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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.
Showing posts with label maple sugaring. Show all posts
Showing posts with label maple sugaring. Show all posts

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fresh Sap

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire

Finding New Images in an Old Location

What do you do to find fresh subjects for photography when you are shooting in familiar locations?

Last week I returned for the fourth year in a row to photograph the Sap Gathering Contest at Stonewall Farm in Keene New Hampshire.

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
Don't Distract the Teams
Stonewall is a working farm which is run as an educational resource for the community. For some years it has been my privilege to support the farm by photographing some of the many public events offered every year. In return, I have been allowed special access to the farms activities. The Sap Gathering Contest is a chance to see maple sap collecting using traditional techniques. Horse drawn sleds wind through a forest trail collecting sap from buckets. Teams are judged based on their efficiency and control as well as there speed, but the real winners are the folks who line portions of the course for the opportunity to step back to a time when sap gathering was closer to the land, when the forest wasn't entangled in a web of plastic tubes and the air was free of tractor exhaust. It is a unique experience and I had the advantage of being one of a very few photographers and videographers who were allowed to escape the public viewing areas and follow the sleds through the forest trail.

Over the years I have been able to capture great images of the teams
Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
When There Was Snow
expertly working their way through the course. Most of best images came from a few years ago when we were blessed with a idyllic coating of fresh snow. This year our dry, snowless winter provided a rather gray and dull background for any new "sled in the forest" shots and, anyway, it occurred to me that I had about as many pictures of horses and sleds as I will ever need. Of course I had to get the team shots, after all that is what the event is supposed to be about, but in the last couple of years I have also been trying to expand my view. I am working at doing a more complete job of telling the story, and that is what event photography must be about.  So where to start?

Go for the Detail

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,When caught in a rut like this my first approach is usually to start zooming in on the details. It is interesting that I have to literally flip my cognitive "detail" switch to kick myself out of my usual "broad landscape composition mode" and start seeing this stuff. There Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,was a wealth of detail to celebrate at the sap gathering. The expressions on the horses faces, their ornate and gleaming tack, brightly colored buckets and rusting antique farm machinery all made great subjects. Last year I focused on the misty interior of the sugar shack, but it all makes the point that the specifics often tell a more compelling story than the broad "establishing" shots.


It's All About the People

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
Shootin the "Sap"

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,Of course an event like this is really about the people. The drivers and assistants, the volunteers and the specters all have their roles to play in the story, and this year again I Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,tried to focus on the faces. The participants often travel from all across New England for the event and I have come to appreciate that they are attracted as much for the comradery as for the competition.  The small army of community volunteers fill many roles that are critical to the smooth operation of the contest, including staffing the gift shop, filling the buckets and keeping the evaporator running.   I particular enjoyed learning from Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,my interactions with my fellow photographers. Many of these folks concentrate on horse photography and actually know what they're doing out there! In the woods we had great fun jumping in an out of each others shot while trying to avoid disturbing the massive teams that were passing by.

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
Stay Out of My Shot!

There MUST be an Angle I Haven't Shot Before !

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
By Grimes Brook
Finally, You can't shoot the sap gathering without getting the mandatory pictures of the magnificent horse teams. The goal every year is to try to fine different foregrounds and backgrounds that help to tell more than the simple facts of "horses, sled, driver. It has become increasingly difficult to find an angle that I haven't used many times before. This year I tried to incorporate the little stream that parallels a portion of the route. The angles were not easy, but at least it is something different.

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
Happy Feet

Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,
The Long Pour
As hard as it can be to find freshness in an event like this, I will continue to come back. It is always a unique opportunity and never quite the same. Over the years I have learned a great deal about event photography and I think I have finally assembled the range of photographs needed to be able to tell a full and coherent story about this great contest. And, of course, I have to come back every year for my wonderful Maple Syrup Sundae.

  And A final Tip. If you want gobs of Maple syrup on your sundae, just tell the server that you are a "Professional Photographer" and you need a couple more shots to fully document the generosity of the pour.

Check out more of my images from the Sap Gathering Contest over the years at my Sap Gathering Flickr Set

Also a previous blog article about last year's contest:

You can find out about Stonewall Farms many programs on there web site .You'll find that the farm is about a lot more than just horses and sleds

Goat, Sap Gathering Contest, Keene, New Hampshire, Stonewall Farm,

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Searching for the Light

Yesterday the weather finally began to feel like spring. It was great to be able to open up the windows, install some screens and start airing out the winter dank. It was also a day spent trying to get a single picture in the best light. In the morning, Nelly (The dog of infinite patience) and I headed out on our usual Saturday morning rounds, visiting the Post Office, bank and dump, and then, also as usual, we  did the morning rounds of some of my favorite photography sites. Living in Chesterfield, I don't have to go far to sample wonderful examples of classic New England landscapes. Yesterday my tour took me by one of my favorite local working farms. The maple sugaring season is winding down here, but this farm still had the buckets up along the road leading to the barn and house. I've explored these views before, but I found an angle that really drew my eye. The trouble was that the sky was clear, the sun was warm and the light was horrible. The scene was nothing but starkly brilliant highlights and impenetrably dark shadows. I knew I should have just walked away, but I couldn't resist exploring different angles for future use. There was an interesting shadow coming at me in the foreground to play with, but my overwhelming thought was that I had to come back when the light was better. I hoped that, if the clouds didn't take over, I could catch this scene bathed in the warm, glowing light just before sunset.

For the rest of the day I kept watching the sky for the first signs of the "Golden Hour" and prayed that the clouds would stay away. Sadly it is an axiom of New England Weather that if it is sunny in the morning it will be cloudy in the afternoon. Things were not looking good, but, shortly before 5pm, I decided that I couldn't wait any long. Since the farm sits high on a ridge, I was hoping that the sun would be poking through. The light was much softer than in the morning, but the warmth was muted by milky clouds in the west. I grabbed a few shots, but as I scanned the sky it was obvious that conditions were not going to improve. I couldn't see any hope for even a sliver of an opening to spotlight the scene. On the way home I consoled myself with the possibility of better luck on another day, although I wasn't sure how much longer the buckets would stay in place.

After I had unloaded the car and planted Nelly on the "towel" side of the couch, I took one last look outside. I noticed to my horror and excitement that the sun was brightly illuminating the church across the village. I threw my camera back in the car and flew out of the driveway. On the way back to the farm I found myself behind a plodding Mini Van. I could feel the moment slipping away and as expected by the time I slammed on the brakes and leaped out of the car the sun was drifting behind another merciless cloud. Still the light was a bit warmer and I grabbed more exposures from the same locations.  But this time I wasn't leaving. I settled down on the dry grass on the bank and waited for the sun, or darkness, whichever came first. After about ten minutes the sun was approaching the horizon, but there seemed to be the possibility of a thin break in the clouds. The light began to warm, first slowly, but then it exploded. The "Golden Hour" turned out to be a "Golden" three minutes and I grabbed shots as fast as I could.

By the time the day faded I found that I had taken more than 80 exposures from the same spot during four separate visits. It is common for me to go back many times to favorite locations in the region, sampling all seasons and lighting, but seldom has the search for the right light been compressed into such a short period of time. I ended up with a nice photograph and an even nicer way to demonstrate how searching for the right light can make all the difference.

And sometimes you get a nice bonus sunset on the way home.