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.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spring in the Fox Forest & Gleason Falls


Photographic Treasures in Hillsborough, New Hampshire
It is always exciting to find new places to explore and photograph in my corner of New England.  This spring I have discovered the Fox Forest which features a wide variety of New Hampshire habitat.  The added bonus is that the forest is located in Hillsborough, New Hampshire which has many other photographic locations, including a famous collection of stone arch bridges and dramatic waterfalls.

 The Fox Forest
The Caroline A. Fox Research and Demonstration Forest (Fox Forest) is a 1445 acre demonstration and research forest in

Fox Forest Headquarters
Hillsborough, New Hampshire.  It was donated to the state in 1933 by Caroline Fox, who had summered on the property for many years.  Miss Fox had a strong interest in forest management and directed that the forest should be used for research on the management of New Hampshire’s forests and other natural resources.  That work continues today through the Henry Baldwin Forest Education Center and currently includes assessment of timber harvesting in New Hampshire, forest sampling studies, regeneration research for white pine and red oak, uneven-aged management research and growth and yield studies.

 In addition to research areas, the Fox Forest offers to visitors  25 miles of trails through a widely a varied ecosystem.   Habitats range from peat bogs to virginal forests and oak covered ridges.  A marsh on the south side of the forest is the home of Black Gum trees that are estimated to be 400-500 years old.  The trails are well marked and accompanied by detailed maps and descriptions of the native treasures. 

Early Spring Tour
I was introduced to Fox Forest early this spring by Kristen Smith of Wicked Dark Photography.  On our visit, we explored parts of the north side of the forest down to the Mud Pond.  We saw many ferns raising their heads to the sun, but only a few blooms, being a bit early for the best show.  We did find a few early blooming Trillium.  I am a rank amateur when it comes to plant identification, so it was great to shadow Kristen through the
Mud Pond
forest. She has a remarkable knowledge of the flora, but as she named obscure plant after obscure plant, I began to suspect that she was just making the names up.  I would surely never know!  Mud Pond is an interesting destination.  Seen from a walkway extending to the edge of the pond there is a wide variety of peatland flora enclosing the the central pond. It was a lovely day in the forest and a chance to learn about a new location for further exploration.  I decided I had to come back to explore the forest later in the spring season and I returned last week. 

Wicked Dark Photographer


A Return Visit
On my second visit I followed the Ridge Trail to the Black Gum

Swamp Trail
Marsh on the south side of the forest. This was another day to focus primarily on macro photography of the flowers and emerging ferns.   It was a lovely warm and sunny day, a great time to be outside and terrible weather to try to capture wild flowers.  I slowly walked the trails looking for blooms that were covered by the forest shade, but where the bright contrasty light was unavoidable I used a small diffuser to soften the illumination.  The important thing about using a diffuser is to position it as close to the subject as possible without intruding on the frame.  This allows the light to softly wrap around the subject.  On occasions I was able to use my body to block the light, but this would have worked much better if I had a partner to provide the necessary portable shade.  It is always important to watch for distracting backgrounds in macro photographs and this is especially difficult when the backgrounds are
White Star
illuminated by the bright natural light.  Despite the challenges I was able to get some interesting images of flowers and ferns. The Fox Forest is a wonderful place to discover and photograph the special features of the New England woodlands.  I look forward to returning in all the seasons.

Painted Trillium

Gleason Stone Arch Bridge and Falls
Being in Hillsborough my mind naturally turned to flowing water. The town has a wonderful collection of stone bridges traversing a variety of tumbling brooks.  Of these my favorite is the Gleason Bridge  which crosses Beard Brook and Gleason Falls.  The bridge is a classic dry-laid stone bridge which is held together through the geometry of its stones, without any concrete.  Stone arch bridges are always fascinating, but what makes the Gleason Bridge special is that it spans a cascading waterfall. 

