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, June 15, 2013

Protecting the Equipment

From many painful misadventures, I have learned some basic rules to protect my photographic equipment when out shooting in the field.

A couple of years ago I was leading small group on a photo hike in Chesterfield's Madame Sherri Forest. I led the more dedicated and crazy photographers on a scampered down a steep embankment to a secluded waterfall. Its one of my

Madame Sherri Cascade.  The Lens eater.

favorite spots, but it is a little tight and precarious. I decided to switch to my wide angle lens. As I was struggling with my footing my Canon 24-105 L lens flew out of my hands and into the lovely brook. I was horrified and, as I lunged for the lens, my 70-300 somersaulted from my bag and plopped into the water as well. I salvaged both lens, but the 24-105 was irretrievable fried. My 70-300, which was a cheaper, non-Canon brand, actually dried out over about a year and is now functional. I still use it on occasions when I want to bring a lighter Telephoto on a trip. I had camera insurance and ended up using the disaster as an excuse to buy a much heavier Canon 100-400 (the beast). Somehow I convinced my wife that the best way to replace the 24-105 was as the kit lens on a new 5d Mark II. My reason for telling this story is not to encourage you to throw all your old glass into the lake, but to make it clear that my understanding of the care and protection of camera gear comes, not from exhaustive study, but from repeated and painful experience.

Portland Head Surf

Over the years I have dropped or dunked, one camera body, 3 lens', one cable release, and numerous lens caps and filters. Remarkably, I have never lost a memory card, but now that I have mentioned that, it is only a matter of time. It is all very tragic, but cameras are only tools, and, if instead of hiding at home, you want to go where the beauty is, accidents will happen. But there is much that you can do to reduce the risk of disaster and all it starts with two basic rules.


Two Rules

First, most of the best shots are seen from difficult to reach locations, where your equipment will be at risk of loss or damage. Start by assuming the worst WILL happen.

Second, a few simple precautions, faithfully followed, can substantially reduce the risk of disaster. The key is to slow down and focus on your gear. Generally, the beautiful stuff will still be there once everything is secure.

The Threats
Damage can occur at any moment, but the critical times

Table Rock, Balsoms, Dixville Notch
Disaster Awaits

include: taking the camera from the bag, attaching or detaching from the tripod, SECURING AND adjusting the tripod, changing lenses, changing filters, changing memory cards, and falling off cliffs. The falling off cliffs thing may seem obvious, but it is worth stressing that protecting your body should always be your first priority. Mostly. Self preservation aside, I’m sure that, during my plummet to oblivion, I will be thinking about how to protect the camera from damage on impact. Last autumn, while tumbling into the icy waters of Harvey Pond, my two thought were, “You idiot!” and “Keep the camera above your head !!”. I have to admit that, in all non-lethal situations, my mantra has always been, "My body can heal itself, my camera cannot".

Slow Down
The key to all of these precautions is to slow down and think before you put your equipment at risk. Before you act, take a breath and anticipate what could go wrong. Move slowly and deliberately, and focus on the task, not on the gorgeous scene that lies before you. 

 Get a Grip

When holding my camera, I try to focus on the grip and consciously squeeze tighter. As I move, I also try to watch for snares that might rip my camera from my hands. It is often a stray branch or even the tripod that can knock the camera away, and the strap seems always to wants to snag on something. Again, the key here is to move slowly and concentrate on what you are doing.

Two Points of Control
From the moment I reach into my camera bag, I try to keep at least two points of control on my camera. Two hands are not always practical, but the neck strap is often the best insurance you can add. Although at times it can feel awkward, while setting up a shot and adjusting lenses and filters, I keep the strap around my neck for as much as is practical. If I can't keep the strap around my neck, I often wrap it around my arm. Once the camera is firmly attached to tripod, and before I focus on the landcape, my attention shifts toward the security my Gitzo.  Whenever possible, and especially in risky locations, I will still keep myself tethered to the camera.

False Security, the Tripod

Trust me; I know from painful experience, even the most
substantial tripod is not secure. All it takes is a gust of wind or a patch of slippery ground, and your tripod, along with your, firmly attached, camera, will be shattered at the bottom of the ravine. Never leave your camera unattended on a tripod. Once I have set up for a shot, my next routine is to check the balance and security of the position. Next, I re tighten the camera attachment and all the leg segments. I try to follow this routine regardless of the weather or location. These things need to be practiced continually to become automatic. With all these precautions, I still avoid leaving the tripod unattended. A few years ago, I was shooting along a stream in Harrisville, New Hampshire. I turned away for a second to find a filter in my bag and PLOP. A leg slipped on the damp leaves and my camera was soaked. Now when I move away, even for a second, I take the tripod down and lay it gently in a secure area. A pain, but well worth the effort.

