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, August 25, 2013

New England in All Seasons for a Great Cause

  I Actually Got the Calendar out in August!
Town Hall Rainbow
Chesterfield, NH

For years people have been telling me that it is important to publish
my New England Reflections Calendar during the summer. I have never disputed the concept; it was just that I never seemed to be able to get it together that early. Typically I would delay and dither until late September or even October, and, true to the warnings, I found that many potential customers would tell me that they had already bought their calendar(s) for the year. You would think that I would have learned my lesson, and this year I finally did– sort of. 


This is my yearly crass promotional blog for my calendar. For ten  years I have been publishing a New England Reflections Calendar. Over the decade, more than $40,000 has been raised, all going to support our Pulmonary Rehabilitation program at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, New Hampshire. The money has been used to
Franconia, NH
assist patients with tuition and also to supplement activities offered to the group. The rehab program has provided help and comfort to scores of patients who suffer from chronic lung diseases and its success has always been dependent on our amazingly talented and dedicated staff. I have been honored to be a small part of this effort. After over 20 years as medical director of the program, I have handed off the reins, but I will still try to do my part by continuing to create and promote the New England Reflections Calendar.

This year, for the first time, I have actually completed the calendar at a reasonable time. Earlier would have been even better, but I'm

Newfane Village Cemetery
pretty psyched to get it out in August. Beyond just getting the damned thing done, the toughest part of producing the calendar is selecting the pictures. I browse through my portfolio looking for iconic images from our region. It is always frustrating that I can only choose landscape oriented images, but I promise myself that someday I'll have to do a portrait oriented edition to catch all those other pictures I have been dying to use. My search typically centers around my usual focus of the Monadnock region and southern Vermont, but I occasionally stray to other areas. This year, in addition to my traditional single coastal image, I included a couple of pictures from the Franconia region. I couldn't resist adding one of my shots from the Sugar Hill Lupine Festival. Twelve pictures never seems enough to adequately reflect the beauty of New England in all seasons and I always agonize over the pictures I have to leave out, but he addition of thumbnail images gives me a chance to more fully celebrate our unique corner of the globe. 

Ungraded Printing
For the last several years the calendar has gone from being

Hampton Beach, NH
produced in the hospital's excellent print shop to being sent out for professional printing. Given the limitations of their facilities, the hospital editions were remarkable, but the recent calendars have been much sharper, brighter and with excellent color rendition. My job now is to lay out the calendar in Microsoft Publisher and then submit the images to our designer who moves the project to InDesign for the printer. The addition of other touches, such as the different highlight colors, also adds to the attractiveness of the final product. As always I legitimately feel that this year's calendar is the best ever. You can browse this years images on my web site 2014 Calendar Collection. The only thing left is for all of you to buy a bunch of these utilitarian masterpieces. They make great gifts and support a great cause.

Maple Line
Westmoreland, NH

As always I have a wonderful group of partners in the community who help by featuring the calendar in there stores and businesses. I have just started my annual tour distributing the calendar throughout the region. I have more traveling to do and I'm always looking for new locations, but here is a partial and growing list of the where you can go to fulfill all your 2014 calendar needs.

  • Cheshire Medical Center Gift Shop, Keene, NH
  • Toadstool Bookstores in Keene and Peterborough, NH
  • Heidi's Hallmark stores in Keene, Milford, NH
  • Sharon Arts Center, Peterborough, NH
  • Keene State College Bookstore, Keene, NH
  • Leon's Auto Center, Keene, NH
  • Nicole and Bonnie's Hair Salon, Keene, NH
  • Hanna Grimes, Keene, NH
  • Paper and Roses, Peterborough, NH
  • Westmoreland General Store, Westmoreland, NH
  • Gilsum General Store, Gilsum, NH
  • JJ's Discount, Chesterfield, NH
  • Monandnock Imaging, Keene, NH
  • Monadnock Food Co-op 
  • Walpole Village Market
  • Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, NH
  • Drewsville General Store, Drewsville, NH
  • Village Grocery, Walpole, NH
  • Vermont Artisan Design, Brattleboro, Vt
  • Everyone's Books, Brattleboro, Vt.
  • Harlow's Sugar House, Putney, Vt
  • Newfane Country Store, Newfane, Vt
  • Village Bookseller, Bellows Falls, Vt
  • PutneyGeneral Store, Putney, Vt

Baker Brook AutumnNewfane, NH
You can also order the calendar on-line through the hospital web site

And we pay the shipping!

