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, February 17, 2013

Photographic Composition, Avoiding Distractions

This weeks article may be a bit short. Susan had bilateral knee
White Hillside, Pomfret, Vermont
replacement a little over a week ago and I have been spending most of my time playing the role of supportive husband and therapist. She is doing remarkably well, but two replacements at the same time requires a lot of recovery and assistance Our wonderful daughter Abigail came up, from Washington to help out, allowing me to go to work for a couple of days, but now I am back on full duty. I won't be getting out of the house much in the next several weeks. All of this to explain why this week's blog is uncharacteristically brief and to the point. 

Hillside Distractions

Last week I discussed a few compositional techniques to help draw the eye to the key elements(s) of your photographs. Strong compositions typically provide a comfortable visual path to the subject. It is an essential part of an image's ability to tell a coherent story and story telling is what photography, at it's best, should be about.


Drawing the eye is effective, but avoiding distraction from the main
Damn Wires, Harrisville, NH
subject can be equally important. As I try to arrange a composition, I also watch for elements in the image that might distract from the central theme. Areas of bright light or color, competing lines or incongruous stuff poking in along the edges can disrupt the balance and flow of the image. 

Worth the effort

In the Camera
Avoiding distractions starts in the camera. As I approach the critical moment of shutter release I always try to pause for a quick scan of the composition for competing elements. The problems may be obvious, but often it takes discipline to shift the eye from the magnetic attraction of the subject to the surroundings. I first check the background and foreground for distractions. With portraits, it is usually the tree growing out of someone 's head, but phone wires, signs, or splashes of spectral light are just a few of the common problems. My final step is to scan the edges of the image for intrusions. Often subtle changes in framing can illuminate most problems, but sometimes the best composition unavoidably includes distractions. Thank goodness for the cloning tool.  But before you become outraged about post-processing solutions, please indulge
 my standard sermon.

Greening, Spring Hillside, Dummerston, Vt
Just a simple post

The Sermon, When in Doubt, Run to Ansel
There are those who will cheer efforts to frame images in the camera to eliminate distractions, but will protest their removal in post-processing as a dishonest manipulation of the reality of the scene. To me these questions of photographic purity are always a matter of individual artistic expression. My view is that photography is much more than a slavish regurgitation of the data recorded by the sensor. At its best a photographic image has the capacity to preserve not only what the eye sees, but also what the brain perceives and our memory retains. When I behold a beautiful landscape, I see the beauty and not the scars and it is that untarnished beauty that lasts in my memory. At home, when I see the RAW images, I am often surprised by what I didn't "see" while on site. I don't remember those cigarette packages on the ground or those hideous telephone wires and I don't feel any responsibility to preserve them to prove that I am a photographic purist. Angel Adams was once criticized for touching up a negative to remove graffiti that had been painted on rocks in one of his timeless images of Mt Whitney and the Alabama Hills. In response he said, " I have been criticized by some for doing this, but am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of the scene" (from  The 40 Images). But I digress, as usual.

But Become Clear Once Removed
Pomfret Vermont
Often the Distractions are Small ....

Thank God and Ansel for the Cloning Tool
The first step in post-processing is to identify the issues. Cropping 

Die Annoying Bipeds!
and cloning can illuminate many distractions and sometimes the problems can be minimized by reduction in brightness or saturation, or by softening with the use of localized blurring. The art is in choosing the right tool and making the changes subtle. Cloning technique could be the topic of a number of articles by itself, but the secret is to vary the cloning sources and brush hardness to avoid excessively soft regions or obvious repeating patterns, and blending cloned areas with the background. It is always best to make these changes on a blank layer or a copy to avoid irreversible damage to the parent image.

Peggy's Cove Light, Nova Scotia

 One quick tip is to do the cloning early in your processing and especially before the image is re-sized. You don't want to be forced to re-clone every time a different size is required. Proper cloning can be a painstaking and time consuming job, but the results are usual well worth the effort. Besides, there is a perverse God-like pleasure in erasing those annoying humans from your beautiful image. 


Distracting White Label
Dummerston Vt, Hot House Flower

I promised this would be quick. Beyond the preaching, my point is really quite simple. Deciding on the path through your image you want your viewers to follow , arranging the elements to draw the eye along that path, and avoiding intrusions that may distract from the journey, are essential steps to a strong composition which tells your story.

Now back to the gimp.


  1. Thank you, Jeff, this is an excellent reminder. It's too easy to get used to those distractions--but what a difference it makes once they're removed. We have to see the potential shot through the eyes of the eventual viewer who is perhaps more likely than we are to notice those distractions.

  2. Thank you For Sharing Information on Photography and Camera with us.
    digital camera

  3. Wonderful article, Jeff.....really enjoyed it and agree with you completely.....love your work....

  4. Hi Dr. Jeff,

    parked at the Stonewall Farm sap gathering contest yesterday (3/23/2013) just in front of you. Thanks for the pictures of the last several years' events, and looking forward to your work from yesterday. - Steve McLocklin from Dunbarton