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, May 22, 2016

A Photography Marathon

Clarence DeMar Marathon : A Project

I think my neighbors in the Monadnock Region have come to understand something about me.  I love photographic projects and am easily hooked (i.e. Suckered) when the cause is worthwhile. 

So let me tell you about the DeMar Marathon.

The Clarence DeMar Marathon is an autumn tradition in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire.  Clarence DeMar won his

Clarence DeMar Running Boston

first Boston Marathon at the age of 23 in 1911.  Just before the race his doctor told him that a heart murmur suggested cardiac problems and that if he insisted on running he should drop out at the first sign of problems.  He won the race, and his doctor died of a heart attack two years after issuing his apocalyptic warning.  Clarence was never inclined to drop out of anything and over the subsequent years he won a total of 7 Boston Marathons, a record which still stands.  His last victory was in 1930, when he was 40 years of age, and he became the race's oldest winner, another long standing record.  

DeMar had a long connection to Keene New Hampshire.  He taught Industrial History and Printing at Keene Normal School, which is now Keene State College, and he coached the schools track team.  He remained an avid runner throughout his life, completing his last Marathon at age 65 and finishing 14th in a 15K race at the age of 69, shortly before his death in 1958.  

DeMar was quoted as saying,
 “I sometimes feel that the whole world is divided into those who pay attention and accomplish things and those who distract attention and are infernal nuisances. The runners are paying attention and the rest of the world is mostly trying to distract them.”

Route 12a, Surry
The Demar Marathon has been held for the last 38 years and nobly continues the tradition of dedication and joy that was personified by its namesake.   Today, the Demar has grown to be a community event with a broad range of activities to engage runners of every age and ability.  In addition to the full, world class, 26.2 mile course, there is a half marathon, and a Senior Marathon.  To encourage an early appreciation of the importance of fitness, beginning in 2013,
Ashuelot River Surry
the event has also included a Kid's Marathon.  Children from Kindergarten to fifth grade log 25 miles of running and walking in the spring and summer before the race. Those who achieve this goal earn the chance to run the last 1.2 miles of the DeMar Marathon on race day.  The sight of Hundreds of children triumphantly crossing the finish line has become one of the favorite attractions of the day. 

Kids Marathon

Unmatched Beauty 

Ashuelot Gorge

The course is arguably the most beautiful in the Northeast and perhaps the country and this year I was asked by the Marathon organizers to capture images of the route.  As many of you know, I love to be given a project.  There is nothing like a challenge to get the creative juices flowing.  I love what the Keene Elm City Rotary and all of their supporters have done to make the DeMar a region defining event and I was thrilled to help.  I'm on the job.

My first goal was to define the route.  I have many shots from the general region, but I wanted to include only images that would reflect what the runners would actually see along their run.  There was plenty with which to work.  I downloaded a copy of the route map and turn-by-turn directions from the Marathon's official web site.  The map looked complicated especially as it threaded through the back roads of Keene, but the majority of the course runs along beautiful country roads with long straight stretches from its beginning in Gilsum and through Surry. It becomes a bit more complicated as the route weaves through Keene, but it is still a beautifully peaceful run.  I decided to take an afternoon to follow the entire route, by car of course.  

This year, the race will be run on September 25th and should be blessed with the rich colors of our early autumn foliage.  On my tour of the route last week, I enjoyed the emerging spring greens. The starting line is in the village of Gilsum next to the Historical Society building and just above the Gilsum General Store, which is a classic small New England country store.  I took the opportunity to say hello to the owner who has always generously sold my New England Reflections Calendars. 


A short distance from Gilsum Village the route takes a sharp right onto NH Route 10 South and then, just as quickly, another right across the dramatic Gilsum Stone Arch Bridge across the Ashuelot River to Surry Road.  The bridge was finished in 1863 and, at more than 36 Feet above the river, is the tallest dry-laid bridge in New Hampshire.  Dry laid bridges are constructed without and mortar and maintain their structure solely through the precise fitting of their stones.

Surry Road, Ashuelot River, Gilsum

Surry Road follows the Ashuelot River through rural country-side and as is often true of roads in New Hampshire it inexplicably changes into Gilsum Road. The road stays close to the river for much of this stretch with small brooks joining the Ashuelot at intervals along the way.  It is a beautiful route and a personal favorite for pastoral New England photography in all seasons.

