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, August 13, 2017

Spray and Pray?

Bug Light, Portland Maine

I just returned from my annual trip to the coast and, as usual, I am drowning in images that require uploading, converting, renaming organizing and editing.  Why do I always come home with so many pictures?

Portland Head Light
Living in the landlocked center of New England I enjoy every opportunity to get back to the coast.  The rocky shores, the beaches, the quaint villages and of course the proud lighthouses all offer photographic choices that are very different from what I enjoy around home.  I love the “Currier and Ives” beauty of my Monadnock regions, but it is refreshing to be surrounded by different opportunities to challenge my eye. 

It isn’t surprising that, returning from 5 days on the coast, I have much work to do on the images.  I will be sharing more of my favorites in future articles, but today I want to ask a simple question that arose as I uploaded my images.  Why do I take so many pictures?

It took me a couple of days to upload my images from my coastal tour.
Floral Shore, Ogunquit, Me
Five Image HDR
 Over five days, I shot over 500 pictures which, at more than 20 megabits each, means that I had more than 10 billion pixels to manage.  I wanted to briefly discuss why it is that I took so many pictures on this, and actually ALL of my shoots.  Is it justified or just a manifestation of the classic “Spray and Pray” approach to photography. I would like to think that there are many good reasons to come home with piles of images.   Given the cheapness of pixels and the availability of inexpensive options for their storage, failure to capture all the images that are necessary is a disservice to the subjects

Spray and Pray

Change to "Spray and Pray"

For many casual photographers, digital imaging has encouraged the tendency to shoot randomly, without careful attention to light or composition. This “Spray and Pray” approach assumes that among the hundreds of images a few will come out ok.  After all, its only pixels and all the trash can just be deleted.   The problem is that this technique removes the photographer from the process and without creative input it is impossible to craft the best images.  If I wish to argue that's I am NOT a spray and prayer, I must suggest a few other reason to shoot mountains of pictures.


Different Angles and Compositions
Dummerston Covered Bridge
Perhaps the most obvious reason to capture lots of images is the need to “work the scene”, to explore as many different angles as possible.  I never feel that I have done my job until I have gone beyond the pretty picture postcard view and have explored the subject from different angles and perspectives. I typically start wide and then steadily move in on the detail.  Not every angle works, but I keep them all, because you just never know.




Nailing the Exposure, Bracketing, HDR
Back in my film days, I routinely bracketed my exposures.  Transparency film is famously unforgiving and I almost always grabbed one image above and one below the metered exposure.  Today, with the instant feedback of the Histogram, it is much easier to nail the exposure.  I still may take several images until I get my “perfect” histo, and I admit that I am not as rigorous as I should be in deleting the trial images – You never know.  


This leads to a discussion of the collection of multiple, varyingly exposed, images gathered in anticipation of crafting an HDR picture.  This can require 5, 7 or more images, or just two, one exposed for the shadows and another for the highlights. It is somewhat like my old film bracketing, and on occasion, I will find one among the series that has sufficient dynamic range to be used on its own.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that I will throw the others away – You never know.

Hubner Farm, HDR and Tone-Mapped

Focus Stacking
Three Layer Focus Stack
Given the exposure control offered by digital photography, most of my current bracketing is based on obtaining a range of focus points.  I originally referred to this as “Focus Bracketing”, until I discovered that everyone else was calling it “Focus Stacking”.  “Stacking” refers to the ability to achieve impossibly wide depth of field by stacking together image layers with different focus points.  

Perkins Pond to Monadnock - Deep DOF

I often use focus stacking in situations in which extreme DOF is the goal. For almost all of the rest of my Images, I routinely grab at least three pictures, focusing on the foreground, mid-ground and background.  Again, I often find one of the images that captures sufficiently sharp focus throughout, but of course I keep the other images- You never know. 


Capturing the Moment
Any time, when the scene is changing, multiple images can be important for catching the perfect moment.  Running animals, flying birds, and racing athletes, are why your camera’s burst mode was created. 