Given the recent rain, I knew that the waterfall would be dramatic, but as I suspected the bright mid afternoon sunlight was spotlighting the cascades.  The brilliant light contrasted starkly with

Beard Brook
the shaded banks and made it impossible to get the long exposures required to soften the appearance of the flowing water.  I tried combining my polarizer with a neutral density filter but high contrast was still an issue.  I tried a graduated ND filter but had difficulty positioning it to get a smooth effect.  I considered using multi-image HDR techniques, but I tend to go crazy when I try to combine HDR with focus stacking.  In the end my best technique was patience.  There were a very few small clouds skittering by and I settled in waiting for the few seconds of localized overcast that they provided.  I framed my composition and adjusted the focus so I could grab the key images during the brief curtains of softer light.  Although the swarms of  black flies did their best to chase me away, I was able to catch a few nice images both below and above the bridge.  I especially liked the small clutch of flowers clinging to the rocks next to the roaring Brook.


A beautiful New England forest, a classic stone arch bridge and waterfall, all in all a nice day.  I scurried home to upload my pictures and treat my insect bites.


Fox Forest is located in Hillsborough, New Hampshire
Directions: On Rte. 202/9, take the exit for Hillsborough and Fox Forest. From the lights in the center of Hillsborough, take Center Road northwest about 2 miles to the parking lot on the right at the headquarters of the Caroline A. Fox Research and Demonstration Forest.


Gleason Falls in Hillsborough 

Directions:  From Route 9, take the exit to Route 202 South for Hillsborough.  Take a right on Main Street and then shortly another right onto Beard Road.  The road follows Beard Brook north passing one stone bridge on the right which spans the Brook to Jones Road.  Continue on Beard Road and a short distance further on the dirt road you will pass over the Gleason Stone Arch Bridge.  There is a small turn-off on the right just before the bridge.


Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Early Spring Macro Photography

Capturing The Greening
There is no single season for Macro photography.  The world of up close opens endless possibilities for fresh vision regardless of time or place, but early spring is one of my favorite times to slap on my 100mm Macro and start wandering about familiar places looking for new inspiration.

The Greening
We are currently in the middle of the surprising spring greening.
  At this time every year the leaves explode as if they knew that their preciously short time to gather sunlight has arrived.  I love the variations of green that appear in the early spring, but, for me, the earliest part of the season is the best for macro photography.  During the first few days of the awakening, the buds break open providing a wide variety of fragile and succulent projections that create opportunities for unusual micro compositions.  I can usually find all the excitement I need by just wandering about my neighborhood, but his week I also stopped by Ashuelot River Park in Keene for additional opportunities.

Birth Spiral

The Equipment
My usual lens for  routine photographic explorations is the wonderfully capable Canon 24-105 f4 L Lens.  It covers the

Spring Icon
majority of my interests and is my one choice when I am traveling light, but occasionally, I like to force my vision in new directions by limiting myself to a different lens.  It may be a wider view with my 16-35mm, but most often I will select my 100mm Macro.  This is a wonderfully sharp and fast lens.  The 100mm makes it a great portrait lens and its macro capabilities gets me  to that magic 1:1 ratio that is especially good for capturing the first signs of the spring awakening. Of course, you don’t have to buy an expensive macro lens to get close.  Both close-up lens and lens tubes are considerably cheaper although not as convenient.

Pasture Cover

Finding Focus
The key to striking spring macro images is to find the fresh buds in good light and at a time when the wind is not strong.  Depth of
Shallow Focus
field is often a challenge with macro photography.  The ability to stop down to small apertures may be limited when the subjects are blowing in the breeze and long exposure only produce an artistic blur.  Higher ISO levels can allow shorter exposures but at the cost of image quality and noise.   Focus stacking is another option, but blending the images can also be challenging when the subject is being blown about.  One cheat that I have discussed previously is  to shoot flowers and greenery in a greenhouse where the light is diffused and the wind is minimal.  When a subject can not be fully in focus, the challenge is to pick the critical portions to bring into sharpness.  It is remarkable how much soft focus the eye can forgive as long as areas of sharpness draw attention to key elements. 

The Light 

Overcast weather is always preferred to capture the true colors in their full depth, but when shooting macros in bright sunlight the stark contrast can be reasonably managed with a small diffuser or by taking advantage of trans-illumination to light up the young foliage.  A flash may also be used to fill the shadows, and a polarizing filter can help to hide the bright reflections and to bring out the rich colors.