Spring Foliage on the Ashuelot, Surry Road, Gilsum

Surry Dam Road, Surry
At the intersection with Route 12a the course takes a sharp left turn and then follows 12a into Surry.  Attractions along the way south to Keene include a stretch down and back along the top of the Surry Dam with dramatic long views, a run next to the beautiful Brentwood Golf Course and a glimpse of Keene’s Stone Arch Bridge as it across the Ashuelot.


Within Keene the route becomes substantially more convoluted as it weaves through quiet residential neighborhoods, parks and a lovely rolling cemetery.  It all comes to a classic ending as the runners sprint down Keene State College’s tree-lined Appian Way. 

The Appian Way

Along Brentwood Golf Course
I had a great first drive along the route and I will return to catch the growing beauty of the course as its foliage matures into summer greens.  You can check out the images as I collect them in my DeMar MarathonGallery on my web site. 

You are invited to come in September to run in one of the marathons or just enjoy all the beauty and excitement of this special event.  Both runners and spectators have raved about the beauty of the course, the organization of the event, and above all, the friendliness of the army of volunteers.

Thanks to the Marathon Web Site for Information and images:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Back Button Auto-Focus

Wilton Reservoir Falls

In recent years the speed and accuracy of the auto-focus in digital cameras has greatly improved.  I still use manual focus for precise adjustments especially on stationary subjects (love those trees !), but considering my dimming elderly vision, I depend more and more on auto-focus, especially when shooting on the fly. I have previously discussed techniques for getting the most from your camera's auto-focus capabilities, but every camera uses a different array of sensors and different controls.  The only way to develop a smooth and reliable technique is to read your manual and then practice, practice, practice. 

Half Press

 As different as various cameras can be,  they nearly all share the same default procedure for initiating auto-focus, the half press. Using whatever focus spot that has been selected, The shutter is pressed half way down to trigger focusing.  As long as the shutter button remains pressed the focus point will be maintained until the button is pushed all the way to trigger the exposure.  Once focus is locked, the scene can recomposed without changing the focus point.  It is an efficient approach and one I used for many years.  That is until I discovered "Back Button Auto-Focus".

Iguanas and Back-Button Focus

 On a trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2010,  I was discussing with a National Geographic Photographer, my frustration with the use of "half press" auto-focus.  I was annoyed with the requirement to re-focus every time I pressed the shutter.  That small delay was often long enough to miss the shot especially when I was trying to capture the remarkable wildlife in motion in this unique location.  He suggested that I try back button auto-focusing to separate the shutter release from the auto-focus.  If I got nothing else from Galapagos trip, and of course I got infinitely more, it would have been worth it to learn this great technique.  I will never go back to half-press.  The trick was to discover how to reset my camera.

The Quest

 Many modern cameras allow a change in the auto-focus button.  As is true for many,  my Canon 5D Mark II hides the adjustment deep in several layers of menus and the terminology can be confusing, but it is worth finding it.  This what your manual was written for.  I had to descend to Custom Function IV and then to "Shutter button / AF-On button" and then to #3 "AE lock / Metering + AF Start" to move my auto-focus to the AE Lock button on the back of the camera.  As I said each camera may have a different path to this control, but if you have problems interpreting your manual, you can go perform a Google to find a video showing the steps for almost every camera. 

Michael Moore, Chesterfield Gorge, Chesterfield, NH

Here are the steps required on just a few Canon Cameras:

  • EOS Rebel T3: C.Fn 7 (option 1 or 3)
  • EOS Rebel T3i: C.Fn 9 (option 1 or 3)
  • EOS 50D: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
  • EOS 60D: C.Fn IV-1 (option 1, 2, 3, or 4)
  • EOS 7D: C.Fn IV-1 (Custom Controls — Shutter, AF-ON, AEL buttons)
  • EOS 5D Mark II: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
  • EOS-1Ds Mark III: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
  • EOS-1D Mark IV: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)

Back Button Technique

 To use back Button focusing,  I hold the camera with my index finger on the shutter and my thumb over the AE Button (*) to independently control focus.  It took a little practice, but now I work the separate controls without any pause or confusion.  I can set the focus at any time and it remains fixed until I press again, no matter how often I reframe or how many times I hit the shutter.  And I don't have to wait to refocus for every shot. When using follow focus ("AI Servo on my Canon), I just press and hold the AE Lock button to continuously hold focus on my target. 

So why would you want to use back button focusing?  Half press works well in many situations, but there are a number of important advantages to making the switch.

