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, December 25, 2011

Road Gear

Harrisville Wreaths
As usual things are crazy around the holidays, but despite the last minute shopping and deliveries, I did allow myself to go out shooting this morning. Sadly the snow storm that was supposed to grace us this morning fizzled and we had just a dusting in the higher elevations. I ended up looking for snow in beautiful Harrisville New Hampshire, but was again disappointed. I eventually had to be satisfied with doing a study of the colorful Christmas wreaths decorating many of the old factory buildings. It was about the only color that was available. Without anything more inspiring to talk about this week I decide this was a good time to blog about my road gear,

One of things that I enjoy most about photography in rural New England is the ability to head off in the car and just get lost. I love to find back roads that I have never explored. It is a treasure hunt that almost always leads to fresh opportunities and after several years of unsystematic wandering I am still amazed at the surprises that pop up.

But I don't just head out with my camera and a tank of gas. Over the years I have put together my road gear that allows me to reap the most enjoyment and productivity from these explorations. My wife likes to joke about the fact that I often come in and out of the house several times before I have managed to remember all my equipment. I keep intending to make a list. This morning I was careful to get everything organized. I was proudly ready to go, but then I had to sheepishly return to house having realized that I had forgotten my keys. So here is what will be on that list, if I ever write it.

First I must start with my car. I use a rather beat-up old four wheel drive Subaru Forester.
The four wheel drive is a necessity on our roads, but the "beat-up" part is especially important since I take this poor thing to places no self-respecting car would ever venture. Anyone who knows about my other job will understand the thinly veiled and intentionally mis-spelled reference on my license plate.

Location Location
Although I enjoy the adventure of getting lost I still want to get home eventually and I would like to be able to find my way back to any gems I may stumble across along the way.
To help, I bring three forms of navigational aid. First, no one should venture out without a GPS. I have a Garmin (A), but they all work about the same and reference the same database. These things are not perfect and, particularly in rural areas, are prone to sending you down roads that actually turn out to be impassable cow path. But when you become hopelessly be fuddled it is always nice to be able to press that "Home" button and let that smug electronic voice guide you back. I also use a GPS tracking device (B) (Gisteq) that allows me to tag each of my photographs with my location. It is a bit of a hassle but about every other picture I take is a red barn and it is nice to be able to sort them all out. The tracker records my coordinates every few seconds. When I get home I download the file and then use GeoSetter, a wonder freeware program,  to quickly insert the locations into the meta data. Because I always convert my images to Adobe's DNG format the information is embedded in the image and I don't have to worry about keeping track of hundreds of little side-car files. It is wonderful to be able to click on an image and have its precise location pop up on Google Maps. The program also saves track data that I can use at the end of the year to document my mileage for tax purposes. All this technology is great, but there are times when a good detailed map provides a more comprehensive overview of the region than can be packed into any tiny LCD screen. I always carry a copy of the Atlas for each state I am visiting, as well as larger state road maps to give a broader sense of surrounding opportunities.

The photo-shoot sound track is very important. I discovered early on that I could not concentrate on the passing beauty when I was listening to words. Whether it is books on tape , podcasts or even just music lyrics, I find my vision turns inward with only enough awareness of my environment to keep me from hurtling off the road. I have my IPod (C) pack with a broad range of instrumental music from classical to jazz. Again the overriding criteria is that the music can not be too involving. I find that music with a rustic quality works best as I explore the country side. Among my favorites are Aron Copland's Appalachian Spring and a collection of traditional Blue Ridge Mountain instrumental folk music. So far I have not found gangster rap to be especially helpful, but your tastes may diverge from mine.

My cell phone (D) is a necessity. Certainly disasters can occur requiring a call for help, but on most of my productive shoots I inevitably reach a point when a call to Susan is required to apologize for being late for something. Of course, if I forget to call I can always blame the spotty reception in our hills.

Oh Yeah the Camera

 One of the advantages of a driving photo-shoot is that there are no real limits on the equipment that you haul around, but in addition to my big bag I usually include a lighter shoulder bag. When I get the urge to wander into a field or down a forest trail it is nice to be able to place the essentials into the small bag and avoid lugging the full kit. Depending on the shoot I will occasionally add other equipment such as microphones and a field recorder for video, my converted Canon 20D for infrared or my 5d which I use primarily for time-lapse. 