Finally you can be assured that, if you see me on the street, I will have a supply of calendars nearby and you will be hearing my favorite phrase for this time of season; "How many calendars do you want this year?"

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, August 18, 2013

New England Farm Photography

 Pixels at the Sharon Arts Center "Paintout"

This week you must pardon any spelling or grammatical errors as I am just recovering from the 8th Annual Sharon Arts Center Paintout. Every year the arts center sponsors a week-long event during which artists are invited to practice their art with a specific theme. This year the theme was "Farms". The center identified ten farms in our region who were willing to permit painters to wander
Pasture Shade, Sawyer Farm
their property in search of the perfect scene. The event ran from Monday through Friday with a reception and show for the work on Friday evening. Some years ago I convinced the folks at Sharon Arts that the Paintout should encompass pixels as well as paint and since then I have shown up as the poor relation at the receptions. Painters generally only tolerate photographers, but I have enjoyed the opportunity to discover some new locations, often getting into areas that I would otherwise be unable to explore. 

The paintout week is always exhausting. The challenge is to find time to get out shooting. As usual, I was completely at the mercy of the weather, but in this case, if the light was bad, I generally did not have another chance. This last week I was working on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. My only full day available for shooting was Tuesday and on Tuesday it rained in torrents almost the entire day. Rain isn’t always bad but it does limit photographic opportunities. As usual I tried to make the most of the time and light that I could capture. When I could find time, I shot until the last light and beyond and then spent the evenings processing the images. I spent all of Friday printing, matting and framing my favorite images. I can't really complain. I love challenges like this and, as always, it was a great opportunity to discover number of new locations and to make some new contacts. 

Let’s face it; the concept of photographing farms is not exactly new to me, so I decided to apply my own theme to this effort. My plan was to try to apply as many different styles and techniques of photography as I could, given the constraints of time and the subjects available.

Shooting Straight
With so much amazing and varied farm land I didn't have to go crazy with technique to capture classically beautiful images. The pastures, farm buildings, animals and, of course Mount Monadnock
frequently looming in the background all made for great opportunities. All I needed was the light and some gentle massaging in Photoshop to bring out the best in the scenes. The twilight picture of silos with Monadnock in the background, was taken from across the pasture with a long lens to compress the scene. Using masking, I was able to adjust the bright sky to retain detail in the foreground. In a number of images Iused blended tone mapping, a new favorite technique, to add a subtle increase in definition. For me

Blended Tone mapped Layer
these techniques are standard approaches which allow me to present the scenes as I saw it. Nothing special, but my goal for this week was to use different techniques and like the proverbial man with a hammer, everything quickly began looking like nails and I couldn't hold back.


HDR / Tone Mapping
Without a doubt, my favorite farm on the Arts Center list was the 
Sawyer Farm in Jaffrey. The place is a classic with an old farm house and a cluster of three majestic silos all surrounded by acres of beautiful rolling pastures. It also helped that the owners are incredibly friendly. On Monday I got out of work a bit early and headed straight to Sawyer. The light was still bright, so I decided to explore the barns. The inside of the cow barn was dark with brilliant light coming through the windows. A great situation for HDR. I grabbed seven bracketed images and later went to Photomatix. Since my goal was to break away from my usual approaches I decided to go full grunge and ended up with a slightly cartoonish rendition that I

Gentler HDR, Sun/Moon Farm
loved but which was far outside my usual style. As I have said many times, HDR and Tone Mapping are all a matter of taste. It was tasty to try a different cuisine and, after all, the last time I went crazy with HDR I ended up selling the image for the logo of a national brand of doggie treats. Later when I was shooting at the Sun/Moon Farm in Rindge. I came back to earth. I used HDR to produce a more natural appearing image combining the bright pasture with the shadows of the barn interior. 

