About Me

My photo
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, June 29, 2014

My Carry Around Camera

I have a new "Carry Around" camera and, so far I'm having fun.

Let's face it, we are photographers which means we love gear. I know that there are those out there that preach a minimalist approach to the sport, but given the opportunity and an overpowered four wheel drive vehicle to carry the gear most of us would load up on heavy stuff that we will seldom use. My approach to gear has generally been that the transient annoyance and pain of lugging around a heavy kit is generally over balanced by the years of satisfaction which comes from getting the most out of any photographic opportunity. Just so long as the tonnage doesn't limit my mobility.

While recognizing the value of having my full kit, there are situations where a light and unobtrusive “carry around” camera is nice to have on hand. A small camera is great, for street
Depth of Focus
photography where a massive "professional" device will draw immediate attention. I may be paranoid, but I have also used a small camera in situations where I fear that a big expensive DSLR might be a temptation for pick pockets and muggers. Sorry Equador, but I wasn't going to take my 5D out to capture the street fair at night in Quito. To be fair to South America, I also used my carry around to capture the monuments at night in Washington, DC. Perhaps the most important reason to have a capable small camera is to have it with you wherever you go. The classic rule is, " Your best camera is the one you have with you" and I try not to make that camera my iPhone. My brief case always has a small camera tucked inside for
those unexpected opportunities that seem to pop up on my way to or from work. Whether i'm out to diner with friends or just taking Nellie for a quick "pooper", if I don't expect to capture an 12x18" fine art image, the little camera works just fine.

 For several years my carry around has been a Canon G11. It is a powerful little
Early 1200 mm trial, West River Dragon
camera with full controls and the capability to shoot in RAW, but I never fell in love with the G11. I recently got a Canon SX50 and, although it isn't perfect, photography is always about trade-offs, so far, I think that, if not in love, I am ready at least for a more committed relationship. I have received a lot of questions about how the camera is performing, so I thought I would offer my early impression and show some examples of the images I have been able to capture. I have never done formal product reviews and this is intended as a summary of early and incomplete impressions, with much more exploration ahead.


The Carry-Around Criteria
I should start with a short list of the features I look for in a small carry around. There is no camera out there that meets all these perfectly but it is a good to have some criteria to apply to the search.

Size: The Ideal here is to be able to comfortably slide the camera into your pants pocket. There is some amazingly small camera out there, but invariably the tiny size comes with performance trade-offs including sensor size, zoom range, and controls. I have generally settled for a camera that slips into a brief case or fanny pack, rather than in my pants pocket.

The zoom ranges is especially important with fixed lens
1200 mm, Spofford Lake
cameras. One of the reasons for my lack of strong affection for my G11 is that the zoom is only 5x (24-140mm). The longer the OPTICAL zoom the better, and beware of references to the “Digital” zoom. All this is doing is cropping the image and you can do that better in post. And of course, with longer zooms, image stabilization becomes increasingly important for sharp images.

RAW Capability
After I started shooting RAW, I would never want to go back the baked-in restrictions of 8 bit jpg images.

Range of Controls: 
 I want to have full control of the cameras functions including Shutter and aperture preferred, and manual control. ISO, exposure compensation, white balance and focus control are also desirable.

Ease of Control: The more I can stay away from menus the better. With practice the journey through menus on the LCD can become manageable, but I look for as many adjustments on dials and buttons on the camera as possible.

High definition on many of these little cameras is amazing, but quality sound is generally still a major issue. The old saying is true: “A great movie with crappy sound is still a crappy movie”.