The Look
Best Friend
The one thing that I can never forget is Nellie. She knowns the signs and hangs around the door as soon as she sees me gathering equipment. For some reason she loves driving and is remarkably patient when skittish animals or dangerous traffic force me to keep her in the car. Nell does give me her "what about my needs" look on a regular basis, but it is always a gentle and irresistibly cute admonition that never fails to bring me back to earth.

Community Church Wreath, Harrisville New Hampshire

Well that is my road kit. I hope it is of some interest. I am sure you all have your own photo-shoot essentials and I would love to hear your suggestions. As I finish this, I am waiting for my kids to awaken for the Christmas morning blitz. The greatest gift is having everyone home. I wish you all a warm and happy holiday with friends and family and most of all I wish you some &?@¥#!! SNOW already!

Central Square Keene New Hampshire, Back when there was something called snow!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dance On - Bad Light, Great People

Slim Chance and the Gamblers

I am relieved to report that I have finally finished editing the  photographs from the Special Olympics Dance that was successfully held at the Keene New Hampshire Country Club a few weeks ago. With events such as the dance, but most significantly through the crazy Penguin Plunge held every February, our community has always been an enthusiastic supporter of the Special Olympics.   Peter Simon a photographer famous for his pictures of Martha's Vineyard and of pop music culture over the last decades was scheduled to photograph the event, but Peter was unexpectedly laid up and I was asked to fill in at the last minute.  If I am to be roped into this kind of work, I prefer to be the last minute desperate alternative because expectations are inevitably quite low.  What can they reasonably expect, there wasn't a tree in sight.  Actually I enjoyed the assignment and learned quite a bit.  I had to be at the dance anyway and the job gave me an excuse to avoid all but a token amount of dancing.  

Fortunately the band, Slim Chance and the Gamblers,  was great and, with the dance floor packed all night, few people noticed me lurking around.  The band was not only crazy talented but also very animated and energetic.  
"Brains !"
Each performer had his or her own style, and I had lots of chances to catch great moves and expressions. Photographing the folks dancing was another matter altogether.  People moving rhythmically to the music can be tolerable to watch, but when their movements are frozen in an image, well, it becomes more than a little scary.  Ok, if they didn't want their pictures taken, they should have stayed in the back ravaging the Hors d'oeuvres or, like me, hide behind a camera.  I  found my best chance to avoid "Night of the Living Dead"  images (John) was to get people to dance for the camera, holding eye contact. I still got a full share of crazy (Tom), but at least it was intentional crazy. 

My plan was to try to shoot with natural light.
I was acutely aware of how frequent blinding flash explosions could distract both the performers and the audience.  The problem was that the stage light was extremely low and composed of red spots on one side and blue on the other.  In order to stop any action I had to shoot  wide open with my f1.8 portrait lens and with ISOs in the 3200-6400 range.  Color balance was impossible with opposing red and blue color on every face.  At  post all I could do was balance for the predominant color and let the other side go crazy.  To speed processing I ended up saving red and blue adjustment profiles to apply as required although I still needed to do considerable individual adjustment on each image. Conversion to B&W is another option which I am considering for some of the images.  Half way through the second set I finally gave up and started using flash.  I wasn't sure how much I would be able to salvage from the natural light images and I wanted to make sure that I had something to fall back on.  I used a full CTO gel to balance with some of the ambient light and shot only bounce off the nice clean ceiling.  The results were reasonable without too many annoyed glances from the band.  The flash images don't have the colorful flavor of the ambient light but they are much sharper.  All together I think we ended up with a good range of images from which to choose.  

All in all the dance was a great success.  Everyone had a good time and we had the opportunity to remind the community about the importance of the Special Olympics.  Now I have to get geared up for the Penguin Plunge.  At least that will be held in daylight.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Salvaging Stick Season

Over the last couple of weeks I have been consumed with the usual holiday rush of photography related chores, with very little having to do with actual shooting. Despite the disappointing and spotty foliage this year I still have a significant back-log of autumn images that are begging to be processed. I am working in the studio to get seasonally appropriate pictures out to my galleries in Peterborough, Keene and Brattleboro as well as responding to special orders that MUST be done before Christmas. Of course I am also slogging through prime calendar season, keeping the stores stocked and annoying everyone in town about buying their New England Reflections Calendar; “Don’t you care about your neighbors who struggle with chronic lung disease?”. Thank goodness that nature has provided us with November, perhaps the worst time of the year to find beauty in rural New England. With the leaves gone and winter snow still generally coming only in fleeting doses, it seems that there are few things worth venturing out into the cold. I know there will be those who revel in the challenge, but seriously wouldn’t you rather be shooting almost any other time of year? It seems an act of providence that, during this time of year, when I have so much to do inside, outside "stick season" is so uninteresting.