Black & White

Black and white layers can effectively isolate and highlight an area of color within an image. The barn at the Sun/Moon Farm was
Black & White Layer
filled with bunches off drying garlic. The challenge was to draw the eye to a small grouping of bulbs without loosing the sense of rows of stalks filling the barn. In addition to selective focus, I also blended a black and white layer to de-emphasize the background elements. One of my favorite images from the week was farrier George Iselin's remarkable hands as he shoed one of his Mary's horses. George was remarkably patient as I crawled on the ground to shoot under the horse. I loved the color image, but thought the power of his hands might come through stronger in black and white. With black and white, I was able to enhance the exposure and contrast without concern about the impact on the color rendition. Both approaches have their attractions, but I think I prefer the B&W. 

Farrier's Touch

Farms are filled with opportunities for macro photography. In particular the flowers at Rosaly's Garden were great subjects. I went to Rosaly's on Tuesday knowing
that the soft overcast light would work well. There was enough light to ignite the colors of a glowing sunflower. I also employed focus stacking to get better depth on a pink flower. The only challenge was keeping the equipment dry in the steady rain.



Four Image Focus Stack

 In the Barn Yard

Curious Nose

The soft light was also a good time to shoot barnyard animals. Thepigs at Mayfair Farm in Harrisville were especially entertaining. The massive adults were busy growling at each other, but the young piglets were quite friendly and curious about the camera. The nearly universal rule in portrait photography is to focus on the eyes, but in this situation, it was the nose that was the obvious focus of attention. 

Night Light

Although my daylight photography was severely limited, the nights were totally mine. As I considered my options, the two questions were, where is the milky way and what can I put in front of it. The answers were easy. I used the SkySafari program to discover that the Milky Way would be prominent in the southern sky late in the night and the only appropriate foreground I could imagine was the majestic silos at Sawyer Farm. After warning the Sawyers that I would be camped out in their pasture late into  the night, I happily killed some time with ice cream at Kimball Farm. I settled into the Sawyer's back
Standing Stones
pasture at about 10 PM for more than two hours shooting the deep sky as it moved behind the silos. The process was complicated by the presence of the bright first quarter moon that didn't set until midnight, but it did add some illumination to the foreground.  The time fled by as I kept looking for different angles and perspectives.  When you have made the committment to be out there you don't want to miss a single shot.  It wasn't until about 2AM that I finally got home and to bed. Despite the fact that I had to get up for work at six, it was definitely worth the yawning to bag the prize I was hoping for.


During the paintout the sad moment always comes when you realize that you have to stop shooting and try to get some of the pictures processed, matted and framed for the Friday evening show. There is never enough time to shoot and process everything, but I found some great spots and I will most definitely be returning to these farms in the future 

The "wet" show was in the Common House at the lovely Nubanusit Farm and Neighborhood in Peterborough. Yup, just in case there was any confusion about the status of photography, they called it a "wet" show. As usual, I was the only photographer, but it is always fascinating to see how this talented group of artists interpreted the rich settings that were offered. I really don't understand why more photographers don't take advantage of these great shooting opportunities. 

On the way home from the show, it suddenly occurred to me; DAMN, I totally forgot about infrared! I did straight color images, B&W, HDR, blended tone mapping, Macro, focus stacking, star fields and pink noses, but I forgot that the luxurious green foliage of this time of year is perfect for infrared. I hope I didn't break any rules, but on Sunday I cruised by George and Mary Iselin's farm in Marlborough and grabbed some IR to complete the set. 

By Friday night I felt like this guy from Mayfair Farm, but I'll recover and will be excited to hear about next year's theme. To see more images from this year's Paintout, check out my website collection.

