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.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lessons from Autumn

Ancient Sugar Maple, Guilford, Vt.

The fall colors are still building in the Monadnock Region, but my October file directory is already filling with stuff that I can't
Spofford Lake Fog
wait to bring into the digital darkroom. Right now I am spending much of my post-processing time uploading, naming, labeling and assigning GPS locations, but as I go along, I can't resist diving into some of the most promising images. My favorite pictures all seem to have there own stories and I've realized that they also seem to illustrate various aspects of photography, many of which extend beyond the special challenges and opportunities of autumn. This week I thought it would be fun to show a few of my most recent images and use them to illustrate a collection of quite random thoughts about photography. Ok, It is really just a lame excuse to show some of my fall pictures. This time of year, the volume of new material makes it difficult to decide which few deserve to be splashed across the social networks.

So, in no particular order:


Color Doesn't Need to Overwhelm
Through Birches
With so much color around this time of year, it is easy to overwhelm the viewer with a cacophony of brilliant reds and golds, but this is a situation in which less is often much more. It is important to consider what you want the color to accomplish in your image. In the picture of the birches in Reading Vermont, the small colorful tree provides a nice focus of contrast against what would otherwise be rather oppressive columns of black and white. 

Dummerston, Vt

I have always liked the way the grassy road leads to the small house in Dummerston, Vermont, but the bright orange trees were just enough to, even more strongly, draw the eye.


 Small Compositions 

Harrisville, NH
I must confess that I generally hate pictures of broad hillsides dominated by a chaotic blend of fall colors. No matter how richly saturated, I get a bit dizzy as my eyes have no idea where to go. With fall foliage, the smaller you go, the easier it is to create an image that draws the eye to a strong focus. The guidelines of good composition apply
Climbers Pomfret, Vt
equally for small subjects as they do for grand landscapes. As I drive the autumn backroads, I am always scanning for these small tableaus, usually with a strong single color and contrasting elements. On my way to Harrisville last week I saw this simple combination of bright red and gold leaves splashing behind a white birch trunk. All I needed was a simple two image focus stack to get both elements in sharp focus.



Bad Weather is Your Friend
Spofford, NH
It may seem surprising, but we photographers generally hate strong light and it is especially true in the autumn where reflected sunlight can prevent the rich colors from shinning through. Cloudy skies, mist and even rain are great times to get out and capture the foliage. Sadly wind and rain also tends to knock the leaves to the ground, but while it lasts, foul weather is great weather to capture the full beauty of the season. A couple of days ago I took Nellie for a early morning walk to Spofford Lake. The fog was slowly rising, but I was still able to use the mist to provide a sense of depth and drama to the color. Nellie had no idea why I was running around trying to place the fog in as many interesting places as possible. 


A week ago I was cruising central Vermont for foliage. The weather began bright, but, as is often true, the clouds gathered as the day progressed. As I explore the road through Pomfret I found this old barn engulfed in foliage that was enriched by the soft light. Even in the overcast my polarizer helped to bring out more of the deep colors.

Focus on the Foreground
"Focus on the foreground", is an often heard axiom of landscape

photography. A strong foreground provides depth to an image and
Jenne Farm, Reading, Vt
gives the viewer a sense that they are in the scene, what I like to call "the feet on the ground effect". The spectacular hillside color of autumn can sometimes draw our attention away from the foreground, but it remains a key part of many strong compositions. The Jenne Farm in Reading, Vermont is thought to be the country's most photographed farm. You have undoubtedly seen the iconic images from the hill overlooking the farm, but I always try to find different angles. When I circled by a couple of weeks ago, I was early for the peak color, but I went to one of my favorite views, down the hill looking along the serpentine fencing that leads the eye to the classically red barn and farm house. Here I could focus more on the interesting overgrown fence in the foreground making the lack of full color less important. 

Sleepy Hollow Drop

Another over done classic is the Sleepy Hollow Farm along Cloudland Road in Pomfret, Vermont. On this day the imposing, video monitored, gate was inexplicably open and I was able to sneak to the side of the drive to focus on the colorful foreground leaves. This seemed to add warmth to this often cold and too perfect scene.


Soft Focus to Draw the Eye
Landscape photography is about clearly seeing the landscape, and I spend a great deal of my photographic efforts trying to get images that are sharp, front to back. The argument is that this best duplicates the way we see a scene with our own remarkable eyes,

Marlborough, NH
but that is demonstrably false. Just stare at your thumb held at arms length and you will notice that everything beyond that point falls off to soft focus. The remarkable thing about our visual system is that we rapidly and unconsciously shift our focus to keep whatever we are looking at clear and sharp. Cameras, at least most cameras, don't work that way. I often use a small aperture or focus staking to bring everything into unnaturally sharp  focus, but what our eyes do so remarkably is to allow us to pay attention to what we are looking at while letting other parts of the visual field fall off to non-distracting soft bokeh. This is an overly apologetic way of saying that everything doesn't have to be sharp. Selective focus is a wonderful way to draw attention to the subject of an image in a way that more  closely approximates how we actually see the world. I frequently visit a classic sugar shack hidden in the woods of Marlborough, New Hampshire . I've captured the shack from all angles, generally trying to keep everything sharply in focus, but a few days ago, I decided to let the mist and selective focus draw attention to the lovely ferns that engulf the stone wall, suppressing the eye's natural tendency to follow the line of stones to the shack. Autumn is dominated by strong, colorful themes and sometimes it is nice to let the eye rest a bit as it explores an image.

Travel Both Ways
A few days ago I was exploring the fall color around Harrisville and Nelson, New Hampshire. It happens less often these days, but I

Harrisville, NH
actually found a few roads that I had never traveled before. I was attracted by a "Dead End" sign and traveled until it began to look like I might soon have trouble turning around. It was a nice dirt road with some patches of bright foliage, but nothing especially notable or spectacular. Then I turned around. Heading back on the road, I came upon  what appeared on the way out to be an ordinary sheep pasture, but from the new direction I realized that Mt Monadnock was beautifully visible, looming over the field. It was a perspective that I noticed only because I had been  forced to turn around. It happens all the time.  The lesson is never to  think that you know a road until you have traveled it both ways. Sounds like this could be an important life lesson, but I'm not quite sure how to apply it too the world.

Never Trust a Cow
The challenge of cow photography is to try not to be seen. Whenever I find a classically bucolic scene with cows randomly grazing in a pasture, I know that I have to be quiet and stealthy. As
soon as they are aware of your presence cows typically stop doing cow-like stuff, turn toward the camera, often wandering over to say hello. They consistently follow this pattern EXCEPT when you want them to do it. A few days ago, I was shooting a cow grazing a field in Chesterfield. She was wandering along the fence and I wanted to frame her looking at the camera with the background of fall foliage along the road. No way. She stubbornly presented me with her business end and no amount of clicking, stomping or arm waving could induce her to say hello. I had to settle for an image of the lonely heifer gazing down the road for, who knows what. Cows are very undependable animals.


Keene, NH


So these are just a few thoughts from my recent autumn photography. Most are not restricted to the foliage season.  Every picture we take has its own story and lessons to teach.  By carefully considering why each image succeeds or fails you can steadily improve your ability to communicate and inspire.  

It looks like the coming week will be persistently stormy and that may blow away this year's color, but, while some color persists, get out there and have fun and learn something.  November is fast approaching.


Jeffrey Newcomer

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