The Background
 One great thing about macro photography is that even terribly ordinary locations may hold magnificent treasures at the macro level.  It is important to remember that the same rules of composition apply, and it is often easier to arrange small nearby elements in a pleasing fashion than it is when the elements to be arranged are trees and mountains.  An ugly cluttered background can be reduced to a lovely backdrop with the soft Bokeh created by wide apertures.  Distracting background elements can still be a problem, but can often be eliminated with small changes in composition.

The Restless Spring

The one inevitable truth about the New England spring is that it is always changing.  Too soon the fascinating virginal buds will mature.  The detail in the wanton spring flowers will continue to provide excellent subjects for macro shots and the young leaves will continue to hold their fascination for a couple of weeks before they take on the deeper fixed green of the languid summer.   The attractions of the New England Spring are ever changing and always spectacular, so while you have a chance get out and enjoy the wonder of the awakening macro world.

Apple Blossom

Jeffrey Newcomerp


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fay Falls and Ashuelot Gorge

Upper Fay Falls

A Photographic Scramble

It's looking like waterfall season is coming to an end here in southwestern New Hampshire, not because the water has stopped flowing, but because the buds are beginning to explode on the trees.  Once the greening starts there is nothing that can compete with the daily progression of colors that make our spring a worthy, but softer, competitor to the flashy brilliance of autumn.  But, before I start getting disgustingly poetic about the miracle of new life, here is one more article about waterfalls, without which, the early barrenspring would be hopelessly uninspiring. This early spring I have been focusing my waterfall explorations on my home region of Cheshire County, New Hampshire.  I started with an article
Houghton Brook Below Fay Falls
about several of my favorite falls in the county, but
in the process of assembling a list of familiar waterfalls, I discovered a disturbing number of falls that I had never explored.  Most of these are less easily assessable spots with vague descriptions that I found on pages scattered throughout the internet.  It was annoying that there were perfectly good waterfalls in my backyard that I had never seen. This could NOT be allowed to stand.  I set out to correct the deficit.

My first quest took three tries and two blogs, but I finally discovered Pulpit Falls. The waterfall was spectacular, but my primary goal became to improve upon the confusing directions to Pulpit Falls and some of the other lesser known falls. My next targets were Fay Falls in Walpole and Ashuelot River Gorge in Gilsum. Neither was especially difficult to find, both were well worth the search, but both were notable for rather treacherous approaches down steep gorge walls.  Great care was needed.

Waterfall Safety
Waterfalls are notoriously dangerous places to navigate especially for photographers who are always trying to get just a bit further off
Emerald Pool,  Downstream
Houghton Brook
the beaten path for the best shot.  It is easy to lose footing on slippery, leaf coated rocks or soft insecure embankments. The resulting fall could break bones, cause death or worst of all damage your precious camera.  Always go slow and never depend on the solidity of untested footing.  Walking sticks can be helpful and it is important to keep equipment securely stowed in your pack while negotiating difficult terrain. Dangling Cameras and tripods can easily throw you off balance or snag on a random branch or rock. The basic rule should always be, “Take it slow and think before you move”.   My friend Kari Post has a great chapter about waterfall safety in her beautifully illustrated e book, "The Essential Guide to Photographing Waterfalls", check it out.

Fay Falls
Jumbled Fay Falls

Fay Falls is tricky to find and once found it requires a steep descent down the side of the gorge on Houghton Brook to get to the best photographic vistas.  On my visit last week the falls were quite nice with the exuberant spring flow.  The falls cascade over a couple of drops as it descend a steep and jumbled path. There are a number of locations along the left side of the falls that open to views of all or parts of the drop.