Other Features:
Cable release input, hot shoe to supplement the usually rudimentary built in flash, Tilt/swivel LCD Screen (I don’t get down on the ground as easily as in the past)

Susan has Turned Returning Her Birthday Presents
into an Art Form

A couple of weeks ago I got a new carry-around camera. I started by getting Susan a small camera that would fit easily in her purse, but would have decent focal length range. We are heading to Alaska in August and, if in no other place, I thought Susan might be induced to take a picture of a Grizzly, safely at the end of a very long lens.  I ended up with the Canon SX 500. It was nicely compact and had a 30x zoom. Unfortunately  it couldn't shoot RAW, but I thought it was a nice compromise for her to have easily at hand. Happily, Susan rejected her birthday present insisting that, “You’re the photographer. Why do I need a camera”. It is usually jewelry that she rejects, but this time, a camera. Ok. Great! I went out and got the camera I wanted, but hopefully one that she might still be able to use from time to time and perhaps in Alaska.

Canon SX50 HS
After some further research, I ended up with the Canon 50 HS. The camera is a little bigger, but still quit compact and incredibly light. It is a pleasure to carry it around in a small fanny pack. There are a number of excellent reviews of the camera's strengths and weaknesses and I will only mention a few of the features that I have found interesting.


The obvious, stand-out feature of the SX50 is its 50X zoom. This thing goes from 24mm to 1200mm!, making its lack of
1200mm and Cropped
interchangeable lens' largely mute. I have included a number of my images at the full 1200mm length and in general I have been impressed. At this length a tripod would be recommended to get maximal sharpness, but, so far, the results from my image stabilized, hand held pictures have been surprisingly good. It is helpful to have good light and a high ISO to allow for faster shutter speeds. Of course high ISO's can be an issue for noise. The SX50 has a small sensor, about 30% smaller than the G11, and at ISO's greater that 400-800 , noise can be more of an issue, but I haven't seen much of a difference from the G11. This can't compete with my full frame camera, but so far I have been able to get good results with appropriate levels of noise reduction.
24 mm
1200 mm Uncropped

RAW of Course
The second, must have feature, is that the camera shoots in RAW. Nuf said.

Macro Although the extreme zoom is the stand-out feature of this little camera, I have been espcially impressed with its macro performance. I am experienced with the extremely thin depth of focus from my full size sensor and, although the SX 50 can't match the beautiful bokeh of my 5d Mark II, its tiny sensor can often pull much more of the subject into sharp focus. I can use a single image to capture flowers in sharp focus that would require three or four stacked images from my full frame camera.

The SX 50 has the full range of controls, and those not on the camera body, are accessible though a reasonably simple menu system. I have learned my own lesson and after a short time actually reading the manual, and photographing my feet, I think I have most of the routine controls figured out. It helps that the control scheme is similar to that on my G11.


The camera has the capability to shoot 3 images, applying exposure or focus bracketing. I'm still figuring out how to adjust the range of exposure or focus, but, a few days ago, I did get a reasonable exposure bracket to use in an HDR image of sunset across Huber Farm. The results were not as smooth as my, tripod stabilized, 7 image DSLR version, but still not bad for a hand held three image bracket.

Hubner Sunset, 3 Image Bracket

Of course I have a few gripes about the camera. At f3.5, The lens is
Indian Pond Frog Hunting, Chesterfield, NH
slower than I would like. The manual focus procedure is awkward. A focus ring on the lens would be a great improvement. The electronic viewfinder has poor resolution, but is still helpful when bright light makes the LCD difficult to see. I have noticed that the camera has a tendency to blow out highlights in bright light. There is a dynamic range function that is designed to mute this effect, but I'm still trying to figure out how to make it work. Of course resolution and noise does not compete with the results from my Full frame. The images here look pretty good, but remember these picture are small and can't fairly show the results seen in the full images. I look forward to seeing how far I can go in printing large versions of some of these images.
West River Sunset, Brattleboro, Vermont

There are many more pros and cons I could mention. I haven't even begun to explore the High Definition video capabilities of the camera, but I must remember that the purpose of this article was to respond to requests to see images from my new Carry Around. I can say that the SX50 HS is not a perfect camera. Like all small cameras it encompasses compromises in size, function and image quality, but so far I have been satisfied with the results. I can say I have been having fun shooting with this little camera that has such a big reach and, to me, that is the most important thing. I think I have found a new Carry Around.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chesterfield Gorge Album

