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 19, 2016

Upcoming Classes and Workshops




For years I had promised myself that I would start sharing what I have learned about photography by offering classes and workshops, both on the capturing of digital images in the field, and on getting the most from them through the miraculous capabilities of modern post-processing.  I have enjoyed sharing my experiences through my weekly "Getting it Right in the Digital Camera" blog, which now contains more than 300 articles on all aspects photography, most notably focusing on my corner of New England.  Over the years I have received  repeated questions about when I would start offering classes and, beginning last fall, I began my first nervous attempts. 


I started with a basic course on introductory digital photography with the assistance of the nice people at Keene Community Education.  The program included 8 hours of classroom time and two photo-shoot field trips.  We covered everything from selecting a digital camera, to image file types, archiving, exposure, composition and dealing with different varieties of light.  The field trips were a great opportunity to review practices in real-life situations and the resulting images were a wonderful source of material for gentle, loving! critique.  My first course seemed well received and the folks at KCEd asked me to offer it again this last spring.  In response to demand, I expanded the class from 10 to a maximum of 15.  I felt that higher numbers would not allow the needed personal attention.  I was blessed with another energetically committed group and I guess you could say that I'm hooked.  My next introductory course is scheduled for this fall, when I will hopefully be comfortable enough on my new hip to manage a 2 hour class.   


 



A Need to Edit
A persistent request from my students was to learn more about how I use photo editing software to bring out the best from my images.  I felt the best way to introduce  these approaches was through a course on the Lightroom.  I am a dedicated long term user of Photoshop, but over the last year I have become increasingly impressed with the power of Lightroom, in terms of both its image management tools and its sophisticated image editing capabilities.  I still bring almost all my images into Photoshop for final tweaking, especially when complicated masking is required, but I  now use Lightroom for 80-90% of my global editing.  Given it power and ease of use, for the majority of digital photography enthusiasts, Lightroom likely all they will need to get started.


Lightroom Class

Home-Grown Class

I ran my Lightroom course last winter for a small group of folks sitting around my dining room table.  I had intended to cap the class at eight, but because of a couple of dangling commitments I ended up with ten.  I ran the class as a live demonstration, with students encouraged to work along on their own laptops.  It was a new experience for me trying to keep organized without my PowerPoint slides. I had a great time and the class seemed to enjoy and benefit from the

Selective Masking, Lightyroom

sessions.  As is always true of teaching a course, I learned a ton.  I thought that that four,  two hour classes would be enough to cover the program's many features,  but because of my tendency to ramble and lots of great questions, I had to add a fifth class to cover the Slide Show, Book and Web Modules. I probably could have used more time, but I definitely learned that 2 hours of software complexity was about the limit for my mature students especially since I held the classes in the evening.







Lessons Learned
From my early experiences, three observations seem to stand out and will contribute to future classes.



Lupine Sunrise, Sugar Hill NH

1. Given the availability of digital cameras that are both sophisticated and affordable, there is a large demand for information that can make these complex machines more understandable and to learn how to use their remarkable capabilities.  Lesson: There is a large and excited demand.




2. It takes a surprising amount of time and effort to assemble eight or ten hours of course material, even on subjects that I think I know a lot about.  Lesson: Don't bite off too much at one time.



Photo shoot, Ashuelot Falls, Keene, NH

3. Much can be communicated in the classroom, but there is not


substitute for hands on experience with the camera controls and the interpretation of light and composition.  During my introductory course, the field trips were valuable, but even with only 10 or twelve students it was impossible for me be as available as I would have liked.  Lesson: Smaller group workshops, spending more time in the field, and supplemented by critique could be ideal, especially for more advanced shooters


4. When people get a taste of the capabilities of modern photo editing software they become excited to learning more about how these programs can bring their photography to the next level.  Lesson: Share the miraculous capabilities of post-processing.

Fueled by these observations I have been planning my upcoming teaching schedule, but first I have to get my titanium hip working properly.  I'm making good progress and should be reasonably mobile by the fall.

