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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Alaska Adventure

We have talked about visiting Alaska for many years. It is a long way and not inexpensive, but we finally decided to save up and take the plunge. Our trip is quite busy and, so far, we have ended 

days happily exhausted with little energy for photo processing. I have been faithful at downloading and backing-up the images and I've tried to keep up with labeling while the information is still fresh, but at about that point I have generally been ready to collapse into bed. In the first four days of the trip I have already amassed over 1000 images. I will have a pile of work to do when we get home and we will be getting back just as the foliage season begins. While traveling, I'll try, when possible, to share a few of my favorite pictures and experiences. I'm starting this article while doing a couple loads of laundry and enjoying breakfast. at the "Suds & Sip" in Seward. The idea of a combination Laundromat and cafe seems infinitely practical. Susan is thrilled with the chance to start fresh with our clothes and we have the morning to explore the town before we take a hike onto a nearby glacier.

Our flights to Anchorage was long but uneventful. We got in late in the day, made later by four hour time difference. Anchorage is an ordinary moderately sized city surrounded by dramatic mountains. This one city contains nearly half of Alaska's 730, 000 residents. The next day we headed up to Denali National Park and Preserve and for the first time we became aquatinted with the predominant factor for the first week of our trip, rain. The overcast and rain was, more or less, a constant presence although it never was heavy and tended more toward mist. The weather didn't prevent any activities, but it did affect the photography. Much more moody layers of clouds than brilliant blue skies. The mist provided a soft light that had its own attraction, but sadly we were among the 75% who never saw Denali (Mt McKinley).

Denali is a 6 million acre wilderness preserve whose dimensions are impossible to truly comprehend. Unlike overcrowded parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, Denali has been zealously protected from human incursion. The Park has only one road which penetrates 90 miles into the wilderness. Some years ago the road was largely closed to private vehicle traffic and now, with the exception of a few rare permits, access is by either National Park buses or private tours. I never like being trapped on a tour bus. I hate being forced to follow someone else's schedule and I go crazy when I don't have the freedom to stop whenever I see a a promising location. Despite all the frustration, the buses in Denali did provide some important advantages. First it is important to have a cooperative and knowledgeable bus driver. Our's was very responsive to requests to stop whenever wildlife was spotted and he knew precisely where we were most likely to see the animals. Other significant advantages of being in a bus include the availability of many more eyes to scan the hills for the often distant fauna and the fact that the bus provides a taller viewing platform than the average car. Anyway photography is all about managing with the conditions and on this day the conditions included overcast and misty weather and viewing through a grimy bus window, which, thankfully, dropped down for clear viewing.
Grizzly Siteing

Despite the challenges the trip was amazing. We bumped along 90 miles each way over the narrow dirt road, often clinging precariously to the sides of steep mountains. We traveled over a succession of mountains and through deep valleys all with no other sign of human impact. Along the way we found all of the expected wildlife. Moose, Caribou, Dall Sheep and Grizzly Bears were spotted, although the animals were often seen from a distance. I was very happy to have my 100-400 mm zoom. I could have added a 2x Tele-Extender, but I found it more than sufficiently challenging trying to hold 400mm stable out the window of a bus which stopped, but never ceased rumbling. With a sufficiently fast shutter speed and the use of Susan's small back pillow to dampen the vibration, I was able to capture some reasonable images, but I would have loved to have been able to use my tripod. The challenges of the distant animals was more than offset by the endless succession of dramatic landscapes at every turn. The overcast weather was a disappointment and, sadly, we never saw Denali, but the low cloud layers provided a dramatic, migrating veil to the peaks. The sky partially cleared on the trip back and we were luck to catch a fleeting rainbow.
The next day we were heading for Talkeetna, but before turning south we returned to the park and drove the first 15 miles of the Park Road which is open for private vehicles. The day before I had seen a collection of brilliantly yellow poplars in front of a rock outcropping on the Savage River at mile 15, but I had missed the shot. The weather was still overcast but we were able to hike along the river and I got the image I was looking for.

On neither day in Denali did we get a good image of a Moose, but on the drive to Talkeetna we came across a Moose with two young calves right on the edge of the road. It just proves that the wilds of Alaska follow no artificial man-made boundaries.

