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, March 1, 2015

The Problem with Wires Part II




In the Digital Darkroom
Last week I discussed ways to avoid or limit the impact of the wires that contaminate so many of our photographs. On happy occasions a few steps in one direction or another can be sufficient to chase the wires from the scene, without severely compromising the composition, but this "editing with your feet" is not always possible. Although, in Part I, I didn't discuss specific cloning techniques, I did talk about how more subtle changes in perspective can be enough to move the offending wires into areas that allow easier removal in the digital darkroom. The critical factor in all of this is to be conscious of the wires and do as much as possible in the field to reduce their impact making the eventual editing chores much less arduous and time consuming.

Sometimes the Wires Can't be Avoided

An Apology to Wires

Before diving into the digital darkroom, I feel I must make a brief acknowledgment of the roll of the entangling mess of wires in our environment. YES, I know that without wires, modern communications, my blog, and all those adorable pictures of cats would not be possible. Happily our visual cortex seems adept a filtering the wires from our consciousness and memory, but our cameras have no such synapses. Hopefully I can be excused for hating the cables with a passion that allows me to feel a wonderful glee as I spend the hours required to send them to oblivion. The good news is that progressive iterations of Photoshop have made the process more effective and easier.
Autumn Morning in Brattleboro Vermont,  Worth the Effort


Die Wires Die!!

Harrisville Library with Wires


Over the years my approaches to wire removal have evolved with the introduction of new tools in Photoshop. Early on, the Cloning Tool was the only reasonable choice, and with care it did a excellent job, but in recent versions of the software the introduction of the Healing Brushes and Content Aware capability has expanded the capability and ease of the process. As is always true with Photoshop, the addition of new option makes the selection of the best tool more complicated and the key to finding the best approach to any specific situation is to experiment with the various options.
 






Safe and Free To Experiment

As I work on an image I am constantly jumping among the Cloning and Healing Tools, varying the size and hardness as well as experimenting with Content Aware and Proximity Match Types and Normal and Replace Modes. I can often guess what approach will work best in a particular region of the image, but I'm never sure until I experiment. The only things I can be sure of is that no one technique will work best in all situations. Of all the buttons and keystrokes available in the editing process, the most important is the combination of "Back-Up" buttons. My left hand never strays very far from "Alt-Ctrl-Z" (PC) on the keyboard. The ability to back-up is critical to the learning process and this is enhanced by keeping your edits on a separate blank layer. 


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My "Safe Editing" Rules are :

1) Perform edits to pixels and perspective early.
Non-global edits may not register correctly with changes in the pixels applied later in the process.

2) To avoid damaging you base image! place edits on a separate blank layer.Hit Ctrl-J to create a new layer and then set the tool to sample "ALL Layers" or Current and Below"

3) Keep your finger on the Back-Up buttons.

 ---------------------------------------------------------------------

Where are the Wires
Wire removal can be considered to fall into two broad categories depending on the nature of the underlying background.

1) Backgrounds with a smooth texture, without significant detail, such as a clear sky or those with homogeneous detail such as a dense forest canopy can be the easiest to correct and it is here that Photoshop's automatic "Smart Tools" can be most reliably effective.

2) Backgrounds with varying and structured detail such as bare tree branches or the architectural detail in buildings often require more careful and time consuming editing, frequently with classics cloning techniques.

Smooth Backgrounds

Carlton Covered Bridge
Removal wires from a clear sky is the best and most frequent example of this type of editing. Photoshops Spot Healing and Healing Brushes can often work well, but the challenge is to find the tool that blends best with the surrounding sky to make seamless patch. In newer versions of Photoshop the Healing tool is available in a number of variety, the top two, "Spot Healing" and the "Healing Brush" are the most commonly used to clear wires.