The Curriculum

Introduction to Digital Photography :
September 22 - October 13, Keene High School
On successive Thursday evenings from 6-8pm
Participants have seemed to like this class, therefore I will continue to try to tweak the content to meet the needs of those just embarking on the exciting adventure of digital photography.
Two photo shoots will be planned at the convenience of the participants.
Contact Keene Community Education for details and to get on the list soon. 
603-357-0088 

Autumn Foliage Workshop : 
Weekend of October 13th -15th
Evening class Friday covering basics and special requirements of foliage photography
Extended shoots on Saturday and Sunday with locations bases on the weather and the status of the color.
Evening of discussion and critique of work, over a simple dinner Saturday evening, with further feedback Sunday afternoon.
Contact me at jeffn49@myfairpoint.net, or 603-363-8338

Introduction to Lightroom
January 2017
Five (I've learned my lesson), two hour classes covering all the major features of this amazing tool.

To be held comfortably around my dinning room table.  Limit of 8 students.
Contact me at jeffn49@myfairpoint.net, or 603-363-8338



So that is the schedule so far.  In the future I would like to expand classes to include more advanced photographic techniques including panoramas, focus stacking and HDR, and workshops to explore topics including night photography and the great variety of our New England Seasons.  Some day I may even take a stab at introducing  Photoshop to a small group of unsuspecting victims.

Please get in touch if you have any questions about upcoming programs or suggestions for future topics.


Jeffrey Newcomer
603-363-8338


 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Keene Main Street – One & Done

Keene Central Square



All Are Welcome

In last week’s Blog I discussed the value of exploring a location from many different angles.  As I have become familiar with the  broad spectrum of photographic techniques my approach has evolved, often with multiple images to optimize focus and exposure, and, often,  at the expense of the time required to look for other opportunities.




 


























One an Done Experiment

May Sale

As an experiment I took a stroll down Keene’s classic Main Street and as a simple exercise, I forced myself to explore new angles, and to capture only one shot per composition.  No tripod, no multi-image focus stakes or multi-exposure HDR.   










 

I arranged the composition, adjusted focus point, f stop and shutter for optimal sharpness and then clicked. I allowed myself a second shot only if I guessed wrong on the exposure.  It was wonderfully liberating and great fun.  In just about 20 minutes I came home with just 71 shots on my memory card,  resulting in  17 unique images.  They are not all “hero” shots, but overall, I learned a lot From my quick photo walk.  














A Shorter Blog

I usually don’t feel that I must apologize for a short blog.  They appear to be a rare and welcomed relief from my standard volumes. For this week’s article, I would have normally rambled on about the value refreshing your photographic vision and the limitations of spending too much time on the technical aspects of just a few  image.  I covered much of this last week and this week I am more than just a little limited.  




 
























The Hip Has It

Canon Ball Square



Last Monday I underwent a total hip replacement at Concord Hospital.  I had been limited by pain and stiffness in my left hip for a few years.  I could deal with the pain, but the hip was keeping me from doing what I wanted to do, especially when it came to getting out to photograph in more difficult or remote locations.  The time had come.















Dr. Fox did an admirable job and I was home the day after the surgery, but I have a lot of difficult work to do.  I hope that by the autumn I will be more mobile.  This week has been tough and I have had little time or energy to blog.  I suspect that will be true for several weeks and I certainly will not have any new shoots to recount.









Gazebo Time

 
























Now Hiring : Naked Woman (#3)

 Here then without prolonged comment are the images from my Main Street photo shoot.  They are largely self-explanatory.  I am happy that I finally have an actual “naked woman”, sort of, partially, to allow me to boost my traffic by mentioning the phase “naked woman” , three times!








Main Street Stroll


















Enjoy Keene New Hampshire’s Main Street and excuse me if the next few blogs are excessively brief or late.  Hopefully I will be able to get out before the summer is gone.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Partridgebrookreflections.com
 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Is It Me, the Software, or My “Eye”

All the pictures here, of Portland Head Light,  are from my 2008 explorations of Cape Elizabeth  Maine

Three related questions for my personal reflection and, perhaps, your own.  



  1. Is my photography better than it was eight or ten years ago?
  2. If yes.Is it me, or the software that has improved?  
  3. And has my "Eye" changed over the years?



