About Me

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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.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shine a Little Light

Lost in the Ferns

There is a long list of tools that a photographers can use to draw a viewer’s eye to the intended subject of a composition. Perhaps the most important is to eliminate distracting elements, but also the use of leading lines, selective focus and the impaling of the subject on one of the rule of thirds cross hairs can be effective. Lighting can also be used to draw attention to the central theme of an image and this week I want to share a quick and simple Photoshop technique that I frequently use to draw the eye, as well as to add drama and depth to an image. It's just a matter of shining a spotlight on your subject.

Spotlighted Nellie
My dog Nellie is a great trail dog and she loves to hide herself among the spring ferns in the forest. Although the foliage is a critical part of the story, 
Curve Adjustment
I still want Nellie’s mischievous face to shine out from the jumble. I could create a careful selection of her face and then apply a curves or levels adjustment to brighten her expression, but I find that the resulting contrast is often too stark to seem natural. A simpler, and to my eye a more pleasing, approach is to again use an adjustment layer to either darken the background or lighten her face (or both) and
My Daughter Abigail (not in the ferns)
then apply a circular gradient on a layer mask to apply the adjustment in a more gradual way.  If I am brightening the subject I will use white in the gradient tool to apply the effect. If I have darkened the image, then black will screen the subject. You simply start with the cursor on the center of your subject and then pull it outward to create the desired size and feathering. The result can be thought of as applying a soft edged spotlight to the subject. This approach can certainly be overdone, but, if applied carefully, the result is usually not consciously noticeable. The effect can best be appreciated by switching the adjustment layer on and off. Once completed, the intensity of the adjustment and its opacity can be tuned to get the desired result, and the impact can often be surprisingly significant. I frequently use this spotlighting approach in portraits to focus attention on the subject, especially when the background is unavoidably busy. It is much more controlled than if I applied vignetting to the entire image.

Double Spotlight
Spotlighting can also be effective in adding depth and drama to landscapes. In the picture of horses heading home to Roads End Farm, I both darkened the surrounding trees and lightened the horse to draw the eye down the road and accentuate the sense of depth. In appropriate situations this can draw out a sense of dimension from an otherwise flat image. 

Spotlight on the Right

Spotlighting does not work in all situations, but it is such a simple technique that it is frequently worth a try. My goal is always is to draw the viewer to see and feel the scene as I did in the field, and this is just one tool that can help to achieve that vision. Give it a try. I would appreciate hearing if you find this useful.

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