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, July 17, 2016

Flower Photography

This week I stop to sniff, and photograph the flowers.

Last week was one those times when I was consumed in the “Blogosphere”.  It is normally a challenge to come up with one article each week for my regular Sunday “Getting it Right in the Digital Camera” Blog.  After over 300 blogs, it is becoming harder to find something that I haven’t already discussed 

One blog per week is often a struggle but several time per year I have to come up with two articles.  An essential responsibility of being a member of the New England Photography Guild is to contribute to the Guild’s excellent blog and last week my name came up on the schedule. My Guild article was about shooting in the midday sun, a time which is generally felt to be the worst for photography.  We are encouraged to limit the number of images in the Guild article and, as I often do, I used my regular blog as an album for the images that I couldn’t include for the Guild. 

Regardless of my strategy, my two blog weeks are always a struggle.  This week I decide to take a breath and wander through my flower pictures from this spring and summer, and discuss I few techniques I use to capture the beauty of these remarkable works of nature.

Flowers, in their amazing variety of form and color, are excellent subjects for photography.  Since nature does all the real work, It is almost impossible to get a bad picture, but it is often very difficult to capture a truly striking image that cuts through to the dramatic essence of the floral form and function.  As with all photography, it comes down to light, perspective and isolating a one or two key elements, but lets start with the camera.

Camera : Do You Need an Expensive DSLR?

Wide DOF IPhone 4S

I generally shoot flowers with my Canon 5d Mark II and my beloved 100mm Macro lens, but you can get excellent results with point and shoots and other cameras with smaller sensors.  Many of these cameras have Macro setting that allow close approach to the blooms, and cameras with small sensors also have inherently wider depth of field for any particular f stop.  

Canon SX50 HS

 I love the soft Bokeh from my full size sensor DSLR, and with careful focus stacking, I can achieve the precise DOF required around my subjects, but sometimes my Canon SX50 HS, with its small sensor, does a better job capturing the full flower in sharp focus.  The large DOF with small sensors can be a benefit and a liability.  IPhone seem to have almost infinite depth, but this can make it harder to isolate foreground blooms from the distracting background.

Bokeh with Canon 5D II

Soft Light
Flowers may appear brilliant on a sunny summer day, but up close, that light creates harsh contrasts and reflections that can smother the rich colors of the blooms.  Soft diffuse light is generally much better. It allows the colors to shine through and eliminates the struggle of dealing with bright highlights and deep shadows.  Lovely soft light can be found on overcast days, in the shade or with the use of a diffuser to mute the direct sunshine.  As I discussed last week, a polarizer can help cut the reflection off the foliage, but nothing works like natural diffuse illumination.  Rainy conditions are a great time to shoot flowers and foliage with the combination of soft light and the glisten of rain droplets.

The Wind
Persian Shield
Wind is a constant problem for flower photography especially when trying to place a paper thin zone of sharp focus on the tip of that pistil.  I have been frustrated as I focus and refocus, while waiting for a brief pause in the wind.  Often it is a matter of shooting multiple frames and hoping that one will miraculously appear sharp.  Sometimes it works, but I often descend to cheating, and seek locations such as greenhouses, which shield the flowers from the breeze.   


As I have discussed previously, greenhouses such as one at Walker Farm in Dummerston Vermont provide soft light and near total protection from the wind and the added bonus is that the flowers are labeled.             



One of the easiest ways to capture a unique floral image is to change your perspective.  Too often I see photographers standing over the flowers shooting down.  Get close, get low and get dirty for more interesting shots.  On sunny days you may want to shoot through the flowers into the bright light.

Getting close should be a routine part of your approach.  I typically start with broader views of the garden and then progressively get closer, often to the point that I am, shooting only a small part of an individual bloom.  When shooting portraits, the rule always is to get the eyes in sharp focus and for flowers the eyes are generally the Stamen and Pistil.  Emulate the Honey Bee and focus on those reproductive organs and everything else can be soft. 

Simplify  Isolating the Flower
Simplifying your images is an essential rule for all photography and it is especially important for flower images.  The approach should always be to draw the eye and let it rest comfortably on the flower.  It is possible to create interesting compositions with bunches of flowers or garden arrays, but more often the most dramatic shots come by concentrating on one, or at most two or three flowers.  If you are shooting multiple flowers, remember the “rule of odds”.  In general, an odd number of anything, including flowers, creates a more balanced and pleasing composition.  Three is definitely better than two, but don’t get crazy, I wouldn’t spend time counting to make sure you have 101 vs 100 flowers in the frame.

For my best floral images, I frequently zoom in to just a portion of a single bloom.   Various other techniques can be effective at focusing attention including, getting close, removing and minimizing distractions with careful control of the background, limiting depth of field to the single flower or a portion of the bloom.

