About Me

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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, March 30, 2014

Bagging My Snowy


The Magic of the Snowy Owl
I resisted it for as long as I could. All winter I have enjoyed watching the flood of dramatic pictures on Facebook of the Snowy Owls that have invaded our New England coast in record numbers. These beautiful birds are usually a rarity this far south, but every 4-5 years there is an “irruption” as the supply of Lemmings, their staple food, rises in its normal cyclic pattern. This year the Snowies have launched a full scale invasion. It is estimated that this is the biggest irruption in the last 50 years. Facebook in general and the New England Photography Guild FB site in particular have been overflowing with fantastic images of Snowy Owls. It seemed that every other picture on the site was of an adorable white raptor fluffed up against the cold. I haven’t seen any Snowies in the Monadnock region, but it became apparent to me that I can’t call myself a New England photographer unless I have a Snowy in my portfolio. So I finally surrendered and headed to the coast last Monday to try to catch a Snowy before they made their springtime retreat to the northern tundra.

Failed Search

Two years ago I had made a similar attempt, but came up empty. I had taken the two hour trek to the New Hampshire coast on a cold February morning and searched the coast for several hours before I
Hampton Beach Sunrise
had to give up. I had to fulfill my responsibility to photograph the Cheshire Medical Center's participation in the "Penguin Plunge". The plunge is an annual fund raiser to Benefit the Special Olympics in which otherwise sane individuals pointlessly dive into the ocean at Hampton Beach. For several years I came along to record my friends in various shades of blue as they emerged from the frigid Atlantic. The Plunge was a great success and everyone survived, but I saw zero snow owls. I did get some nice images of a clear and frigid coastal sunrise.

This year I decided to improve my odds. Several of my fellow New England Photography Guild members are world class bird photographers and I sent out a general email looking for recommendations about where I would have the best chance to bag a Snowy. John Vose got back to me with two suggestions which turned out to be perfect. It helped that the birds seemed to have settled into favorite locations and were not wandering a great deal. Also Snowy Owls are easier to find since, unlike most other owls, they tend to be active during daylight hours.

Roof Top Snowy

My first location was at the State Park on the northern side of Rye Harbor. I pulled in at about 9am and a quick tour revealed no owls
Up On the Roof
in sight. A park Ranger, who was parked in the lot, told me that a female Snowy had been hanging out around the Park for several weeks, but he had not seen her for the last few days. My hopes fell, but then he mentioned that she occasionally perched on the roof of a white house on the opposite side of the road from the Park. Again I saw nothing, but then, as I scanned further up the road, I spied a white smudge on the roof of a pink house. A glance through my telephoto revealed that I had found my Snowy! I approached the house slowly and in stages. I didn't want to spook her and even a distant picture would make the trip worthwhile. I was eventually able to approach close enough to capture close-up images of this magnificent bird. It was clear that she had become used to seeing crazy photographers and John had told me that she was quite imperturbable. I was able to capture sharp images with my Canon 100-400 zoom and a 2x tele extender. Fully extended I had 800mm to work with. The extender meant that I had to focus manually and was limited to an aperture no wider that f11, but it was a bright day and careful manual focusing was necessary anyway to deal with the shallow depth of field of the long lens. Of course my position on the side of the road with a ridiculously long lens drew passersby. I initially felt sorry for those who only had a cell phone to capture the scene, but then I realized that no photograph was necessary to capture the majesty of these birds. I felt incredibly lucky. I finally had a chance to experience a Snowy. I could have returned home happy, but I had one more of John’s locations to try and I wanted to see if I could catch a bird in a more natural environment. Roof shingles were not the most dramatic backdrop for my images. 