Nap Time, I know how he feels.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dealing with the Dapple

Digital Solutions to the Challenge of Exposure
in Patchy Bright Light

Dappled forest Sunlight, Gridley River, Wales Preserve, Sharon, New Hampshire

One of the biggest photographic challenges is managing exposure in spotty or dappled light. If you require proof, just take a hike in our beautiful New England forests on a bright sunny summer day. I did that just last week.

Bagel Mill Show
Early this week I set up a show at the Bagel Mill in Peterborough, New Hampshire. It is a great place to display my photographs and a great place for a quick snack or a long lingering cup of coffee. Check out the show. The Cafe is tucked away on a side street off of route 202 just west of the intersection with 101.

As I was finishing the set-up, Jim, the Cafe owner, told me about a lovely little forest preserve in nearby Sharon. He gave me detailed directions to the Wales Preserve, but I knew I was in trouble when his map went over to second sheet of paper. Needless to say I got lost, but I was lost along a beautiful stretch of upland pastures which commanded spectacular views of Mount Monadnock. It was a new area for me and I didn’t mind the confusion one bit.

Wales Preserve
With the help of my New Hampshire Gazetteer and GPS I finally found the Wales Preserve. The compact 49 acre forest is managed by the Nature Conservancy and encompasses a lovely section of
Gridley River. The “river” is actually more of a brook in this section and is also charmingly know as “McCoy's Sabbath Day Trout Creek”. The easy trail parallels the brook as it gentle descends through series of lovely cascades and pools. The day was sunny and refreshingly cool with the dappled sunlight playing magically across the rushing water and the forest path. New England forest are dream-like on sunny days, but the restless kaleidoscopic patterns of brilliant light and deep shadows are a nightmare for photographers trying to capture the full dynamic range of the experience. I think there may be no more challenging conditions in which to manage photographic exposure than in dappled light. My hike got me thinking about the various ways that this problem might be attacked. My next thought was “Blog”. I apologize for the length of this article, but it was interesting to think through the various approaches that are available to the digital photographer.

In my film days I had largely abandoned attempts to capture forest trails in bright sunlight. I found myself always trying to decide between exposing for the highlights, leaving everything else in impenetrable shadow or opening up to catch the mid and dark tones while completely blowing out the highlights. I often was left with a muddy compromise with nothing well exposed. The usual solutions to high contrast, such as variable neutral density filters, couldn’t work with restless patches of brightness wandering randomly throughout the scene. Then along came digital.

Digital to the Rescue
Digital photography and processing has provided a number of new techniques for dealing with patchy high contrast situations. None are perfect in all situations, but they provide options where none previously existed.

The Artistic Option

First, it should be said that it is not always necessary to squash the full dynamic range into your image. It is still a valid artistic choice to focus on the highlights or shadows and let the opposite end of the dynamic range go. The result will not be the most accurate representation of the scene, but can be an interesting and dramatic choice. Who said images have to be close to the natural experience?

I Did!
OK, enough of that artsy stuff; let’s talk about capturing the scene.

First, Shoot Raw! :
It is difficult to believe that there are still folks out there who will dispute the value of shooting RAW, but when attempting to tame high contrast and especially dappled lighting it is a necessary prerequisite. The expanded dynamic range of RAW images is essential to most of the techniques I will discuss. Many of which involve capturing multiple bracketed images, but you should start by shooting RAW! 


Multi- Image Solutions

HDR Software

Photomatix HDR
Multi-image high dynamic range photography using software
solutions such as Photomatix or the capabilities built into recent versions of Photoshop are obvious approaches to this problem, but I have found that the algorithms used by these programs have trouble with the constantly moving forest foliage. HDR software works best with static scenes and the dapples of brightness in the sunlit forest are never in the same spot from image to image. Anti-ghosting options can be of some help, but this is a real challenge for the software. Masters of HDR can get some very interesting results but I seldom find that HDR software yields the best natural appearing images in these challenging conditions.


