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, December 4, 2016

Perfect Christmas Tree, A Squirrel Saga

Gazebo in the Rain : 2016

Keene New Hampshire is most notable for two physical attributes.  The first is its wide and vibrant Main Street and the second is its classic Central Square at the head of that street.  The square is complete with a beautiful gazebo, the ubiquitous Civil War Statue and the towering steeple of the historic white church.  For a photographer, Central Square is the exclamation point on this lovely New England town.  For me the square is at its best with the addition of the holiday lighting, including the majestic beauty of a brightly illuminated Christmas tree.

Tree at the Head of the Square

2013 Perfect Central Square

Every year I become excited to see the tree at the head of the square.  The trees are always obtained locally and although they vary in size and in the care given to the lighting, I always try to capture the display to best advantage.  The tree has been my focus in several articles discussing photography of holiday lights, and at its best the combination of the glowing evergreen with the perfect New England setting can be breathtaking.  But this year there was a problem.

A Beautiful Tree

2007 Tree with
"Winter Wonderland" Coating

This year’s tree is the best I have seen since the magnificent tree of 2007.  It is tall and full without any major defects or holes.  There has been no snow yet to coat the tree in a “Winter Wonderland” blanket, but everything looked very promising when I first viewed the tree in the daylight.



When I came back to view the tree at night, with the full show of the colored lights, I was horrified.  The beautiful tree was missing lights on a major portion of the top.  At its peak, the  brilliant white star was floating above a large patch of empty branches.

I called City Hall to politely inquire about this tragic insult to an otherwise epic tree, but at first I received on answer.  I couldn’t believe that I was the only person to notice the problem.  That night I went into town for my first attempt at shooting the crippled tree.   

As if to add further insult, it was raining.  The scene had nearly every dismal condition that ever detracted from holiday light photography.   No snow, black sky, missing lights, and droplets on my lens.  All I could do was try to find angles which took advantage of the colorful reflections.  At Least the reflections didn’t show the gaping hole in the lights.  I had hopes that the lights would eventually be repaired, but, in the meantime, I went home and got to work.

Photoshop to the Rescue

Magic Restored with Photoshop

A perfectly illuminated Christmas tree is magical, and what is even more magical is the ability of Photoshop to rescue a poor tree and promote it to its deserved brilliance.  As it happens it is not especially difficult to add lights to fill the holes in a tree.  I cloned individual and strings of lights with ease.  The challenge was to match the illumination of the surrounding greenery.  I approached the rest of the image in steps.  Since I already planned to throw authenticity out the window, I also used cloning and content-aware fill to remove the street lights, the support wires and a few of the most obvious smears of light from passing vehicles.  I left the fire hydrant as a sad false suggestion of reality. 

The final image did not have the full “Winter Wonderland” magic, but, until the snow flies, it was the best I could do with the conditions.  At least the reflections added a point of special interest.  I thought the image would at least serve as a way of shaming the city about its negligent short changing of the beautiful tree that had given its life for our enjoyment.  Then the phone rang and I realize my mistake.

City to the Rescue
All Natural and the Blue Hour!
The next day I received a call from a lovely person at city hall.  Helen told me that they had noticed the problem and discovered that squirrels had eaten through the wires on several strands of the lights.  She assured me that the fire department would be scaling the tree to add new lights, and later that day it was done.  I didn’t ask who first noticed the problem and therefore I can feel comfortable taking full credit for the repair. As it turned out, all I had to do was wait a day, but it still was a fun exercise to use Photoshop to fill the tree.

I came back the next evening to photograph the fully illuminated tree and was also able to capture the square bathed in the cool blue hour light.  The only thing missing was a fresh coating of snow.  I can wait for nature to provide.  I promise, I will not try to Photoshop in the snow! 

Even I have limits.

 Jeff Newcomer

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November Photography

Watchful, Roads End Farm

November is coming to an end and like every year it is time to complain about the terrible conditions for photographers.  It doesn’t help that the dismal stick and mud season comes immediately after the glory of our incredible autumn color, but this is New England, and there is always something to photograph as we await the magical coating of snow.  I have talked about the attractions of late autumn in previous articles, including the rusty display of the leaves as they surrender to the ground, leaving the stark patterns of the bare branches.  November is a great time for hiking with the cool crisp air, open views and most importantly, the absence of bugs.  I have covered this topic before, but, although I’m still working on the pictures, I thought it was a good time to look at some of the special opportunities that came along with this November.  