Among the Rocks, Portland Head

As I was reviewing my Atlantic coast images in anticipation of last weeks article on photographing coastal surf, I became distracted by a picture that I took of the rocks under the Portland Head Lighthouse back in 2008.  The shot was challenged by the presence of the brightly illuminated lighthouse above the contrastingly deep shadows on the rock strewn beach.  I had done the best I could, using my capability with the available tools, to bring the scene's wide dynamic range into balance, but I thought that using current editing software and my understanding of their use, I could do a better job.  And then I was pleasantly sucked down the rabbit hole.











 
I went to the Maine coast images from those days in May of 2008 and started looking for the rocky shore among the original unedited files.  Before I could find the image, I was diverted by all the interesting angles that I had captured of the iconic Portland Head Lighthouse.  












 


Looking at the pictures with "new" eyes, I was struck by the number of fresh and interesting perspectives.  I wondered why I hadn't worked on many of these images immediately after they were captured.  I am sure that I am now a better photographer when it comes to the technical aspects of capturing an image.  I believe that I'm more skilled at handling difficult light and composition and I can get more from my images during post-processing, but what about my "eye".
















There can be no question that the capabilities of today's image editing software is much greater than it was 7 or 8 years ago.  New versions of Lightroom and Photoshop make it possible to better tame the extremes of wide dynamic range, in either a single image or multi-image HDR.  Auto-alignment and Auto-blending tools allow the use of focus stacking to capture previously impossible depth of field, and color balance and vibrancy controls capture a rich gamut of color.  In many blog articles, I have extensively discussed how all these capabilities have changed the process and the content of what can be considered "Getting it Right in the Camera", but have all these layers of technical "craft" distracted from the simple wonder of being part of the scene.  Looking at my pictures from 2008, I question whether today I would miss the full range of possibilities within the location by virtue of spending too much time arduously crafting just one or two images.  Just review last week's article in which I contrived to capture 7 or 8 images to blend into a single picture with full DOF and the perfect wave.  On my shoot at Nubble light I captured a total of 775 images, but from all of those pixels I ended up so far with only 3 unique scenes.  I love the results but was it worth the potential loss of 5 or 6 other interesting perspectives of this classic location, and has my focus on the technical aspects of photography altered my natural eye for light and composition.




Window on Ram Island Ledge



The Eyes Have it

 
Despite the importance of technical ability in photography, I still believe that by far the most important quality that a good photographer can have is his or her "eye", the ability to balance the components of a scene to create a composition that draws the viewer through the picture to settle on the focal point of the image, and most importantly, on the emotion of the scene.  Exposure, focus, and color are all important, but without that balance of composition, the image will be a failure and, conversely,  given an unusually strong composition all the rest may be of minor importance.















 

So, has my eye changed?  Perhaps.  I believe that the combination of experience and technology has allowed me to capture individual images with greater precision and quality, but I may also be missing a bit of my old spontaneity and wonder.  I refuse to accept this as an inevitable consequence of growing older and my new plan is to try to be more open during my shoots.  I don't think it is possible or even fully desirable to shelve all of my hard won skills , but my goal will be to come home with fewer pictures of the same thing and more of a wide range of perspectives.  I'll start with simple exercise that might be of help to us all.












One and Done

It seems simple.  Go out on a shoot and consciously limit yourself to just one shot of each composition.  OK, maybe this will actually be unnecessarily difficult.  I will let you take a couple images to get the exposure right, but then, take the time to pick one optimal focus point and shutter - click and move on.  Come home with 30 different pictures instead of 10 images of just 3 scenes.  The results may lack technical precision, but I'm guessing that, like I discovered in my 2008 lighthouse images, you will find some refreshing perspectives.














A Main Street "One & Done"


I wrote much of this article while sitting outside the Bagelworks Cafe in Keene New Hampshire and, after finishing, I decided to try my "one and done" approach to a stroll along Keene's beautiful Main Street.  I tried to capture a large collection of images that reflected Keene's vibrant downtown.  Few grand heroic perspectives, but instead I tried to notice the detail that I would normally pass right by.  It was great fun and I look forward to  more of this once I can manage to place one foot 





The Hip Comes First
My plan is to show the images from my "One and Done" exercise in next week's blog, but sadly, tomorrow I go in for a hip replacement, and it is equally likely that my next article will be filled with 30 imaginative ways to capture the view from my bed and chair, and perhaps a few of Susan growling about my incessant whining.