Blue Heron Landing - Just the right moment

Last weekend, I was reminded of another use for bursts of images, the capturing of the waves.  Several years ago, I placed myself on a precarious

Best of the 70

outcropping to shoot the waves crashing on the rocks of Pemaquid Light.  It is never possible to reliably predict the moment of the most dramatic waves. By the time you see the perfect crashing wave, it is already too late to capture the event. The best that can be done is to shoot bursts of what seem to the most promising candidates. Before I was forced to run from the rising tide, I shot more than 70 pictures, to catch just two that were “heroic keepers”.  That is atypical ratio.  I should have thrown the others away, but you never know.

Pemiquid Crash


Bob's Floating Head
Finally, when taking group pictures, I always take multiple images.  There is always at least one person in every group shot who is talking, yawning or picking their nose.  As I click away, I ask the crowd to stay still, and then I can usually find an acceptable picture of the nose picker to clone into the final image. 


Getting a Steady Shot
Katy's Almost Perfect Technique
I go through a careful checklist of procedures to try to capture perfectly sharp images.  Equally important to sharp focus, is the requirement to hold the camera steady.  This is especially important when trying to handhold shots with longer shutter speeds.  My hand-holding technique includes the positioning of my body, cradling of the camera and a careful finger roll shutter release but still the pressing of the shutter button can introduce a slight vibration.  

Finger Roll Shutter Release
To help with this I tend to take a burst of at least two images on each shutter press. I’m not sure how much it helps. Sometimes the first image is the sharpest, but it makes me feel better, and I never - ever know. Obviously, this is not an issue with a cable release on a tripod, but I still have to remember to turn off the image stabilization feature.


The Picture Glut Equation (With acknowledgement to the Drake Equation)

Bug Light, Portland Maine

Ok, that is just a partial list of my excuses for bringing home so many images.  I am sure there are others.  Of course, many of these excuses can apply to the same scene progressively multiplying the pixel pile.  The Bug Lighthouse picture required about 90 images, including several for focus stacking of the lighthouse and rocks, many to obtain the best waves, and several to capture the ferry in the best location.


My picture glut formula may be loosely expressed as:

Number of Pictures = (Different angles) x (Exposure Searching) x (Focus Stacking) x (Action Bursting) x (Steadying Hand-Holding Bursts)

Of course, not every scene requires all of these factors, but let's put in some conservative, but totally reasonable numbers for an imaginary landscape scene:

(5 angles) x (6 exposures) x (3 focus points) x (0:no action here) x (2 hand steadying) = 180 images for one location 

It is amazing that I came home from the coast with so few images.  The point is that digital photography makes it practical to use as many images as is necessary to render the best representation of the scene.  Although they both involve taking many pictures, this careful, deliberate process could not be further from the careless, random approach of "Spray and Pray". 

Now if I can only force myself to get rid of some of those extra shots!
BUT, You just never know!

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Temptation of One Minute More

Roads End Pasture
It is my habit to head out shooting after I complete my Saturday morning visit to the transfer station in my hometown of Chesterfield New Hampshire.  After making the necessary drop off at the dump, I usually start with a drive through Roads End Farm.  I have been visiting this lovely horse farm for years, and I nearly always find fresh subjects to shoot.  Then, if I have the time, I look for other places to explore in my beautiful corner of New England.

My Eagles
This weekend, I visited “my Eagles” on the Connecticut River, and the stop reminded me that photography, and most importantly wildlife photography, is often about long periods of waiting punctuated by breathtaking moments of excitement.

Nest Building March 2015
In the Summer, there are just a few locations along the Connecticut River in Chesterfield that open to a clear view of the high snag, that is the yearly nesting spot for our pair of bald eagles.  This spring, I saw at least one fledgling appear in the nest, and although, this time of year, things get less exciting, it is still interesting to watch the comings and goings of the adult and immature Eagles.

Yesterday I settled in at the side of the River Road, with my 400mm lens resting on my car window, and trained on the nest, across the river.  One majestic adult Eagle was perched above the nest, calmly scanning the passing waters.  I adjusted my focus and selected an ISO of 800, that allowed a shutter speed of at least 1000th of a second.  Then I waited for some action.

