About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had 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 blog about photography in New England.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Let's Get One Thing Straight

Spofford Lake Leaning
I have just a short rant this week about leaning horizon lines and, for those who just don't care - you should. It just drives me nuts to see beautifully captured images with wonderful color, sharpness and composition, but when I look at the horizon I feel like I'm about to fall over. Of course there may occasionally be legitimate artistic reasons to intentionally throw the horizon out of balance, but in the majority of cases it simply means that the photographer either didn't bother to do the correction or doesn't know how. Sadly, despite all care when capturing images, it is almost impossible to totally avoid unbalanced horizons, so the solution must frequently come at post. The bad news is that a leaning horizon can seriously distract from an otherwise beautiful image. The good news is that the process of straightening horizons is one of the simplest editing tasks that can be performed.

Essentially every photo editing program has a method of rotating images. Often the horizon line can be adequately leveled by eye, perhaps with the help of a grid, but in Photoshop there is a nice way to rotate the horizon into plumb quickly and precisely.

"Arbitrary" Rotation Tool
In the image of reeds on Spofford Lake I was hand holding the camera and inevitably got the horizon leaning to the right. To correct the problem in Photoshop I first used the Ruler Tool to draw a straight line along the unleveled horizon. Going to the "Image Rotation" function in the Image menu drop down, I selected "Arbitrary" and the window opened with the angle defined by the ruler line already entered into the selection box. I Pressed "OK" and I was done - the program rotated the image to make both the ruler line and the horizon level. That's it!  All that is left to do is to crop the image as required.

Other editing programs may have different procedures to reach the same goal, but, even if you do nothing else to your images, leveling the horizon is such a simple task that it should be part of your regular routine. Your great images deserve nothing less.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Dancing of the Ladies

We New Englanders love to complain about cabin fever, but compared to the trials of the cattle on our diary farms, our winters are a breeze. The Holsteins at Stonewall Farm in Keene New Hampshire have a lovely warm, bright and spacious barn to shield them from the bitter cold, but imagine for a moment that you have been cooped up all winter in the same room, with the same group of gossipy females, eating nothing but dry food. By May, I'm sure you would be breaking down the walls to get out for some clear air and fresh eats. It is not in the nature of the usually placid cows to break down walls, but they do get very excited on the first spring morning when they are finally released to the tender spring grass of their beloved pastures.

In recent years the folks at Stonewall Farm have invited the public to witness the "Dancing of the Ladies", the remarkable morning when the cows are briefly transformed from their usual semi-comatose, grass munching state into crazed, dancing, prancing, head butting, 1500lbs, black and white milk shakes. The girls come running out of the barn like kids on Christmas morning. They really do prance and on occasion kick up their heals. It is common wisdom that the cows prance and bump because they are excited to get to the fresh spring grass, but after watching the show for the
last three years, I am convinced that it is really because they are thoroughly fed-up with listening to the same old complaints from the girls to whom they have been tethered all winter long. Hence the head crashing. This year, as always, the excitement lasted about 15 minutes and then the ladies settled into the real reason for their excitement, the long summer munch.

Perhaps most importantly, the "Dancing of the Ladies is a great excuse to get people on the farm, touring the barns, smelling the smells, and seeing the adorable new calves. It's good to be regularly reminded about all the wonderful ways that Stonewall Farm enriches our community throughout the year.

You can view more images on my Dancing of the Ladies flickr set.

Find out more about Stonewall Farm's year-round programs and learn how you can support this uniquely valuable community asset by visiting their web site :


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nubble Light Gull

Since hanging a show of my Atlantic Coast images in Portsmouth, NH, I have been wandering through my archive of other seacoast pictures that I never got around to working up. I am always amazed at what I find during these explorations. A fresh eye invariably leads to fresh revelations, "How did I miss that one". An example is the picture of a seagull perched on the public binoculars at Nubble Light on Cape Neddick Maine. Gulls seem to enjoy displaying themselves here as they await donations from the crowd, but, for me, this was the first time I was able to catch the bird against the lighthouse before it flew away. Great, but there were a few problems, and since I live in the great western wilderness of New Hampshire, far from the coast, I had to grab what I could get and then deal with it the best I could. Coming back 10 times until all is perfect could not be a practical option.