Roadside Moose

I will try to post more images as we continue on our travels, but, for the rest of our time in Alaska, we will be on a small boat plying the bays and Fiords of Southeast Alaska. Internet access on the boat promises to be expensive or nonexistent and so this rushed posting May be my last from the trip. I guess I'll just need to be satisfied with a fantastic experience.
I apologize for the roughness of this blog.  I am stealing wi fi from a cafĂ© in Pertersburg and my battery is about to die.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reserecting Old Favorites

 Bringing New Life to Past Images

Nellie's Dread

Susan and I are getting prepared for our trip to Alaska. As always, before a big trip, our dining room table has become the staging
The Look
area where we pile all the stuff we don't want to forget. My job is to find all the various chargers and connectors we will need to keep our cameras and other electronics operating. Susan's task to keep me from bringing way too much clothing. Of course all this "staging" makes Nellie very nervous as she anticipates the coming separation. We have a nice house sitter lined up to keep Nell thoroughly covered in touch and love, but there is nothing like the appearance of suit cases to make her pathetically clingy.

I'm sure I'll be grabbing a picture or two on the trip and I hope to be sending out preliminary shots in my blog along the way. The status of my time and internet connectivity may be a bit shaky, so if I miss pushing out my weekly articles, I hope I will be forgiven. As I anticipate a pile of pictures to work through on my return, I thought this might be a good time to look back to some of my ancient images.

 Revisiting Old Friends

Every year there are a few images which I feel are my best, with which I have a strong personal connection. I enjoy wandering back to these old friends, but I notice that many of my former "masterpieces" don't seem to have the same brilliance and pop that I recalled. Many look unnaturally flat and dull. It's not surprising. Over 10-15 years, I would hope that my shooting and post-processing techniques have improved, and undoubtedly my personal style has evolved. Obviously, photo editing software has matured making it much easier to bring out the dramatic qualities of an image. I decided to revisit some of these old images, some dating back more than ten years, to see if, using current processing, I could breath new life into ancient pixels.

Immediately I was aware of the challenges. These old images had been captured at much lower resolution than is common now. I tried to find the least manipulated version of the images that was available. RAW files were preferable , but, for some, I had to start with a base image that already had editing baked into the file. Eight bit JPGs were especially difficult to manipulate.

Here are just a few examples of my attempts at Frankestein-like resurrections of old images. I first experimented with adjustments of color and contrast in Lightroom and Photoshop and later used blended tone mapped layers to add a broad range of pop to the images.

Portland Head Lighthouse
Some years ago, when I was more flexible, I jumped the fence at Portland Head Light to catch the surf rolling in, and nearly washing me out. This picture seemed a bit flat, without the drama that was so apparent in the moment. I worked on the image in Lightroom and Photoshop to increase the contrast and vibrance, highlighting the bright lighthouse against the dark angry sky. I also used the skew tool to reduce the keystone effect caused by my low position looking up from the rocks. The overall effect was closer to the scene that I recalled. 

Artist's Shack, Marlboro Vermont

 Eight years ago I was cruising the back roads of Marlboro, Vermont looking for autumn color. I found this shack which, because of the model head in the window, I decided was an artist's studio. Probably wrong, but it gave me a title. I came back with an image that to my eye is terribly
HDR Tone
flat with none of the brilliant color that was apparent at the time. I moved the JPG into Lightroom and had some success, but then I decided to blend a toned layer to kick up the color and contrast. I have discussed this process previously. I made a flattened copy of the image and then applied "HDR Toning" in Photoshop. I have found that the "Scott5"preset is often a good starting point. The results are always grotesquely garish, but after I move this layer back to the original
Scott 5 Preset
image layer stack I drastically reduce the opacity to get just the amount of kick I want. In this case I only used an opacity of 8% to get the result I liked. It still has a touch of "painterly" quality, but I much prefer it to the original. The nice thing about blended tone maps is that adjustments in the opacity allow for a near infinite range of effect to meet anyone's taste.


Storm Over Monadnock
Storm Over Monadnock
One of my favorite early images and one of my best sellers is "Storm Over Monadnock" captured in 2006 with my canon 20D.  I had watched a thunder storm pass over my office in Keene, NH and I knew it was heading for the mountain. I jumped into the car and ran for Chapman Road with its view of Monadnock to the Southeast. I was thrilled to catch the thunderhead rolling over the top of the mountain. The most dramatic part of the scene was the contrast between the ominously dark mountain and the last light skittering across the valley below. Back then I struggled with the contrast and was never fully happy with my ability to bring the light into balance. In this case I used 25% of my toned layer to bring out the contrast. I could only do so much with this aged 8 bit original, but I was happy with the results


Harvest Sunset 
The Old Oak at Alyson's Orchard is gone now having fallen to a lightning strike a few years ago. Back in 2006 it still stood proudly on the hill and I was able to capture it as part of a classic autumn scene. Once again the picture from my archives appeared flat and bit overly warm in tone. I cooled the tone slightly in Photoshop without loosing the warmth of the setting sun and then applied a touch from a toned layer to bring out the drama. 