  • Easier Timing
    Dancing Lady

    As I mentioned, with back button AF it is easier to catch the critical moment, not having to delay the shot while waiting for the half press auto-focus to jump into place.  Alternatively you could hold the shutter half pressed as you wait for the "moment", but this gets tiring very quickly and  focus must be re-acquired after each shot.

  • Easier to Lock the focus.
    Oscar at Johnny D's

    The classic example is when you are shooting multiple images of a subject in the foreground but want to recompose with the subject to the side, away from the central focus spot.  With the half-press, you must re-focus and re-compose between each shot, but with the back button technique you can fix the focus and then shoot as many shots as you want.

  • Easier to Manually Adjust Focus

    On cameras that allow full time manual focus, back button AF permits you to touch-up focus manually without the focus resetting as soon as the shutter is pressed.  On my camera I can manually adjust exposure in the Half-Press mode but only if I keep the shutter button pressed and as soon as I try to take a second shoot, the focus pops out of the manually set position.

  • Easier Macro Focus
    With Macro photography I find that it is often easier to use the back button to fix my focus close to the subject and then move subtly back and worth to bring the target into sharp focus.  With half press AF the camera fights this technique by trying to re-focusing on every shot.

  • Momentary Distractions
    When shooting action using follow focus, the focus will not be thrown off if something momentarily moves across the frame, with half press you must stop and refocus, but with back button you can momentarily remove your finger from the button while  keeping the focus at its last setting.
Abby to the Finish, Keene NH

These are just a few of my favorite advantages to back button AF.  I have yet to meet a photographer who, once trying it, has ever gone back to the half press technique as their primary mode of triggering auto-focus.  It may take some effort to find how to make the switch, and not all cameras have the option, but once you get used to the procedure you will surprised how it will enhance the power of your camera's auto-focus.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Group Photo-Shoot

My Introduction to Digital Photography Class is underway at Keene Community Education. This is my second try at this basic course and again I am pleased to be blessed with an enthusiastic and energetic group. I have been impressed with the number of people, even in our small community, who are struggling to grasp the challenges and great capability of digital photography. There level of interest is such that they seem willing to sit through my two hour classes of endlessly, mind numbing PowerPoint slides, but I am a strong believer that repeated practice is the only way to firmly embed the often abstract principals behind the faithful capture of the visual image. My essential rule is:

Practice, Practice, Practice
And Then
Throw Out Your First 10,000 Images

Five Minutes
Accordingly, in addition to my eight hours of lecture, I supplement the class with two group photo-shoots The shoots give me the opportunity to help the students work through the basic principals in practical situations. It is my experience that I can contribute more with five minutes looking over a student's shoulder than I can with an hour of lecture and the result of these sessions is a pile of images that I can ruthlessly (and constructively) critique in class.


Shooting What Nature Provides
Ashuelot River Falls
Scouted before the Shoot

Last Tuesday evening, nine of my 15 students were able to come out for my first group shoot at Ashuelot River Park in Keene New Hampshire. We escaped the rain, but the sky was mostly overcast. I welcomed the conditions, since it allowed me to point out the importance of using the weather to help dictate the best photographic opportunities. The clouds robbed us of the chance to shoot the glorious sunset color, but it did facilitate the capture of the soft, cotton candy appearance of the Ashuelot River Falls and made it possible to record the rich, saturated colors of the parks exploding spring foliage.

I started by gathering the class for a group photo and then answering a few of the many questions that my first formal class had created. After a quick review of equipment, which included admonitions to bring a tripod, I let everyone go to find their muse. We split up into two groups. One heading to the dramatic environs of the waterfall, which was rendered more dramatic by the recent rain, and the other following a more contemplative stroll along the path which follows the Ashuelot River up-stream.

A Little Help from a Friend

Steve Hooper Guidance
The most frustrating part of these shoots is that I can never help everyone at once. Happily I was able to share the support with
another excellent photographer and teacher. Again this year Steve Hooper generously offered to help coach my students. Steve is retired from many years as a photographer for the Keene Sentinel newspaper and continues to share his love of photography by teaching in at "Class", Keene State College's senior continuing education program. Steve and I enjoy sharing each others class shoots and on this occasion he shepherded the waterfall group while I ambled up the river.


 These shoots provide the opportunity to cover a broad range of topics, reinforcing information already discussed in class and also introducing material that will be covered in future sessions. In about 90 minutes, I reviewed shooting techniques for maximum stability, the pros and cons of jpg and RAW image formats, automatic and manual focus techniques, and the use of the histogram to establish optimal exposure. We cover aspects of strong composition, including the importance of including foreground elements and the avoidance of distractions around the edges of the frame.