So here were the issues with the captured image:
1. First, and most obviously, the lighthouse was crawling with workmen. It seems that whenever I visit an iconic location the scaffolding has just been erected.

2. The day was a bit overcast making it impossible to capture adequate depth of field while still freezing the gull's persistent movement.

3. The sky was a bit flat in the raw images.

I suspect it was these challenges that initially led me to set this image aside, but I may never catch the gull in this spot again, so I finally dove in.

The second and third problems were relatively easy to overcome. The depth of field issue was handled by blending two images, one focused on the gull and the other on the background, I believe I had the camera on a tripod making the registration of the two images fairly simple. I spent some time carefully adjusting the selection to make a seamless transition between the bird and the sky and only a few small areas needed to be cloned where the gull had moved his head.
There were a number of approaches available for the flat sky. I chose to use photoshop's magical Shaddow / Highlight adjustment to restore the original color and contrast and then used a selection to isolate the effect to the sky. I could have double processed the image in RAW or used HDR but Shadow / Highlight worked nicely and was much easier.

The first problem was by far the most time consuming. There is a wonderful catharsis that occurs when you can nonviolently clone away the one meandering duffus who will not move away, and who is spoiling your perfect, award winning image. But in this situation I had nine duffi (?), two ladders and various junk that showed no inclination towards vacating until quitting time. So I made some coffee, adjusted my chair and settled in for some painstaking cloning. Easy areas involved cloning in a little grass, but where objects overlay the house, I had to find sections of clapboard or roof shingles that exactly matched the background. It took an hour or so, but I think the result transformed an interesting photo documenting the restoration work on the lighthouse into an image capturing the iconic nature of this classic structure. I also enjoyed flipping back and forth between the unedited and edited versions of the picture to see all those hard working folks flash in and out of existence!
I have heard photographers who I greatly respect proudly announce that they work to "get the image right in the camera" and insist that they will bypass any image whose editing could not be completed in 5 minutes or less. To me "getting it right in the camera" in the digital world means something quite different. I work hard on location to capture the image that will give me the best chance to craft a final picture that is the purest representation of what I saw and felt while viewing the scene. Often that involves bringing home a picture file that will not look its best straight out of the camera, but will give me the best raw material for all the assets of the digital darkroom. Ansel Adams famously said that the negative should be considered the score and the print as the performance. In the digital world the image file is the score and the best performance comes from intelligently using the remarkable tools we have available, even if it takes more than 5 minutes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Call of the Sea

Altantic Dawn, Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Last weekend Sue and I traveled over to Portsmouth New Hampshire to set up an exhibition of my photographs at the Works Bakery Cafe. Showing my work on the seacoast gives me a chance to focus primarily on my Atlantic coast images. Although I am now thoroughly land-locked, I grew up along the North Shore of Massachusetts and spent my summers in Gloucester. Each year I had the opportunity to cruise the New England coast from Acadia to the Elizabeth Islands and I have never lost my attraction to the sea. Despite looking for every excuse, I don't get back to the ocean as often as I would like.

Hauled Up, Peggy's Cove Nova Scotia
In recent years, I have chosen to focus my photography close to home, on the classic New England landscapes of the Monadnock region and southern Vermont. A number of factors have led to this intentional focus. First, our region has an abundance of wonderful farms, forests and streams, and although our mountain are not as starkly spectacular as in other parts of the Northeast, they have a soft, approachable quality that is the perfect manifestation of classic rolling New England country-side. It is for good reason that the Monadnock region is called the Currier and Ives corner of New Hampshire. I also believe I can do my best work exploring familiar , nearby, areas. I have come to know many of the best locations and I've learned when to show up to get the best light. I must admit, however, that the fact that I can sleep later before getting up for a sunrise is another important part of the equation.

Marshall Point Light, Maine
For all of the attractions close to home, the one thing that I have missed the most since settling here is the ocean. Photography by the sea provides fresh opportunities and challenges that always seem to recharge my batteries. I feel a special connection to my seacoast images, but I have always felt somewhat apologetic about showing them locally. Around here, if a picture doesn't have Mt. Monadnock in the background, people start asking "why bother" - believe me, I've tried. A couple of years ago I had a chance to display some of my Atlantic coast images in Portland Maine and now I'm thrilled to have another shot in Portsmouth. The pictures range from Nubble Light on Cape Neddick to Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia and they are a nice fit for this old seacoast town. This is a fairly long exhibition including May, June and July, 2011. The Works is right on the central square in downtown Portsmouth, so come by, check out the images and have coffee and a bagel.  

