About Me

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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, July 16, 2017

Using the Lightroom Reference Tool

Adobe regularly sends out updates to their Lightroom CC.  As the Creative Clouds “drift” by, these updates are often filled with new camera support and, hopefully, performance upgrades, but occasionally they slip in a new Tool to make things interesting.  These new gizmos are usually fun to play with, but it often takes a while to figure out what practical value they offer and how they might fit into my day-to-day workflow.  This was true for the new Reference Tool.

Enter the Reference Tool
Back a few months ago, the version 2015.8 (Catchy) included the addition of the Reference Tool in the Develop Module.  We are familiar with the Compare Tool in the Library Module, that allows a side-by-side comparison of two images. The Reference Tool appears in the same location in the Develop module as the Compare button, but exchanges the “X/Y” label for an “R/A” Label, standing for Reference and Active windows

The Reference tool allows you to compare two photos, with one a “Reference” image, which stays static, and the other a comparison image which can be edited (i.e. Active).  The usual goal is to match the Active image to the tone and color balance of the Reference.  

The Reference window can most quickly be opened by clicking on the R/A button or by using the short-cut “shift R”.  It is simple to set a reference image by dragging it onto the left window of the tool.  A single image or a series can then be moved to the right window and visually adjusted to the reference.

Easy, but when should you use the tool? 
Adobe suggests:

“This is helpful when making a group of images from a single event look similar or setting the white balance appropriately in mixed lighting conditions,”

Sunrise Challenge

Gradient Neutral Density and Flair

Nifty, but, until recently, I hadn’t found any situations in which this capability was helpful for my landscape photography.  Last week I was shooting a sunset from one of my favorite spots along Route 63 in Chesterfield New Hampshire.  The clouds were a bit too dense, and the sun peeking through them created excessively high contrast.  I tried using a graduated neutral density filter without much success and as usual adding an additional layer of glass just accentuate the flair coming from the brilliant solar disk..

  I tried a few shots, but then settled down to wait until after the sun dropped below the horizon.  In the meantime I studied the long shadow of my tripod and me, reaching back to the Chesterfield Firehouse.  Then the real show began.  As the sun set, the clouds lite up nicely.  Although the sky remained quit bright, the contrasts was easier to manage.  The problem then was to try to find a foreground with enough interest to balance the brilliant sunset glow.   From my location, the lovely pasture spread out toward the distant Vermont hills.  Classic, but rather bland, especially while mired in the shadows.  

Sunset Song

The sky was dramatic but I wanted to find something interesting to put in my foreground.  My first choice was a rather scraggly tree off to one side.  I was attracted by the flock of birds filing the branches, and ecstatically chirping at the fading gold.  It was a charming sunset sonata, but then I noticed cows grazing my way.   I had to scramble to get down to the herd’s level, but then I had my “foreground element”.   I was ready to go.   Again I tried to reduce the contrast with my Neutral density filter, but I got my best results by combining the graduated ND with a five exposure High Dynamic Range image.

Active Grazing

After processing, the sky came out beautifully and the foreground was reasonably exposed.  The problem was that the cows appeared blurred as they methodically grazed there way through the multiple exposures.

HDR Image

My Foreground Image, Exposed to the Right
Looking through the individual images, I found that all had some blurring, but some were less noticeable than in the HD image.  I decided to blend the foreground from one of the single images with the HDR sky.

To get better tonal quality and less noise, I selected my foreground picture from one of the brighter images.  Remember exposing to the right?  To make the blending easier, I wanted to darken the foreground image to closely approximate the tone and color balance of the HDR sky.  This is where the Reference Tool entered my workflow.

Reference Tool

Matched Images
I dragged my HDR image onto the reference window of the tool and then added the foreground to the comparison.  It was then a relatively easy matter to adjust the tone and color of my foreground image.  It wasn’t perfect, but after exporting it to Photoshop, the modified foreground image was close enough to easily to blend with HDR sky.  The final image showed the placid cows munching contentedly, totally oblivious to the spectacular fireworks hovering above their heads.  