Kiosk Dedication

The Chesterfield Gorge State park is only 13 acres but packs a lot of interest in a small area.  The Park follows Wilde Brook as it plummets over several cascades and waterfalls dropping  175 feet in a short distance on its way to Partridge Brook and eventually the Connecticut River.  It has been a favorite destination for families looking for a manageable and interesting hike assessable to young and old.  The Gorge is encircled by a .7 mile trail which provides views to the the falls from both sides.  In recent years the park had fallen into neglect, suffering from the impact of state financial cut-backs. The trails and bridges which surround the gorge had fallen to disrepair and most of the dramatic trail side views of the falls had become suffocated by the uncontrolled growth of trees and shrubs.  Happily,  a small group of dedicated volunteers have stepped in to bring the Gorge back to its former, family friendly, glory.

Infrared Drop



This week, in my New England Photography Guild blog article, I talk about the Gorge's history, attractions and the remarkable work that the Friends of Chesterfield Gorge continue to do to  maintain and improve this unique natural treasure.  Included here is an album of images from the Gorge expanding on what I could include in my NEPG blog.


 The Gorge is easy to find and well worth a stop to enjoy the peace and the drama of this natural oasis.  While visiting, don't miss the parking lot Kiosk which includes information about all the major natural attractions of our special corner of New Hampshire.


Natural Treasures of Chesterfield, NH

Directions: The Gorge Natural Area is located on Route 9 west of Keene, in Chesterfield, New Hampshire. It is about 5.6 miles west of the intersection of Routes 101 and 9 in Keene. Look for the sign on the right side of the road. The area has a parking lot which accesses the trial.

Nellie at the Gorge
New England Photography Guild Blog:
"Chesterfield Gorge Resurrected"

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Look to the foreground in Milky Way Photography

The Stars are not Enough
We are getting into the best season for Milky Way photography as the galactic disk gets higher in the sky at earlier hours.  Given the

Ancient Oak , Alyson's Orchard, Walpole, NH
fact that most humans now live in cities where light pollution obscures the galaxy, it shouldn’t be surprising that most people have never actually seen the Milky Way. Most star seekers have to travel far from city lights and then, to the unaided human eye, the Milky Way is still just a cloud-like band without any clear perception of the 400 billion of stars interacting with patchy collections of galactic dust.  Just a few years ago a picture showing the magnificent band of light and dust spreading across the night sky was a unique experience for those in the country as well as the city, but new digital cameras with highly sensitive sensors have radically changed our ability to look deeply into the night sky. Now the brilliance and complexity of the Milky Way has become relatively easy to capture and it has become the necessary target of most star field images. The fact that we can now easily see into our galactic disk is still a reason for profound wonder, but a bright and clear image of the Milky Way is no longer sufficient for a memorable picture.  The bar has been raised and now the essential additional element is the foreground.

The easiest part of night photography is the capturing of the Milky Way.  There are many great articles on the web that discuss the

Milky Way in My Driveway
necessary equipment and techniques and I need not go into detail here. Mike Blanchette is a master of night photography and his article in the New England Photography Guild’s blog covers all the basics.  All that is required is a camera with reasonable low light sensitivity, a tripod and a fast wide angle lens.  I use my Canon 5D mark II with the Canon 16-35 mm f2 lens.  Locating the Milky Way is also a simple task.  Smart phone apps can locate the galactic disk at any time and location.  I currently use “Sky Safari”, but “Stellarium” is another good option.  Finally, it is a matter of finding a location with reasonably low light pollution.  I typically shoot with an ISO of 3200, and, with my lens at 16mm and wide open at f2. I find I can capture the detail in the Milky Way with a 20 second exposure.  Longer exposures would allow a lower ISO and less noise but even with the wide angle lens, the stars begin to smear out as exposures increase.  The Rule of 600 (600/focal length) is often used to find the maximal acceptable exposure.   With a 16 mm lens, the equation would suggests that I could get away with a 30 second exposure without noticeable smearing, but I have found that 20 seconds works better to get sharper, pin-points of light.

