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.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Photographic Treasures of Dummerston, Vermont

Spring Sunset, Dummerston, Vermont

Living in Chesterfield New Hampshire, I am fortunate to have easy access both to New Hampshire's Monadnock Region and southern Vermont. There has been much written about the differences between Vermont and New Hampshire. Vermont has the reputation as a softer, rolling countryside while New Hampshire is know for its more dramatic and craggy mountains. Clearly these are silly distinctions, more related to marketing than reality, but there are subtle differences, more in feel than geography. I would be hard pressed to put that difference into words, but I'm just happy to be able to sample both on an easy basis. 

When I head out on a shoot my first decision comes at the end of the driveway where I must choose to turn left for New Hampshire or right for Vermont. It is an interesting choice since traditionally the political directions of the states have been the opposite. It is well understood that the progressive regions of New Hampshire are those that touch Vermont and that is fine for me. As I cross the Connecticut River into Vermont one of my favorite nearby places to explore is Dummerston and this week I would like to highlight some of the best photographic attractions of this lovely and peaceful slice of classic Vermont landscape.


Dummerston, Vermont
Dummerston lies just across the Connecticut River from Chesterfield,

Dummerston Back Road
New Hampshire. It is just north of Brattleboro but offers a quick and complete escape from that bustling town. It's 30.8 square miles feature rolling farm land and several classic New England villages. In addition to the Connecticut River on the east, it
Hay Rake Mist
is bisected by the West River, which in earlier times was a source of power for a number of mills. Now the river is a source of beauty and, in the summer, a favorite spot for tubing and white water kayaking. Dummerston has many lovely back roads, excellent for getting lost. There are wonderful photographic opportunities around every turn, but I definitely have my favorites. 

1) Dummerston Covered Bridge
Dummerston Covered Bridge
The 270 foot long Dummerston Bridge is the longest covered bridge still carrying traffic in Vermont. The bridge was built in 1872 to span the West River and offers numerous interesting perspectives. My favorite location has always been from downstream, looking back on the bridge with the hills in the distance, but I keep coming back to find fresh inspiration. 


2) Black Mountain
Just downstream from the covered bridge Black Mountain rises dramatically above the north bank of the river and is part of the 593

Pitch Pine on Black Mountain Summit
acre Black Mountain Conservation Area. The 1280 foot summit can be accessed from Rice Farm Road on the east side of the West River, but a much easier trail starts on the other side of the mountain off Black Mountain Road. This trail winds about 1 mile through a peaceful and varied woodland and provides a lot of reward for modest effort. The summit is well worth the short walk, providing lovely views along the Connecticut River Valley and east to distant Mount Monadnock. The rock outcroppings at the top provide great places for rest and contemplation, so be sure to bring a snack. Also notice the Scrub Oak and Pitch Pine trees around the summit. Both are quite rare in Vermont. 

3) Stickney Brook Falls
One of my favorite nearby cascades is along Stickney Brook just
before it reaches the West River. The area features a series of short falls and cascades as the brook tumbles past the location of a old mill site. The intensity of the falls vary greatly depending on the weather and supply of water. It is especially exciting during spring run-off or any time after a heavy rain. During the summer, the Brook's pools are a popular refuge from the heat. The falls are easy to find on Stickney Brook Road off of route 30. 

Stickney Falls

Scott Farm Orchard & Mt Wantastiquet

Dwight Miller Orchard
Dummerston offers a number of beautiful orchards featuring an wide variety of apples and other native fruits. They also provide beautiful vistas for photography throughout the year, but especially during the brief spring blossom season. Dwight Miller and Sons Orchard (4) is located in East Dummerston. A drive up Miller Rd reveals long views to the north and east with a foreground
Connecticut River from Scott Farm
dominated by the hilltop orchard. In addition to their certified organic apples & cider, they feature peaches, pears, blueberries, and strawberries. The Scott Farm (5)is known for its wide variety of rare antique apple varieties. The orchard is on a hillside with dramatic views of the Connecticut River Valley and Mount Wantasiquet. In addition to great produce the farm is host to weddings and other events. I have attended a couple of weddings on the hillside and I can testify that the location is breathtaking. 

Scott Farm Rainbow
Orchard Vows

6) Walker Farm
In season drop by Walker Farm on Route 5.  The farm well deserves its ranking as one of Yankee Magazine's top 5 Nurseries and Garden Centers in New England.  The farm stand is always packed with the best 
seasonal fruits and vegetables, but my favorite is the extensive green houses, whose colorful flowers provide a desperately needed splash of spring just when I need it most.  I've talked before about using the greenhouses to cheat with my flower photography.  Within the shelter the blooms are always softly lit and there is no wind to smear my long exposures.  The staff is always helpful. Just be sure your tripod doesn't trip the customers!

