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, May 3, 2015

The Underappreciated Lichen



I have been working on an article for this week's blog discussing the file types commonly used in our digital cameras. That article will be part of my "Basics of Digital Photography Series", but as often happens, I have become distracted by a different and more colorful project. So this week let's talk about Lichen.

I Love Projects


I have been working with a client who is looking for images to decorate a new ward in a nearby community hospital. I've collected a range of images focusing on our region, with the goal of presenting a calm and relaxed atmosphere. A number of the images have been accepted, but I was told that the architects are also looking for images of "Wheat and Lichen". The easy part was the Wheat - I have no Wheat!  But Lichen is a different matter. New England is full of Lichen, its just that we tend to ignore this surprisingly resilient organism(s). I love a project, so let the Lichen hunt begin.



Cemetery Wall, Putney Vermont
I started with a search for Lichen in my Lightroom image catalog and found only about five images. Five out of over 350,000, I clearly have to start paying more attention. After all Lichen is not difficult to find. In fact the 13,000 and 17,000 currently identified species of Lichen are estimated to cover about 6% of the earth's entire land mass. While most of our wimpy plants are just beginning to venture out of their winter hibernation, the Lichens are thriving and thriving everywhere. All we need to do is look. When we talk about the beauty of our rugged New England stone walls we are largely referring to the color and texture of the Lichens which cling to the native boulders. Lichens not only populate the rocks, but they also frequently paint our trees, barns, fences and tomb stones with patterns of lush pastels
Luna's Blanket, Chesterfield, New Hampshire, 1875


What is (are) Lichen

Consider for a moment the lowly Lichen. Lichen is not a plant or even a single organism. It is a symbiotic composite organism combining a fungus superstructure in which lives a photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria. The fungus feeds on the sugars produced by the algae or bacteria, while providing a protective and anchoring structure. The fungal filaments also provide a conduit for moisture and nutrients to supply the photosynthetic process. The relationship works well. Lichen are resistant to cold and drought. They are often the first organisms to attach to freshly exposed rocks and they are believed to be among the oldest organisms on the planet. When looking at a small unassuming colony of Lichen, their antiquity may be hard to appreciate, but their size is deceiving.  They are extremely slow growing, some species expanding at a rate of only 0.5 to 1.0 mm/year. A hundred year old Lichen could be less than four inches in diameter. Tread carefully!


Finding Lichen
So, although they don't make great pets, Lichens are ubiquitous, amazing, and deserving of our attention. With my assignment in hand I went off to pad my Lichen collection. Happily Lichen are everywhere and they don't tend to run away when approached by an intruding camera lens. The obvious place to start is stone walls and I went to one of my favorite in Marlborough, New Hampshire. The wall boasts a great view of Mt Monadnock and both the wall and the border trees were encrusted with Lichen. The challenge comes from trying to find ways to capture these unassuming patches of color and texture in interesting ways




Photographing Lichen

 Although they are present throughout the year Lichens become especially attractive during the spring stick season as we await the coming explosion of green. When examined closely Lichens have interesting variations of soft pastel hues, but they don't boast the vibrant colors of a New England autumn or soulful eyes of a baby deer. Their attraction comes from texture and pattern, I was looking for interesting "Lichen landscapes" as the fungus interacted with the trees, rocks and other detritus of the forest. Strolling along-side the wall I found plenty to keep me busy. I started with close-ups of the Lichen's structure and then pulled back to include its immediate and more distant environment. Once my eyes snapped onto the subject, it was amazing how distractions fell away and I could give the remarkable organism its deserved attention. 

 

Lichen Often Shares the Natural Substrates with Moss



Homestead Stone, Chesterfield, NH
I used both my workhorse 24-105mm and my 100mm Macro lens. Happily the sky was mostly overcast providing a soft even light and with the camera latched firmly to my tripod, I was able to get exposures that were long enough to allow me to stop down for reasonable depth of field. Even with small apertures, I often needed to use focus stacking to capture the lichen in sharp focus.  On sunny days, I used my large reflector disc to block the bright light from the close-up images.  At others times the direct sunlight served to bring the rugged textures into high relief, while my polarizer filter helped to cut reflections allowing the subtle colors to shine through.




 


I have enjoyed the opportunity to focus on the under-appreciated Lichens.  I will never again disrespect these sturdy and resourceful natural survivors and I believe they would make beautiful and highly appropriate decorations for a hospital ward.  They are  another example of the endless variety of life which makes New England such a special place to live, photograph and heal.


More Images in my Web Site
Lichen Gallery



Jeffrey Newcomer
Partridgebrookreflections.com

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