Spot Healing 

Healing Brush Line
The "Spot Healing Brush" is often used for correction of small "spot" defects such as blemishes or dust spots, but it can also be effective for wires. Set to a width just slightly larger than the wire, as it is dragged over the line, it samples the edges to create the patch. The
Patchy Result "Normal Type", Content Aware
size and softness of the brush will affect the smoothness of the blend and the results will also be affected by the choice of Proximity Matching or Content Aware Blending modes. Each protocol affects the way the program blends the
"Replace Type" Content Aware



repair with the surroundings. It is possible to drag the bush along the length of the wire or click on one end and then "Shift-Click" on the other end to "heal" the wire in one stroke. If this approach fails to smoothly blend with surrounding pixels, leaving tell-tale linear artifacts, I will often move the brush in diagonals across the wire creating a less regular and noticeable patch.


 


Healing Brush

The Healing Brush works similarly to the cloning tool. A source location must be defined and then the brush can be drawn along the wire, but with the Healing Brush it is the source pixels are blended with the surroundings again using a "Normal" or "Replace Modes. The results can be a smoother blend than with the Cloning Tool. With either healing brush, care has to be taken to avoid contamination from surrounding pixels. As the wires approach areas with contrasting brightness and color, the healing tools can smudge some of the contrasting pixels into the blend. In these situations I will frequently switch to the Cloning tool with a hard edge to fill in the closely adjacent areas Another option is to make a selection which excludes the problem regions and apply the healing brush to the clean selection.


Whichever brush is used, The number of options that can be applied for a simple "healing" can be distressing, but, again, the important thing is to experiment until you get the best result. For example the "Normal" type setting is routinely recommended, but sometimes I find that "Replace" leads to a smoother blend with subtle areas of detail Regardless of the approach, small areas of editing artifact may need to be touched up with the healing brush before a transparent repair is achieved.

In my first screen capture video, I experimented with various settings for the best result on wire removal from a largely clear sky. 



Click on the lower right of the player to expand to full screen


Backgrounds with Structured Detail
The great challenge for removal comes when the wires overlie or intertwine with areas of varying sharply structured detail. In these

Wires on the Harrisville Library
situations automatic "smart" tools quickly begin to fail and I find that the fine control of the cloning tool works best. The solution is not easy. It may take me 30 seconds to clear a large expanse of clear sky using a Healing Brush, but a small area of detail can take an hour or more of cloning to get an acceptable result. A classic example of this challenge is the mesh of wires that entangles the beautiful library at the head of the mill pond in Harrisville, NH. The first question which arises in theses situations is whether the image is worth the effort required to clear away the scars. If the Harrisville scene was less perfect, it would be easy to walk away, but given that it is so damn classic it becomes impossible to turn away. 


Wire Nightmare on the Harrisville Library
Cloning on the Blank Editing Layer

Wires Reasonable Removed, Whew!


At times the healing brush can be effective in areas of regular detail, but the cloning tool usually works best in these situations, since you have complete control over what areas are sampled and where they are placed on the image. As I look for areas to use as patches to place over scarred regions, I constantly vary the size and hardness of the brush and as always, it is crucial to have the back-up keys ready for the inevitable mistakes. The trick is to line up the patch to match the underlying pattern and texture. This used to be a greater challenge, but in recent versions of Photoshop, the task has been made much easier by the ability to see the patching pixels through the circle of the brush. The result is that it is much easier to line-up the pattern whether it is bricks, the edge of a roof or the intersection of branches.
Wires Cleared, Including Reflections in the Pond



Video of Cloning out wires across the Harrisville Library.



Click on the lower right of the player to expand to full screen



 

It is difficult to describe the techniques for effective use of Healing and Cloning brushes. Hopefully the short, screen-shot videos will better convey some of the approaches that I have found most useful, but there is nothing that can replace repeated practice. You will find the combinations of tools, brushes and settings that work best for you in the various situations that will arise in the editing process. As I said at the end of my first article on dealing with wires, "... New and refined tools within more recent versions of the program have made the process much easier. It still requires practice and a considerable investment in time, but your artistic vision deserves no less".

 

DIE WIRES DIE !
Problem with Wires Part I


Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com


Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Problem with Wires, Part I


Cutting the Cables
White Church, Keene, NH
Sadly, one of the first lessons that a landscape photographer learns is that there are many extraneous interlopers that can sneak into our images to contaminate our lofty photographic vision. The list is long; cigarette packs, road signs, airplane contrails, and of course people, to name just a few. Each can challenge our attempts to arrange the perfect composition, but, for me, it is wires that are the most ubiquitous and insidious contaminators of my photographs. It is an unavoidable consequence of modern society that wires are everywhere, but they are so common that our eyes tend to filter them out. I often don't recognize the problem until I'm home studying the image in Photoshop. It is then that the question always arises, "Where did those &%$# wires come from!

