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, March 2, 2014

Seeing the Unseen

This week I would like to celebrate the amazing capability of modern photography to help us to see the unseen.  My goal is only to touch on what is possible and to provide links to more detailed explorations.

From its invention, photography has been a medium that was prized for its ability to capture what we see in flawless detail, freezing more of "reality" than could ever be absorbed by our limited visual perceptions.  Without special forethought, my photography has tended toward images that celebrate the beautiful detail of the natural world.  I have tried to use the remarkable powers of digital photography and editing to place viewers in locations as I have seen them, working to display the mood as well as the reality of the remarkable world around us.  But photography has always provided a means to see things beyond our normal perceptual capacity, that are not accessible to the naked eye (THERE, I got the word "naked" into the article - TWICE!  Watch my hits soar!). 

Anyway, In the beginning photography captured "Reality" in its own way based on its technical limitations.  It has always had the
remarkable ability to freeze time, not only for moments but for centuries.  As initially a black and white medium, photography washed the color from the world and forced a new focus on light and pattern that had always been hidden under a gaudy chromatic layer in our perception.  Photography has expanded and altered our vision in many other ways and, digital photography, although not required for many of these advances, has made them more easily accessible and pushed opened the door to these unseen new worlds.  I have discussed many of these techniques in much greater detail in previous articles, but here is a brief list of some of the ways that photography can open our eyes to a new worlds.  Let the journey begin.  

Infrared photography is perhaps the best example of seeing the
unseen.  Infrared is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond deep red.  Although these longer wave lengths are beyond the ability of our eyes to detect, infrared photographs have been captured since the early 1900's.  Today a digital camera can be modified to respond to the infrared making it much easier to capture this invisible world.  The infrared spectrum shows foliage in brilliant light, making summer scenes appear like winter landscapes.  It cuts through haze and reveals puffy clouds in stark contrast against inky black skies.  With infrared photography it is often possible to capture powerful images on days when the light is too flat and dull for strong conventional images.  I found it well worth the expense to modify my old Canon 20D doorstop to become my IR camera.
For More Information:
 Infrared, Seeing Photography in a Different Light


High dynamic range photography can be used to overcome the 
Improving Dynamic Range
limitations of film and digital sensors in recording the full range of light and dark apparent to our eyes.  In this sense it actually improves the ability to capture what we can already perceive, but HDR and its evil twin, tone mapping, has the seemingly unbounded artistic capability to mutate reality, 
turning a mirror on the artists mood and
fancy rather than the reality of the moment.  I love HDR because it provides such an unlimited opportunity for self-expression.  I generally use these tools to render images that better reflect the dynamic range that was apparent in the field, but occasionally it is fun to go crazy, jump through the looking glass,  and produce something that truly would never be apparent to the eye.

Going Crazy

For More Information:
HDR: Bon Appetitt
Taming the HDR Beast

Stop Motion:

Stopping motion requires fast shutter speeds that the high ISO
capability of new digital cameras has made more practical.  I remember, from the ancient past, when loading the camera with  ASA 400 film was a considered reckless, trading speed for the assumed damage to image quality.  Based on the lighting, I can now easily dial up the ISO to whatever is required, to allow a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action or capture images in inky darkness..  The combination of the improved low light sensitivity of new digital sensors and the capability of software noise reduction algorithms has made it possible to maintain acceptable image quality at ridiculously high ISO levels.
For More Information:

 Accidental Bird Photography
Great Blue Heron on Harvey Pond

Long Exposure;

Long exposures have always been a capability of photography.  In 
Crowded Portland Street
fact in the early days it was a requirement. Daguerreotype portraits required an exposure of 2 or more seconds. Today long exposures can accomplish a long list of magical effects.  An exposure of a even a second or less can transform a roaring chaotic stream into a soft dream-like confection, looking nothing like the original scene, but providing a sense of frozen movement.  Long exposures of a busy street can remove all the distractions of moving cars and annoying people,  magically focusing on the stationary scene.  Star tract images of the night sky transforms individual stars from points of light into majestic arcs rotating around the north star. All of these technique are made much simpler by the ability, in the digital camera, to immediately review the results and adjust exposures accordingly

For More Information:
Photographing the Magic of Velvet Water
Long Exposure Crowd Control
Star Track Photography

Deep Space:

While we are talking about night sky images, I think one of the
most impressive ways that digital cameras have altered our sense of nighttime wonder has come from the ability that long exposures and high ISO have to extend our vision into deep space. ISOs ranging from 1600 to 6400 and exposures of 20-30 seconds brings a dense sea of stars into view that are invisible to our eyes even on the darkest night.  Beyond doubt,  the celebrity of this celestial show is our own galaxy, the Milky Way.  The most impressive images usually show the Milky Way's brilliant band in some appropriately interesting setting, and there are now many programs and Apps that can tell us precisely when, and where to stand to place a lighthouse, a tree or a silo in front of the show.  I live in the country and I often get a clear view of the sky, but even here the digital camera easily converts a subtle smug into a breathtaking view of our galactic disc.
For More Information
Night Time Photography, Searching for the Milky Way
Photographing Comet PanSTARRS

Time Lapse
Time lapse photography compresses time allowing us to see in a few seconds what occurred over hours.  All that is necessary is a sturdy tripod, an intervalometer to time the exposures and software to assemble the hundreds of images into a video.  For quick and simple time lapse videos I have used Quick Time, but many other options exist. I'm still a novice, but I have enjoyed creating videos of the setting sun, billowing clouds,  or stars moving majestically across the sky.  I even have one of Susan and I decorating the Christmas tree. 

Monadnock Sunset


Tree Trimming

For More Information
Time Lapse Time

Focus Stacking
It may seem that the use of focus stacking to achieve a deep depth of field only replicates what our eyes can capture, but in fact eyes
have the same focusing  limitations as any lens and iris system.  The only reason that we feel we can see everything from near to far in sharp focus is that our eyes are constantly and subconsciously adjusting focus as we move our attention around the scene.  A photograph with sharp focus throughout is actually a representation of the world beyond the capability of our vision, but it does match the dynamic nature of our perception.
For More Information:
Focus I
Focus II
Hand-Held Focus Stacking

Of course there are more ways that digital photography allows us to see the unseen. Editing software can alter our vision and a world without a tangle of wires in front of every beautiful scene is a priceless gift of Photoshop. It has been thrilling to explore some of the photographic options available, but It is also humbling to realize all that I need to learn.  But then again the endless opportunities to learn are what make photography endlessly exciting.

Jeffrey Newcomer

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