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, July 13, 2013

Natures Accompaniment for Your Images

But First An Apology
Let me start by apologizing for missing last weeks blog.  I was absolutely flattened by a miserable virus and, although my "Sounds" article was essentially done, for most of the week, I couldn't get my head off the pillow.  Over the last Two and one-half years I haven't missed a week and on some weeks I did two articles, so I figure I deserve some slack.  Some of you may have been happy for the break, but, I am beginning to feel human, so it's back to work!

Natural Sound 

One of the most endangered things on our earth is not an obscure beetle or delicate bird, but quietude.

Quietude does not mean the total lack of sound but rather places where natural sounds can be heard without the intrusion of man-made, technological noise. We have become so accustom to our own din that we hardly notice it, until we start listening for quiet.

Do the experiment yourself.  Think of a nearby place that you recall to have been peaceful and quiet.  Now go there and listen carefully for a few minutes.  Give it several minutes. If you don't hear the intrusion of man in the background, bless yourself and tell no one but me.

Recently I have been trying to record natural sounds to include as background for some of my web site slide shows. I had initially tried music, but I found that nature provides a more appropriate

Walpole Ridge, Then Late Mowing
background for my landscape images. I went out searching for pure sound and quickly discovered that even in our comparatively undeveloped corner of New England human noise is almost impossible to avoid. Automobile engines, chain saws, trains, even barking dogs all contribute to the unnatural symphony and it is amazing how far these sounds travel. Route 91 sits on the west side of my town of Chesterfield, New Hampshire and can be heard as a low rumble throughout the town, even 10 or more miles away. Frequently I will find what would appear to be the perfectly isolated spot, but as I settle in to capture pristine nature, I will start noticing the persistent background rumble. Our ears tend to filter out subtle noise, but when we really focus on the sound it becomes obvious and the recorder doesn't miss a note.

I have just started on my search for quietude. As I drive the back roads I can often be seen pulled over just listening. It can be a frustrating quest, but I have already learned a few tricks along the way.


 Go Low

Deep in the Valley

Noise is muted by the hills. On my searches I tend to look for valleys or gorges within the forest. The problem is that people also tend to congregate in the valleys. I seek out low lying back roads where the houses are few are far apart and the dogs don't bark at passersby. Isolated forest trail offer even great chances to escape the rumble.


The Quiet Times
Noise is less when people are snug in their beds and snoring is the only issue. I try to get out early in the morning and late at night. Happily this is also the time when nature tends to be its most vocal.

Evening on Madame Sherri Pond

Listen on YouTube

Signal to Noise.
It seems obvious that noise will be less apparent when the target
sounds are louder and more continuous. Directional microphones can help isolate the sound, but even the most enthusiastic bird has to take a breath now and then that is when highway rumble becomes painfully evident. Continuous sounds such as babbling brooks, surf, or rain can cover a multitude of sins and I have mixed brook sounds with more delicate tracks to cover the technological rumble. Check out the track on my website’s front page (note this Flash and won't player on your Apple devices).  What can be more relaxing than the sound of birds twittering next to a lovely babbling brook? I have to pee already!

Spring Pasture with a Small Brook
No Flash? Listen on YouTube 

Patience and Editing.
It is an unwritten rule that as soon as I turn on the recorder a car drives by or a plane flies over. Even the quietest location is not quiet all the time. The important thing is to be patient and continue recording. One of the most common sources of human contamination of natural sounds comes from the person recording the sound. Foot steps, sneezes or even a nose scratch can be picked up surprisingly easily. I usually set up my recorder and then retreat at least several yards away.  Despite my best efforts transient noise always seem to intrude, but the nice thing about natural sounds is that interruptions are generally easy to edit out without obvious discontinuities. 

Simple Tools
What you will need: a Recorder, Editing Software and Patience.

Field Recorder
As with photography, it is easy to spend a lot of money recording

Zoom H4n with "dead cat"
natural sounds, but you can get started quite economically. There are many field recorders on the market. A few years ago I found the Zoom H4n field recorder on sale. The H4n is an excellent, compact stereo recorder with two, built in, condenser mics and 4 channel capability. I was thinking of using it for interviews, but it is also a very a very capable field recorder. It comes with a foam cover to reduce wind noise, but I also made my own "dead cat" cover from a piece of artificial fur. The dead cat does a nice job muting the pounding from the wind and I just love telling people that I have a dead cat on my recorder. I can also connect my Rode video mic for more directional recording. The Zoom H4n is a great recorder. It is available for around $270, which is a bargain 

IPhone Recording, No dead cat, yet

It is commonly stated that your best camera is the one you have with you and that is also true of sound recorders. I have found that my iPhone does an acceptable job in many situations, especially when I am only planning to use the sounds on the web. I see an “i”Dead Cat in my future.


iPhone Recording of Chesterfield Gorge

 Sound Editor
Sound needs to be edited and I could have spent several hundred dollars for a program that I probably wouldn’t understand. I ended up with Audacity, a very capable and FREE editor that does everything I need. I can adjust levels, edit out distractions and mix tracks. The program has a set of filters which among other thing allows a degree of muting of background noise.

Storm Over Harrisville

I am just starting with field recording and perhaps, when I really know what I’m doing, I will post another article, but I’m having such a good time capturing the sounds of nature that I couldn’t resist sharing my early experiences. Now get out there and listen and let me know if you find the quietude.

Thunderstorm over Spofford, NH (edited to 7minutes)
 For those without Flash, Listen on YouTube

Here is a 30 minute trip to the New Hampshire seacoast at dawn from my recent weekend at Rye Beach. I captured this audio while shooting the sunrise behind Whaleback Lighthouse in Portsmouth Harbor. If you can't do Flash, you can go to my YouTube site:

Jeff Newcomer

1 comment:

  1. Jeff, your flash audio and video will play on a properly set-up Mac, such as a MacBook Pro with up-to-date flash plug-ins. Ken