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, September 29, 2013

Everyday Photoshop Magic : Layers

 Nellie Beyond the Wall, Sort of
Layers and Masks
I have said many times before, I live and die by Photoshop.  This remarkable program rescued me from the my dank, fume infested wet darkroom and opened a new world of possibilities to bring my images to their best.  There are many great books and tutorials about Photoshop but I want to talk briefly about a few of the essential elements of the program which make it such a revolutionary and essential part of my creative work.  I have kept up with the latest versions of Photoshop including the cloud based Photoshop CC.  The newest flashy features are always fun to play with, but the continuing strength of the program has much more to do with the long established tools that have been refined over the years, but in their simplest form remain the core of this magical window on photography.  My goal is not to provide detailed tutorials, but to help those unfamiliar with the program to develop an appreciation of its power and to understand why it is worth the effort to incorporate it into their creative process.  Full versions of Photoshop come with a substantial sticker shock, but most of what I will be discussing can be done in Photoshop Elements and a variety of other editing programs for a substantially reduced cost.   So I must start this discussion with Layers.

 Off all the tools in Photoshop, Layers is the most essential to my work and it was one of the most difficult to fully understand.  The learning curve for Photoshop can be quite steep.  It took me three passes at the program before it finally clicked.  I started with a tutorial book and then a coarse at my local college - nothing!  Finally I found a book by Ben Willmore that got me going and I haven't stopped learning since.  This program is so broad and deep, that I am convince that no one can ever truly understand it all, but you don't need to be a master to reap much of Photoshop's amazing power. Layers is a key part of that power.

Layers are used in the editing process to add picture components or processing to the original background image.  They are most often compared to placing a transparent sheet over a picture on which an images may be place to overlie a portion our a substantial amount of the original picture,  or on which processing can be applied to affect the underlying image.  These are referred respectively as Image Layers and Adjustment Layers.

Layer Stack.  Adjustments only where they are needed

Image Layers
An Image Layer contains image material, actual pixels, which are laid down above the original image.  Top layers are always seen as overlying and obscuring those below, and in regions where the image layer is blank, the underlying picture will show through. 

Adjustment Layers
Adjustment layers work in the same way as Image Layers but they contain processing instructions rather than pixels. An Adjustment
Adjustment Layers
layer may be used to modify the appearance of the underlying image layer(s) in a broad range of ways.  Brightness and contrast can be adjusted using tools including Levels, Curves, Brightness and Contrast.  Color quality and balance can be controlled by Vibrance, Hue & Saturation,  Photo Filter, Black & White and Color Balance tools. The major advantage of making these changes on an Adjustment layer is that the underlying image remains untouched and modifications can be added, removed, or modified at any point during processing.  The real power of adjustment layers is the ability to control them, to apply just the amount of affect you want just where you want it, and that is the magic of Layer Masks.

Layer Masks
Layer Masks are not actual independent layers but are best thought of as a window placed over an Image or Adjustment Layer to control how it is seen.  The basic rule is, "White reveals, Black conceals".  When an Adjustment Layer is created you will see a

Windows on the Layers
white box just to the right of the layer's icon.  This is the layer mask.  It starts all white, like a clear window, meaning that the full effect of the layer is being applied to the entire image.  The mask can be painted with black which, like blackening a window, will block the Adjustment Layer from affecting the underlying parts of the image.  If it is entirely black the adjustment will have no effect anywhere.  The masking does not have to be "all or none".  Painting with shades of gray will partially reveal the effect and the masks overall impact can be also be varied using the Opacity slider. 

Enough! I promised that this would not be a detailed tutorial.  Lets look at a quick example of the power of layers.  I have concluded that my images have too few pictures of our dog Nellie, so why not add her in.

Background Layer : Marlborough, NH

Nellie, Source Image

Nellie Beyond the Wall, Compositing the Pooch.

Image Layer of Nellie
I decided to add an image of Nellie behind the wall in an early autumn picture from Marlborough, New Hampshire.  Of course, I
would never do this in my work, but anything for my readers. I found a picture of her from a maple sugaring shoot I did a couple of years ago that I thought would work for this exercise. I adjusted the size and then moved a cropped version over to my background image.  This automatically created an Image Layer overlying the background.  Unlike Adjustment Layers, Image Layers do not have layer masks when they are created, but a mask is just one click away.  I then removed all the extraneous parts of the image layer by painting the mask with black over everything that wasn't Nellie, and over the parts of  her that belonged behind the wall.  