Keene Art Walk
Next week I will be showing a few of my pictures in the windows of the Keene Housing office on Central Square, a small part of Keene's annual Art Walk. The Art Walk is a great community event with stores up and down Main Street hosting displays of the widely varied work of local artists.  It all makes for a lovely early summer stroll and a great chance to capture fresh perspective on your photography.


Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Capturing the Full Impact of Ocean Surf Photography


The Full Crash


Capturing the Crash : Surf Stacking



I don't get to the shore as often as I would like.  Those of us who live around Keene New Hampshire are proud of announcing that we are located in the “precise geographic center of New England”, but that does mean that I must make a long trek to get to the ocean.  I grew up on the north shore of Boston and spent my summers on the water in Gloucester Massachusetts.  I love living in the Monadnock region but my distance from the shore is my only major regret, so, whenever I get the chance, I bring my camera to capture the restless water.  From my sadly limited experience, I can't claim to be an expert on ocean surf photography, but, since I seldom can wait for the perfect conditions, I have learned something about making the best of the conditions with which I am presented.



 

Last weekend Susan I traveled to visit old friends who are now living in York Maine.  We were excited to spend time with Wally and Michele and even more excited to see their new granddaughter Maya and her doting parents, Emile and Keri.  Of course I also had my eye on the weather and tides to see what I might capture by sneaking away to the shore.  York's premiere coastal attraction is the classic Nubble Lighthouse perched dramatically on its tiny island off Cape Neddick.  I've shot the lighthouse many times but I am always looking for new light and angles.  On this trip I had to work a little harder.  



Nubble Light, A Better Dawn

I initially planned to get up early on Sunday for sunrise at the light, but, as I went to bed, my iPad showed me that the morning was predicted to heavily overcast.  No chance for a glorious sunrise and besides the tide would be nearly dead low at dawn.  There seemed nothing to be gained from dragging myself out of bed at 4AM.  I only half reluctantly turned off my alarm and settled in for a nice long rest. My next option was to get up for a leisurely breakfast with friends and then see how things looked at around noon when the tide would be high and perhaps there would be a few breaks in the clouds.




Of course even on an overcast day Nubble Light is a popular tourist attraction and the dense noontime crowd was assembled on our arrival.  Fortunately, the tourist thin substantially down on the slippery rocks and I was able to find a number of unobstructed angle to the lighthouse.   The decent was a bit scary considering my crumby left hip, which is scheduled for replacement next month, but I made it down without damage to either my joints or, more importantly, to my gear.



I hoped for energetic surf from the passing storm, but the waves were only moderate.  I scouted for locations with interesting foreground rocks and a good angle on the light, and then the trick was to get low on the rocks to minimize the apparent gap between the shore and the island.  I settled in and, as my butt became progressively cold and damp, I planned the shots I would need to capture the full drama of the crashing surf. 




The challenge of surf photography comes as we try to capture the sense of relentless motion within the limitations of a still image.  Here are the problems, and some of my attempts at solutions.




Surf in Motion

Newport Dawn, 1/250th f18
The portrayal of surf varies widely primarily based on the length of the shutter.  Short exposures freeze the drops in mid-flight highlighting the hectic, random nature of the splash, but I love long exposures that render the water in a soft blur that portrays a sense of motion.    




Portland Light Surf, 1/4 f22


 For these images the timing can be quit critical.  With longer exposures the detail in the water can be lost and with exposures of several seconds the churning ocean can be rendered as a misty flat pool.  It is all a matter of artistic taste, but, in most situations, I prefer shutters set to less than a second to preserve enough detail in the water to reflect the patterns in the flow.