 


I was reminded of this issue last week while shooting one of my favorite barns in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. The barn was
Wired Westmoreland Barn
beautifully buried in the pristine snow, but when I returned home I found that I had to spend over an hour meticulously cloning out all the wires that slashed across the scene. Telephone and electric cables which are glaringly obvious in our photographs never seem to intrude on our recollections of beautiful scenes and it is for that reason that I never feel guilty about removing them from the final image. It's not cheating, but a more accurate reflection of what we "saw",  and felt at the moment that the shutter was clicked. So how can we deal with this persistent problem? The first step is to appreciate that it exists and then try to eliminate or reduce the unwanted intrusion.

Seeing the Wires

Wireless Hancock Meeting House

When I come across a spectacular scene, my first inclination is to start scanning for the best angles and compositions, but the very next move is, or at least should be, to take a mental step back and study the scene for the inevitable visual intruders. Included in this exercise is to notice where the wires slash across the view. They are not always there and some communities such as Hancock New Hampshire have made efforts to bury the wires in areas of special beauty or historical significance. Of course the entire problem can be avoided by shooting in the middle of nowhere where no wires exist, but the problem is that "the middle of nowhere" is becoming harder to find.

 

Changing the View
I'll talk about methods to remove the wires in post next week, but
much can be done in the field to reduce their impact.  Once they are recognized even slight changes in position and perspective may be enough to remove the wires from the image, but often the wires cannot be entirely removed without severe compromises to the composition. My favorite angle on the factory steeple in Harrisville New Hampshire, included quite a few wires that required a long and arduous process of removal in post. This was especially challenging where a cable cut across the intricate weathervane. By approaching closer to the tower, I was able to slip under the wires for a clean look, but the resulting view of the factory and the perspective change was not exactly what I was looking for. Even when changes in angle fail to entirely remove the

A Few Steps Forward
them, subtle alterations in position may allow you to move the wire into a location on the image that makes them technically easier to remove in post. When the background includes more intricate patterns, such as created by the clapboards, brick or window sashes of a house, the process of accurately cloning the detail can be a time-consuming nightmare, It is much simpler to erase cables which cross the sky or the irregular background of a forested hill. Yesterday evening, I captured the snow falling on the Village Hall in Spofford, NH. With a small change in location I was able to move the distracting wires away from the building and onto the snowy sky, where they were much simplier to clone away. The resulting key-stoning of the buildings lines was easily corrected with Photoshop's skew tool. Again the process starts with recognizing that the wires are there and then finding a position that either removes or repositions them for the best solution.
Spofford Village Hall


Loving the Wires?

Of course wires are not always bad. Sometimes they can add strength and direction to an image. They may even be the primary focus of a composition. I know I have used wires in this way, but to be honest I had trouble finding many examples in my Lightroom archives. I guess I'm better at removing the wires than celebrating them. The string of wires and poles added a strong
sense of depth to my image of the cow-jam at Stonewall Farm and I liked the way the cables framed the Snowy Owl perched at Salisbury Beach.  I went out the other day looking for more examples of the "lovely" wires. 





It was a difficult exercise to so fundamentally shift my focus as I was simultaneously looking for cases of strong composition, as well as examples of cable contamination. On a hill above Keene, New Hampshire, I found a 
spot where high voltage lines crossed the road creating an interesting pattern of crisscrossing lines leading to a distant tower. Not bad. As I was congratulating myself for finding something vaguely positive to display, I turned around and noticed with horror that, in the opposite direction, the same wires were callously entangling the iconic profile of our beloved Mount Monadnock. You Do Not mess with our mountain! I was quickly  back to hating the wires.
The Desecration

Next week I'll try to outline some Photoshop techniques to remove those wires that can not be avoided in the field. New and refined tools within more recent versions of the program have made the process much easier. It still requires practice and a considerable investment in time, but your artistic vision deserves no less.






Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Seward & The Kenai Fjords





 


Part 3 of Our Alaskan Travels
Since returning from our trip to Alaska late last summer, I have been working in spells on the over 5,000 images that I brought back from that amazing adventure. Given all the distractions of our
Fleeting Bear
glorious New England autumn and the depths of this winter's bounty, it has been a slow process. I needed a kick in the butt and Susan provided it by signing me up to give a presentation about the trip to the local Rotary Club next week and I have been scurrying to get a collection of the images into a PowerPoint presentation. The biggest challenge has been to select pictures that will fit into the mere 30 minutes that I have been allotted for the talk. I could easily go on for an hour or two. I don't think I have ever presented a talk that was less than 60 minutes! My plan is to try to focus on the remarkable wildlife from the trip, letting much of the spectacular landscape and the travelogue stuff stay in the can for future, and longer talks.

A Short Digression on the Number of Images

5,000 sounds like a lot of pictures, but in truth the great mass of my images comes from my habit of capturing different angles and

Horned Puffins
multiple exposures from every scene. When capturing a scene which possesses interesting depth, I will typically grab at least 3 images, one each focused on the foreground, background and on the middle zone and that number is often multiplied by experimentation with different f stops. When photographing hand-held, I like to shoot in burst mode, finding that the second or third shot, after a jitter inducing shutter poke, will be sharper. By the time I finish selecting the best angles and the sharpest exposures, and have blended focus-stacked images, I will be happy if I end up with a couple hundred keepers. Such a waste of valuable pixels? Thank goodness for digital photography.





Back to Alaska

Since I have been spending the last few days wandering through the Alaska images, I thought that this would be a good time to put together the third installment of my Alaska Blogs. The first two covered the immense Denali National Park and our jet boat trip up the wild Susitna River to the rapids of Devils Gorge. This week I will share the next chapter of our adventure traveling south to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula and the Kenai Fjords. It will mostly be an album of my favorite images. The pictures are what tell the story.

To Seward

After our trip on the Susitna River we headed south from Talkeetna back through Anchorage on a lovely late afternoon and evening drive to Seward. Along the way we stopped just long enough in Wasilla to confirm that, in fact, you CAN'T see Russia from Sarah's home town. On the way south, we were rewarded with occasional glimpses of the sun , but by the time we arrived in Seward we were back in the overcast and rain.
Seward Harbor

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier
Seward is located south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. It is named after William H. Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska while Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson. On our first day we toured the nearby Exit a Glacier and were able to hike down to the Glacier's toe. The Exit Glacier is the most accessible of the nearly 40 Glaciers coming off the massive Harding Ice Field and, like most Glaciers, It has receded many miles in the last decades.





The Kenai Fjords


Restless Coast, Kenai Fjords

Bear Glacier



Kenai Fjords Cruise

On our second day on the Kenai Peninsula we took a day-long cruise around the Kenai Fjords. The views of the pristine rugged coast were spectacular and for this one day we actually enjoyed beautiful sunny weather. We cruised from Resurrection Bay

along the coast and up the Northwestern
Fjord to its terminus at Northwestern Glacier.  This tidewater Glacier is named after Northwestern University which had sent an early party
Glacial Cocktail Ice
to explore the region.  The deeply sculpted fjords dramatically revealed the awesome effect of the ice flows as, over centurys, they carved the landscape.  All that persistent strength was still hard to comprehend as we examined some of the ancient, but crystal clear, glacial ice floating in the bay.






Northwestern Glacier




Northwestern Fjord



Lone Sentinel, Stellar Sea Lions
As impressive as were the rocky shores and massive glaciers, the best part of the cruise was the varied wildlife. We saw Sea Lions basking on the rocks and Horned Puffins nesting on the shear cliffs. Grizzlies were prowling the steep banks of the fjords although we never got close enough to adequately capture their fleeting appearances.
Horned Puffin, Kenai Fjords



 







On the way back we were able to get close to a number of Humpback Whales including a mother and her calf playfully cruising the shore and periodically entertaining us with flamboyant breaching.