  • Directions: The falls are located off the County Road in
    Logging Road
    Walpole, New Hampshire.  Heading North on Route 12 along the Connecticut River, take a right on South Street heading into Walpole village. Cross Main Street and head up Prospect Hill Road.  Very shortly,  County Road will split off to the right. Follow County Road for 3.5 miles and then pull over at a
    Begin the Bushwhack
    logging road on the right which at present is marked by a sign, “No Wheeled Vehicles” and a metal gate on the opposite side of the road. At present there is no “No Trespassing” sign, but as always be respectful of the land and the wishes of the owners. Pull over to avoid blocking the road. Take care if there is active logging and don’t enter without permission.
  •  Parking: 43 01 49.489, -72 24 20.579  

Hike the logging road downhill toward Houghton Brook, but if you follow the road all the way to the brook you will be substantially downstream from the falls. I did this on my first attempt and found some lovely cascades but not Fay Falls.  The best way to go is to follow the road just a 100 yards or so until you see a large multi-trunked pine on the right. All but one of the trunks has been cut away.  I can't guarantee that any of the tree will remain when you get there, but If you reach the stone wall, you have gone too far. At the pine you will need to start bushwhacking to the left toward the sound of falling water and the precipitous bank of the Gorge. From here it is not far.  The bearing is roughly 115-120 degrees. The bank to the falls is steep and shouldn’t be attempted in excessively wet or icy conditions.  And there you are.  Enjoy the cloistered drama of the falls and perhaps take a picture or two.  The good news is that steep banks are generally easier to climb than to descend.
  • Fay Falls:  43 01 46.480, -72 24 16.46

Ashuelot Gorge:
The Ashuelot River flows through a deep Gorge in Gilsum, New

Gilsum Stone Arch Bridge
Hampshire,north of Keene.   It is spanned by an impressive stone arch bridge carrying Surry Road west of  Route 10.  Built in 1862-63, the bridge is the largest dry-laid stone bridge in the state and towers nearly 45 feet above the riverbed.  The gorge creates a dramatic series of cascades and rapids that are popular with white water kayakers, but also provides several lovely photographic opportunities.  In addition to the cascades a dramatic multi-tiered waterfall plummets down the south wall of the gorge into the surging river below. The cascades can been seen, to a limited degree, from the stone bridge, but to truly appreciate the power of the surging water, you will need to descend the steep wall of  the north side of the Gorge.  Once again this should be approached with great care and only in good conditions.  Depending on the height of the flow there may be few places to set up at the rivers edge. 

Ashuelot Gorge

  • Directions: Head north from Keene, New Hampshire on Route 10 (Gilsum Road).  Approaching Gilsum, the stone bridge is impossible to miss on the left.  Immediately after crossing the bridge, park in the entrance to a dirt path which heads upstream.   A sign here describes the bridge and it's history.  Walk a short distance west on Surry Road and you will see a rough opening in the side of the road heading down the bank to the river.  
The Bank

 There is no distinct trail but you can see routes taken by others as they have slithered down the side.  Once again, be very cautious, plan every step, and keep your hands free for scrambling.  On a couple of occasions I surrendered to the need to slowly slide on my butt through especially questionable sections.  Hold on tight, but be careful not to contribute to erosion by digging up the bank.  The drama at the bottom is dependent on the strength of the flow and, of course it is most impressive in the spring and after substantial rains.  The pictures will be great, but don't forget to take some time to quietly enjoy the awesome power of nature and without a thought about f-stop or shutter speed.

Falls and Rapids

"Gilsum" Falls
Gilsum Falls

After all this scrambling, I can't resist offering one bonus waterfall. I'm not sure this one has an official name, but when the water is flowing it can be quite lovely.  It is just a short way from the Ashuelot Gorge, further north on Route 10.  Perhaps most importantly it is right by the side of the road.  No scrambling required.  The only danger is the risk of getting mangled by a passing truck.  The falls are located about 1.4 miles north of the Stone Arch Bridge on the right side of Route 10.  There is a small turnoff, but it can easily be missed without careful attention.  It is not large, but when flowing strongly, the falls have a nice meandering pattern.