Iconic Boredom
And I waited.  Wildlife photographers are experienced with this, but I usually shoot trees and mountains, and trees and mountains perform on a much more predictable schedule.  I have learned to expect some photographically interesting comings and goings at least every 30 or 40 minutes, but on this day, an hour passed without any activity.  That LAZY feathered national icon just sat there as if he thought he was posing for a marble monument.  Meanwhile, my nearly seven pounds of camera and lens were getting heavier by the minute.

I Look Away

I wanted to surrender.  I had chores to complete, or at least a nap to take, but after investing more than 60 minutes, I told myself that something must happen soon.  I knew instinctively that all sorts of exciting avian behavior would occur as soon as I packed up my gear, and that was the trap.  As always, the temptation to hang in for just one minute more, and then one minute longer was strong.   

No picture to Show Here !!

Then, something happened!  Just as I looked away to re-position the camera, a juvenile eagle swooped in and somewhat forcibly dislodged the parent from the nest.  Great action, I presume, but the switch occurred in a moment, and I missed ALL of it!  I was pissed! – Sorry, I was disconsolate.

Juvenile Defiance
Needless to say, I was annoyed to have wasted so much time, only to miss the big event.  Now I had to be satisfied with pictures of the statuesque juvenile eagle placidly surveying his domain and mocking the frustrated photographer across the river.  I was ready to leave in disgust, but then the, “one more minute” temptation kicked in.  I hung on, and the magic finally happened.

Parental Input
With no warning, the mature Eagle came swooping back to reclaim its throne.  I only had time to trigger a burst of images, and, in a blink, it was over.  Both birds flew away, but when I got home, I found that I had captured a few of the best pictures of, what I assume to be good-natured domestic aggression between Eagle parent and progeny.  There was many a time when I wished that I had menacing claws to go after my rebellious teenagers in a similarly "good-natured" way.

A Second of Action

Checking the time stamps on the 5 key images, I found that all the action occurred over just about one second!  More than an hour of boredom for a second of excitement. 

Now I understand why wildlife photographers can show such amazing patience. Long ago, I learned in the psychology lab that I could train an Albino Rat to press a bar hundreds of times for only the rare reward of a food pellet.  I would never suggest that wildlife photographers are equivalent to rodents, but I have discovered that occasionally majestic rewards can come from nonsensical persistence.  I too am susceptible to the siren temptation of “one minute more”, and at least this time, I got my food pellet.


Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I Get My Dose of Fenway

Xander's Swing

Susan, Grayson and Abby
We always try to get down to Boston in the summer to catch a couple of Red Sox games.  Now that my daughter Abigail has moved to Cambridge, we have the added incentive of spending time with her and her boyfriend Grayson.  Earlier this year we picked up four Sox tickets in a raffle benefiting Keene’s Colonial Theater.  It was a great chance to travel south for brunch with Abby and Grayson in Cambridge before the afternoon game against the
View from Mass. Ave Bridge
Angels. We live a little less than two hours northwest of the city, so it is never a struggle to make it to civilization.  After brunch, we drove to the MIT Campus and parked on a side street.  It was a lovely day for a walk, over the Mass. Ave bridge, to Fenway.  Passing through Kenmore Square and I had a chance to show Abby the windowless, basement Hobbit hole that was my home for the early grind of my medical school experience.

Fenway Green
I have never lost the sense of magic that I experience every time I come to the top of the stairs, and first see the vivid hue of Fenway’s historic turf.  It is like no other green.  We were seated along the first base line, and despite the hot sun, we were in a prime foul ball catching zone.  Sadly, no luck, but I got my mandatory popcorn and settled in.

Photography at Fenway

Fenway doesn’t have a lot of restrictions on bringing fancy cameras into the park; “Cameras and video cameras are permitted but cannot be used to reproduce the game and must not interfere with other fans' enjoyment of the game.”  No problem, I could bring my big DSLR and 100-400mm zoom, but I prefer to keep things light and inconspicuous.  The perfect solution is “Susan’s” Canon SX50 HS.  The same camera that Susan has steadfastly refused to touch!  