Sea Otter

All-in-all it was an amazing day with bright sunlight, flat seas and wonderful wildlife. On our return to Seward, we threw our gear

Denali From Anchorage,  It Counts !
into the car and headed back up the Seward Highway to Anchorage. On the way we caught a spectacular rainbow over the Turnagain Arm. In Anchorage we enjoyed dinner with an old friend from Keene New Hampshire and, from the 20th floor of the hotel, we had our trip's only distant view of Denali (Mt McKinley). The Mountain was over 200 miles away in the fading light and shot tangentially through the glass with Susan's camera, but, hey, I got my shot of the Denali - It counts!
Turnagain Arm


Dinner with Laura & Friends, Anchorage


The next morning we flew off to Juno to start our cruise among Alaska's southeastern islands aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird, but that will be the subject of the next one or two blogs.







Alaskan Blogs (More to Come)


Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunflowers New England Photography Show





 A Warm Refuge from the Winter Chill
After several weeks of articles about enjoying and surviving the miserable winter cold, it is time for a word about warmth, hospitality, great food and of course New England photography. Once again I am honor to present an exhibition of my images at Sunflowers Restaurant in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.



 

What Makes a Great Venue
My criteria for a great venue for my work includes bright walls with good lighting, a modern hanging system and most importantly, friendly and appreciative owners. Of course, when hanging in restaurants, the quality of the food is a critical factor. Considering all these criteria, Sunflowers Restaurant is a great place to hang out, and an even better place to hang pictures. 





Jaffrey Meeting House & Mt. Monadnock
This is the second time I've had the opportunity to show my work at Sunflowers and whether it is at the restaurant or at the Jaffrey Civic Center, I always love exhibiting in Jaffrey.  It is a beautiful small town with a strong sense of community. I love any excuse to drive down Route 124, which I continue to believe is the best road for viewing Mount Monadnock.

Misty Hay Rake, Dummerston, Vermont


Carolyn's Welcome
Sunflowers is located on Jaffrey's Main Street just North of the intersection of Routes 124 with 137 North and 202 South. It is a cozy place with great breakfasts, lunches and dinners and has considerable wall 
space open to local artists of all persuasions. Carolyn Edwards, the restaurant's owner is wonderfully friendly and accommodating, and has a true appreciation for the artists who add color and interest to her walls.



Sunflowers has a good wire hanging system which keeps the walls clean and bright. The restaurant has a surprising expanse of wall space and although I always try to bring more pictures than I expect to be able to hang, on this occasion, I needed all 18 of the images that I had loaded into the car. I have come to expect that it will take at least two or three hours to hang a major show. I never
know how I will arrange the pictures until I can lay them out and match the pictures to the wall spaces and the lighting. I always try to leave a show evenly spaced and plumbed, but I know that within a day or so that the carefully balanced perfection will be lost. This time, it was especially helpful to have Susan along to provide a fresh perspective on the arrangement and to assist in adjusting and cleaning the pictures.
Bucket Line, Westmoreland, NH


Whaleback Dawn

As usual the exhibition is dominated by local scenes from all seasons, but I also included a sunrise picture of Whaleback Lighthouse off of Portsmouth and the remarkable Multnomah Falls from the Columbia River Valley in Oregon. I have posted a gallery of the images on my web site, but, in this era of electronic everything, It is easy to forget the power and depth of the printed image. If you have a chance, I would encourage you to drop by to take a look. The show will be up through March 3rd. Sunflowers is open every day except Tuesday:



Hours:

  • Breakfast 7-10:30
    Multnomah Falls
  • Lunch 11-2
  • Dinner 5-8 Mon, Wed, Thurs
  • Dinner 5-9 Fri & Sat
  • Sunday Brunch 9-3
  • MONDAY & WEDNESDAY
  • BISTRO NIGHTS 5-8 pm
  • MEXICAN NIGHT every 4th WED
  • PRIMO FRIDAYS - PRIME RIB
  • Closed Tuesdays

 


So drop by beautiful Jaffrey. Its a lovely drive, the food is great and, of course, the photography is spectacular.







Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com