7) Rudyard Kipling
Dummerston is also the location of "Naulakha" , Rudyard Kipling's

country home, where he wrote the Jungle Books and Captains Courageous. It is also where he invented Snow Golf. In the winters of the 1890's Kipling challenged guest to hit red painted golf balls into red cups that had been placed in the snow around the property. The game offered special challenges especially since a drive could occasionally skitter two mile down the icy slopes  into the Connecticut River.

Dawn Pasture, Dummerston
Dummerston has many special locations, but for me the greatest attraction is that a peaceful meander along the town's back roads almost always yields something new and classically New England.  The town is like many in New England, but  for me its proximity makes it easy to cruise by whenever I have an hour or two to explore. Most New Englanders have their own nearby treasures. With regular visits in all seasons and weather you will be  surprised how much beauty you can find in your own special corner of our unique region.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Photographic Composition, Avoiding Distractions

This weeks article may be a bit short. Susan had bilateral knee
White Hillside, Pomfret, Vermont
replacement a little over a week ago and I have been spending most of my time playing the role of supportive husband and therapist. She is doing remarkably well, but two replacements at the same time requires a lot of recovery and assistance Our wonderful daughter Abigail came up, from Washington to help out, allowing me to go to work for a couple of days, but now I am back on full duty. I won't be getting out of the house much in the next several weeks. All of this to explain why this week's blog is uncharacteristically brief and to the point. 

Hillside Distractions

Last week I discussed a few compositional techniques to help draw the eye to the key elements(s) of your photographs. Strong compositions typically provide a comfortable visual path to the subject. It is an essential part of an image's ability to tell a coherent story and story telling is what photography, at it's best, should be about.


Drawing the eye is effective, but avoiding distraction from the main
Damn Wires, Harrisville, NH
subject can be equally important. As I try to arrange a composition, I also watch for elements in the image that might distract from the central theme. Areas of bright light or color, competing lines or incongruous stuff poking in along the edges can disrupt the balance and flow of the image. 

Worth the effort

In the Camera
Avoiding distractions starts in the camera. As I approach the critical moment of shutter release I always try to pause for a quick scan of the composition for competing elements. The problems may be obvious, but often it takes discipline to shift the eye from the magnetic attraction of the subject to the surroundings. I first check the background and foreground for distractions. With portraits, it is usually the tree growing out of someone 's head, but phone wires, signs, or splashes of spectral light are just a few of the common problems. My final step is to scan the edges of the image for intrusions. Often subtle changes in framing can illuminate most problems, but sometimes the best composition unavoidably includes distractions. Thank goodness for the cloning tool.  But before you become outraged about post-processing solutions, please indulge
 my standard sermon.

Greening, Spring Hillside, Dummerston, Vt
Just a simple post

The Sermon, When in Doubt, Run to Ansel
There are those who will cheer efforts to frame images in the camera to eliminate distractions, but will protest their removal in post-processing as a dishonest manipulation of the reality of the scene. To me these questions of photographic purity are always a matter of individual artistic expression. My view is that photography is much more than a slavish regurgitation of the data recorded by the sensor. At its best a photographic image has the capacity to preserve not only what the eye sees, but also what the brain perceives and our memory retains. When I behold a beautiful landscape, I see the beauty and not the scars and it is that untarnished beauty that lasts in my memory. At home, when I see the RAW images, I am often surprised by what I didn't "see" while on site. I don't remember those cigarette packages on the ground or those hideous telephone wires and I don't feel any responsibility to preserve them to prove that I am a photographic purist. Angel Adams was once criticized for touching up a negative to remove graffiti that had been painted on rocks in one of his timeless images of Mt Whitney and the Alabama Hills. In response he said, " I have been criticized by some for doing this, but am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of the scene" (from  The 40 Images). But I digress, as usual.

But Become Clear Once Removed
Pomfret Vermont
Often the Distractions are Small ....

Thank God and Ansel for the Cloning Tool
The first step in post-processing is to identify the issues. Cropping 

Die Annoying Bipeds!
and cloning can illuminate many distractions and sometimes the problems can be minimized by reduction in brightness or saturation, or by softening with the use of localized blurring. The art is in choosing the right tool and making the changes subtle. Cloning technique could be the topic of a number of articles by itself, but the secret is to vary the cloning sources and brush hardness to avoid excessively soft regions or obvious repeating patterns, and blending cloned areas with the background. It is always best to make these changes on a blank layer or a copy to avoid irreversible damage to the parent image.