Salisbury Beach

I headed south to Salisbury Beach and the entry road turned out to be a bonanza of Snowies. I saw at least 3 different owls, including one in a tree, another in the grass of an adjacent marsh and one that seemed attached to a telephone pole just outside the park entrance. On weekends this road tends to be packed with cars, but on his cool Monday morning I shared the owls with only a few birders. I have read that the males tend to be mostly white while he females have more dark spots. The owls were easy to find. All I needed to do was notice where the other photographers were pointing their cameras. It was all too easy and, given how hard I worked last time, I felt a bit guilty. The one thing that I missed was good pictures of the birds in flight. They mostly seemed comfortable on their perches. I kept my camera trained on the birds, leaving room to the side toward which I expected them to take flight. Invariably I was glancing away at the moment they took wing and only caught one just as it was flying out of the frame.

Taking Flight

How can I complain? The 4 hours of driving to and from the coast was well worth the effort. I not only bagged my Snowy, but I got to see these magnificent birds in a variety of locales and activities. I now feel that I can hold my head up among my fellow New England photographers and settle back into my usual role of shooting trees, rocks and streams. 

Passing Seagull

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Madame Sherri’s Album

If you live in Chesterfield, New Hampshire you have most likely heard of Madame Sherri and her mysterious "Castle" in the woods along the Gulf Road. Madame Antoinette Sherri was an extravagant Broadway costume designer during the era of magnificently staged reviews such as the Ziegfeld Follies. The Madame had a varied and mysterious life which I outline in my article this week for the New England Photography Guild Blog (To be Published 3/24/14). Today, she is mostly remembered for the summer retreat that she built in 1931 to entertain her friends from the city. All that remains of her "Castle" is the foundation and a marvelous native stone spiral staircase, which now rises sadly to the sky.



Recently Madame Sherri’s colorful life history has been exhaustively explored by fellow Chesterfield Conservation Commission Member Lynne Borofsky.  I partnership with the Chesterfield Historical Society, Lynne has been able to answer many of the questions surrounding the Madame’s history, especially as related to her time in Chesterfield, but many mysteries remain.  Lynne has  also been fortunate to gain access to many photographs from Madame Sherri’s original photograph albums and it has been my privilege to work on the restoration of these images.  They provide a wonderfully personal window on the Madame’s life.  I have included some of the pictures in this week’s NEPG Blog, but since space was limited I decide to arrange more in this separate album.  

Young Madame

Andre & Madame

Madame & Andre Puerto Rico Wedding

Madame and Pigeons 
Chain Smoker

Charles Lamaire

Primrose Path

Furlone Farm, Madame's Home
Main Stairway

Rare Castle Interior Image

After the fire

The Ruins


Mystery of Madame Sherri NEPG Article
  (to be published 3/24/14)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Antique Photo Restoration

1926, Mom at 6

Since its invention photographs have opened a fascinating window on the past.  Antique images allow us to get a first hand view of the habits and life styles of previous generations, and to capture the life in eyes that are long departed.  Almost fifteen years ago I spent weeks restoring over 700 images for a video celebrating my mother's 80th birthday.  I was using simple editing software to effect basic repairs on images dating back to the late 19th century.  It was a remarkable experience, but I was often frustrated by the struggle, given the tools at hand, to adequately correct years of damage and deterioration.  Happily things have changed a lot since then. 


Recently I have been working on a treasure chest of images from the life of Madame Sherri, the queen of Madame Sherri's fabled castle in the woods of Chesterfield, New Hampshire.  The story of
Madame Antoinette Sherri
the Madame's rise from the a Paris dance hall singer to a costumer for the Ziegfeld Folies  and her notorious summer retreat in the New Hampshire woods is full of mystery.  I will touch on the history in a New England Photography Guild blog next week, but today I want to review my approach to the restoration of these antique photographs and how advances in Photoshop have made the restoration process much easier and more effective than it was fifteen years ago.  Fellow Chesterfield Conservation Commission member Lynn Borofsky has been exhaustively studying the documentary evidence around Madame Sherri's life, but for me it is the photographs that provide a personal sense of the woman and her remarkable time.


The Process
Madame & the Pigeons

There about as many ways to achieve a result in Photoshop as there are people doing the editing.  What follows is an overview   of my general approach and not a detailed discussion of the techniques for the use of the specific tools. I hope to come back to the details in future articles.