Curves Adjustment Layer with Mask
Shezam!, she was, magically transported in time and space, but she didn't look quite right.  She was too bright for the shadowy area under the tree.  The color balance was a bit off, especially in her excessively red whiskers. The scene was illuminated from the left, but Nellie's face was brighter on the right. I corrected all of these problems, then subtly brightened her eyes and added a bit of spotlighting with separate adjustment layers, each masked to apply the changes just to where they were needed.


The Stack

Full Layer Stack
The result is a stack of layers which selectively fine tune the composite to help Nellie slip into the scene.  It's not perfect, but I hope it demonstrates just a few of the advantages of layers and layer masks.  A full discussion of the how layers are created and manipulated would require a substantial book and I am still trying to grasp all of it's subtleties.  It is just one of the reasons that I find Photoshop endlessly fascinating and powerful, and why, if you haven't already, you should explore all the power of this amazing tool.

This week I have been experimenting with video screen capture to augment some of my articles.  Check out my first attempt which is a short video successively revealing the effect of the layers in my example.  I've got a lot to learn with this, so let me know what you think.    

 Video Screen Capture also on YouTube
Anybody know how to make the thumbnails for other video disappear from the end of the my video?

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tale of Two Trees, Album

This week I have a blog article featured on the New England Photography Guild web site. As has been my habit, I have decided that my personal blog this week will be an album of photographs that could not fit within the restrictions of the NEPG blog. Of course it is also difficult enough to come up with one article per week, let alone two!

This week I celebrate big trees. Oak trees to be exact. One is a champion of Cheshire County, the other is now just a bare pillar monument to former Glory. For the full story, check out the NEPG Blog "Tale of Two Trees"

The Friedsam Forest Great Red Oak

Friedsam Town Forest is a wonderful little oasis in the center of
Chesterfield, New Hampshire. It is only 220 acres but it is home to lovely trails through a varied landscape. The forest is also home to two magnificent and ancient giant Red Oak border trees. A few weeks ago one of the trees was measured and found to be the biggest in the county, nearly 100 feet tall and over 16 feet in circumference. It is estimated to be over 300 years old. The tree was once protected at the border of a pasture, but is now is surrounded by new growth forest making photography a particular challenge. Check out the images on the NEPG Blog, and here are a few others that may give a feeling for this proud champion. Of course you can see it yourself along the Ancient Oaks trail in Friedsam Forest. Stop by and consider all that this sturdy giant has seen.

 Requiem for a Giant White Oak
As much as the Friedsam Oak is a photographic challenge, the
great White Oak at Alyson's Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire was a photographer's dream. The tree sat alone at the top of a ridge overlooking the Connecticut River to waves of Vermont Mountains receding into the distance. It was estimated to be over 200 years old. Standing alone above the squat orchard trees, it was beautifully and fully formed and could be photographed easily from all angles. Tragically the oak was destroyed by lightning a few years ago, but I feel fortunate to have captured the tree in its glory. Now the remaining pillar has a certain defiant nobility which belies its traumatic end. For the full story and more images check out the NEPG Blog. When you have a chance, drop by the orchard to honor the oak and enjoy delicious apples in a lovely setting.





 Back to
NEPG Blog "Tale of Two Trees"

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"No Budget for Photography", The Devaluation of Photography


A Few Thoughts on Dealing with the Devaluation of Photography

It is a common experience for many of us. We get a call or an email from a design firm interested in using one or more of our images in a project. The pattern is very consistent. They start by complementing the work, “it is much better than anything I’ve seen”. "It would be perfect for our brochure, poster, magazine or web site." So far so good. I feel great that my work is appreciated and it is nice that they are actually asking permission to use my image(s), but then the other standard lines come into play. “Our funds are slim and we don’t have a budget for photography, but it will be great exposure for you and we would be happy to include a photo credit”. It makes me want to scream, “If your design firm will agree to work for nothing, so will I!”. 

There are variations on this theme. A few weeks ago I heard from a communications firm asking to use one of my images on a calendar they were preparing for a regional finance company. They wanted to pay $20 for the license to use the image and without any photo credit. They insisted that they had many excellent photographers who were happy to provide their pictures at this rate. They seemed like very nice folks, and I told them that I would be excited to contribute to their project, but I had to ask for a more reasonable fee especially if I would get no recognition for the work. I politely suggested that if their budget was not flexible that they should certainly use one their photographers who would agree to such minimal compensation. 