Despite the congestion in my November to-do list, and the generally dismal prospects I could never totally abstain from taking pictures. So in an effort to get myself uprooted from my desk, i decided to take a fresh look at what might be out there worth the pixels? I have some ideas, but I thought it would be interesting to go back in my archives to search Novembers past for leads. The exercise identified a few general themes for stick season photography and has chased me out of the house looking for fresh opportunities.

Always good to have
someone else in deer colors

First it should be said that, as drab as it can be, late autumn is a perfect time for hiking. The bugs are gone, the air is crisp and with the leaves off the trees you can see farther through the forest. As is true of winter hiking, vistas open up that you would never find when encased in exuberant summer and fall foliage. We on the Chesterfield Conservation Commission often spend these weeks scouting new trails and looking for spots that with a little effort could be transformed into nice views.
Abigail on the Elephant Tree
 Putney Mt. Vermont
Naturally, I am the "view" guy on the team. Of course the preeminent rule for hiking this time of year is; "Don't Get Shot!". As the autumn glow falls from the trees it transforms into electric orange vests which hopefully scream; "NOT A DEER!". I am particularly concerned about Nelie and encase her in so much orange that she looks like a black nosed pumpkin.

Pigah Mountain

Looking through my pictures from the the last several years, the most obvious aspect of stick season photography is that it is a time of pattern and not of color. The stark skeletal display of bare trees contrasts with monotonously golden brown of pasture grass or the frequent mists of late autumn mornings.


Leaves don't loose all of their attraction when they hit the ground, but actually evolve through an interesting succession of patterns and colors. Freshly fallen leaves provide a bright decoration whether as a golden forest carpet or by complementing streams, stone walls and farm implements. Sadly the fallen leaves quickly loose their brilliance, but on their way into the soil there are opportunities to find interesting patterns in collections of frosted or frozen foliage. 


Of course not all leave are so faint of heart. Oak leaves tend to cling to their branches as winter approaches providing interesting studies in less gaudy tones. Beach trees are perhaps the most persistent providing an unexpected splash of color enlivening many scenes throughout the winter.

Finally there is the light this time of year. We are fast approaching the shortest days of the year and with the sun persistently low in the sky the "Golden Hours" tend to be extended. There is much less harsh overhead light, and the emotional ravages of seasonal affective disorder, are softened by the fact that I can sleep later before crawling out of bed for the sunrises.

Well, I feel better from this exercise. I am sure there are many more great photographic opportunities during stick season, but I have to say that, as the weather grows colder, the wood stove feels awfully nice and I have work to do before the snow saves us.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chocolate and Photography

This week I engage in shameless self-promotion, but with a delicious altruistic consequence.  For the month of December I will be showing 12 of my photographs at the wonderful LA Burdick Restaurant in picturesque Walpole New Hampshire.  I have chosen a combination of local landscapes and Altlantic seacoast images.  I have shown at Burdick several times before and although the lighting is not the best, I am always excited to be there.  Among the reasons for my enthusiasm unquestionably the most important is that it gives me an excuse to dine at this top quality restaurant.  L.A. Burdick Started in 1984 as a fine chocolate company and has expanded to include 3 French style cafe restaurants now in Walpole NH, Cambridge Ma and New York city. Chocolate remains a key
part of their attraction and the desserts continue to die for. 