Matching the Reference HDR Image, Step by Step

Final Composite Image
I could have roughly matched my two images without a dedicated side-by-side comparison, but the Reference Tool made this chore much easier and more precise.  I had to apply only a few minor adjustments to the masked foreground to reach a perfect the blend. The ability of the Reference Tool to match image layers for compositing is a great use for this new Lightroom feature, and allows me to comfortable position this new “gizmo” within my landscape workflow.

Check out more articles on Lightroom and Photoshop on my Blog at:
Photographic Editing (Photoshop & Lightroom) 

And watch here for information about my next Lightroom course, coming this winter. 
YES, winter is coming!

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Lightroom Catalog (Basic Concepts)

My Lightroom Catalog
Actually, Melk Abbey Library, Austria

I’ve just finished my Introduction to Adobe Lightroom Class.    This was the fourth time I have offered the course and I have found two important themes that have been consistent throughout each of the sessions.  

First I am amazed how much I learn each time I prepare the material for the classes. My students always seem to come up with questions that challenge my own understanding of this remarkably capable program, and I am invariably stimulated to come up with refinements of my explanations. Perhaps, at some point, I will get it all right, but then it will be time to move on to something else.

The other persistant issue that seems to come out of every class is the confusion over the functions of the Lightroom Catalog.  This is so essential for the understanding of how Lightroom works that I spend much of my first two hour class discussing the topic, and yet the misunderstandings always seem to linger.  Mostly, it must be my fault, but I think sometimes the students are so excited to get to the “sexy” parts, especially the powerful editing functions, that they blow right past the boring nuts and bolts of how the program actually works.  At the end of this last class I asked everyone to suggest topics that could have benefited from greater emphasis and it all seemed to come down to the care and feeding of the Lightroom Catalog.  It was only after they had manipulated some images, tried to understand where those changes were to be found, and how to translate them to actual flesh and blood image files, that they appreciated the importance of that obscure catalog.

I’ll try to spend more time on the catalog in my next class, but here is another run at a few questions that might help to clarify what the Lightroom catalog is, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not.

Where do Image Files Go When they are Imported to Lightroom

The first problem is the word “Import”.  Import suggests that the image files are physically added to Lightroom and this is never true.  When images are imported, it is only information about the files that is stored in the Lightroom Catalog. Rather than “Import”, a better term might be “Referenced” since the original image file is not moved or altered.  Lightroom’s import process only involves “telling” the program essential pieces of information about the files, such as that the files exist, where they are located, and how they have been edited in the program.  This is easier to understand when Lightroom is importing information about images that are already on the computer, but confusion can occur when the files are being uploaded to the computer from memory cards.  Lightroom provides a convenient mechanism to import file information into the Lightroom Catalog, at the same time that image files are being uploaded to the computer, but it is important to understand the difference between uploading the physical image file and importing the file information to the Catalog.  Careful study of this overly busy flow diagram may be helpful in separating the two processes.

The Database Advantage

Unlike Adobe Bridge, Lightroom is not a file based management system.  Lightroom is a database, that keeps track of information about each image file.  For each image, the program registers only four pieces of information:

  1. A set of previews used to display and manipulate the image 
  2. A list of all the editing that's has been applied from within Lightroom
  3. The Metadata recorded within the file 
  4. The physical location of the file in the computer
Contents of Lightroom Catalog Directory

  • Catalog Data: [catalog name].lrcat
  • Image Previews: [catalog name] Previews.lrdata
  • Smart Previews (Lightroom 5 and later): [catalog name] Smart Previews.lrdata

Because Lightroom is a database, which manipulates relatively short text files, it can perform tasks, such as searching and sorting, much more quickly than file based programs, such as  Adobe Bridge.  This becomes more important when dealing with a large or scattered library.   When my own image library exceeded 400,000 pictures, Bridge became impractically cumbersome, and to take advantage of the efficiency of the database model, I finally made the jump to Lightroom. 