Changing Lens
es and Filters
It seems a rule of physics that when I am removing a filter the thing always let's go when I release my hand between turns. All
I can do is focus on the flight of the precious little disk and try to see where it eventually comes to rest. Too often that resting place is somewhere down stream. I've learned not to lunge since I am usually strapped to my camera and tripod at the time. Again, in this situation, the two points of contact can be a life-saver. When changing a filter or a lens I first assumes that there will be an accident and orient the camera over safer ground. With filters, I place my hand or the filter case under the filter as I unscrew. I actually prefer to use the case because I can keep the new filter in the other side, making the exchange quicker. Polarizing filters provide an additional challenge, since, based on the direction of the light, we are constantly adjusting their orientation to get the desired amount of effect. Even if the filter is initially firmly attached, it can easily come loose with continued rotations. More than once, I have had a polarizer come off unexpectedly as I was adjusting the filter. The solution is simple. Make a habit of only adjusting the polarizer by rotating in the clockwise direction. If you go too far, keep going around, rather than making any but very small, fine tuning, adjusts counterclockwise.

Lens changes are a little trickier. I'm ashamed to admit that I often find myself removing a lens with the new lens resting precariously in the crook of my arm. BAD PHOTOGRAPHER! We all hate to expose the delicate underbellies of our precious
Bad Katie
lenses to the elements, but, especially in dangerous locations, it is best to take the lens off, put it away and then take out the new glass. Ok, but in the real world, I start by pressing the lens release button and applying a tiny turn. I don't want to be searching for the button while juggling two lenses. I can then concentrate on firmly gripping both lenses as I make the change. I keep the camera under control on a tripod or with the strap around my neck.  I try to keep the camera aimed down to avoid getting dust on the sensor.  Again, I assume that I will drop one or both and position the camera accordingly. After the old lens is safely stored, I will often remove the new lens and blow out any dust that might have been sucked in during the transfer. My little Pocket Rocket blower is always in my bag.

Angry Sea, Kennebunkport, Maine

All of these precautions may seem self-evident, but unless they are followed as an unvarying routine, they will certainly be forgotten in the face of the next spectacular photographic opportunity. Spectacular opportunities are almost always at the edge of a cliff or next to a roaring brook, so take it slow, think about what you are doing and squeeze that precious camera.

Jeffrey Newcomer


  1. Good advice, Jeff. I've forded raging brooks with camera held high, shot fro helicopters and open cockpit planes, and fallen on rocks, but preferring to injure myself, I've held onto the camera and saved it. However, last year I had my Nikon D700 set up on the tripod on the back porch shooting hummingbirds. Taking a lunch break, I left it all in place. Our dog decided to go after an imaginary enemy and tore off the porch, taking tripod, Nikon, and my prized 300mm lens into a 7 foot fall onto the stone deck. Smashed front lens element and scraped D700; luckily no damage to lens mount. No insurance and lens considered unrepairable by Nikon. $1,300 later nice new 300mm lens, camera OK, chastened photographer and innocent dog! Did give me the excuse to buy a new Nikon D800E, 36mp of excess!

  2. Great Tips Jeff !! Last winter while photographing the elusive Great Grey Owl, I stepped over a log and the loop on my boot lace hooked on a snag. The sudden inability to bring my foot forward resulted in a face plant with tripod in one hand and my Canon 7D with a 500mm F4 in the other. Smashed the battery grip on the camera, knocked the lens hood off and knocked the wind out of me. You just can't be too careful traipsing through the woods !!

  3. It's relieving to read that I'm not the only one who has these misadventures. Great reminders of good practice Jeff. It's always helpful to hear them.

  4. Many people end up buying extraordinary cameras with expensive price tags thinking that these cameras will deliver the best output, but later after they realize that they didn't really need those big shots cameras. In the modern era of digital environment everybody wants to have the best digital experience. We tend to opt for the best digital technology when it comes on capturing most valuable memories in our life. We do expect that those memories should be crystal clearly enough, which could hold long with great quality of imaging.

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  5. Thanks - these are some great tips. I have been reluctant to take my new SLR out into the cold. Now I know what to do to protect it.

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