour. Columbus day has perennially been the focus for fall color in the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont. Over the years I have always set aside the days around this mid-October weekend to be out capturing the peak magic of this amazing season. The idea of being tied down at home for these days seems crazy, but this year I have reluctantly decided to do just that.



For some years a group of superb area artists have hosted a self-guided tour of their studios throughout the region. The group
has included artists working in sculpture, painting, jewelry, fiber glass pottery and wood turning. This year I was honored to be the only photographer to be selected. The tour includes the studios of 24 artists spread from New Ipswich in the southeast, to Stoddard in the north. Keene and Swanzey are well represented and I hold the western frontier in Spofford. The tour will run from 10am to 5pm on October 11th and 12th and in each location you will be able to meet the artists, learn about their processes and enjoy their work. Given the distribution of locations it will be a great chance to bask in the autumn beauty of our region while seeing some great art. More information is available in the brochures scattered everywhere and on the Tour Web Site.

I'm on the far  FAR Left


It was flattering to be considered among this excellent group of artists and craftsmen, but it presented me with a serious dilemma. I have always preached the importance of "Showing the Work" in every possible venue, but was this opportunity worth two days of what might be the best color of the season. Painters and sculptures can create the manifestations of their visions in a studio far away from their primary inspiration, but photographers must be there, on the spot, at the right time and with the right light. I struggled with lists of pros and cons.





My Blurb

The Cons
Sugar House Ferns, Marlborough, NH
 

 In addition to the loss of opportunity, I questioned whether the idea of a Studio Tour really works for a photographer. My creative "studio" starts out in nature where I work to capture the beauty of our region in good light, arranging the scene to provide a pleasing composition. I always try to get the images that will provide me the best opportunity to draw out the full beauty of the scene when I get home to my digital darkroom, but my "home studio" is a computer, two high definition monitors, a large format archival printer and piles of hard drives. Not exactly Monet's Giverny studio. Perhaps it would work if I wore a beret and an ink stained smock, but I'm skeptical. My plan is to show as much of my work as I can cram into the first floor of our house and be ready to demonstrate my editing and matting techniques if anyone is interested. Fortunately, after my big show at the Jaffrey Civic Center and after cleaning out
The Gallery
two offices this spring, I have lots of work to show. Using all available wall and table space, I have been able to display 30 framed images along with bins of matted work and a collection of fine art note cards. After years of hanging my work in every conceivable venue it is a challenge to try to coherently arrange my pictures throughout my own home.   Of course, we will offer some nice refreshments, but will anyone venture way out to Spofford? I have no idea.





Sunset Glimpse, Chesterfield, NH

The Pros
Autumn's Edge, Chesterfield, NH
Show the Work! I try never to miss a chance and this is the time of year when our roads are clogged with people coming to enjoy all the magnificent color that I will be missing. Hopefully some will drop by for a break from the traffic jams. Now that I'm retired the loss of two days of shooting is less of a tragedy, since I have many more days to get out and explore the color. I plan to go shooting a couple more times before the weekend to give myself some editing to do while I sit waiting for the crowds to arrive.  The images in this article are all from the last couple days.  Obviously, I will be featuring my autumn photographs. I'm making more fall note cards and I may even sell a few calendars.
My wife is excited by the event only because it has forced me to try to clean my office and pick up the downstairs rooms. Although I
Dining Room Gallery and The Captain
searched for every inch of wall space to hang pictures, there were limits  I refused to confiscate the kid's picture wall and Captain Sargent will stay on our mantel. The Captain has been with me since college - there is a story, but you will have to drop by to hear it.   It is all an experiment and if no one shows up it is still an honor to be listed with some of the most accomplished artists in our region and the tour will give me a couple of days to catch my breath from all the frantic leaf pixilating.




 




So I think I'm ready. I have to finish cleaning, rehang pictures, get refreshments and complete the signs that will mark my location. They wanted me to paint the signs, but, once again, I had to make it clear, I'm NOT a Painter!  I printed posters instead. So if you are out enjoying the color this weekend, please drop by, you will at least get a chance to meet our dog Nellie and that is certainly worth a stop.  








 



The "Studio" is at 373 Route 9a in Spofford.  Follow Route 9 West from Keene, NH, or East from Brattleboro, Vt.  Take the east entrance to Route 9a.  Our house is the second on the right past the Post Office, a greenish cape with a thick stone wall.  Look for the sign.  I haven't decided about the balloons yet.  Feel free to park in the orchard across the street, but if you bash one of my apple trees, expect to buy LOTs of art.




Gunnison Brook, Goshen, NH


Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Southern and Central Vermont Color Preview


Autumn Ranks, Reading, Vermont

Alaska Will have to Wait
Mill Brook Shack
Pomfret, Vt

This week I had every intention to add another article about our fantastic tour in Alaska. The next episode was to be about our time in Seward and our SUNNY cruise along the Kenai Fjords. That's right we actually had gloriously sunny weather for our day-long exploration, and the rocky shoreline, the glaciers and the remarkable wildlife could not have been more dramatic. I've got some wonderful photographs to share, but that blog will have to wait. I'm back in New England, and if there is one hard and fast rule of New England photography, it is that autumn color rules. My Alaska images will still be there to brighten the November gloom, but for now I must talk about the color.