This time of year getting the best view of the Milky Way requires getting out in the early hours.  Last weekend I dragged my old body out to Dublin Lake in Dublin, New Hampshire between one and four in the morning.  My goal was to capture the Milky Way rising above Mount Monadnock from across the lake. I had used “Sky Safari” and “Photographer’s Ephemeris” to find the best location. The night was perfect, a clear sky, comfortable temperatures and only the occasional tractor trailer rumbling by.   Sadly, I couldn’t convince any of my lazy friends to accompany me but the night was lovely and for the most part peaceful along the lake.  I found a nice pull over on Route 101 and settled in.  The Milky Way was right where it was supposed to be and the moon set precisely on schedule just after one AM.  I was able to capture a clear view of the Milky Way.

The Foreground

Chesterfield Steeple
Easy, but the problem was in finding a nice foreground to add interest to the images.  I was hoping for a windless night and a glassy lake to allow for a clear reflection of the stars, but sadly the breeze persisted and the ripples obscured any chance of mirrored magic.  The lake bank was steep with little of interest to include in the foreground.  There were very few lights across the lake except for one powerful beacon that appeared, for no particular reason, to be illuminating someone’s dock.  I was initially annoyed with the beacon and was planning how I would remove it in post, but then I decided to include it as an anchoring element in my compositions.  The light and its reflection across the water, combined with the framing trees to draw the eye to the Milky Way as it moved over the distant Mount Monadnock. 

I was tired but happy with the results as I headed home with the first glow of dawn at about 4 AM, but the experience reminded me once more that the Milky Way is no longer enough for a dramatic night sky image.  It is really all about the foreground, its interest, lighting, and how it complements the arc of light in the sky.  Given this new imperative there are a number of things to consider as you approach a night of galactic photography.

Find Your Foreground
In planning your location it is important to consider both the position of the Milky Way in the sky and the placement of

Great Stars _ No Foreground
interesting foreground elements in front of the band of light. Last week I knew that the Milky Way would be moving from southeast to southwest. I hoped to catch a nice starry reflection with Mount Monadnock in the background and, as I scanned the map, Dublin Lake seemed the best choice.  If you are lucky to be on the coast you may use a light house, a quiet harbor or the rocks and surf on an isolated beach for your foreground.  As you are looking out to sea, coastal skies also greatly reduce the problem of light pollution.  Those of us who are land-locked must contend with the seemingly unavoidable horizon glow and look for other subjects including barns, church steeples, or even a sadly stripped ancient tree.  Regardless of your location, the key to foreground selection is to remember that you will likely be using an extreme wide angle lens and, to provide any impact, foreground elements will need to be quite close.

Focus Stacking
The combination of wide open apertures and the need to focus at infinity makes it essentially impossible to keep nearby subjects and unimaginably distant stars in focus in the same image. This can be a problem even with the expanded depth of field with wide angle lens’. The solution is to grab an image focused on the foreground to blend with your star frames.  The contrast between foreground and sky is usually quite stark making focus stacking relatively easy when you get home.  The contrast between sky and foreground can also be enhanced with a little creative light painting.

Light Painted Barn

Light Painting the Foreground

Old Faithful, Yellowstone
Without some illumination foregrounds often appear only as silhouettes. Sometimes the light comes naturally from the moon or surrounding illumination, such as the Lodge lights at Old Faithful.  I often use my headlamp to paint the foreground and I find that even a brief touch of artificial lighting can make a surprising difference.  The duration of the lighting depends on the distance to the foreground and the intensity of the lamp.  For nearby subjects a weaker lamp allows for finer blending, but experimentation is the key.  I try to avoid overdoing the brightness.  For me a bit of subtle fill works better than unnaturally brilliant illumination. I strive to match the soft lighting I would expect to see from a full
Pillar of Light
moon. Because the foreground images will generally be taken separately, color balance differences can be adjusted later during the stacking process.  On Dublin Lake I struggled with my light painting.  It seemed that every time I took a shot a truck came through bathing the scene with intense illumination.  I never found a light painted image that seemed just right and I ended up with the trees mostly in silhouette. In some sense I think the dark trees created a frame which nicely contrasted with the beacon of light across the water. At least it worked for me.