Madame at the Ball 1920's

The first step in digital restoration is generally to obtain a high quality scan of the original image.  Care has to be taken to avoid damage to the originals.  Some of our images were glued into a decaying photo album making it difficult to arrange pictures on the scanner deck, and occasionally, an original may only be safely
captured with a high resolution photograph.  Scanned images should
be recorded at high resolution.  Care should be taken to thoroughly clean the scanner bed and gently remove free dust from the image.

Initial Global Adjustments
After bringing the full resolution scan of an image into Photoshop, I first like to do some simple global adjustments.  Many of these

Lightroom Develop Module
adjustment can now be done in Camera Raw before the image reaches Photoshop, but I find that I am now using the sophisticated development tools in Lightroom 5 to manage most of my global adjustments.   Fine tuning and local adjustments come later in Photoshop, but these adjustments can be much better evaluated once the overall image has been brought closer to its final appearance.  Depending on the challenge, I can use Color Balance, Photo Filters or Hue Saturation to remove any color cast,  but adjustment of Temperature and Tint in Lightroom can often manage most of the necessary changes.  Antique photos often suffer from excessive contrast or are dull and flat.  I like the Exposure, Highlight and Shadow sliders in Lightroom to tame excessively bright highlights and to unblock areas of overly dark shadow.  In the picture of Madame Sherri outrageously dressed for a 1920's ball, I used Lightroom to add pop to the image while avoiding blowing out the bright detail in her amazing headdress.

Correcting the Flaws
This is the real work of photo restoration.  Images almost always have scratches, specks, stains, folds, and clipped edges .  This is

Scratches and Spots
where Photoshop shines.  I typically start with the easy stuff such as scratches and folds on non-critical portions of the image.  The goal is to meld the repair with the background. To be safe I always  do the repairs on a copy of the base layer.  The Healing Brush or Content Aware Fill can work well when the background is simple and without important detail, but when defects must be filled with matching detail, the cloning tool works best.  These tools require
meticulous care and patience and also a finger on the "Step Backwards" button to reverse the inevitable mistakes.  It takes practice, but the good news is that, if you are working on a copy layer, you can always start over.  The Healing Brush has been a wonderful time saver when removing the tiny specks that are routinely scattered about the image. This brush creates a repair that melds the surrounding pixels and is often magical, but when spots are near critical or highly contrasting areas the repair can break down.  The specks under the Madame's nose required the careful use of the cloning tool to sample in matching areas of skin texture.  In this situation I also had to avoid "healing" her carefully positioned beauty mark.

Face Work

In this image I also had to deal with the clipped corners on the top.  The right side was not an issue, since I planned to crop the top of the  image close to the peak of the mountainous headdress.  On the left some major filing was required.  I
Content Aware Fill Result
first tried Content Aware Fill, but the result couldn't match the detail in the folds of the curtain.  Using the cloning brush, I was able to capture detail from other portions of curtain.  The key is to clone from different areas, mixing the locations to avoid ending with a patch that is an obvious copy from another location.  

Cloning Curtain

Final Adjustments
It seems that there are always more flaws to correct, especially when it comes to the tiny specks, but after the close-up work it is time to pull back and take one more look at the whole image.  It is at this time that I look for areas needing local adjustments.  In this image I felt that the wonderful detail in Madame's headdress appeared a bit washed out.  I made a curves adjustment to lower the brightness and add contrast and then used a mask to apply this change only to the headdress. 

The final steps are cropping and sharpening for the desired purpose.  I tend to apply sharpening sparingly on antique images since excessive sharpening can exaggerate the impact of defects and in some areas selective noise reduction and blurring may be more appropriate. 

The restoration of antique photographs can be time consuming, but it is wonderfully rewarding.  It is especially exciting to bring people from the faded past to vibrant life, and the new tools in Photoshop make the process much easier than even a few years ago.

Come back next week for many more images, and history illustrating the remarkable life of Madame Antoinette Sherri.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I'm DONE !