 



I've been out for a couple of serious shoots in the last few days, each heading north to gauge the progression of the color. First, over
Coming Color
Jenne Farm, Reading Vt
last weekend, I cruised around the Newfane and Townsend areas of Vermont and then, on Monday, further North from Springfield, up Route 106 past Woodstock into Pomfret and Hartland.  Autumn color in New England is always spotty depending more on the altitude, orientation to the sun, and the dampness of the soil than to a specific date on the calendar. My general impression is that, as of Monday the color was fairly thin in Southern Vermont, but as I traveled North of Woodstock things improved significantly. Leaving Woodstock I climbed the justly famous Cloudland Dr and saw more consistent color as I gained altitude. My thoroughly fallible opinion is that things will be at, or approaching, peak in this area by this coming weekend, which is why I'm publishing early this week.


 


What follows are some of my images from the last few days. Obviously, I chose to shoot scenes with nicer color and this may give a false impression of the overall hillside drama, but it may be a reasonable reflection of how the color will have bloomed by this coming weekend.

Newfane and Townsend

Smith Brook, Newfane, Vt
Sunday was a bizarrely warm and sunny day for late September. I only had a few hours and limited my explorations to nearby towns
in Vermont. I cruised up Route 30 to Newfane where I was saddened to discover that the nice folks at the Newfane Country Store are permanently closing shop. I hate to see them go, but I appreciate how difficult and exhausting it is to run a country store in a small New England village. I wish them luck, but I was happy to have found a new venue in town for my New England Reflections Calendars. Check them out at the Newfane Market . Color here was scant, but I found some nice patches up nearby Cemetery Road. Heading north toward Townsend I got distracted exploring a road along the West River. The color was generally better along the damp banks and it was pleasant to explore an unfamiliar road in the warm September weather.


Sunny West River, Townsend, Vt



Route 106 to Woodstock and Beyond

Harvest Bales, Reading, Vt
Route 106 is one of my favorite paths through Central Vermont. On
Monday, I got out early and, as usual, I shot up US Route 91picking up the road in Springfield, Vermont. The Route north includes lovely green valleys nestled in the mountains and at this time of year the bales of drying hay provide interesting patterns. The weather was mostly overcast but I generally prefer softer light for fall colors. Even with a polarizer, the reflections from bright light dulls the rich colors.  This day was all about the color, but I had to stop when I spied a Zebra pacing in a pen above the road. It's Vermont, so why not a Zebra! Of course, traveling up 106, I had to
Jenne Farm, Reading, Vt
check out the famous Jenne Farm. Being a bit early in the season and on a Monday there was, remarkably, only one other photographer roaming the familiar hill. Unfortunately, every year the shrubs grow a bit higher in front of the red farm house, but I prefer the view from down the hill where the meandering fence provides a nice line to the buildings and the house is less obscured. I predict richer color and bus loads of photographers for this coming weekend. Be sure to buy some maple syrup, or slip a buck or two into the donation box on the hill.  The sugar shack at nearby the Spring Brook Farm was unimpressive, but the birch groves are always interesting and I came across some adorably friendly calves grazing on an upper pasture.


Spring Brook Farm, Reading, Vt



Who says Black & White
Doesn't Work in Autumn?
Reading, Vt


















Through Birches, Reading, Vt



Cloudland Road

Cloudland Beckons, Pomfret, Vt


"Perfect" Barn
Sleepy Hollow Farm, Pomfret, Vt
My Ride into Woodstock included a stop at the South Woodstock General Store. This is a classic New England store with a
wonderful collection of traditional necessities, including my two favorites, good coffee and a clean bathroom. Happily now the store is also stocked with a supply of my calendars, so stop by. Woodstock is a lovely town, but way too touristy for me, even on a Monday. As I often do, I shot through the village and north up Cloudland Road. This road is justly famous for its collection of lovely farms and highland pastures. Of course the road is most known for Sleep Hollow, a carefully coifed "farm" which although arranged perfectly for photographers, bares no obvious
Pasture Flame, Pomfret, Vt
resemblance to an actual New England farm. Sleepy Hollow was once owned by Aerosmith's guitarist Joe Perry, and I do feel sorry for the current owners. Imagine having hordes of strangers with long telephoto lens photographing your house on a daily basis. Feeling sympathy, I respectfully took my 30 or 40 pictures and then moved on. Happily Cloudland is home to a number far more authentic farming establishments and by the time the road joins Pomfret Road your can count on being thoroughly saturated with rural New England color.

 

Climbers
Cloudland Road, Pomfret, Vt




Enveloped, Pomfret, Vt



I worked my way a bit further north then across to Hartford Vermont and eventually back home on Route 91. The fall color was definitely filling in as I traveled north above Woodstock and, again, I think it will be lovely by this coming weekend. Back home I am seeing the reds and golds build almost hourly. It is a great time to live in New England and Alaska will just have to wait.






Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com