Pemaquid Pool
Pemaquid Light
Pemaquid Light in Bristol, Maine is famous for the tidal pools that provide opportunities to catch interesting reflections. I was happy with the image that I captured of the reflected lighthouse in 2007. It has been one of my most popular coastal images, but I thought that, while I was playing with tone mapping, it might be fun to go a little crazy with this old favorite. I was also inspired by an image taken from the same spot by Rick Sammon using HDR technique. Using 28% of my toned layer I ended up with an effect beyond my usually comfort zone for HDR/Toning, but I can step back and appreciate the picture for what it is, without any pretense of real life appearance. Hey, its art. 


Well I have to get back to my packing. I've enjoyed my stroll through the past.  Photography is a time machine and it was fun to bring new life to old favorites. Now see what pictures you have that deserve to be re-imagined.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My 10 Favorite Photoshop Short-Cuts

Shoots and Ladders
This week I have a short article about short-cuts.  Keyboard short-cuts can speed your Photoshop work-flow, but it is impossible to keep track of all of the options.  I find that just a few short-cuts take care of my most frequent and repetitive tasks.

Sometimes it seems as if I spend half of my conscious existence with my eyes wandering through the magical effects that Photoshop can produce on my images. Recently my photoshop time has been substantially reduced by my pre-editing in Lightroom, but all my images still pass through Photoshop for final tweaking. Photoshop can be a confusing soup of menus and options. It is easy to get lost in the seemingly limitless creative possibilities, but, for most images, my editing incorporates a fairly limited number of steps which often takes only a few minutes to complete. 

The Flow
Blueberry Row, Green Mt. Orchard, Putney, Vt
I start by reviewing the image looking for intrusions that may require removal such as cigarette packs or areas of distracting color or brightness along the edges. I determine whether I need to do more to tame or reclaim the shadows and highlight. I routinely try an adjustment in vibrance and then may make further corrections in important individual colors. I usually bring up the curves tool to tweak the contrast, but these changes often get applied to limited areas of the image with the use of a layer mask. At that point, I'm usually done. I save a copy of the unsharpened and uncropped picture at full size and resolution as my base image and then start cropping, resizing and sharpening to fit my specific needs. It is all fairly routine and, where there is a routine,  keyboard short-cuts can help to speed the process. 

Key-Board Short-Cuts
Trevor Morris' List
Editing can be accelerated by the use of at least some of the many key-board short-cuts that are available to accomplish frequently used tasks with a single key stroke or a combination of keys.  The full list of Short-Cuts in Photoshop is truly mind numbing, and I have found it much easier to access seldom used tasks through the menu system or through the click of a button on the screen. I can create a copy of a layer by pressing "Ctrl-J", but I can accomplish the same result by dragging the layer
Menu Short-Cuts
to the New Layer button in the Layers window. I find it easier to "drag and drop" than to search for the "J" key hidden in the middle of the keyboard.  I tend to use short-cuts for tasks that I do frequently or repetitively,  such as when I am using a paint brush to edit a layer mask and have to continuously  adjust the size of the brush as I move in and out of tight spots, or when I repeatedly jump between white and black brushes to add or subtract from the mask. The good news is that keyboard short-cuts are easy to find. There are many lists quickly available on the net, but many of Photoshop's menu options will also show the corresponding shorts right next to the commands. If you frequently go to a particular menu item, the short-cut is right there.  Pressing "Alt Ctrl Shift K" will bring up a list of "K"eyboard short-cuts as well as providing the opportunity to create your own short-cuts.

Ctrl Alt Shift K to View and Create Short-Cuts

For a more exhaustive list, check out Trevor Morris' lists which include the short-cuts for various versions of Photoshop


My Favorite Short-Cuts
Everyone's approach to editing is different and your favorite short-cuts may be quite different from mine, but here are a few of the key-board commands that I find most useful. These few probably account for 90% of the short-cuts I use on a routine basis.

First I have to mention the simple editing functions:

"Ctrl-X" : Cut

"Ctrl-C" : Copy

"Ctrl-V" : Paste

"Alt-Ctrl-Z" : back up one step
Given my fumbling editing, the backup key is used often.

Selections and Masks
My most frequently used short-cuts have to do with the creation and refinement of selections and masks. 