Let me explain

I got the SX50HS for Susan to take along on our tour through Alaska in 2014. The camera is light, with a small sensor, but has a 24-1200mm fixed lens! With that focal length range, why would you need other lenses?  Susan and I tend to choose different hikes on our tours.  I generally stay with the photographers, making frequent stops for shots, while Susan moves more quickly with the non-photographers, who are often called the “natural history” groups.  Since we are usually exploring different areas, I assumed Susan would want her own camera to capture the action, especially if she is the lucky one to be charged by the angry grizzly. 

Hungry Grizzly, Pavlov Island Alaska
 "Angry charging Grizzly" is one of those situations for which a 1200mm lens would sound pretty good.  But NO.  She continues to argue that I’m the photographer and she has no need to touch that crazy cameray thing.  Cameray? - My word not hers, but I suspect it will catch on.  I’ve tried to sneak the camera over to her side of the bed when she is sleeping, but all my strategies have failed.  

Peddy's Windup, 1200mm View Uncropped
Ok.  I’ll admit that I don’t mind being saddled with this nicely capable little “carry around” camera, but Susan has just upgraded to the iPhone 7, which means that she is unsuspectingly carrying a pretty decent little camera.  My evil plan has succeeded!  Now if I can only get her to use the DAMN thing!

Sorry for that unfortunately long diversion, but I had to get it off my chest.  The bottom line is that I have a nice little camera to bring to athletic events such as the Red Sox, or to third world countries where a big “fancy” camera could be a dangerous attraction. Obviously, the 1200mm focal length on the SX50 HS allows me to get closer to the action, but the camera also has a full range of controls, and although the small sensor can show problems with noise at high ISOs, it does result in a deep depth of field in macro images.  And, perhaps most importantly, the camera shoots in RAW!

Children's Day
We got to the game early and had the fun of watching Children’s Day.  The Red Sox players had a chance to frolic on the field with their kids.  It is a healthy reminder that many of the players are only a little more than kids themselves and have their own new families.


The game itself was a bit of a disappointment with the Sox loosing 4:2 to the Angels and, again, no foul balls coming near.  Photographically, I focused on trying to catch some of my hometown heroes in mid-swing.  The SX 50 has only a slight shutter lag, but it was still difficult to time my shots to the right moment in the pitcher’s delivery.  

Pappi Unleashes
A couple of years ago I was lucky to capture the “holy grail” of such shots when I caught Big Pappy in a gigantic swing with the ball visible sailing off the bat.  AND it was a home run – I swear!!   No such luck this time.  Among the pile of failed shoots, I did catch a couple of swings and one with Mookie Betts ducking away from a brush-back pitch.  1200mm is great, but the biggest challenge was to hold the little camera tightly enough to keep the images sharp.

Capturing action shots from far back in the stands can be a challenge.  Obviously, a long lens can be helpful, but anticipating the key moments is difficult. Your arms can get numb continually holding the camera in front of your face waiting for the magic to happen. As much as I would love to capture the critical play, I don’t want to spend the whole game with a camera blocking my view of the live action.  I usually shoot in just a few situations.  Catching the swings is fairly easy.  Of course, being along the right field line I could only catch the right-handlers.  Capturing the quick and unpredictable action in the infield can be difficult, but with a man on first I can watch for a steal or a dive back to first to avoid a pick-off.  If I am on the left field side I can look for action in the home dugout.  A little scratching or spitting is always exciting.  All of this needs to be limited within reason.  There are professional sports photographers right on the sidelines who I can trusted to shoot the key plays. I just try to get a few images to document my attendance at the event and settle back to finish my popcorn.  After all, I’m a landscape photographer and despite years of visiting Fenway I have yet to see a tree in the “park”.

Fenway Pano

Like many newer cameras, the SX50 can construct a panorama image from a series of shots, so I had to capture a disorientingly complete view of the park, but my favorite pictures are of the family while they were trying to steal my popcorn.

Despite the score, it was a great day trip and a good chance to play with my little carrying around camera.  My only disappointment was that I failed once again to slip “Susan’s” camera into her pocket book.


Jeffrey Newcomer