Late Season Gold

Chesterfield Gorge Color

November is not just about flat colors and dull vistas.  It is a time of remarkable change, and although it often ends with dustings of snow, it begins with the persistent gold from the brave Oaks and Beech trees.  I enjoy the less gaudy colors and the lack of strong early November storms allowed the leaves to hang in longer than usual.


A Time to Think

Roads End Mist

 November is the cloudiest month of the year.  Its soft light and especially the mist make for a quiet contemplative time without gaudy distractions.  We had a number of beautifully soft foggy days to enjoy this year, which contrasted nicely with the stark lines of the bare branches.


Always the Farms

Grazing to the Vermont Hills

There is always activity on the local farms that I consider my own.  The cows were grazing on the hillside with the snow-covered Vermont mountains in the background and the horses of the Roads End Farm in Chesterfield New Hampshire were industriously cropping the last blades of grass from their pastures before the long winter confinement. 

Head Shot
Restless Water

Chesterfield Gorge
 One of November’s traditional attraction is flowing water.  This year the autumn rains have been scant, but in the last few days we have enjoyed a few showers to fill the brooks.   Close to home Beaver Brook and Chesterfield Gorge are great places to catch the cotton candy look of our flowing water.

Otter Brook, Sullivan NH

Super Moon

November Super Super Moon over Monadnock

As everyone knows, November was graced with super Super Moon.  I don’t have anything more to add to last week’s “Bah Humbug” article about super moons, except to apologize and acknowledge that the event was a special break from our typically uneventful season.

Family Time

First Dance : Steven & Rachel

November is a time to gather with family and friends, and this year the usual Thanksgiving feast at home was supplemented by a wonderful family wedding in Tarrytown New York.  My nephew’s wedding was a perfect excuse to get together with almost everyone from Susan’s family and both Jeremy and Abigail were there, looking good and with their significant others.   

Color Along the Hudson

The additional bonus was that even in late November there was still color in the trees along the Hudson River.  

Croton Gorge Dam

 I also managed to get out early one morning to visit Rick Sammon’s favorite local waterfall at the Croton Gorge Dam in Croton on the Hudson New York.  The flow was meager, but it is still an impressive structure holding a large reservoir.

Abigail & Grayson, Gina & Jeremy

Thanksgiving was a more intimate affair with only 14 family a friends gathered around our abundantly stocked dining room table.  As always these occasions are great times to capture candid portraits while everyone is dressed up and expecting to be photographed. The company was warm, the food was amazing and I now have only a few weeks to recover before the Christmas festivities.   

Wonderful Gathering and Lessons Learned
I also learned a few important lessons about photographing the Thanksgiving table.  First, get everyone in the picture.  Secondly, shoot early before the table is in chaos and before much alcohol has been consumed.

Otter Brook Cascade

It hasn't been such a bad stick season.  As November rapidly comes to an end, and until the snow flies, we can continue to enjoy the special quiet autumn joys of the season.

Jeff Newcomer



Sunday, November 20, 2016

What is Super about a SUPER MOON?

Giant Super Moon", November 2016

Like everyone else, I was caught up in Super Moon fever last weekend.  The news was full of it.  The full moon straddling Sunday and Monday nights would be the biggest since January 1948 and not to be exceeded until 2034.  I’m not sure that I will be able to lift a camera in 2034, so I had to get out to capture the “spectacular show”.  Photographers were out, sometimes in large crowds, to shoot the moon as it rose above lighthouses, mountains and church steeples.  Facebook has been glutted with spectacular images of the event.  Crowds gathered and I was no exception.

Finding the Super Moon

Line to the Super Moon
As always, I used the Photographer’s Ephemeris to find the line upon which I would need to find a clear observation point to place the rising moon behind Mount Monadnock.  On the coast, it is easier to line up the moon with a clear view to various interesting foregrounds, such as lighthouses, but inland, I needed a spot far enough away and high enough to make the moon stand out large against the rapidly fading blue hour background.  My line went through Winchester, southwest of the mountain.  I needed to go high and, on a hunch, I found a spot on a ridge west of the Ashuelot River

Cresting Super Moon

that opened through the hills to a view of the mountain fifteen miles away.  It was sheer luck, helped by a little planning, that I found such a perfect spot so quickly.  Sunday evening was clear and I was able to convince fellow photographer Steve Hooper to join me on the ridge.  As we waited, the neighbors came out to offer us beers.  The pressure was on and, thankfully, the Ephemeris came through.  As predicted, the moon crested perfectly and on the

Steve Hooper, On the Ridge

northern ridge of Monadnock.  Steve and I shot continuously as the compliant moon rose over the peak.  Good thing, because on Monday night the moon over the cemetery in Troy was obscured by clouds.  No matter, I have another Super Moon in the can!
Super moons are always a great excuse to bring people out to appreciate the beauty of the full moon, but, as everyone is breathless over the spectacle, it’s good time ask whether the super moon is really all that super?  After all our moon reliably orbits the earth every 28 days and every 28 days it returns to being fully illuminated by the sun.