You can preview the pictures in my show set at:

A larger collection of my Atlantic Coast images is at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/27036710@N05/sets/72157605282223574/

Monday, May 2, 2011

Memorials at Night

Lincoln Memorial
Last week we visited our daughter Abigail in Washington DC. Now that she is living and working in the capital, we have taken advantage of this great excuse to explore the special attractions of this unique city. It has been an opportunity for me to get a break from my usual landscapes and, last week, a chance to get a sizable jump-start on spring. In the 4 days we visited the National Portrait Gallery, National Zoo and traveled up to Baltimore to see the Red Sox play (and lose) at Camden Yards. One evening Abby insisted that we tour the Washington Memorials and this turned out to be the most inspiring and photographically challenging part of the trip.

The Washington Memorials at night are wonderfully silent and peaceful without the large crowds and the lighting creates a mystical aura. In Washington, It is hard to spit without desecrating a national treasure, but the loop around the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials is the most dramatic. Getting a late start after a wonderful dinner, we could only complete a portion of the loop. Sadly, we missed the Vietnam and World War II Memorials. We started at the Lincoln Memorial, which is an entirely different place after dark. During the day it is invariably crowded with tourist sitting on the steps enjoying the view along the reflecting pool to the Washington Memorial. Although still posing a challenge for photography, at night there are fewer people and the general tone is that of quiet reverence. I chose to focus on the details of Lincoln's imposing statue. I have always been fascinated by his hands, one clinched in a tight resolute fist and the other open and compassionate. I am impressed that his expression, seen from each side seems to reflect these two aspects of his greatness. The night-time lighting accentuates the dichotomy with stronger direct illumination on his left (fist) side while more indirect lighting fills and softens his expression on the right. As I was focusing on Lincoln's right side I was surprised to find that I could also isolate a fitting epitaph above his head. For those with an intensely irrational, conspiratorial nature you may also notice that, in sign language, Lincoln's left hand is signing an "A" and his right shows the beginings of an "L".  You may take from that whatever you wish. I suspect space aliens !  The view from the steps of the Lincoln to the Washington Memorial tower is classic, but on this night, with a limited telephoto on my Canon G11 and the reflecting pool drained for cleaning, the conditions were not great.

Korean War Memorial
As inspiring as the light is on the Lincoln Memorial, in the case of the Korean War Memorial it is positively spooky. The soldiers are arranged as if on patrol. The lights are very dim just barely illuminating the figures from below. Not wanting to risk my DSLR on these lonely, dark trails, I only had my Canon G11 and no tripod. This image was done at an ISO of 3200 and f4, just barely managing to hold at 0.4 seconds. The G11 is really pushing its low light capability at 3200 and the grain was prominent, but I think the image is still haunting, especially when the color noise is eliminated by the B&W conversion. Photography of all the memorials would benefit from the use of a tripod and a camera with strong low light sensitivity such as the newer Canon & Nikon full frame DSLRs. This would be more comfortable with the security of a big group and an excellent opportunity for a photo walk event. The National Park Services also runs night tours through the memorials.
Roosevelt and His "Little Dog Fala"

The Roosevelt Memorial is actually a seven and a half acre collection of statues, fountains and inscriptions stretching along a walkway. It effectively depicts the many challenges of the Roosevelt presidency from the Great Depression through the Second World War. Again the dim light required high ISOs but on occasions I was able to stabilize the camera on a bench or a rock. Using a cable release on my G11, I could use longer exposures lower ISOs and achieve better depth of field such as when capturing one of the fountains or when including Roosevelt's famous dog Fala with his master's statue.
Check out Roosevelt's defence of his little Scotty against Republican attacks.
Actually the rest of Roosevelt's speech to the Teamsters has a lot to say about our current political atmosphere.


Jefferson Memorial
 The Jefferson Memorial was the next stop along the path, but, at the time of our visit access was partially blocked by construction, and unfortunately from here we had to head home. Exploration and photography of the entire loop would require a full evening, but it is a special experience, well worth the commitment. Give the night a try the next time you are in Washington.