Four Focus-Stacked Images  with Complex Selection Edits

"Ctrl-A" : Select whole image

"Ctrl-D" ; DeSelect

Show the Mask
"\" : Show the mask in red
Revealing the mask in a red overlay is a great help in refining its effect and catching any missed locations.

"Alt-I" : Invert mask
A carefully drawn mask is a great resource within an image and can be copied to control the effect of various layers. Masked can also be inverted to apply an effect to the opposite area. 

These allow quick adjustments in brush size and togggling between revealing and hiding areas of selections or masks.

"[" :  make brush bigger

"]" :  make brush smaller
Quick changes in brush size also helps when painting or cloning.
Brush size can be refined with repeated presses on the "[" or "]" keys.

"X" :  toggle foreground and background color
The mantra is "White reveals / Black conceals " and the "X" key allows easy toggling between the two as editing is refined.

Bringing It Home, Chesterfield, NH

That's it, my top ten, and ten is about all my aging brain can retain.   Those nit-pickers out there will have already figured out that my list actually includes 11 short-cuts. To you I can only say, "Don't you have any better things to do"!  Go make your own list.

I would enjoy hearing about your favorites.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rye Beach 2014, Challenges and Opportunities

Evening Glow, Rye Beach, New Hampshire

My Annual Toe Wiggle

Photographers are always trying to time their photo shoots based on the best season, time of day and weather for any location. I am constantly checking the weather forecast, and using a powerful collection applications to predict the time and location of the sunrise and sunset, the tides, and the precise progression of the Milky Way across the sky. If thing don't line up properly I will often sleep late, settle in at home to work on my images and plan the next trip to capture the magic when the gods are more cooperative. Such is the life of a photographer, but sometimes time and location are set without any consideration of weather or astronomical conditions. This is the case when I find myself on a strict travel itinerary.

We will be touring Alaska later this summer. We have a precise schedule and it looks to be a great trip, but although I can tell you where we will be every day, I have no way of predicting the

Rye Beach Surf
conditions for photography. As always the challenge will be to make the best of the opportunities that present themselves and not morn those that are lost. Some days may be overcast and terrible for dramatic mountain panoramas, but the light may be perfect for macro photographs of wildflowers. For me, an exciting part of the adventure is to work the scene and the conditions to get the most from what nature provides. A great chance to practice this opportunistic approach to photography is our yearly weekend along the Atlantic Coast at Rye Beach, New Hampshire.

The Shack on the Beach

For many years our friends Tom and Paula have rented a summer cottage on Rye Beach, New Hampshire. They welcome guests

Sand Castles are a Must
throughout their stay, but one weekend is unofficially set aside as Chesterfield weekend when neighbors are encouraged to come and enjoy the wine, the food and the opportunity to wiggle their toes in the sand. We try to get there every year. Their cottage is not the most elegant on the beach ... OK it is by far the most "rustic" example of a traditional old beach shack. Through some miracle it has remained standing for decades while every other house on the beach has be torn to the ground and replaced by criminally expensive modern structures. Of course the condition of the house is immaterial, all that is needed is a location on the beach and good friends. It is a wonderfully relaxed and friendly place, but I can only tolerate about two hours of mindless toe wiggling and then I have to get up to start grabbing some coastal pixels.

I love every opportunity I have to shoot along the New England coast, but on our fixed Rye Weekend, there is no way to predict what the weather will be like. It is a perfect example of the challenge of making the best of the prevailing conditions. 

Ghosts of Ryes Past

Rye Beach 2013

Every year the Rye weekend gives me material for a blog article. In past years I have captured dramatic sunrises, moody salt marches and one remarkable full double rainbow, but I have also been forced to deal with rain, fog and disappointing, cloud shrouded, sunrises. It is all part of the adventure and this year was no different.

Above the Waves, Rye Beach

Sun and Sand
This year I arrived at the beach in the mid afternoon of the a

Bob on the Beach
pleasantly sunny Saturday. The Chesterfield crew was all nicely settled on the beach under their pop-up tent. I quickly got my two hours of pleasant conversation and toe wiggling and then I started to look around for pictures. I had brought my new compact SX50 HS camera to use on the beach. I always get nervous about getting sand and salt into my DSLR and I'm still in the exploration phase with my new carry around camera. I started
Star Island, Isles of Shoals
by using the camera's flexible LCD screen to capture images just above the waves as they rolled in to the beach. Fortunately the crowds were already beginning to thin. It was an especially clear day and the view to the Isle of Shoals, six miles out to sea, was unusually sharp. It was a great chance to try out the 1200mm zoom on the SX50. The long lens collapsed the six miles of broiling atmosphere giving the islands a soft abstract appearance. As I watched, the islands seemed to grow in size and I realized I was seeing an unusual atmospheric phenomenon. The light traveling from the islands was bent as it passed between a layer of cold air near the ocean surface and warm air above creating a
Star Island, Superior Mirage
"superior mirage", which made the islands appear as if they were perched on high palisades. The effect lasted for many minutes and my long lens was great for capturing the show. As the sun dropped toward the horizon the mirage disappeared as quickly as it had formed and we were left with the lovely warm sunset light illuminating the flowers on the deck overlooking the beach.