I can't resist pointing out that, although Melk Abbey's ancient library contains about 100,000 manuscripts, incunabula  (printed works before 1500), and books, my catalog has over 400k files, of course of slightly less antiquity.

Keep it in Lightroom : A Disadvantage

As an image management program, Lightroom is amazing, but it does have disadvantages.  Because Lightroom manipulates information about the images and not the image files themselves,  it requires more care with the movement of files.  It is important to establish the habit of only moving files from within Lightroom.  In one sense, Lightroom doesn’t “know” where an image file is, it only knows where we have  told it that it is located.  Files that are moved outside of Lightroom will be lost to the program, generating the dreaded "!" flag on the files, and "?" marking their directories. These orphans can be found and re-registered, but, a lot of pain can be avoided by following the “Keep it all in Lightroom” mantra.

Found It : Catabane Falls, Now gone

Where is the Lightroom Catalog?

The Lightroom Catalog is stored in a directory that can be located anywhere in the computer, but, by default, is found at:

Windows: \Users\[user name]\Pictures\Lightroom
Mac OS: /Users/[user name]/Pictures/Lightroom

If it is in a different location, it can be found in the Catalog Settings of the Lightroom Preferences.

    You can have as many catalogs as you wish.  Some photographers keep separate catalogs for work and personal images, but without a compelling reason to compartmentalize your work, a single catalog may be a simpler option.

    What Happens when I Edit Images in Lightroom

    Image Edited in Lightroom
    The essential thing to understand is that all editing in Lightroom is nondestructive.  Repeat after me, “Nondestructive”.   Changes that are made during editing are applied to the preview image in Lightroom, but not to the actual physical images.  

    Actual image is not altered on the drive while
    Lightroom Adjustments STAY in Lightroom
    These changes can be thought of a series of instructions that are saved with the image information in the Lightroom Catalog.  They affect the appearance of the preview image but are not applied to the pixels of an actual image until the
    file leaves Lightroom.  Stepping out of Lightroom occurs when editing switches to an external editor, such as Photoshop, or when the image is“Exported” to a physical file format, such as jpg, tif or psd.  This also occurs when images are shared such as in books, web pages or on social media.
    Export Dialog, Leaving Lightroom

    The key point is that all the editing changes you make are simply a set of instructions that don’t get applied until the image ventures from the warm safety of Lightroom into the dark, pixel based, world, and even then the original Raw file stays intact.  That is why there is no “Save” command in Lightroom.

    Wall's End, Guilford Vermont, 
    Final image with Lightroom Adjustments Exported the file

    The Nondestructive Life

    I hope this discussions has helped clarify some of the confusion about Lightroom Catalogs.  The more I try to simplify, the more complex it seems to get.  I have not covered many related topics such as how to move, combine, rename, back-up or delete catalogs.  This could be a topic for a future blog, but all of these details are clarified in numerous articles on the web.  

    Summing Up

    The essential thing to understand is that Lightroom is a database program used to keep track of images on your computer.  

    When you edit photos, rate them, add keywords to them, or make other changes, as long as you are in Lightroom, the  changes are stored in the catalog, but the photo files themselves are never touched. 

    Don’t you wish life was like this.  Try anything you want, take any risk, make disastrous mistakes, and it is ALL “nondestructive”.  When you finally like the results just press “Export”.

    Sunday, July 2, 2017

    How Do You Want to Be Seen?

    Part 2

    Last week I offered some thoughts about how the casual (read smartphone) photographer can take some simple steps to improve how their pictures are seen on social media.  Today’s smartphones have remarkably sophisticated cameras crammed into their tiny cases and, with just a little attention to their strengths and limitations, you can get surprisingly good results.  

