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, January 3, 2016

A Vertical Rut ?

Image 1

A Rambling Compositional Self-Examination

Today I was backing up the last three images that I had processed and suddenly realized that I could be in a compositional rut.

Image 2

I have always been a fan of depth of field, but I couldn't miss that, without any forethought, those three images all followed the same compositional theme. They all showed a distant barn, but with the focus on an interesting foreground. In two I highlighted the contrast between the dusting of snow and the protruding remnants of the autumn leaves and grass. The other pictured the field before the snow had FINALLY fallen. In all cases the distant barn is, to varying degrees, a point of interest, but the real focus is the detail in the foreground. I like all three images but I had to worry that I was suffering from a worrisome lack of creative imagination.

Image 3

I tell myself that I let the scene dictate the composition, but sometimes its possible to rely on the same old tricks. A survey of images on the internet shows that the vast majority are shot in horizontal or "landscape" orientation, but for some reason I seem drawn to the vertical. Perhaps I need to create a new year's resolution to change things up, but first I needed to understand the scope of the problem. I started by scanning through my winter photographs from the last few years. I couldn't actually review all of my images but rather studied those on which I had chosen to devote significant editing efforts. After this critical review I came to a few, not so startling, conclusions. 

  • Yes, I have a fascination with foregrounds, but I continue to believe that, when attention begins within an interesting foreground, the viewer starts with a sense of being present and grounded in the image. After that we can drawn the eye anywhere else in the scene while the feet remain firmly planted.

  • Just a Barn?
    Whether it be the pasture in the foreground, the mountains seen in the distance or a combination of layers of interesting detail, I have always believed in the importance of placing the predominant subject of a photograph within context. As I reviewed my select winter images I was happy to discover that I could find almost no examples of a barn, a covered bridge or barnyard animal that was portrayed as an isolated "thing". Instead of finding pictures that I could describe only as, "This is a picture of a pretty barn.", I was happy to find most with fuller stories, "This is a picture of a barn in the mist at the end of pasture bordered by a wire fence".  It is all about context. 

  • I do tend to compose many of my images within a vertical "portrait" format to emphasize the foreground, but this emphasis does not require a portrait orientation and many of my images are grounded nicely with a landscape perspective. Manipulation of lighting, focus and subject can be highly effective at drawing attention to the foreground regardless of the orientation of the image.

  • Aspect Ratio
    In fact I was relieved to discover that I don't shoot predominately in the portrait orientation. This is where Lightroom came to the rescue. Within the metadata portion of the Library Filter it is possible to display "Aspect Ratio". When applied to my subset of edited images I was surprised to discover that only 45% where shot in Portrait, not even a majority! This group of images included many from more than ten years ago and it occurred to me that my artistic sensibilities might have matured over the years. I then looked at the Aspect Ratio of the images captured over just the most recent couple of years and discovered that the percentage of portraits was exactly the same, well actually dropping to 44.7%. Not much change in my "sensibilities". This may be seen to confirm my lack of artistic growth or may demonstrate that I have found my compositional sweet spot. At any rate, I can say emphatically that I DON"T shoot solely in the vertical.

  • Ok, I must be honest. One reason that I have so many landscape images is that I am always thinking about my next calendar. The monthly images for my New England Reflections calendar are always in landscape and so after shooting a scene that cries out for portrait orientation, I will often rotate the camera and search for an effective "calendar view". 

    Apart from calendar shots, there is great value in forcing yourself to capture images in both 
    orientations. You never know when a client might decide that your picture is lovely, but that it's too bad that what he really needed was the shot in the other orientation.  Since most people shoot in landscape, the standard rule is, "The best time to shoot in portrait mode is right after you shoot in landscape". For me the rule is true, but the exact opposite.
Glad I Shot the Landscape

This is a startling amount of ramblings, being triggered only by a chance viewing of three similar images, but if you take anything away it should be:

  1. Context is important.
  2. Foregrounds are often important.
  3. And if that means shooting more verticals, then whose counting.
  4. Except me.

Jeffrey Newcomer


  1. Excelent blog post Jeff. Makes me think about the way that I shoot, and I love your advice of "The best time to shoot in portrait mode is right after you shoot in landscape mode."
    Happy 2016!

  2. This is an amazing post . You have a great thanks for shared this excellent post .