Peggy's Cove Light, Nova Scotia

 One quick tip is to do the cloning early in your processing and especially before the image is re-sized. You don't want to be forced to re-clone every time a different size is required. Proper cloning can be a painstaking and time consuming job, but the results are usual well worth the effort. Besides, there is a perverse God-like pleasure in erasing those annoying humans from your beautiful image. 


Distracting White Label
Dummerston Vt, Hot House Flower

I promised this would be quick. Beyond the preaching, my point is really quite simple. Deciding on the path through your image you want your viewers to follow , arranging the elements to draw the eye along that path, and avoiding intrusions that may distract from the journey, are essential steps to a strong composition which tells your story.

Now back to the gimp.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Photographic Composition, Drawing the Eye

Pointing the Way

Sometimes drawing the eye can be quite literal, St Vitus Church, Prague

One of the essentials of good photographic composition is the use of techniques to draw attention to the subject of the image. We refer to this as "drawing the eye to the subject", but whatever it is called, it is a key part of adding coherence and impact to your images. There are many ways to effectively draw the eye, but as I searched through my images for good example, it became clear that the best approach is often a combination of more than one. Here are a just a few of my favorite eye magnets. 

Eye Magnets


Positioning, Rule of Thirds
The positioning of your subject can have a strong effect on the focus

Rule of Thirds
of attention. Years ago when I was getting more serious about my photography, a gentleman approached to compliment my images. He particularly liked my eye for composition and my "effective use of the Rule of Thirds". I thanked him and then rush home to look up "Rule of Thirds". All I knew was that I had a sense that a subject looked better when it wasn't placed in the middle of the image. Who knew I was applying a "rule"? The Rule of Thirds is merely a graphic representation of the observation that subjects are more visually pleasing when they are placed away from the center and near the intersections of lines drawn to divide the image into nine equal rectangles. It seems to be based on connections deep within our visual cortex. These rules are all made to be broken, but the point is that the eye tends to be drawn to these points on the image. It works. Look it up. I did! 

Thinking of Home

Leading Lines
Marshal Point Light

Leading lines refers to the the use of lines running through an image to
point to the center of interest. Diagonals are especially powerful, not only to focus attention but also as elements that add a dynamic sense of movement and life to an image. The lines don't have to be actual straight "lines". Curves or aligned elements in the scene, such as trees, rocks or even people can point to the center of interest.

Leading Fence
Pemaquid Light

Jenne Farm, Serpentine Leading Line

Selective focus
Landscape photographers often work to capture sharp focus from

Deep DOF
foreground to distant subjects. For me, ridiculously broad depth of field has been a persistent obsession. Wide angle lens, small apertures and image stacking are all useful to reach the goal of razor sharp DOF. Old habits are tough to break, but increasingly I have been using shallow, selective focus as another technique when I want to simplify an image and highlight the key features. A couple of weeks ago I was shooting the corn stalks in the fog
around Walpole, New Hampshire. I found one ear of corn which was trapped by
Selective Focus
encircling vines. After my usual focus stack to get full DOF, I opened up the aperture to selectively focus on the lonesome ear. I felt that the dried corn stood out best against the soft background. These days my approach to landscape focus is to first capture the images I need for full depth of field, but then finish with a few wide aperture shots to give me the option of isolating the key element(s) with selective focus.

Selective Focus
Selective Focus

Color and Leading Lines
The use of bright color can also make a subject stand out. The key is to watch the background for contrasting, noncompetitive color. The background colors can also be desaturated in post-processing. I try not to overdo this type of manipulation, but it is all a matter of taste and some photographers choose to completely desaturate the background for maximal, but artificial, effect. In black and white images, similar effects can be achieved with contrasts of texture and light. 

Cow in Shaddow
Lighting can be used to highlight important regions of an image. It is great when I can get natural light to spotlight a subject, and occasionally a splash of properly color balanced flash can be effective. I have previously discussed the use of masks in post-processing to spotlight subjects and to add a sense of depth. I will often use this spotlighting technique to add a splash of
Spotlighted & Rule of Thirds
brightness and diminished contrast at the distant end of a receding dirt road or trail. The same approach can be used to draw attention to faces or other important elements. It often takes just a touch of brightening to make a surprising difference. The key is to avoid making the effect so strong that it becomes obvious. 

Roads End Farm

All these approaches can work wonders on your compositions adding coherence and balance, but as I mentioned the best results often come from a combination of these techniques. The decision about which to use will be dictated by the scene. Just keep focusing on drawing the eye.

Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines and Spotlight

Lonesome Road, Spofford, NH

As important as it is to draw the eye to your subject. it is equally critical to avoid elements that might divert the eye from the path you have created.  Next week's blog is about avoiding and removing the distractions that can weaken your compositions.