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 18, 2018

Looking Through Stuff

Through the Trees, Warwick Ma.
After grinding out over 400 blog articles, including my Getting It Right in the Digital Camera Blog, my contributions to the New England Photography Guild blog and various other articles, it is getting increasingly difficult to come up with sparkling new things to say.  I have covered all the camera basics including exposure, composition, focus and file selections, but the nice thing is that this situation works to encourage me to buy new equipment to review, and to travel to fresh locations, in and out of New England.  

Snow can Screen, Chesterfield NH

In the last couple of weeks I have discussed my new set of neutral density filters and the latest installment from our tour of Italy, including Bologna and Lake Como.  This week I decided to get back to my personal roots of more basic challenges of effective imaging .  I asked myself, “How has my photographic eye changed over the years ?  What have I learned?”.  One thing that immediately came to mind is that I am much more willing to look through stuff.

Stuff Gets in the Way!
Spire Screen, Keene NH
One of the great frustrations of landscape photography is that things always get in the way of my perfect compositions.  Trees, bushes, grasses and wires always seem to be In the wrong spot, and, when I am able move to a clear location, a have to accept an suboptimal point of view.   I can always choose to stay in the perfect spot, but I then must spend hours in Photoshop cloning away the offending junk. I still work to open many of my images, but increasingly I have come to accept and appreciate the attraction of looking through stuff.

Photoshop’s Disappearing Acts

Spofford Village, NH
About five years ago, I published an article reviewing the various ways that distractions can be removed using Photoshop.  Specifically, I was trying to remove a branch from in front of a church in Spofford New Hampshire.  I used simple cloning and patching to erase the branch and Puppet Warping to move it to the side.  Sadly, at that time, Smart Fill was not yet available. All of these techniques can be challenging and time-consuming, but I always love the process of removing distracting stuff.

Puppet Warped Branch

Steeple Cleared - Much Work
In this case, as I stepped back from the removal process, I discovered that I actually preferred the original image, branch and all.  Over time I have become more aware of how some natural screening elements can enhance the interest of compositions.

The Glory of Tangles
I reviewed my archive of favorite images and found many in which the screening elements seemed to add to the image’s attraction and I tried to understand the situations in which a little screening was not so bad.

Autumn Rush,  Wardsboro Vermont

I found a few broad categories of images in which there seemed to be value in looking through foreground “stuff”.  Of course, I am talking to photographers here, and you will inevitably have your own tastes and preferences, but perhaps this exercise will encourage reflection on the when screening is ok.  

My Categories

Contribution of the Foreground to the Story
Weathersfield Barn, Vermont
It is obvious the tangle of brambles in front of the dilapidated barn in Weathersfield Vermont is essential to the focus of the image.  The same is true of the ice coated bushes screening the barn in Marlborough New Hampshire, taken in the aftermath of the disastrous ice storm of 2008.

2008 Ice Storm, Marlborough NH
Westmoreland NH
The line of trees with classic sap gathering buckets screens the barn, but, in all these images, the screenings do not distract, they add an essential aspect to the story of the images.

Contrast with the Background
Stickney Brook Falls
For me, the foreground screens are most effective when they contrast with the background.  I see this most frequently when I place sharp features in front of the soft flowing water, whether it is cascading brooks or waterfalls.  

Beaver Falls, Colebrook NH

Spofford NH

Contrast may also include differences in color or tone, such as the brilliant foliage in front of the dark house or the snow covered branches contrasting with the rich red building  

Roads End Farm, Chesterfield NH

To Mt. Monadnock, Jaffrey NH
I also found images in which the contrast was primarily between near and far, with distant grand landscapes.

Distant View, Newfane Vermont

Northfield Pasture
Foreground elements can also partially frame and highlight a key portion of the more distant subject.  The sunlit trees in the picture of a Northfield Massachusetts pasture break only slightly to reveal a distant horse, gazing in the October light, and the three trees on a hillside in Pomfret Vermont nicely draw the eye to the distant barn.

Pomfret Vermont

Practical Considerations and Sheer Laziness
There are many times when it is not possible to frame a composition without including screening stuff, but I often try my best to crawl into some awkward locations, which are usually wet or dangerous, to get around the obstructions.  Even when that is possible it often means accepting a suboptimal composition.