What's So Super

Elliptical Orbit, Much Exaggerated

So, what is special about Super Moons.  The moon’s orbit around the earth is an ellipse, its proximity to us varies from about 222,000 miles at its closest, called at “perigee” and 252,000 mi at the farthest point on the ellipse, called at “apogee”.  The moon reaches a perigee point every month, but the “Super Moon” title has been arbitrarily give to full moons that happen to occur when the moon is at perigee and are seen to be about 14% bigger than when at apogee.  


Regardless of the phase, the moon is always bigger at perigee, but no one gets excited by a “Super” quarter moon.  I love it when the moon is in full sunshine, but I also find special interest when it is partially illuminated.  Light shining tangentially on the moon’s surface highlights the irregular landscape of mountains and craters.  For all its brilliance, the light on the full moon is flat and lacks dimension.  


Lunar Eclipse

Old Saybrook Super Moon

On rare occasions the full moon provides an additional bonus, when it is paired with a lunar eclipse. I was lucky to be visiting friends on the Connecticut coast for the last such event in September 2015.  I caught the super moon rising over the Old Saybrook Breakwater Light, and later recorded the progression of the lunar eclipse from my friend’s front yard.  Ok, that WAS super!

A Super Pizza
Super & Mini Moons
But, how much more impressive is the moon when it is 14% larger than when at its smallest.  I’m never quite sure that I can appreciate the difference and, for all the gasped admiration, I doubt that the average viewer would notice the difference unless the two moons were magically side-by-side, or if they were told that it was “Super”.   It is the result of an optical illusion that makes all full moons look impressively large when close to the horizon, but he diameter of a super moon is only about 7%  bigger than a “Mini” moon.  Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson has a nice way of placing this small difference in understandable gastronomical perspective:

"If you had a 16" pizza, would you call that a super pizza compared to a 15" pizza?" 

Supersize Your Moon

Non-Super Full Moon Over Monadnock

It may be true that some observers, with unaided eyes, can appreciate the relative size of a full moon at perigee, but for photographers, the difference is of less importance.  We view the moon, not through our eyes, but through a lens and the smallest moon can be rendered super merely by a slight increase in focal length.  A super moon seen through a 100mm lens will appear to be the same size as a “mini” viewed at 107mm. 

I have nothing against super moons, I was out on the hillside with everyone else, but please, can’t all those spectacular, but non-super, moons get a little love.  After all, you won’t have to fight the crowds to shoot any of those lonely non-perigee displays, and with careful planning they can be equally impressive

Full Moons Attractions

Cape Cod Moon, Blue Hour

The attraction of any full moon is, of course, that it is full, but for me its most important attribute is that it always rises and sets during twilight.  Full moons always appear when there is still beautiful blue light in the sky to compliment the yellow orb and to cut the contrast.  Against the dark night sky the moon must be photographed either with detail against a featureless black background or appear as a blown out white disc. Regardless of the size of the full moon its true glory comes from the visibility of its surroundings.  Some of this may be captured using multi image HDR, but nothing matches the warm moonlight against the cool of twilight and that occurs with every full moon, not just the super one.

Know the Rules
So get out and worship the glorious full moon, but remember that you don’t need a super moon to come home with super shots.  The rules are always the same.  

  •  Find a view that includes something of interest in the foreground.  
  • Get far enough away from the foreground so that you can use a long lens to make the moon appear large in the background. 
  • Unless you are on the coast, get high enough so that the moon will appear above the horizon before the twilight blue fades to a fathomless black. 
  • Expose for the detail on the moon’s surface.  Remember that no matter how dark are your surroundings, the moon is as bright as a sun drenched sandy beach. 
  • If the important foreground detail is too dark, you may want to take separate images, exposed for the moon and foreground.  Just shoot quickly so that the moon will not move significantly between images and complicate the eventual blending.

I couldn't get back any further
from Abigail and Grayson


    And finally remember, every full moon can be super.  Your next chance is the “Cold Moon” on December 13th.  

Ok, if you insist, the next “Super Moon” will be December 3rd 2017, but, don't get too excited,  it will be about 620 miles further away.

Super Moon, March 2011

Jeff Newcomer