Manual Blending of Bracketed Image(s) 

Patches of blown-out hihiglights
I found many interesting cascades along the Gridley River, often with a lovely emerald tint from the illuminated canopy. In my Emerald Cascade image much of the water was in shadow, but a few brilliant reflections distracted from the soft flow

Detail in Highlight
and color. I bracketed my images and had to go quite dark to begin to see a trace of detail in the dappled patches. I eventually used two images, one exposed for the general, scene and the other to capture detail in the few areas of highlight. I aligned the two images and then masked the dark layer, painting in just a touch of detail over the highlighted patches. Because the dappling moves slightly between images, I had to do a little blending and cloning to get a natural appearance of the transitions between light and dark.

Emerald Cascade

Two Image Manually Blended

I was pleased with the final result. My goal was to keep the flashes of light from distracting from the soft appearance of the cascade. The challenge with this technique is to soften the blown out highlights without losing the magic of the dappling. Manual blending works nicely when only a few areas of distracting highlight require muting, but this approach becomes much more time consuming and tedious when applied to an picture with many bright patches, such as my earlier trail image. I gave it a try, but in such situations the magic of Photoshop and Lightroom can be a lifesaver. 

Single Images
Although using multiple images can lead to a better result in some situations, an appropriately exposed single image can also be edited

Dark, but Highlights Preserved
to control scattered bright highlights, and processing a single image is easier since it avoids the need align multiple layers and adjust for movement of the dapples. This is where the wider dynamic range of RAW files is particularly important. Returning to my trail image, I start again with the multiple images, but in post I look for the brightest image that still retains detail in the highlights. This invariably means that I start with a dark image with
 increased noise in the shadows, but I study the histogram and select the one shifted the furthest to the right without completely blowing out the highlights. As I have discussed in a previous blog, because of the increased data in the highlights, shooting to the right is always best even when you can’t go as far to the right as you would like. As the histogram moves to the right, the dark zones get pulled into areas greater bit density and noise is reduced. Trust me or go read my "Exposing to the Right" article . Anyway, in case of dapple light, the images will still be dark and noise will still be an issue, but improved noise reduction functions can do a lot to minimize the damage.


Single Image Editing , Lightroom 5
Photoshop and Lightroom provide a number of ways to process the single images to bring out its full dynamic range. In past versions of Photoshop, I would double process the image in Camera Raw, once for the highlights and a second time for the shadows and then manually blend the two images . With one image, the blending process is much easier since the image content is identical. Newer versions of these programs now

Modified Single Image
have much more sophisticated controls of shadow and highlights and today I almost never find the need to double process. Within Camera RAW or Lightroom, the controls allow independent adjustments in shadow and highlights along with the ability to set levels of blacks and whites. Once within Photoshop the Shadow/Highlight control allows for further adjustments. It is often a combination of techniques which work best to pull out the amazing amount of dynamic range which lies in the deep well of the RAW files. 


The bottom line is that the digital photographer now has a wide range of options to control challenging high dynamic range situations. Whether you use HDR, image blending or the remarkable controls in Lightroom and Photoshop, the result is that the sunny forest is no longer a forbidding place for photographers. 

Forest Glade, Arlington, Vermont

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Rye Beach Weekend Photography

Trying Again for an "Eddington Moment"

Every summer our friends Tom and Paula rent a cottage for a month on the New Hampshire seacoast at Rye Beach. The beach is
lined with beautiful and extravagant houses, but Tom and Paula's place stands out as a rustic throwback to earlier times when beach houses was supposed to be simple and time at the shore was more like camping without an elegant modern structure blocking the experience of the sea. During their stay on the beach, Tom and Paula entertain many of their friends and every year we join the group for "Chesterfield Weekend". It is a great chance to be on the coast, to sit and watch the waves, eat and drink and of course talk. We do love to talk.