Perkins Pond Falls, Troy NH
  I like the image of the Perkins Pond Falls in Troy New Hampshire, looking down from the edge of the steep bank and screened by trees. On another occasion I found a spot down-stream, from which I could descend to the level of the brook, but it required considerable effort to work my way up to the level of the falls.  A pretty picture and without obstruction but I think I prefer the shot from the bank, including the lovely trees.  And, of course, it was also much easier to shoot.

Perkins Pond Falls  - Brook Level

As always, the final decision about composing with screening elements comes down to personal taste. Although my nature is generally to avoid distractions, the benefits of a little contrast is often worth considering.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, March 12, 2018

Bologna and Lake Como

Plazza d Accusio Bologna

Towers of Bologna
With winter seeming to drag on endlessly, it is a good time to look back to another part of our wonderful tour of Italy last fall.  I still have thousands of pictures which require editing.  I completed a bunch celebrating Rome, Tuscany, and Florence, so it seems a good time to show some of my images from the next phase of our trip, Bologna and Lake Como.  It is frustrating that I have so many pictures that I haven’t had the chance to work on, but I want to show a taste of the rest of our trip, Bologna, Lake Como and finally wonderful Venice.


Street Market, Bologna

Four days exploring Florence wasn’t nearly enough and I was reluctant to board the train west to Bologna.  For some reason I pictured a dull, working city, but Bologna was the biggest surprise of our trip. 

Bologna is a relatively quiet University town with a wealth of well preserved Medieval and Renaissance architecture.   It is home to Italy’s oldest university, founded in 1088, and currently has over 8o thousand students. Bologna is also famous for its nearly 40 kilometers of porticos.  In medieval times, these were built to expand the floor space of upper stories, but they became a valuable addition to public space. In 1288 the city passed an ordinance requiring all new houses to have porticos.  The structures were required to be tall enough to allow a man to ride through on a horse.

Basilica di San Petronio Festival

Soaring, Basillica di San Petronio
On our first night in town we were on hand for a religious procession as hundreds of priests carried relics from the  Basilica di San Petronio around the Piazza Maggiore.  After escaping the ring of priests, we explored the wonderful web of ancient narrow streets lined with open air markets and cozy restaurants.  We returned to the Piazza to try to shoot the full rise, but given the height of the surrounding palaces, I could only capture the moon long after the blue hour had faded.

Moon-Rise Piazza Maggiore

Dissection Theater
On our second day we had a private tour of the city with Giamoco, a wonderfully friendly and knowledgeable native of the city.  The tour was as much about the local food as the architecture, but I especially enjoyed a tour of Bologna’s old medical college.  The elegantly wood paneled dissection theater was a tasty supplement to our dining stops.

Garisenda and Asinelli Towers
Bologna is known for its many towers.  In Medieval times a family’s status was often measured by the height of the tower on their house.  During the 12th century Bologna had over 100 towers of which 24 are still standing.  The two most famous are the Garisenda and Asinelli Towers, both of which are leaning.  They are still safe to climb, but there was no way I could convince Susan to scale one, even if they weren’t leaning.

Student Parade, University Quarter
The greatest attraction of Bologna was the chance to wander the ancient narrow porticoed streets.  We explored the large University District and met Abby and Grayson for a drink at a bar which was converted from an ancient church.  From here we finally broke away from the kids, but it was wonderful to share so much of our journey with our children.  Bologna was a pleasant surprise and, as was true for all our stops, we could have spent much more time there. 

Endless Street Cafes

The next morning we got up early for a train to Milan and then a car to beautiful Lake Como.  


Como  and Swiss Alps from Brunate

Lake Como 
Como Harbor
Lake Como is located in Northern Lombardy close to the Swiss border and the Alps.  It is of glacial origin with steep surrounding mountains and is about 146 Square kilometers in area.  

Lake Como Ferry
We stayed in a lovely hotel on the lake.  It was just up the shore from the town of Como and had panoramic views up the lake and to the town.  On our arrival the winds were quite blustery and it kicked up a serious chop on the lake. On the next day, the winds had calmed allowing a comfortable boat tour up the lake.  The cozy villages and extravagant lake-side villas were lovely. 

Torno, Lake Como

Brunate in Moonlight
 After more exploration of Como, I was actually able to get my height adverse wife to ride the Tram up to the hill-top village of Brunate.  The view took in Como, the lake and the snow covered Alps and Susan actually survived the trip. Lake Como reminded us of the mountains and lakes of New England.  