Whether it is minimal or no compensation, this is all part of an increasingly familiar pattern of the undervaluation of photography which undoubtedly stems from a combination of factors. We know the great amount of time, effort and expense that goes into capturing the perfect image, but in the digital world the public has been increasing encourage by the media and marketing to think of photography as something that occurs automatically with the click of a shutter. Because folks can occasionally get a decent picture with their cell phone, they think that a professionally crafted image must take little further effort or skill.  reinforcing  this perception is easy availability of cheap images through micro-stock agencies. Over the years I have worked hard to capture many images of Mount Monadnock, in all seasons, times of day and extremes of weather. I think I have some great shots that should be of high value, but a search of the stock photo site Shutter Stock shows that I can download a high resolution photo of the mountain for only about $15 per image. 


Of course we are our own worst enemy. There are many developing photographers who are willing to accept a photo credit as compensation for their work. It is great to see your images in print, but I am aware of no studies that shows that a photo credit is an effective marketing tool.  Of course if National Geographic calls offering me a cover for only a photo credit, I would have to think hard, but the fact is high quality publications, in which a credit would have real value, would not be likely to refuse fair compensation.


None of the factors that serve to devalue photography show any signs of going away. So what can we do when faced with the "No budget for photography" scenario. 

Know Your Worth
I have struggled with this issue many time, and I don't have any magical answers. I believe that the first step is to realistically assess

Banks pay their bills

the value of your work to the customer. This is not about selling fine art prints. It has very little to do with how artistically magnificent the image is , but how it meets the customer's specific requirements. If you have an image of the precise subject that is needed, in the proper size and orientation and if it tells the desired story, then the image may be of great value, even if it is not the most stunning in your portfolio. I have been frequently amazed when images that I felt were mediocre have been selected because they complement a certain theme, or match the color scheme or because the planned text fits in the picture's open spaces. Designer's can be expected to be unapologetic about their goal to get the image that best fits their needs for the least amount of money and you should not feel uneasy about asking to be fairly compensated for your work. As much as we would like it to be about the art, it is about business.

My first thought when a potential client undervalues my work is to avoid the tendency to feel insulted. It's not art, it's business. I try to delay any specific mention of money. I try to begin the discussion
You haven't arrived until you are on Pig Ears
by showing interest in the project and telling the client that I would be thrilled to work with them. I note that my licensing fees vary depending on the specifics of the project, the size of the image, the distribution and the presence of credit. I also ask about the purpose of the publication; I am very supportive of worthy nonprofit causes and by the same token, I would not want my work associated with a neo-nazi pamphlet . If the discussion continues, my goal is to show how my image would fill the specific needs of the project, not only the beauty of the picture, but also how The size and resolution of the image would be customized to meet the specific requirement. 

Donated to a great cause
If the client insists that they can not fairly compensate me for my work, I try to avoid being too preachy about the time and expense that goes into my work. I may mention that I frequently donate my work to non-profits who do good things in my community, but that giving my images away for little or no compensation would be unfair to my many for-profit clients who pay for my work. There are numerous internet articles which detail the cost and effort that goes into the creation of high quality photographic images, but although we may feel terribly disrespected, it is all really beside the point. 

Went to Maine for a wedding this weekend
Couldn't resist a shot at Nubble Light.
Designers don't care how hard we worked to get an image. They only know what they need for their project and if you can't convince them that your work is worth paying for, you might as well thank them very politely for their interest, wish them success, and go out and photograph a lighthouse. Sometimes when you come home you may find a message on your machine offering a more reasonable deal.


As it turns out, the communications firm that offered me $20 for my image eventually decided to license three of my images for a price close to my original bid. The theme of their calendar was Festivals and Events in New England and I was able to direct them to a number of my collections that provided exactly what they were looking for. 

It doesn't always work, but after all it's only business.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Neighborhood Icons


Finding the Magic Close to Home

Travel is wonderful for expanding my photographic vision, but often my best photographic subjects are the ones I can get to when the light is perfect.  Every photographer should have there own file of treasured local Icons.

A few weeks ago Susan and I returned from a late dinner in Keene.

Galaxy at Home
As she ran into the house to ease our dog Nellie’s dissertation anxiety, I noticed the incredibly clear summer sky and the Milky Way glowing through the gap in the trees along our driveway. I quickly grabbed my tripod and took some deep sky photos against our house, but then my mind switch to full photography mode and I started considering where else I could go to provide an interesting foreground to this great stellar celebration. With the most prominent parts of the Milky Way to the South and Southwest, I immediately I thought of the classic Chesterfield Town Hall.