    This week I move to the other end of the spectrum and discuss my overly compulsive work-flow, using every possible approach to get the most out of my images. 

    Caring about your Image

    Social Media has increasingly become an important venue for professional photographers to show their work .  Many more people see my images online than in all my exhibitions, or in print.  Given the dizzying number of online venues, I could easily spend all my time just trying to keep up with posting images and responding to comments, but I try to reserve a little time to actually get out to take pictures.

    My approach to social media follows two simple rules.

    1) Limit the Number of Venues
    I know that there are many choices out there, but I limit my postings primarily to Facebook and Twitter.  I publish images on several  Facebook accounts, most notably my own, and the New England Photographer’s Guild pages. I limit postings to a few of my recent images and some to promote the topic of my latest weekly blog.  I have accounts on 500px, Google + and Instagram, but I rarely visit. I know that Instagram is popular but I have never found that its format works to show my work at its best. 

    2) Only Show the Best Work

    I try to post pictures to social media on a regular basis, usually daily, but I only publish images that I have edited to my satisfaction.  This doesn’t mean that I only show my occasional “Hero” shots, but frequently pick images that illustrate a point from a blog or that tell the story of a recent shoot.  Most images may not “fine art”, but I try to select and edit them to communicate to their best potential. Even when the picture comes from my iPhone, I don’t merely snap and dump.  Whether they are edited in one of the excellent photo apps, or in Lightroom and Photoshop, the goal is always to show that I take my photography seriously and devote the time and care that each image deserves.


    Lightroom Editing
    In my typical workflow, I upload the RAW images into Lightroom, converting them to DNG, and backing them up to a separate drive.  After selecting and flagging my favorites, I run the best through the Lightroom development workflow.  When finished, I almost always move the images to Photoshop for final tweaking.  Check my recent article about when I Jump from Lightroom to Photoshop. 

    Photoshop Tweeks
    After my Photoshop adjustments are complete, I then save a “Reference” image.  This is an un-cropped, full size and resolution image with all the adjustment layers preserved, and saved as a PSD or Tiff file.  I typically don’t add any sharpening beyond my preliminary tuning in Lightroom.  This is the base image that I can use as the starting point for final adjustments to meet specific output requirements of color balance, crop, size and resolution, but the reference image always stays untouched.  After I have saved my reference image I then crop and sharpen it to create a picture that I can use in my website as a final
    "Cloud" Upload to Zenfolio
    full-size selection.  When done I save the image as a full size and full resolution JPG.  I find that the highest resolution JPGs work well for standard printing and it is the format requested by most professional labs.  I also use these large JPGs as my “cloud” images.  I can upload an unlimited number of JPG to a directory on my Zenfolio web site.  I use this cloud storage only for my finished images.  I am a firm believer in the value of RAW images, but once I have finished all my editing a JPG version works well for archiving. 

    Web Image

    Finally I resize the large JPGs to a web friendly size, with a long
    Private Image Gallery
    dimension of 950pixels.  I reduce the quality to yield an image that is about 400pixels.  I create this “web version” of all my finished picture, but only post a few.  I keep the rest in my own private web gallery, that allows me to quickly scan for needed images. These pictures still look good on the web and, as long as they include my watermark, I don’t mind people copying them to show on their sites. Obviously, I don’t expect them to be sold or used commercially.  People still steal my work. but the quality deteriorates quickly, if pirates try to blow up these images.  I’ve seen some terribly meat-handed attempts to obscure my watermark, but I don’t spend too much time chasing these creeps.  I mostly try to accept the compliment and reassure myself that these thieves would have never actually payed me for my work.

    So now I have two backed-up raw copies, a layered reference copy, a full size JPG on my computer and in the cloud, and a web-sized image saved to my private web gallery.  Oh and I release a few of my favorites to the world, on my web site and social media.  

    The whole process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on how much detailed masking and cloning is required.  You must develop your own workflow, but it all comes back to getting the best from every image.  These little piles of pixels deserve nothing less and, in the end, they are how the world will judge your work.

