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.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Photographic Meander Along the Back Roads of Vermont

Grafton Wreath
Boldly Going Where No Lens Has Gone Before

The other day, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't gone out on a significant photo shoot in several weeks. First it was dealing with the Christmas orders, then the joy of having the kids home for the holidays and finally going through the extended process of moving to a great new web site. There are always distractions, even work gets in the way occasionally, but whatever the excuses I decided I had to get out at least for a few hours of photographic treasure hunting.  

When planning a shoot I often set a defined goal, a specific location at a precise time. It may be a lake at dawn or the moon rising over the mountains, but my greatest joy comes from heading out for visual adventures with no agenda. My simple goal is to wander the back roads looking for new locations and letting the light be my guide. It is a bit "Star Treky", "Boldly going where no lens has gone before".

On this day, I decided to explore in Vermont. We still have snow

cover and although the snow is no longer fluffy and coating the trees, it is still a blessing that we are firmly out of stick season. As is typical, I got out a little later than I had planned, but in the dead of winter, the sun is persistently low in the sky making the soft morning light linger until it is replaced, early in the afternoon, by the equally soft evening light. In January, the days are short, but we never get the stark, flat overhead illumination of summer. My plan was to head north through Putney and Townsend and then wander off onto every obscure back road I could find. I often talk about the
Stranded Rake
value of getting lost in country side, but it is hard to get truly lost these day when I have my GPS, iPhone and a dog eared but detailed Vermont Atlas. Of course the GPS is not infallible, especially in the country. It is surprising how often it has directed me to a road which turned out to be an impossibly narrow cow path, but the great thing about confronting a dead end is that you get to turn around and go back . Country roads often appear completely different when traveled in the opposite direction. Never assume you know a road until you have traveled it both ways.

On this day I had a lovely, relaxed exploration and, along the way, I was reminded of a number of challenges and opportunities that are unique to winter photography


Mill Brook
Most of my wanderings on this day were in Townsend and Grafton Vermont. I first came across Mill Brook weaving around the ice encrusted rocks in Townsend. When photographing a stream, I often rotate the framing to favor one side, changing the banks from monotonously centered parallel lines to a more dynamic diagonal path. A little change that can make a surprising difference in the energy of the composition. Nearby was a lovely farm with attractive foregrounds and framing provided by trees, farm equipment and stone walls. I spent about 45 minutes working through the various options, but my exploration had only started. The nice thing about back roads is that you can slowly inch along
looking for attractive scenes without having to deal with as many impatient drivers roaring up from behind. As I did my meander along the forested roads I was on the lookout for interesting arrangements of trees and light. The dense and chaotic New England forest provides few of these opportunities, but at times the foreground and background elements come into alignment with an almost audible snap. I find it relaxing to scan the forest for the "snaps", but I have to occasionally remind myself to check to see if I am going off the road.

Challenges of Forest Lighting
The day was consistently sunny, making capturing the high contrast between brilliantly illuminated snow and forest shadows a constant

challenge. As always the histogram was a critical aid. Watching the graph, I was able to avoid muddy shadows by exposing to the right, while also guarding against going too far and blowing out the highlights. As I often say, the key was to get the best image data that would provide the raw material for the best post-processing results. Back in the digital darkroom, Photoshop’s “Shadow/Highlight” tool is especially helpful in maintaining texture in the snow without making it look gray. It is remarkable how precise exposure control and the expanded dynamic range provided by shooting RAW can tame previously impossibly contrasty scenes and can be superior to HDR and tone mapping techniques for all but the most extreme situations. The result is images that look like what I actually saw on site.


Simpson Brook
I came across several lovely little brooks in the forest. Winter
waterfalls are often more challenging to capture without the contrast of sparkling water cascading next to dark, rocky ledges.  In fact, in winter, the relationship between the water and the surroundings is reversed, with the water best seen dark against the white banks. When flowing water is surrounded by soft snow, I tend to use shorter exposures to provide more texture to contrast with the flat, homogenous appearing snow. I love to shoot flowing water with long exposures, but the velvet streams can become lost in the surrounding white. 

Grafton Inn
After wandering for a few hours I made it to the Townsend Road. Sadly I was back on pavement, but it led me to the classic New England Village of Grafton Vermont. The town is known for the traditional warmth of the Grafton Inn, but I was drawn to the Grafton Village Store where the Chili was outstanding. 

Great Chili, Car Needs a Wash!

From Grafton I discovered a few more back roads and old farms. By the time I got to Saxton River, I had been out for about six hours and 80 miles. I was ready to head home to see what I had on the memory card. I find I get a bit hazy after 6-7 hours of head swiveling. On the way back, I got a chance to revisit Westminster West and it's famous sign post. It is always interesting to be reminded that London and the North Pole are both about 3000 miles away. 

Add caption

Back in Spofford I resisted the strong urge to dive right into the images and instead, went through my usual post-shoot workflow. I downloaded the 97 images, applied the GPS coordinates, inserted appropriate meta data and renamed the collection with the date and successive numbers. Then I FINALLY got to actual look at the images. I always feel that a shoot has succeeded if I get even one true “keeper” and although I didn’t find any “breath takers” there were several definite “keepers”. This was as expected with the nice, but not spectacular, light and the somewhat settled snow. Nevertheless the pictures are interesting and quintessentially New England. They may be just what someone is looking for. I have learned that it is impossible fully anticipate someone else’s taste, especially from those who don't have the good fortune of living in the midst of all this beauty.

Most importantly I explored some interesting terrain that I have filed away for future visits when the conditions may be different - they are always different. Learning more about your local country-side is never a waste of time and can be exciting even without a camera in hand.


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