Ashuelot Reflection

The time went quickly. On these shoots I always concentrate on the needs of the students and don't leave with many of my own images. What I did come away with was a better sense of my classes level of understanding, their needs and a file filled with their images, ready for my gentle critique during the next class session. As I review the pictures I am always looking for images that will help demonstrate important points about digital photography, but it is amazing how many times the students come up with remarkably fresh and interesting perspectives that I had never noticed. I love praising all these efforts, and love even more my plans to go back to the location to feed off of their inspiration.


I have two more classes to come, one on composition and the final 
session on photography in different kinds of light, and we will have one more group shoot after the composition class.

Over the years I have prepared many short talks on aspects of photography, but it is amazing how much more time it takes to organize a full course with eight hours of fresh material. But the work is amply rewarded by the opportunity to share my passion for photography with so many people who are just discovering the incredible possibilities of photography in the digital world.

Squirreling Away the Kids,  Ashuelot River Park       

I'm sorry I could only show a few of great images that came from our shoot, but I'm sure there will be much more to come.

Coming up later this year I plan to repeat my Introduction to Digital Photography Course along with my Adobe Lightroom for Digital Photographers class. In the fall I am planning an Autumn Foliage workshop and who knows what else in the new year - I'm hooked - The only challenge is to find time to actually get out to shoot.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Costa Rican Birding

Teel Biled Toucan

It is always a sad time every spring when I reluctantly take down

Montezuma Oropendola
the bird feeders. I know that the birds will find plenty to eat among the newly exposed grass, and I understand the importance of avoiding attracting the newly awakened and ravenous bears, but I will miss the flocks of energetic Chickadees, sparrows, Titmice Woodpeckers and more that entertained us on our deck. It is a good time to embrace memories of the green and warmth of our tour of Costa Rica in January. it was an active two weeks traveling from the topical rain forest along the Caribbean Coast, through the coffee plantations and cloud forest of the central mountains, to the warm sands of the Pacific Coast. It was an active and exciting trip including white water rafting and zip lining through the topical forest, but the major focus was on the remarkable diversity of wildlife and especially the birds.


Great Egret, Tortuguero
I always insist that I am NOT a bird photographer, but I keep placing myself in situations where the birding is unavoidable. Trips to Alaska and especially the Galapagos Islands have forced these feathery creature in front of my lens. When unavoidable, I do enjoy capturing these amazing creatures, but Costa Rica was an entirely new level of birding exposure. For a small country, Costa Rica has a remarkable concentration of wildlife diversity. Veronica, a fellow traveler on the tour and a devote and knowledgeable birder, recorded more than 70 new species during our two weeks in the rain and cloud forests, and along both Pacific and Caribbean coasts .



Blue-Grey Tanager, Serapiqui

During two long layovers on our way home, Veronica patiently reviewed all my 3000+ images from the trip, identifying the birds, while I entered the names into my Lightroom Metadata. She saved me hours of time wading through my Costa Rican wildlife guides.


Little Blue Heron

What follows is a gallery of just some of Central America's feathery fauna. Hopefully it will encourage some of you to tour Costa Rica's amazing environments, but I also assembled this article as a way of refreshing my own memory. I hate when I have to describe these majestic animals as: "pretty red bird", "pretty blue bird", ".... etc".


Tortuguero is along Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast and next to a large tropical Rainforest preserve.  On hikes and boat trips through the forest we had our first intense exposure to the diverse wildlife of the region, especially the birds.

Female Anhinga
Male Anhinga 

Juvenile Black Hawk

Chestnut Mandibled Toucan

Bare Throated Tiger Heron

Yellow Crown Night Heron

Green Kingfisher



Located on the Sarapiqui River the Sarpiqui Lodge was a great place for white water rafting and touring a Banana Plantation, but it was also rich with rainforest birds.

Red legged HoneyCreeper
Green Honeycreeper

Collared Aracari

 San Gerado

Sangerado Valley Mist

The Chirio Valley in the central  highlands of the Talamanca Mountain Range of Costa Rica is an isolated area of pristine cloud forest with its own ecosystem and unusual birds including the famous Resplendent Quetzal. 

Black Throated Trogon
Tail  on the Blue-Crowned Motmot

Distant Resplendent Quetzil

Thanks to Veronica I guess I am now an official Birder.

Costa Rica Gallery

Jeffrey Newcomer