    Time to move on to the next picture. 

    Jeffrey Newcomer

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    How Do You Want to be Seen

    Except where noted, all images are from my iPhone 7 and are unedited

    How concerned should you be about the quality of the images that you make visible to family, friends and the world. It all depends on what you are looking for from the giant landscape of social media.

    Last weekend I had a lovely time sitting out on my neighbor’s lawn while Spencer, their two year old grandson, frolicked in
    Spencer and Grandpa : Canon 5D Mark IV
    the grass and jump from lap to lap.  He had recently developed a fear of any person who was carrying a camera, but I was able to break through by showing him each picture on the LCD screen.  He was fascinated, and loved to touch, with his greasy fingers, each of the faces.  Especially his own.  I got some nice shots, and Spencer’s proud grandpa wanted me to send them to him right away.  He insisted that he didn’t care if I had edited the best images.  He just wanted them RIGHT AWAY!   He was a bit impatient when I explained that I never simply dump out my raw unedited images.  I spent time that night selecting the three most iconic shots and then trying to bring out their best in Lightroom and Photoshop.  I love working on portrait images and Spencer was an irresistibly adorable subject.  Grandpa was more than please when he saw the results the next day, but this simple interaction got me thinking about how we all control how our images are seen when we set them free.

    Whether it is on Facebook, Instagram, or the seemingly endless list of other varieties of social media, we as photographers are judged by everything we make visible to the outside world.  We can exert a bit more control of the images in our own web sites, but our visual footprint is out there, and as we all know, that stuff NEVER goes away.  

    How much time should you spend on perfecting your images before you publish them on social media.  There is no single right answer.  It all depends on your audience and on what you want to accomplish by making your work public.  This week let’s consider what the most casual amateur photographer can do to add impact and interest to their published work.  Next week I’ll discuss the much more complicated workflow that I use before I allow my images out into the world.

    iPhone Path

    For this article, I went out shooting with my iPhone 7.  The camera in this phone is quite amazing and yields results that are as good or better than many low-end point and shoot cameras.  My main problems were that I missed the controls that I have on a DSLR or high-end pocket camera, and it took massive self-control to avoid doing any post-processing on some of these images.  

    Weathered Path : Canon 5D Mark IV

    There are a number of simple and intuitive photo editing apps available for smartphones, that can improve the images, but I wanted to start with what can be done to get the most out of unedited pictures right out of your phone.

    Town Hall Back-Lighting
    I would have loved to apply a little shadow adjustment,
    But I remained pure.
    Most people who publish their images to social media are not professional photographers.  They are not interested in selling their work or in impressing anyone with the quality of their images.  They are happy to just document their lives and the world around them.  There is no reason why they need to go any further, a smart phone and social media are designed for that purpose.  Digital photography has simplified this kind of quick and easy photography for those who do not want to be bothered with the complexities of image making.   I promise to leave you alone – mostly. I have just a few quick suggestions that might, with just a minimum of effort, make your pictures a little more enjoyable for your friends and family.
    Ok.  Not so Pure
    I couldn't resist editing just one of these iPhone Shots

    Understand What Your Camera Does Well

    The Macro advantage
    Smartphone cameras have small sensors which means that they inherently have very large depth of field.  This is why they generally don’t require focusing. The DOF can help get sharp macro images, although soft backgrounds (Bokeh) can be more difficult to achieve.  Soft backgrounds are also important for portraits and, here as well, the iPhone’s massive DOF can be a problem.

    Chipmunk in the Barrel
    Smartphone have wide angle lenses which must be compensated for in all types of photography.  Unless the bear is actually chewing on your foot, an iPhone is essentially worthless for wildlife photography.  Add-on lenses are available to expand the range of focal lengths, but again that would be getting into more layers of complexity and you don’t want that.

