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.

Monday, February 21, 2011

When It Comes to Covers - You Never Know

It seems silly to have to say that we always submit our best work for show juries or publications, but I am often surprised by which images end up getting selected, especially when it comes to print. I find myself often saying, to myself, "You really want that one?". It actually has much more to do with what wasn't selected than what was, as editors pass over what I think is my best stuff. As I've struggled to push ego out of the way, I've come to appreciate, that editors have many more considerations beyond pure "art". They have to decide whether the image tells the desired story, whether it fits into the available space and, in the case of a cover photo, whether the image can survive having text splashed all over it. Recently this last point was brought home to me once again.


A couple of weeks ago I was excited to learn that New Hampshire To Do Magazine had selected one of my photographs for the cover of their March 2011 issue. They had chosen an images from the Stonewall Farm's Sap Gathering Contest in Keene, NH. Each year folks from throughout the Northeast gather with their horse teams to celebrate traditional maple sugaring techniques and I get the chance to temporarily escape from the efficient but ugly tubes that are invading our forests. Over the last three years I've been able to capture some nice images of the whole process and a couple of years ago one of these photos actually took first place in the NH Tourism Bureau's State Photography Contest. You can check out some of these pictures in my Sap Gathering Set on Flickr (http://bit.ly/eSRmH5) or on my web site (partridgebrookreflections.com).


The editors at NH To Do had access to all of my web images and I was surprised when they chose one that I have always found a bit disappointing. I had set up to capture a single bucket in the foreground with the sled approaching. With my camera fixed on a tripod, I first took an image focused on the bucket and then was able to composite this foreground image with the images focused on the sleds as they came by. The horses were moving much too fast to capture this extreme depth of field in a single exposure without unacceptably long shutter speeds and high ISO. In the selected image I felt that I had hit the shutter a second too late as the horses were passing. The composition would have been much stronger if the team was in a more balanced position in the upper right quadrant of the frame rather than both team and bucket on the left side. But, on reflection, I suspect that it was this imbalance that made this image attractive for the cover. All that open space on the right provided room for the required text and there was enough headroom in the image to provide space for the title at the top. It probably also helped that they could flip the image horizontally without the number on the bib giving them away.

I tend to brutally crop and recrop my images to focus on a few simple components. I am always looking to remove elements on the periphery that distract from the story. The point here is that when it comes to covers you never know what might work. Often it is the image with extra head room and areas of open space that will win the prize. This is one reason I usually delay cropping until fairly late in the editing process and then I always save an uncropped copy. You just never know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Plunge & Why I Will Never be a Wedding Photographer

Last Sunday I spent the day photographing Cheshire Medical Center’s "Frozen Sections" as they participated in the 12th annual New Hampshire Penguin Plunge at Hampton Beach, NH. This year over 700 volunteers raised money for the privilege of rushing insanely into the frigid Atlantic Ocean at Hampton Beach. The Plunge is a great event raising money to support the Special Olympics and our group from Keene NH has been a leader in that effort. This Sunday, for the fourth straight year, the "Frozen Sections" won the "Super Flock Award" as the group that raised the most money. In total, this year’s plunge brought in over $670,000.

Although at heart I am a landscape photographer I do enjoy recording the human drama that is seen when hundreds of otherwise normal people rush willingly into an environment incompatible with life. It is great to see their excitement as they sprint towards the frozen surf, and even more fun to see the mixture of triumph and numbed shock as they straggle back up the beach after the plunge. I have realized for a long time that I am fascinated with the human face and I enjoy working to bring out the character and individuality of each person. And that is the problem.

As was true last year I came back from the plunge with just a couple hundred images and as much as I tell myself that I am going to be brutally efficient with editing, I find that I unavoidably slip into "landscape mode" and want to fine tune each frame. I start with a quick crop, color and brightness adjustment, but then I start using masks to highlight the important subjects and cloning to deal with facial glare. Of course I occasionally have to move a head from one image to another to replace a squinting scowl with a more pleasing expression. Two minutes becomes 15 and I’m dead in the water. In two nights I have produced 45 finished images and probably have another one or two nights to go.
The fact is I love doing this kind of work especially when I’m successful at keeping the manipulations effective and transparent, but I can’t imagine how I would survive trying to edit a couple of thousand wedding photos.

This sort of event photography is not precisely the same as weddings. There are much fewer "Set Piece" shots and lighting can be more difficult to precisely control. On the other hand there are no brides to deal with in non-wedding events.

 Next year I will undoubtably return to help document what these crazy people do to support the wonderful folks in the Special Olymics.  It has the magnetic fascination of a car wreck but with a much better outcome. I will try again to do a better job with lighting.  I especially will, finally, figure out how to use my flash. I will discover the ideal places to stand to get the best angles without being trampled by crazed plungers and I will use more efficient batch processing to cut my editing time to something less than four days. But my conclusion will inevitably be the same ... NO WEDDINGS!

The Special Olympics State Winter Games are coming up in early March at Waterville Valley.
For more information on Special Olympics and the Penguin Plunge, visit sonh.org.