Town Hall Galaxy
Town Hall Spire, Chesterfield
I told Susan where I was going and quickly hit the road. When I got up to Chesterfield Center I found that I could position myself to capture the Milky Way alongside the Town Hall Spire, but the village lights tended to wash out the sky next to the hall itself. I experimented with exposures and took a few additional images stopped down to avoid blowing out the highlights in the spire itself. Back home, I was able to blend the images to get a reasonable balance of the spire and the galaxy. It was well worth the short run up to the center of the village, but it also got me thinking about my treasure trove of local iconic subjects. 


Local Icons

It is great to get away from home to photograph the many spectacularly beautiful features of the New England landscape, but live in Chesterfield New Hampshire and that is where I spend most of my time. When the light turns magical around sunset, or a brilliant rainbow suddenly appears, the chances are good that I will be at home and the chances are even better that the light will fade before I can get to the White Mountains or the Seacoast. What I need are easy to reach local points of interest and beauty that I can get to quickly before the moment is lost. Over the years, and without even realizing it, I have acquired a grab bag of nearby locations that I can use when time is short. 

Central Square, Keene, NH
My local Icons share a number of features. First they are all within
10-15 minutes of home and each is a classic representation of some
aspects of traditional New England. I have come to know when each site is best seen, which way it faces, in which directions are the best backgrounds and when it is least likely to be crowded. The light on the pastures of Roads End Farm are usually best in the morning with the sun quickly falling behind the hills in the evening. Keene's Central Square is great anytime, but I think it is best early in the morning, both because of the light and because the car and human traffic is less of a problem. 

Morning Mist, Roads End Farm
I am sure you all have your collection of local Icons. I have spoken previously about many of mine, most notably the Roads End Farm and Keene's Central Square, but a few others deserve recognition and perhaps a visit if you are passing through.


Chesterfield Town Hall
Built in 1851, The Chesterfield Town Hall is such a classic old

Peyton Place Series Icon
stone building that its facade was used as the model for the building seen in the opening credits for the 1960's television series Peyton Place. The Hall is primarily a sunset location with the front bathed in warm evening light and the eastern sky providing an uncluttered background. Behind the building is a classic old cemetery which provides other interesting foregrounds. The Town Hall is my frequent "goto" place for sunsets, storms, rainbows and stellar displays. 

Town Hall Rainbow


Route 63 Ridge
The Town Hall is located on route 63, which in this area runs along

The Blue Hour
a high north-south ridge with a lovely view to the west and the Vermont hills. Our friends John and Kathy live along the road with an amazing view across rolling pastures. Sunsets here are frequently amazing with a series of mountain ridges melting away into the crimson sky. It is become expected that at sunset I will disappear from dinner parties at John and Kathy's as I search for new angles and fresh light from their backyard.  I come back hungry, but never disappointed

Empty Chair
Layers of Vermont Mountains

Spofford Lake

Spofford Lake is a little more than six miles around and provides
Favorite Birch
excellent views on all sides, but my iconic location is a 5 minute walk from home at the channel leading to the lake's exit into Partridge Brook. During the summer this is Nellie's favorite location for frog hunting. The spot faces west making it a great sunset location and also a perfect spot to watch the thunder heads approaching, My favorite lake-side birch is across the inlet with a clutch of reeds providing nice foregrounds. 

Nellie, Frog Hunting, Spofford Lake
Always Nellie

When All Else Fails There Is Always Nellie

What can I say.  Regardless of the season, the light or the background, Nell is always the perfect subject.


Enough of my local icons. The point here is for you to identify your own local attractions. You probably already know what they are . The idea is to place them in your own mental icon folder ready to be accessed the next time the light suddenly becomes magical. You will know which location will work best with the conditions. You'll grab your bag and get there in time to catch that fleeting opportunity.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer Outdoor Art Fesitivals


Showing the Work at the Keene Art in the Park

Today I am sitting in front of my tent at the Annual Art in the Park in Ashuelot River Park in Keene, New Hampshire.

I am not a summer art show fanatic. It is possible to spend every weekend at outdoor shows throughout New England and there are a

Ashuelot River Park Transformed, 85 tents
surprising number of people who travel like gypsies from show to show throughout the summer. They typically have specially modified truck and vans to carry their fancy display systems all designed to fit within the ubiquitous 10x10 Easy-Up Tent. I am fascinated to see their military precision as they construction display walls, racks, tables and decorations in less time than it takes me to precariously hang a few pictures from the support bars of my tent. They have their special elevated chairs and seem to have endless energy to chat and entertain there patrons.

