About Me

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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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Macro Leaf Photography for Late Autumn


Last week I discussed just a few of opportunities for photographing the dead and decaying leaves that are the

Oaken Flame
inevitable result of another brief but spectacular autumn. As part of that effort I reviewed years of late fall images. I found many, previously neglected pictures of leaves decorating fields, streams and stone walls, but, as I wadded through the foliage, I discovered that my favorites were intimate compositions of just a few leaves and close-up views of individuals. Leaves are remarkable natural sugar factories that somehow, in a brief season, are able to supply the energy to support and grow massive living things. Macro images can show the remarkably intricate detail of these structures. As the leaves decay the chlorophyll disappears revealing the delicate underlying matrix that supports the mysterious photosynthetic process.

What a great use for my new 100mm macro lens, but first I had

Simple Set-Up
to wander around the yard looking for likely subjects. I started very simply. First I needed something sturdy to hold the leaves in place, but many of my first images were captured with the leaves secured by a large paper clip to a rudely bent metal coat hanger. This worked reasonable well, but eventually I upgraded to a more substantial clamp which, by some miracle, fit perfectly into my old Manfroto tripod. Initially I planned to use a Speedlite to
Matrix Revealed
back illuminate the leaves, but I found that a Tensor light from my studio worked well. I would have loved to have been able to direct the light more precisely. Barn doors or a snoot would have been nice, but I found the the extraneous light mild, and easily managed in post. My background was easy to obtain, using a sheet of my black mat board. I may experiment with different backgrounds, but for now I love the black. My macro performed beautifully, with great edge to edge sharpness and clarity. The lens goes to 1:1, but I also experiment with extension tubes to increase the magnification. I 'm just beginning to get to know this equipment and this was a wonderful chance to play in a comparatively uncomplicated setting.

In the wind-free, controlled environment of my studio, I was able to maximize depth of field, stopping down to f 20 to f25. I tried to arrange the leaves as close as possible to the same plane. I tried gently pressing some of the leaves, but only the most supple withstood the process without crumbling. Still, I needed to use focus bracketing (or stacking) to get reasonable sharpness throughout most images. Photoshop's Auto-Merge function generally work well in this situation, requiring only spotty touch-ups. I have found that Auto-Merge works best when there is a continuous and uninterrupted range of depth, rather than when there are overlapping areas of widely different depth.

Electric Maple

Focus was extremely critical. Using Live View I was able to precisely walk the focus across the leaves to get a good range of focus images. Given the small aperture, I could depend on the final images to show much better DOF than was apparent on the Live View. I could have used the DOF preview, but the LCD was far too dark to be of much help.

Once merge to a single layer the images were easily finished in Photoshop. The sharp contrast between leaves and background
Christmas Cactus
made selecting and masking trivially easy. I first cloned out any major areas of flare and then adjusted the background to an even deep black tone. The back lighting brought out brilliantly electric tones in the foliage requiring little adjust in post. Often My only adjustment was to step back on the native saturation and apply a touch of sharpening.  The leaves were beautiful but I couldn't resist foraging around the house for other subjects.  Our Christmas Cactus has been exploding of late with luscious fountains of red. 

This was great fun. It was great to find a new source of photographic inspiration for this usually barren time of year.   I was only slowed by the fact that I had to use my last sheet of black mat board to finish some holiday prints for Pocket Full of Rye in Keene. My order is in and in the meantime, I'm still looking down for that perfect leaf. 


  1. I'm surprised you couldn't get these just right in the camera, but never mind- they look great. So much warmth from death. Stick with the black background as I think you would lose too much contrast.

  2. Neat images... Great technical advice for those of us that are unaware of some of the capabilities of PS- Thanks!

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