For me it is a treasured annual opportunity to photograph the New Hampshire seacoast. We are only there for a couple of days and my photography is strictly controlled by the weather, but for a poor landlocked guy, it is always an exciting opportunity. Even when the weather is terrible I can scout out interesting locations for another time. Besides, bad weather is often the best time to shoot. Except when I’m looking to capture a sunrise.

Whaleback Sunrise

Last year I had carefully planned to catch the sun rising behind
Last Year's Disappointment
Whaleback Lighthouse at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor. I used The Photographer's Ephemeris to find the perfect location on Frost Point in Odiorne State Park. I got up at four am and hiked through the predawn dark to reach the beach, but the clouds remain stubbornly impenetrable and I had to be satisfied with moody shots of the restless gray ocean. I was happy with the images, and philosophical about the vagaries of nature, but that was not what I came for and certainly not why I dragged my old body out of bed at four AM. You can read about my adventure and my failure to experience an "Eddington Moment" in my blog article from last summer.


Notice the Alien at the Helm

This year I decided to give it another try. Again the weather seemed marginal, but I was there and it seemed worth another shot. Since we always visit around the same date, the optimal location on Frost Point had not changed. Four AM came just as early as last year, but the sky looked clearer. When I got to the beach there was overcast on the horizon, but just as I was ready for another disappointment, the sky lit up. The golden clouds were a perfect back drop to the lighthouse and the passing boats. This is what I came for and it was worth the two early mornings. As the sun rose above the clouds, and became excessively bright, I began concentrating on the warm light which bathed the rocks and sea grass along the shore. It was a great morning to be by the ocean, peaceful and quiet, and with surprisingly few mosquitoes. While I was wandering the beach, I set up my field recorder on a rock near the water to record the relaxing sounds of the waves and sea birds. 

You can also listen to the ocean music on YouTube or as the background for my Atlantic Coast slide show (If you have Flash). 


I lingered for awhile, but I had to get back to nap before I joined the crew at the Golden Egg for a perfect breakfast. I enthused about the spectacular sunrise; attempting to make my lazy friends feel sorry that they didn’t join me on the beach. I failed, but, for me, it was still a perfect example of the power of persistence. Eddington would have been proud.


 Gifts from the Sea
I bagged my sunrise, but I always try to get the most from my trips to the coast. Although the full moon had passed I scouted around for good moonrise locations. I found that the view from Fort Stark in Portsmouth Harbor would work well. Sadly clouds were an issue on both nights, but soft overcast light worked well for other subjects, such as one of my favorite run down tidal shacks in Rye.

Atlantic Arch
The Best Laid Plans
Not all photographic opportunities come based on careful planning. Sometimes you have to be ready when luck plays its part. While beginning to prepare for dinner in the cottage on Friday night, My friend Bob suddenly began screaming for me to come quickly and to bring my camera. A rain shower was passing out to sea and the setting sun had just broken through the clouds, the perfect situation for a rainbow. And there it was, a spectacular full double rainbow floating on the ocean. I leaped back into the house to grab my 16-35 mm wide angle lens and started shooting. My choice of foregrounds was limited, but I was able to incorporate the small deck. Even with the wide angle, I couldn’t catch the full double, so, before the color melted away, I quickly grab a 5 image panorama which happily included Paula and Lynne watching in stunned amazement from the beach.  As much as I have learned about how rainbows form, I can rarely anticipate when one will appear. The conditions usually come together in an instant and are gone just as quickly. The best I can do is try to be ready when the miracle happens. This time it worked. This photography stuff is Great!


Before I headed home Sunday afternoon, I wandered the rocks along Rye Beach at low tide. The light was still flat, but I was able to catch some modest surf and tidal pools. I managed to keep my camera dry, but very little else. After drying off I reluctantly headed for home. 

Chesterfield Weekend at Rye Beach is always a great chance to visit with friends away from the distractions of home, and happily, there is always time to get out to capture the magic of the ocean. I was sad to leave, but excited to get home to dump my image into the computer and begin exploring my seacoast treasures. If nothing else, it was a refreshing break from the cows and trees.

Jeffrey Newcomer