We were beginning to feel ready to get home, but there was one more stop on our itinerary, wonderful Venice.

Basillca di San Petronio
More to See:

Monday, March 5, 2018

Using Neutral Density Filters

Pond Brook Falls 67seconds, 6 Stop ND
10 Stop ND

It is a common saying that, “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail”.  Over the last few days, everything has looked like an opportunity to use my new Neutral Density Filters and I have been having a great time. 

Over the years I have used various filters when I wanted to reduce the light reaching my camera’s sensor.  Most often this has been when I was trying to slow my exposure of flowing water to get that soft, cotton candy look, which I love.  I routinely use my polarizer which, with the right direction of light can knock of one or two stops as well as cutting the reflections on the rocks.  With low light, a
Chesterfiled Gorge Cascade, 79 Seconds
polarizer may be all I need to get the exposure down to 0.5 to one second, which creates a nice soft look without obscuring all the detail in the water.  If I need to block more light, my next step has been to use my gradient neutral density filters.  I have a nice set of Cokin filters, which are designed to block the light in a portion of the scene.  Most commonly this is helpful to reduce the contrast between a bright sky and a foreground which is shadow, but the portion of the filter which has the maximum darkening effect is usually large enough to cover the entire lens.  It is an awkward arrangement but, in a pinch, it can work like a fixed neutral density filter.

These have been my light reduction work-arounds, they can work but are difficult and, despite my best efforts, at most I can reduce the light by 3-5 stops, not the 6 – 10 stops that can really change a scene.  Obviously, I needed a set of fixed ND filters that would be easy to use and provide a wide range of light reduction options.  Oh, and they need to be high quality and low price.  Easy.

Ashuelot Falls 46 Seconds, 6 stop ND

Finding a Reason to Stop at 2Filter.com
That brings us to earlier this week.  Susan and I were heading home from a tour of possible wedding party venues for my daughter (YEH), and happened to be passing the unobtrusive offices of 2Filter.com in Gilsum New Hampshire.  2Filter.com is a great on-Line source for photographic filters, but it is not a retail store.  The first time I made an order, I scared the hell out of the people in the office when, upon being asked for my shipping address, I announced that I would be dropping by to pick it up.  Since then I have enjoyed a friendly relationship with the owner and his helpful staff.  On this day, I had to come up with a reason to stop at the office and ND filters came immediately to mind.  With the help of the staff,  I came away with a set of Fixed NDs [3,6 and 10 stops), and also a Clear-Night Filter for my astrophotography. 

Ashuelot River Park, 45 Second 10 Stop ND

When buying filters, you want to get multicoated glass filters with thin but sturdy rings.  The thin rings are important to avoid vignetting especially if the filters are stacked.  My kit of Haida fixed ND filters met my criterion and for a fair price.  It was then time to go out and play.

So what situations call for the significant reduction of light making it to your sensor?

1)   Flowing Water

Pond Brook Cascade
1/60th second Polarizer

The use of long exposures to make flowing water appear like a gossamer veil is one of the most commonly used pieces of photographic magic.  Water never actually looks like cotton candy, but it is just one way to capture the feel of waterfalls and streams.  Different slow shutter speeds create different renderings, but on bright days, even with a polarizing filter, it can be difficult to slow the shutter sufficiently.  Neutral density filters allow long exposure even in the brightest sunlight.

60 Seconds, 6 stop ND

 For waterfalls, I typically use shutter speeds from 0.5 to one second, but I have been having fun experimenting with my new NDs for much longer exposures. My camera only goes to exposures of 30 seconds, but with the bulb setting I have captured my flowing water up to a minute or more.  Definitely a different look and feel.

2)   Moving Clouds

Chesterfield Town Hall

Technically just another kind of flowing water, using ND filters to capture moving clouds can lead to interesting effects.  The optimal shutter speed depends on the density of the clouds, how fast they are moving across the sky and, of course, personal preference.  I am excited about getting the chance to experiment with angry, fast moving clouds, but, as of this writing the weather has been too damn nice.  Over this weekend I caught puffy clouds flying by ther Chesterfield Town Hall.

71 Seconds, 10 Stop ND

3)   Video Shutter Control

It is generally understood that video has a more natural, “cinematic” appearance with a shutter speed  of 1/50th – 1/60th of a second, which is roughly twice the usual frame rate.  This can be difficult to achieve when filming on bright days, and neutral density filters are routinely used to block the light sufficiently to allow the optimal shutter.