Well I think I have talked enough about waterfalls for awhile. After all of this, if you don't have a strong urge to pee, a urology consultation is indicated.   It has been exciting to find some new falls in my own backyard and I hope my descriptions will be helpful as you explore some of these lesser known attractions of Cheshire County.  Enjoy, be careful and most of all be respectful of our abundant natural treasures.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pulpit Falls (Finally)

A Worthy Quest


Ok, one of the problems with New England photography is that even the most famous locations can be difficult to find.  To a degree
NOT the real Pulpit Falls
part of the fun of the search is the inevitability that I will miss the mark from time to time.  As they say, “If it was easy, everyone would do it”.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about my search for Pulpit Falls in Winchester, New Hampshire.  I had explored the woods off Route 10 on two occasions earlier this spring and struggled with vague descriptions and deep snow.  I came across a spot on Pauchaug Brook that
seemed to match most of the descriptions that I had found on the web, but I still had questions.  The falls seemed smaller than I expected and they were too close to the road.  Some explorers, like Kris of Wicked Dark Photography, described a deep gorge leading to the falls and that didn’t in any way match what I had found.  Thank goodness I titled my article “Finding Pulpit Falls, Possibly”, because, as I discovered last weekend, I wasn’t even close. In retrospect, my final conclusion in the article was appropriate, “… until I can get back to explore when the snow has cleared, all I can say is that I was sure I had found the right starting point and I may have found Pulpit Falls”.


Pulpit's First Drop

Since my last visit I had been haunted by the suspicion that Pulpit Falls lay deeper within the forest.  After a substantial rain last Saturday, I decided that it was a good time to take another stab at finding the falls. I parked in the same pull over on Route 10 and Nellie and I followed the short trail down to Pauchaug Brook.  The walking was much easier without the two feet of snow that faced us the first time.  All the descriptions describe following the brook upstream to the falls, but the problem is that the stream splits.  I had previously followed the left branch, which was by far the strongest, but I never found any major waterfalls.  This time I decided to follow the weaker channel which headed southwest into the center of the forest.  The bushwhacking was not difficult, but I became increasingly depressed as the brook faded to a trickle. 
Stacked Granite

“How could this possibly become a ragging cascade”.  I was close to giving up when I heard the distant sound of falling water.  An essential rule of waterfall questing is to follow the sound of the water.  Keeping the sound to my front I climbed over a small ridge and down into a lovely forest valley.  As the faint rush became a thunderous roar I finally discovered Pulpit Falls plummeting from the gentle valley floor into a steep gorge.  Some of the descriptions of Pulpit Falls talked about a unimpressive show, but, at least with the nice spring run-off, it was quite spectacular.

The falls descends in two drops.  The first is an unobstructed plummet alongside interesting layered rock formations.   I only
Pulpit Falls, Definitely!
noticed when I was examining the photographs that the broad granite slab at the top of the falls has a couple of notches which may have been chiseled to provide a base for a long absent bridge or mill.  Antique photographs might clarify this.  The falls descend into a lovely deep, clear pool that could serve as a summer swimming hole.  The second drop fans out across a gentler slope, creating a lovely silky display which contrasts with the more precipitous upper falls.  The entire falls is best seen from the bottom of the steep gorge, but I found lots of interesting angles from points along the side and at the top.  I had to take extra care as I negotiated around the tangled mesh of bushes and blow-downs and the damp rocks provided questionable security for my tripod.   I’ve learned painful
Slippery Perch
lessons in the past and kept my camera strap safely around my neck or wrapped around my arm throughout.  All-in-all Pulpit Falls was well worth the effort to find its cloistered location.  In my experience it is one of the most beautifully arranged waterfalls in my corner of New England.  It may fade a bit as the water diminishes through the summer, but with a good flow it is a classic.

A surprising turn happened when I began to explore the gentle cascades above the falls on Houghton Brook.  Nellie first notice someone setting up to shoot at the top of the falls.  It turned out to

be Kris of Wicked Dark Photography who had returned to take another pass at the falls.  As I mentioned earlier, It was Kris' blog and great photographs of Pulpit Falls that pushed me to take another try at finding the waterfall this spring. An amazing coincidence and a great demonstration of the small world of New England photography. Kris and I explored upstream on Pauchaug Brook and found other lovely cascades.  Definitely worth further exploration.  

Houghton Brook Meanders

Now that I have finally found Pulpit it is time to seek out other elusive waterfalls in my region.  Next on the list is Fay Falls in Walpole.  I have already be there once and found some lovely cascades.  Perhaps with two or three more visits I will actually find the waterfall!

Jeffrey Newcomer