Post Processing

Much can be done to improve floral images in post-processing.
After removing the dust marks and other flaws, I scan the edges of the image for distractions.  I clone away other distracting petals, stalks, or bright spots that might draw the eye away for the flower.  The Content Aware Fill tool in Photoshop has greatly simplified much of this often tedious work.  Some of these distractions can eventually be removed during cropping, but I usually remove most of the problems from the entire image before I make a final commitment about the final the framing. 


 I often find that the detail in bright white petals can be lost in the glare, but it can be salvaged with the gentle use of the Shadow/Highlight tool in Photoshop.  The important thing is to avoid overdoing the effect and making the petals appear muddy. 


Local adjustments can be especially effective at isolating the key flower(s).  I typically make a careful selection of the blooms, and then selectively darken and or soften the focus of the background.  As I said earlier the Stamen and Pistil is the “eyes” of the flower and I will often selectively bright this area with a curves adjustment applied with a circular gradient mask.

My final steps are usually cropping, sizing, and sharpening, before any cropping, I always save a copy of the full resolution, edited image - I never know when I may need to re-purpose the original image.  I crop the final image tightly but most flowers tend to be “looking” in one direction and, as with human portraits, I try to give the bloom a little “nose” room.  

Selective sharpening is another way to focus attention on the flower and I usually apply the sharpening just to the flower, often isolating the greatest effect to the Stamen and Pistil.  Noise reduction can also be locally applied to further soften the background.

I could say more but I have a pile of floral images requiring editing and I’m exciting to see what will bloom from these natural wonders.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Magic in a Bright and Sunny Day

Beautiful Bright Sunny Day

Ask any photographer and he will tell you, the worse time for landscape photography is in the bright midday light.  The rest of the world will insist that a bright and sunny day is a glorious time to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors, and they assume that it is also a great time to shoot.  We photographers must scoff and patiently explain that the bright sun creates stark contrasts, with both deep, fathomless shadows and brilliant highlights, which are impossible, given the limited dynamic range of both film and digital sensors, to capture completely.  

The human eye has a dynamic range which is probably only slightly broader than current DSLRs but, by virtue of the ability of our eyes to seamlessly transition from dark to light and our brains capacity to assemble an image from this input, we perceive a far greater dynamic range.    A single DSLR image may capture a dynamic range of 8-10 f stops, but, by constantly adjusting to the brightness of the area of our attention, our eyes can appear to record more than 24 stops.  The camera works like an eye whose pupil has been fixed, which is why you are given sun glasses after your eyes have been dilated at the ophthalmologist.  

Exposed for the Highlights

Enough physiology.  The point is that eyes can fully appreciate the lovely contrast between the brilliant light and the cool inviting shadow, but the same conditions have always posed a challenge for photographers. 

Exposed for the Shadows

 I remember, from my film days, a constant frustration with the inability to capture scenes such as when dappled sunlight illuminated a lovely trail in the woods. I always had to choose between exposing for the shadows and, as a result, blowing out all detail in the highlights or exposing for the highlights and losing the shadows.

Full Dynamic Range - Single Image

  If we call the warm light of sunrises and sunset the “Golden Hours”, for us the midday sun is the “Lead Hours”, but the fault isn’t in the light.   The real difficulty comes from the limitations of our photographic tools and techniques to capture what the eye can see and interpret.

I have discussed all of this in greater detail in my article this week in the New England Photography GuildBlog.  As I said there; The good news is that, with the expanded capabilities of modern digital cameras and powerful image editing tools, we can better capture the magic of the bright sunny day. Our job as photographers is to stop whining about the "terrible light" and start finding ways to push beyond the limitations of our medium, and capture the midday glory that is so apparent to everyone else.

Within the Guild article I discuss how the combination of a properly exposed digital image or images can be rendered in editing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, to capture the full dynamic that range that we can perceive.  Something I never could accomplish in my beloved film days. 


 I also reviewed other methods that can bring the “bright sunny day” within the range of our limited digital sensors.  I discussed the use of  shade, fill flash, reflectors and diffusers. Of course, I couldn’t leave out the value of a polarizing filter to cut through glaring reflection to allow the rich colors to shine through.


I refer you to my Guild article for this discussion.  In this blog, I wanted to present a Gallery of images that that try to capture the true beauty of the “beautiful sunny day”.  Every kind of light offers its own attractions and challenges and I encourage you not to hide from the Lead Hour.  Accept the challenge and glory in the brilliant sunlight!

Broad Dynamic Range






 In the Shade

Soft Shade Light


Check out my New England Photography Guild article
"Photography in the Lead Hours"
for more on shooting in the bright sunlight.

Jeff Newcomer