Dublin Lake Beacon, Mt Monadnock

Ok.  All of this discussion can be distilled to a single maxim; "Place something interesting in front of the Milky Way in your night sky shots".  So get out there and experiment, and remember to take time to enjoy the night.  The Milky Way is about 110 thousand light years across and it isn't going anywhere soon.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Noone Falls and My Sad Camera Bag

Contoocook River Below Noone Falls
 YET Another Cautionary Tale, With a Bonus

Here is a quick cautionary tale. It seems that at least half of my blog articles follow a cautionary theme. I am perpetually telling you what not to do by recounting the disasters that have befallen
Noone Falls with Better Flow, Peterborough, NH
me when I did that exact same thing. Cameras falling into streams,  lens ground to dust in my bag, frozen batteries, following the wrong trail and missing the sunrise or lighting my camera bag on fire at my nieces wedding. I'd like to say that these were all wonderful learning opportunities, but there MUST be better ways to learn. Perhaps I should be reading some other photographer's disaster blogs. Certainly, I have learned important lessons from all these tragic experiences, but, life being the random experience that is, sometimes past lessons open fresh opportunities to screw up in wholly new and creative ways.

Noone Falls
Last week I was in Peterborough delivering a picture to a client.
Contoocook River Reservoir
While I was in the neighborhood, I decided to check out Noone Falls off of Rt 202 along the Contoocook River. The old mill falls drains the Contoocook River Reservoir across a broad drop, but on this day, the main falls were dry with the water all shunted through a slues-way along the side. Happily the flow was strong and the cascades below the falls were promising. I settled in to find the best views along the rough, over grown banks and here is where my hard won experience paid off. As I worked my way to the best spots, I had visions of my Macro lens flipping out of my camera bag and into the steam, similar to what had happened to me a couple of years ago. As I am a cagy and experienced photographer, I took off my bag and carefully placed it beyond danger on a safe and stable spot above the bank. The river here has lots of interesting rocks and eddies and the passing clouds allowed prolonged exposures to capture the soft beauty of the flow. As I worked my way upstream, I grabbed some nice shots and then quickly circled back to the car to head home. It was getting late and I wanted to have time to do my necessary tortures at the Keene YMCA, before we joined friends for a pot luck supper to celebrate Susan's ..... birthday.

Contoocook River Through the Shoot

As I got out of the car at the Y, I grabbed for my gym bag and suddenly realized that I would not be punishing myself on the weights that day. The "cagy, experienced photographer" had left his photo bag in its very secure location on the side of the Contoocook River 25 miles away. I took such great precautions to protect my bag that I had completely forgotten it. Horrified, I did a quick mental inventory; Macro Lens, Filters, extra battery ,memory cards, graduated and variable ND filters, somewhat ratty cable release, and of course one partially incinerated, but much beloved camera bag. There was no choice. I leaped back into the car and hurtled back to Peterborough, reassuring myself all the way that the chance of someone finding and absconding with my bag of random stuff was very low. But that thought didn't reduce my anxiety.
and it didn't help to realize that, if I lost everything, I would have the makings of yet another sadly cautionary blog article.


As I pulled into the parking lot and rushed toward the river I knew I had no right to expect a joyous reunion. Against all justice the bag was still there, looking a bit hurt, but none the worst for this trial separation. I could almost hear it complaining, "First you light me on fire and now you desert me by a raging river? Is there a message here?"