I only do the Keene Show. I can't imagine spending the entire Summer tied to this chair when there is so much out there that I should be photographing, but this is my local show, sponsored by the Monadnock Area Artists Association. I get to display my work to friends and other local folks who may share my interest in the Monadnock Region, and besides, I have this Damn Tent and I have to air in out once a year. 

I can't claim to be an expert on the summer art show scene, but over the years I have arrived at a few observations that my be of interest, at least to the casual displayer like myself.


Displaying the Work
Kinetic Art: 2010
For year's I hung my pictures from long wires slung over the
accordion-like supports of the tent. Setup was a long and precarious process as I balanced on a ladder supporting my precious art work in one hand while struggling to get the wire around the supports and adjusted to the proper length. Each setup was a new
adventure. The results were
Mary Iselin's Plush Panels
pictures dangling from the tent walls, and bouncing about in even a light breeze. The whole presentation had been crude and amateurish and it was amazing that people ever ventured into my frightening world of gyrating kinetic art. I've always envied those with fancy professional display systems, but I couldn't justify the great expense for my one show per year. I needed a cheaper but functional alternative and last year, I finally decided to try something new.

A great thing about these art shows is that a quick tour will yield an endless variety of solutions to the display problem. I ended up
New Hanging System
using metal shelving, joined together with plastic ties, turned on end, and hung on a board attached to the tent supports. I stabilized the grills by attaching them to heavy 4x4s on the ground. With a little trial and error I learned how to firmly secure the panels. Nothing fancy, but now I can hang more work, and easily adjust the display. This is about as fancy as I am ever likely to get.


Finding Something to do.

As good as it Will Get
Once Setup the next question is, "what to do". It is pleasant to talk to passers-by, especially when they are admiring the work, but you have to avoid being too obtrusive. Painters can set up an easel and create, but it would be a challenge to do much Photoshoping in the bright sunlight. So, I sit in my chair and work on my blog, while trying not to look too disinterested.


People Watching
When all else fails, I can always study the people. My greatest

Flickr Friend & Great Photographer Sue O'Connoer
with son Michael
enjoyment comes from chatting my friends. who drop by.  Fun, but, not awfully lucrative since most of them already have too much of my work. Among the strangers there are a few distinct types. The best are those who take time to really look at the work and ask
Party!, Keene Photography Club
good questions. As they leave, most people say something like "beautiful work", but I value the praise most when it comes from the serious lookers. There are also the nervous deer, who browse intently, but if you make eye contact they scurry away. For them "beautiful Work" is plainly an escape line. Photographers come by and are often interested in
Couple Dynamics, "How much is this going to cost?"
technique which can lead to fascinating discussions, but if they are new to the art, they often only ask, "What camera do you use", as if all that is necessary is to be holding the right camera. There is frequently a special
dynamic among couples. I apologize for the blatant profiling but typically the wife is
Sophie's Hat,  A hot day
is interested in browsing while the husband circles outside with an expression that screams," when can we leave?" and "how much is this going to cost me". Children are almost always wonderful. They typically approach with wide eyed wonder. They often want everything they see, which is fun for me and a trial for their parents. The only challenge is to keep them from walking away with all of my business cards. Finally there are dogs. The River Park is a popular dog walk and it is awash in interesting things to sniff. I love visiting with the animals, but I must watch them closely to defend against their desire to mark my tent with their own sign of approval.


Measures of Success
Measured by my usual criteria this Art in the Park was a success. I sold just enough work to make it worthwhile, but, more importantly, I once again got my pictures out to be seen by lots of folks, some of whom may someday think of me when they need a local picture for a gift or empty corner of a wall. Although thunderheads were building on Sunday afternoon around closing time we managed to avoid any significant rain. It was amazing how quickly people managed to pack up with the sky darkening and thunder growling in distance. My new hanging system helped me take down quickly and, most importantly, without destroying any pictures. 

Finally, an event like this gives me feedback about my work that I miss when my pictures are hanging in a restaurant or bank lobby. At Art in the Park the people come to see the work, not to have dinner or cash a check and I learn a lot by lurking on the sidelines watching the reactions to individual pieces. For one thing, I learned that people seem to love pink noses. 

Jeffrey Newcomer