Daffodil Barn, Keene, NH

Enough with the Glorious Winter Already

Cold Franconia Sunrise
I had nearly completed my blog article for this week about the restoration of antique photographs and then it hit me.  I’M DONE.

I have always loved winter, especially the unique photographic opportunities that the pristine white blanket provides in the sparse angular light of the season.  We had a good share of snow this winter, but it is this year’s persistent body and soul numbing cold that has finally wrecked my spirit.  Perhaps it is my aging circulation that makes the cold more difficult to tolerate, but all would agree that this winter has been unusually frigid and without the occasional thaws that normally serve to trigger at least a breath of hope for nature’s resurrection.   I am hoping that by this weekend when I publish
this article the temperatures may have moderated a bit,

Perkins Pond Spring, Troy, NH
 but at this moment I REALLY need spring and I suspect that there are many out there that share my desperate longing.   So I have decided to drop everything and spend some time strolling through my spring images, selecting a few of my favorites to share with my frozen neighbors.  These may not be my most artistic images, but rather ones that speak strongly to me of the warmth and burgeoning new  life that is the essence of spring.

I hope that these few images provide a brief respite from the chill, but if not, that's ok, this one is for me.  Feel free to prolong your vernal escape by browsing the Spring Archive on my web site.

St Matthew's Lupine, Sugar Hill, NH

The Annual Lupine Festival in Sugar Hill New Hampshire, just north of Franconia Ridge, is a blast of spring color is a spectacular setting, but for me, the real attraction of spring is the endless variety and richness of the newly erupted greens. 

Fresh Green, Brattleboro, Vermont
Too soon the soft colors become fixed in their deeper shade of summer green.

Huntington Cascade, Dixville Notch, NH

Early spring is waterfall season, with the vigorous winter run-off being the main attraction until the leaves start popping out. The season comes late to New Hampshire's North Country and it is possible to follow the early spring north much like the fall colors can be tract as they move from north to south.

Table Rock, Balsams, NH

The Balsams Grand Hotel seen from Table Rock in Dixville North, New Hampshire.  Sadly the resort is now closed, but there is hope that this classic might open again with plans for an expanded ski resort.

Curious Goat, Dummerston, Vt

Spring also is reflected in the excitement of the animals as they escape from the barn into fresh pastures with the sweatiest grass of the season.  

Dawn Pasture, Dummerston, VT

This exuberance is no better seen than in Stonewall Farm's annual "Dancing of the Ladies" when the cows go wild,  running jumping and head bumping, as they are released to pasture for the first time.
Dancing Lady, Keene, NH

Central Square Blossoms, Keene, NH

Every spring for just a few days Keene's Central Square becomes a festival flowers.  The trick is to fine the day when the sun is full.  I can look back on the dates of old images from the event to gauge when the vigil should begin.

Orchard Maple, Walpole, NH

 Sadly, I can't anticipate that all these favorite icons of spring will return.  Tragically, the great Oak on the Hilltop at Alyson's Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire is now only a memory It was devastated by a  lightning strike and had to be removed last fall. 

Wildflower Barn, Westmoreland, NH

Openings, Marlborough, NH

I found one of my favorite Birch groves by accident in Reading Vermont, while looking for the famous Weathersfield Birches.  I eventually discovered that fable grove is now overgrown and no longer the treasure about which I had read.  This spot was a worthy conciliation.

Spring Birches, Reading, Vt

As I complete this prayer to spring, I'm thrilled to report that yesterday the temperature climbed tentatively into the 40's.  Anything above freezing brings hope, but next week promises colder temperatures and a chance for another storm.  That's New England.  All we can do is make the best of what nature gives us and occasionally escape into our photographs to be assured that spring will come.

Slide Show of My Full Spring Archive


Oh, and one more sign of spring arrived yesterday.  I discovered that the eagles have  returned to their nest on the Connecticut River, and they appear to be faithfully on guard.  Hopefully chicks will be emerging soon.

Bald Eagles on the nest, one guarding, the other bringing supper.

Spring in New England (Photo Archive)

Jeffrey Newcomer