Penobscot Mist , 2 Seconds f22 Flattens the Waves




Capturing the Right Wave

Wave Patterns
It is often said that waves travel in groups of 7 building to a maximum amplitude and then falling off.  Anyone who spends any time observing waves against the shore knows that their sizes do vary in a more or less regular pattern, but the rule of seven is not a reliable guide. There is no way to be sure when a big wave is coming, but after viewing a few cycles it is possible to make reasonable predictions and then shoot off bursts of images when conditions seem right.  Anticipation is key since, if you wait to see the perfect "crash", it will be gone before you can hit the shutter.  It mean capturing a lot of useless images, but there will often be some gold among the slag.  Thank goodness for digital

Pemaquid Light, One of 35, 1/6th f22

photography and large memory cards. Years ago I was shooting the surf off of Pemaquid Light in Maine from a precarious rock which projected into the bay. Before I was nearly washed away I managed to capture more than seventy images, as I tried to anticipate the perfect wave.  At home I was thrilled to find two images from the 70 that I felt were worthy "keepers".  One is thirty-five is not a bad ratio.



Getting Depth

I usually try to include interesting foreground rocks in my surf and lighthouse images and, even with the small apertures dictated by my long exposures, it is often impossible to capture the full depth of field in focus.  I routinely use focus stacking to get everything sharp but the foreground surf has a tendency to get in the way. 



Getting the Full Crash
On a number of the photographs of Nubble Light, I first shot a series of images focused on various planes, restricting my shots to times when the surf was quiet.  I combined these in a “Focus Stack” using Photoshop's Auto Align and Auto Blend tools and used this blend as my baseline full focus image.  I then settled back, focused on the foreground rocks, and shot multiple images of the crashing surf trying to capture the perfect wave and its aftermath.   In post I was able to choose among my best surf shots to blend with my baseline depth of field image.  

Cool huh?  Cheating?  Of course not it was what I saw - almost - there is still one more step to blend the entire experience into a single image.



Capturing the Whole Event : Surf Stacking

After the Storm , Kennebunkport Maine
When I watch a wave crashing against the rocks the full dramatic event usually takes a second or two from the initial explosion of surf through the secondary surge of froth blanketing the rocks.  It is much like fireworks whose initial explosion is followed by the flowering of colored streamers.  For both fireworks and crashing surf, my eye records the event as an unbroken continuum, but, given my desired shutter speed, a single still photograph of surf can only record a portion of the display. 




Three Part Splash

Returning to the crash, I blended parts of three shots taken to record the progression of the wave's “performance”.  







 

The first shot captured the splash at its peak but tended to wipe out the view of the rocks further in.  The second and third shots combined to show the surf working its way around the rocks revealing subtler patterns of dark and light.  Using the blend of the three shots, I was able to much more closely match, in a single digital image, what my miraculous "analog" eye perceived.  










Shooting the Slot

I finished by settling into a somewhat precarious position along the slippery edge of a slot that faced the lighthouse.  Again, a burst of images recording a single wave includes views of initial splash along with the rushing swirl that shot up the slot.  I just had to remember to lift my feet with each surge.  No single image recorded the full cascading event but a blend of three images was much truer to what was dramatically apparent to the eye.  I then added this surf blend to a background image which was captured to get the lighthouse in sharp focus.


The Slot




The Purist Lament

Ok, while you are busy being appalled with all my trickery and before you say that I was not recording the actual experience, I would argue that the least accurate representation of crashing surf would be a single image freezing only a short segment of the event.  Whether or not you agree there is one more point me can all acknowledge.



Don't Get Washed Out to Sea

Almost Stranded Off Hampton Beach NH
Having on a couple of occasions been nearly stranded on a rock as the tide came in, I feel qualified to make the point that it is important to check the tide tables and anticipate the surge. It is always safer to set up just AFTER high tide. Especially at higher Latitudes, the tidal rush can be surprisingly fast and "rogue" waves can occasionally strike without warning.    It is a reasonable precaution to allow a buffer between you and the water's edge.  Just remember that you may be able to swim but your precious camera gear cannot.




 

I hope that you will find better conditions on your next trip to the shore.  The best opportunities generally come at high tide after a big storm has kicked up massive breakers, but with a little planning you should be able to make the most out of whatever nature provides.  The waves are giving their all to the performance, the least you can do is work to bring it all home.






Jeffrey Newcomer