Mirage of White Island Light, Isles of Shoals

Milky Way
Whenever I go to the coast in the summer I pray for clear night skies to allow a view of the Milky Way across the open ocean

where it would be unobscured by the glow of civilization. I knew from my study of the Photographer's Ephemeris and
PhotoPills that the Milky Way would be in optimal position in the
southern sky from little after 10 pm until about 11:30 pm, when its westward progression would take it over land and the lights of the distant Hampton Beach. I have just recently discovered the Photopills App and It has become my new favorite tool for finding the best time and location to capture the Milky Way. I planned to set up on the rocks just north of Wallis Sands Beach where I would have a clearer view to the south. After a great communal dinner at the beach house, we all sat on the porch watching the sky hoping that it would clear as the evening cooled. As 10 pm approached things were not looking good. I few bright stars were visible above but a haze had settled over the ocean. I finally surrendered and dejectedly headed to my hotel in Portsmouth. On the way, I couldn't resist stopping at my intended viewing spot. Things looked a bit better there and I grabbed a quick test shot. The Milky Way was right where it was supposed to be. The haze still amplified the light pollution, but, living away from the coast, I am experienced in dealing with the horizon glow. I settled in and managed some surprisingly nice shots. I wanted to included the rocks in the foreground, but the major problem was waiting for a pause in the flashlight beacons coming from the fisherman who were scattered on my rocky foreground. There was considerably more beer drinking than fish catching going on and that led to more flashlight play than could be considered ideal! A little patience and I was able to get a few serviceable shots, and then I was off to my lovely, non-rustic, hotel bed.


Shining a Light on a Cloudy Wet Day

Portsmouth Harbor Light

I knew from the forecast that Sunday was going to be a day dominated by clouds and rain. Unfortunate, but at least I had a perfect excuse to sleep late. No predawn slogs for me. When entombed in sheets of rain a "rustic" beach house can become a bit oppressive, even when shared with good friends. A depressing drizzle was interspersed with waves of torrential downpours and after positioning all the pots to catch the various leaks and contributing my fair share to the cottage jigsaw puzzle, I decided it was time to   escape. I ran to the car and started exploring the coast for wet weather photo opportunities. As I wandered north, the rain abated and I decided to check out Fort Constitution at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor.

 I was happy to discover that on summer Sundays the Lighthouse next to the fort was open for tours, conducted up a dedicated group of volunteers from the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses. Portsmouth Harbor Light was built in 1878, and in combination with the taller Whaleback Lighthouse still marks the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor. The Lighthouse is 48 feet tall and was actually built inside the taller wooden lighthouse that proceeded it. Once completed the old lighthouse was removed revealing the new cast iron structure. The lighthouse has a dramatic spiral staircase winding around the red brick interior to the top. The light has a fourth order Fresnel Lens that, despite a surprisingly small lamp, reaches 14 miles out to sea.


After my wanderings, I returned to the beach in time to "join" my friends for a traditional stroll along the beach. My friends are uncompromising "strollers" and I was left progressively far behind as I paused to take occasional photographs. My subjects were illuminated by soft flat light and included driftwood, sand tendrils and waves crashing on the stubborn rocks which frame the beach. I was also able to use my 1200mm lens to reach out for an intimate portrait of the backs of my receding friends. We finished off a cool damp day with a lovely dinner in the warm environs of the Portsmouth Brewery.

Beach "Strollers"


Rye Harbor Fog

My last day on the beach was all about the fog. I have always loved the sense of depth and mystery that fog adds to a scene and Monday morning the mist had settled in to cover everything with a soft gray blanket. On my way home I detoured to Rye Harbor to take advantage of the conditions. The boats moored in the harbor emphasized the effect of the fog as the more distant vessels faded from view. 

Then it was time to hit the the road back to my hopelessly landlocked home. It was another great Rye Weekend with its usual challenges and opportunities. Certainly not the best weather, but, as I said at the beginning, it is the process of figuring out how to get the most from the conditions that is a primary source of the adventure of nature photography.

Jeffrey Newcomer