Undeserved Bonus
As I sheepishly returned to the car, fate struck one more surprising blow. Along the informal path I came across a beautiful collection of Lady Slippers. These were some of the most perfect examples I had ever seen and at the peak of their unsullied pink perfection. Surprisingly I didn't notice them earlier in the day when my attention was drawn to the cascades, but on the way back to the car after retrieving my bag, my head was bowed in shame, and there they were! I placed my bag safely on the ground (really!) and was lying on the grass in an instant. I grabbed multiple, progressively focused images to allow focus stacking when I got home.  The wind was light, so I was able to align the images and get good sharpness front to back.  I also found an interesting new angle on the river from downstream. The water was churning around a projection of the bank which split the flow. Later, in post, I gave the water a bit more bite by blending in a tone-mapped layer. I found that an opacity of only 18% was enough to add the sense of the energy that I saw in the cascade. Nice shots, but my self-loathing was only partially assuaged by the photographs.

So what is the lesson from my latest screw-up? It may be that I should keep better track of the equipment and not get distracted by the beauty of the location, but I prefer to think that it is the reminder of the value of returning to a spot for a fresh look. Even when the visits are just a couple of hours apart, a fresh eye,(or head orientation) can reveal surprising new opportunities. Perhaps my bag knew all along that there was more to see along the Contoocook. Oh, and I did remember to bring that bag home this time, but the poor thing was watching my every move with practiced skepticism.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Zooming in on Spring Leafscapes

Using a Telephoto Lens to Focus on the Spring Color


Having survived stick and waterfall seasons we are now firmly in leaf season. Mid to late spring is a time of infinitely varied curtains of green and it is one of my favorite times of the year.  Not only can we say goodbye to the last remnants of winter (I hope), but the colors in the trees rival the autumn for warmth and brilliance.  Too soon the leaves will settle into their deeper and more monotonous summer greens, but while it lasts I feel like a kid in a candy shop trying to capture the unique beauty of new beginnings.

Not the Grand View
So far this spring I have been concentrating on macro images of the
early buds and flowers, but the colors of the spring leaves lend themselves to a broader canvas.   In the Spring and Autumn, when the emphasis is on the color of the foliage, photographers often capture expansive images of hillsides with vast splashes of color.  It is tempting to focus on the grand panoramas, but for me, these images are generally monotonously busy and without direction.  I prefer to move in on the detail, arranging leaves, trunks and sky into more intimate compositions.  I had great fun this early spring limiting myself to the world seen through my 100mm Macro lens, but for the spring foliage I decided to switch to my telephoto zoom generally restricting my view to the 300 - 400 mm range.


The Telephoto View

Long lens' change photographic vision in a number of ways.   I found that the massive hunk of glass hanging from my shoulder quickly altered the focus of my attention as I scanned for more distant subjects that I could pull into the viewfinder.  The long telephoto restricts the angle of view making it easier to isolate arrangements of leaves, tree trunks, branches and fauna into simple but powerful compositions.  It compresses distant layers of foliage creating interesting and complex combinations of differing flora.  At the same time, depending on aperture, the telephoto creates a narrow range of sharp focus allowing soft bokeh to simplify the image and draw attention to the main subject(s).


 I started by scanning across pastures to the distant forest edge looking for patterns. The variously colored leaves created lovely montages while in other areas the dark branches provided interesting contrast with the soft foliage. Once I started looking, the compositions were everywhere. Foreground elements also helped to provide interest and context to the images. Through the perspective flattening effect of the long lens fences, sheep, and horses were compressed into the scene linking the background with the foreground interest. The effect can be subtle but still provides an almost unstated sense of connection which is very calming.

A couple of days ago I awoke to find a gentle mist hanging on the trees.   I rushed out  to shoot before the fog melted away. The depth enhancing effect of the mist combined with the compression of the telephoto produced lovely contrasts.

Spring Mist


 The leaves are beginning to settle into their summer hues. Sadly, the soft spring colors seem as fleeting as autumn's garish display, while it lasts it is well worth zooming in on the show.
Jeffrey Newcomer