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, September 14, 2014

Alaska, Talkeetna and Devil's Gorge

After our all too short visit to the immense Denali National Park and Preserve, we headed south to the little village of Talkeetna at
the confluence of the Chulitna, Susitna and Talkeetna Rivers. Talkeetna is a unincorporated "Census-Designated Place" which, by the 2010 census, is home to 876 residents. Since 1997 the town's honary major has been Stubbs the Cat whose majoral office is close to his bowl at Nagley's General Store. Talkeetna was the inspiration for the rustic village portrayed in the 90's TV Series "Northern Exposure". The town's "Main" Street can be walked in about 5 minutes, but it is famous as the jump-off point for many of the expeditions headed to Mt Mckinley. We came to Talkeetna to spend a day traveling by Jet Boat up the Susitna River.

Our trip took us 65 miles up the wilderness river. The weather was overcast with occasional rain and we once again failed to get a glimpse of Mt McKinley, but at least we stayed dry under the cover of the boat's cabin. The passing shore provided glimpses of various birds including Bald eagles. We saw few signs of human presence with the exception of occasional groups of fishermen who gathered at the entrances of mountain streams that tended to be clearer than the silt madden, glacier fed Susitna. Our final goal was the nationally registered Wild River park of the "Devil's Gorge". The shallow draft and impressively powered Jet Boat allowed us to move through the increasingly violent cascades of the gorge, pausing at the
Approaching the Rapids
tumbling Class 6 Rapids. Our captain did an amazing job negotiating the rapids and was a excellent guide, describing the history and natural features of this wild river.  On the way back we stopped on a small river island for a short walk to reconstructions of a native fishing camp and a trapper's shack.   


Trapper Shack

After we returned from our 5 hour trip we headed south to Seward on the edge of the Kenai Fjords National Park. It was a long, but beautiful ride after a busy day on the river. We did get to drive through Wasilla, outside of Anchorage and, once again , confirmed that you CAN'T see Russia from the town.

Devil's Gorge Rapids Video

I will need to describe our trip to Alaska in small bits. There is too much to show and nearly 5,000 images take time to review and process, but stayed tunes. On our last of the trip we hit the creature jack-pot and it is worth the wait.

No Russia in Sight

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, September 8, 2014

200 Blogs and Counting

First Blog  Image,  HDR Toned
I'm publishing this article from Logan Airport as we await the bus to our car.  It is 12:30 AM but, coming from Alaska, it is only 8:30 PM.  Our trip was amazing and I will have much more to share in future blogs, but I like to get my weekly article in on Sunday, so this is a perfect time to celebrate my 200th blog.  You can check out some of my early Alaska Images in my Alaska Gallery - many more to come.

It seems like it was only a short while ago that I celebrated my 100th blog article, but somehow number 200 has crept up largely

unnoticed. I started blogging in January of 2009, but only published 11 articles in the first 2 years. At the time, I had no idea how to find my reader statistics and thought that I was largely speaking to myself. Then I noticed the "Stats" button and suddenly discovered to my great surprise and a little horror that some people were actually listening. The sudden awareness of an audience made me reassess my approach to the blog. Beginning in 2011, I set a goal of producing one article per week. I wanted to create a predictable resource that would be helpful for developing photographers, especially those who focus on the unique beauty of New England. The production of a weekly blog is a time consuming process which does eat away at shooting and editing time, not to mention the ability to have a life. So why have I kept at it.

Stubbornness, I guess, once I commit to something, I hate to see it slip and, the longer I kept to the schedule, the more I felt the

imperative to continue. In my first article I expressed both my reasons for starting a blog and my reluctance about the process. Among my goals was to tell the stories that were connected with many of my images and to share what I had learned about the marvelous art of photography. I also hoped to develop the ability to talk more fluently about my images and process. Chief among my concerns was my discomfort with much of what I saw as pretentious and over-inflated verbiage that is so often used to describe the photographic process. A tree has never "spoken" to me about how I should "capture its essence". As I said in that first article, I
Optimal Aperture
"try to find good light shining on an interesting scene and then start looking for the solution to the multifaceted puzzle which will eventually yield the best image". That is about as "artsy" as I can manage. The surprising thing is that, over more than five years, my primary goals have not substantially changed

The First 100Back in September 2012, I celebrated my 100th blog article and asked "Where Did They Come From". It is still a matter of considerable mystery and terror trying to come up with fresh topics on a weekly basis, but one of the great things about the blog is that it has forced me to investigate new areas of photography , if only to come up with fresh topics. Too often when I try to come off as an expert on a subject, I feel nervous that it may be glaringly apparent that I just discovered the information myself. As I said 100 blogs ago: "As I have worked to keep the posts interesting and constructive, I have discovered that I have learned more than I could ever teach in my short articles. My research often involves finding the actual basis for many of the photographic techniques that I have learned through painful trial and error." 

The Second Hundred
My second hundred blogs were not really much different from the first. I still focus on the Monadnock Region and Southern Vermont, but enthusiastically report on travels to other parts of New England and the world. And I continue to look at the process of photography from the perspective of how it has changed with digital technology and post-processing capabilities. It was on the occasion of my 100th posting that I recognized this focus and renamed my blog, "Getting It Right in the Digital Camera". At that same time I created an index of the articles organized with such topics as
"Digital Basics", "Photographic Composition", "Tips and Tricks" as well as collections of articles about photography in and out of
Blog Index
New England. I also referenced articles I have published on other blogs including the New England Photography Guild and Nature Scapes. Of course my largest topic is "Getting It Right in the Digital Camera". It is my continuous attempt to show how digital cameras have changed what it means to get a picture "Right in the Camera", and I must apologize for my repeated tirades. 

Hungarian Parliament on the Danube

The Future
So what are my goals for the next 100 articles. First it is to continue
to share my photographic perspective and experiences. As long as people seem interested I will continue to make the effort to keep the information flowing. I know that it is a immense conceit to think that people might be interested in my opinions and activities, but I have discovered that I enjoy the writing and would probably do it even if I was the only one reading. I can't predict where this will lead. It can't even predict what next week's article will be about. Surely there will be descriptions of locations highlighting the beauty of our region, while also trying to illustrate a few technical points of photography. Now that I am fully retired from my medical hobby, I hope to do more teaching. Some of my articles will be in preparation for talks about the basics of photography. And of course I may be forced to buy occasional new gear, solely as an excuse for a blog. 

Finally I want to thank all my readers. I am in awe of the talent and commitment of my followers, and I am aware of the honor of your attention. Photography is a never ending journey of discovery and adventure. At least I hope it is, or I may run out of things to talk about some day.

Jeffrey Newcomer

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

Resurrecting 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