4)   Bright Light Shallow Depth of Field, Especially Portraiture

Portraits are always difficult on sunny days.  The stark shadows, the squinting and the flat colors often present insurmountable challenges.  Reflectors and fill flash can help, but the bright light may also make it impossible to open the aperture sufficiently to get a nice soft focused Bokeh behind your subject.   Many of the newer DSLRs have faster shutter speeds that may be used to avoid this problem, but cutting the light with an ND can also permits a wider aperture.

5)   Long Exposure Crowd Control
Portland Alley

   Over the years I have occasionally been able to use long exposures to remove unwanted people or vehicles from a scene.  With a long shutter moving subjects may not be in one spot long enough to register on the sensor.  

30 Second Exposure
  A few years ago, I used this technique on a night shot of a busy alley in Portland Maine.  A 30 second exposure was long enough to remove all but the idle smokers from the scene.  For the dark alley, all needed was f/22 and an ISO of 100 to allow the 30 second exposure, but for shots in brighter light a neutral density filter would be needed. 

Maine Street Keene, NH

Earlier this week I set up on Keene’s busy Maine street in bright midday sunshine.  Traffic was heavy, but I magically removed most of the cars a 10 stop ND, f/22 and an 8 minute exposure.  I couldn’t remove all the evidence of bright car lights.  This technique will work better when used to remove people (who don’t have headlights) strolling by, and when the motion is perpendicular to the cameras view.

8 Minutes, 10 Stop ND

Neutral Density Lessons

These are just a few uses for fixed Neutral Density Filters.  I am sure more can be suggested.  I have only been playing with my NDs for a couple of weeks and can hardly be considered an expert in their use, but I have learned a few things from my experiences so far.


First NDs can be stacked either with themselves or with other filters.  When NDs are stacked there is a wide range of effects than can be achieved. A 3 stop and a 10 stop can be stacked to reduce exposure by 13 stops.  Although it would be unlikely to be necessary, stacking all three filters from my new kit, I could reduce the light by 19 stops!  With that I could hit the shutter and come back in several days to review the results. 

Stickney Falls, Dummerston Vt, 93 Seconds

For my waterfall pictures I like to use a polarizer to reduce the reflections off the rocks and a polarizer can be stacked with an ND.  The polarizer reduces the exposure by an additional stop or two.  With more powerful NDs which essentially eliminate the light,  I must adjust the polarizer as well as the composition and focus before I add the ND.  Care needs to be taken to avoid moving the Polarizer ring as the ND filter is screwed in place.

The other important issue with stacking any filters is to watch for vignetting.  This is more of a problem when thick filter rings are stacked and when using wider angle lenses. 

Focusing and Composing

63 seconds, Chesterfield Gorge
Even with relatively weak ND filters, it can be difficult to compose and focus in the viewfinder.  One approach is to focus before the filter is added, but I found that even with moderate amounts of light reduction, I could use Live View to focus and to adjust the effects of a polarizer on the LCD.  With the 10 stop filter, everything was completely black and I had to make my adjustments before adding the filter.  Of course, cameras vary, and experimentation will usually be necessary.


Maintaining the same exposure after adding a ND filter is simply a mater of compensating for the number of stops.  Since aperture adjustments are limited, I tend to keep the f-stop fixed and compensate with changes in the shutter speed, but it can get confusing when trying to count out ten stops on the shutter adjustment. 

Happily, there are several easy Apps, available in the iTunes App Store, that make this adjustment easy.  I settled on free one (typical) called the “Long Exposure Calculator”.   You start by finding the correct exposure without the ND.  For my waterfall pictures, this means the correct exposure with the polarizer in place.  This “Base Shutter Speed” is entered into the App and, when the filter density is dialed in, the correct filtered shutter speed appears on the bottom.  Simple, and if the shutter is greater than 30 seconds, a timer pops up to count down the appropriate amount of time. This works great, but if the light changes some adjustment may be required.

Long Exposure Calculator

I’ve been having great fun with my NDs.  One of the remarkable things about photography is how even relatively inexpensive pieces of kit can open exciting new ways of seeing our world.  Go have some fun.

Evening Stickney Brook Falls, Dummerston Vt : 60 sec 6 Stop ND