    One of the greatest advantages of smartphones is that they are almost always in your pocket.  The old saying goes that “Your best camera is always the one you have with you”.  Let’s consider a few other ways that you can the most from that “best” camera in your pocket.

    Want to see Ten picture of my lunch?

    Spray, Pray and Post

    It is an old saying that, with digital cameras, we can just “Spray and Pray”, shooting everything and hoping that we may miraculously get one or two usable shots.  After all, pixels are cheap, and we don’t have to worry about wasting film. Today we can expand this saying to “Spray, Pray and Post”.  Too often, on Facebook, we will see five pictures of that delicious meal and, although it is lovely to admire the spectacular lasagna from every conceivable angle, one picture is probable sufficient to tell the story.  

    One of the most effective techniques of professional photographers is to only show their best work and the same approach is the simplest way for amateurs look good in social media.  If you have 15 or 20 pictures of that beautiful rainbow, try to pick one or two to post.  Choose the ones with the best light and the most interesting foreground.  No matter who is in your audience, they will be more impressed with your captured moments and less likely to be scared away by a cluttered story.

    Simple Rules

    Nothing complicated here.  Just a few things to think about whenever you are capturing those quick shots.

    Get Close to Your Subject

    As I mentioned, smart phones tend to have wide angle lenses and, if you don’t get really close, your beloved subject can be a vague smudge in the distance.  Get close and then take a few steps closer.  The closer you get the simpler and more impactful will be your subject.  Using my iPhone 7 to shoot the horses at Stonewall Farm, I had to get so close that I was expecting the beasts to grab the phone from my hand.

    Don’t Forget,
    You can turn Your Camera side-ways.

    I don’t have the statistics on this, but I would bet that most of the smart phone pictures that I see on Facebook are in portrait mode.  Phones are usually held vertically, but sometimes an image will work better in landscape.  With cameras, I usually must encourage my students to get away from landscape images.  The rule is, “The best time to shoot a vertical image is right after you have shot the horizontal”.  This needs to be flip around for phones.  Think about a horizontal composition right after the vertical.

    Better landscape view. 
    I eventually figured out how to avoid the finger.

     Avoid Strong Back-lighting

    Bright light from behind will cause your subject to be lost in deep shadow.  This can be partially corrected by editing, but we all know you are not interested in that!  Placing your subject facing into the bright sun can cure the shadows, but It can also lead to squinting and harsh reflections.  The best solution is to place Granma in the shade or to shoot under overcast skies.

    Nice photo of Jeff, Distracting Background detail


    Watch Your Tilt

    I don't do many selfies
    I am always lecturing about this.  Just ask my son’s girlfriend Gina. To my eye nothing says sloppy careless photography as much as a tilted horizon and it just takes a second to adjust the camera’s orientation. I know that tilted images are popular right now.  This may be largely caused by the selfie rage, but it can be difficult to find a straight picture on Facebook.  

    More my style
    Of course, it is hard to control the smartphone’s angle when it is suspended on your outstretched arm but it is apparent that many feel that these disorienting images add a sense of rebellious style. There is nothing wrong with that.  It is OK Gina! I am not the composition police.  The old saying fits this situation, “a single tilted image is a mistake, 10 are a stylistic choice”.   

    Gina's Tilt

    Tilted Horizon - Ignore the finger!
    I would only suggest that the camera angle should reflect the situation.  A tilted image is great if you want to show the world that you are having fun with your friends and that you are most likely drunk, but when communicating pictures of a beautiful landscape or your dear family, you may want to make sure that they don’t look like they are about to fall down a hill.

    Getting things straight

    I could go on and on, but for the casual photographer I will stop here. Get close to your subject. Decide whether a vertical or horizontal composition works best.  Watch out for back-lighting.  Make sure that the tilt of the horizon matches the subject.  And perhaps most importantly only show your best images. 

    Finally, have fun.  You are now free to ignore everything and spray away! After all they’re only pixels.

    Jeffrey Newcomer