Among the variety of locations to display my work, restaurants offer both advantages and challenges. Perhaps the greatest advantage is that restaurant customers linger substantially longer than those visiting bank lobbies, town offices or hospital waiting rooms.  Hopefully, as conversation wanes, they will gaze up to the walls and be enchanted - one can only hope.  The major disadvantage is that it seems that, the nicer the restaurant, the dimmer the lights.  Why is it that elegant restaurants insist on hiding their exquisitely prepared and presented dishes under impenetrable darkness.  Low, candle augmented,  illumination may be romantic, but it would be nice to be able to see where to stick my fork on the plate and I would especially like to be able to appreciate the glorious artwork on the walls.  I have found a few restaurants that have discovered that tasteful wall lighting can enhance and balance the ambiance without distracting from the tables.  Simple lighting systems are not prohibitively expensive and I will continue to encourage the light.

Enough complaining.  I am grateful to have the chance to show my work in so many lovely places in the area.  I always pay special attention to my location this time of year.  Hopefully a few folks will find the perfect Christmas gift while having a superb dinner.   Come by if you are in the area. 

Check out my show Flickr Set: 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving's Visual Feast

Stephanie and Melissa

This Thanksgiving we celebrated, and ate, with a large contingent of
Susan's family all gathered at her nieces' 
house west of Boston. The decision to assemble at Rachel and Michael's home was largely logistical, since they have the two young children. It was a chance to see how fast our great nieces have grown. 
It was also a precious opportunity to visit 
with our children, together, at the same time;
Abigail from Washington DC and Jeremy
from Somerville, outside Boston.  On arrival I had every intention to avoid the family photo assignment. There were a number of excellent photographers in attendance with  more recent experience in family photography, especially Stephanie and Melissa's grandfather who strives to record every noteworthy and mundane event of their young lives. Also I have a mass of editing to do and no need for added work.

 I did admirably for the first half of the afternoon, but I became increasingly aware that I was surrounded by numerous attractive, neatly dressed models. The kids were irresistibly cute, Abigail was gorgeous, and my son found himself in a social environment which
made him less inclined to give me the finger whenever I
tried to take his picture. I couldn't resist.  I grabbed my 85 mm f 1.8
Aunt Deborah
portrait lens, cranked up the ISO and began
trying to record incessantly moving children in low light. Shooting at ISOs ranging from 1600-6400 I still needed to use all the light gathering capabilities of my fast lens. The young kids were probably less camera shy than my adult children, but they had absolutely no conception of what posing for a shot entails. Since the worst expressions always followed instructions to "smile", all I could do was follow them around and try to anticipate fleeting moments of spontaneous joy. My own children have learned over years of painful experience that I will not get out of their faces until they give me a reasonable shot.   Happily, I discovered that, after dinner, as the Tryptophan induced coma settled in, everyone became much more open to my efforts.

Approaching Coma

The biggest challenge of photography in low light without flash is controlling the paper thin depth of field. Shooting wide open creates beautiful soft Bokeh, but it is a constant struggle to keep the focus point on eyes, where it belongs. This becomes almost impossible when photographing fidgety little children. You often have to shoot bursts and hope that their eyes will randomly wander into focus in at least one of the images. Often when trying to photograph two or more people together 
your only option is to decide whose eyes are most important to the image 
 and let the others drift off.  Despite the difficulties, it is almost magic that a largely fuzzy image can seem sharp as long as the eyes are in focus..   As a landscape photographer my goal is usually to get the maximum depth of field, but in these situations I just have to let it go. It is remarkable how much selective focus can add clarity and impact to the right subjects.

Stephanie Blurry Eyed Uncropped

Despite my complaining I couldn't wait to get home to start working on these images.  In general there was little manipulation required. Camera RAW did a nice job suppressing the high ISO noise. A quick tungsten adjustment got me close to natural looking color balance. I removed a few zits and softened the occasional harsh shadows. I spotlighted the key subjects, cropped and I was done. One interesting challenge came with an adorable picture of 3 year old Stephanie sitting pensively on her grandmother's lap. I only caught one good expression and in that image it was her 
Stephanie's Mouth
mouth rather than the eyes that was in focus. It was too cute to throw away, so I decided to go with the mouth. I cropped to skewer her mouth on one of the "Rule of Thirds" points and put my spotlight on the same location. The difference is subtle and the eyes are still a blur, but overall I think the image has much better flow.   Hopefully viewers will think I shot intentionally to draw attention to Steph's expressive mouth.

With each opportunity to shoot events I find that I increasingly zoom in on the faces. I have to stop this before my fascination with candid portraiture entirely replaces my long term commitment to rocks and trees.