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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Photographing Martha's Vineyard's Five Lighthouses (Sort Of)

Edgartown Light Before Dawn

After being home from our trip to Alaska for just a week and one-half, it was a bit disorienting for us and more disorienting for our dog Nellie, to head off for a week on Martha's Vineyard. It is
Abigail and Grayson, Menemsha Sunset
always hectic returning from a long trip and when friends offered to let us use their lovely house on the island, it was the perfect opportunity to decompress from our exciting, but intensely active exploration of the northwest. The weather could not have been more different. Martha's Vineyard can be spectacular in the autumn and, with the exception of one day of overcast and scattered showers, we enjoyed warm, bright days without the pesky bugs, and more importantly, the hordes of pesky tourists that infest the islands in the summer. It was especially nice that we were able to share our time on the Vineyard with our daughter Abigail and here boyfriend Grayson.

Of course, my focus could not be solely on relaxation. I had to plan how I would take advantage of the photographic opportunities of this special place. There were many visual themes that I could explore, the quaint harbors and often overly touristy villages, the beaches and interesting pine and oak forests.  I explored all of these,  decided to focus on the island's lighthouses.

The Five Lighthouses

Martha's Vineyard has five lighthouses guarding its shores and, in
our short time on the island, I decided to try to explore all of them. I discovered that each location posed its own challenges and opportunities, but in different ways, I bagged them all, sort of. Taken together the lighthouses represent an enduring monument to the regions nautical heritage. Before the construction of the Cape Cod Canal, Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sounds saw some of the heaviest shipping traffic in the world, second only to the English Channel. The Vineyard lighthouses were critically important for the safe navigation this difficult passage.

East Chop Lighthouse

I decided to start my exploration with a sunrise visit to the East Chop Lighthouse in Oak Bluffs. The lighthouse was built on a bluff above Vineyard Sound on the location of an early "telegraph" site. "Telegraph Hill" is the highest spot on the island and from there, beginning in 1828, signals about the comings and goings of ships were transmitted by flags to the mainland. The lighthouse is now the center of a small park with benches overlooking the ocean. On my visit the real attraction was the continuously changing sky as it was illuminated by the rising sun. The challenge was to expose sufficiently to the right to keep good detail in the silhouetted lighthouse while avoiding blowing out the dramatic sky. 

East Chop at Dawn

West Chop Lighthouse

 West Chop Lighthouse
West Chop Light was built in 1817. In 1838 the original wooden structure was replaced by he current iron tower and since it has been withdrawn twice from the eroding cliff. Currently the keepers house is used by the Coast Guard. We reached the light in the evening when only touch of warm light illuminated the lights upper reaches.  During our return trip to Woods Hole I was able to catch a distant view of the light from Vineyard Sound.
West Chop from Vineyard Sound

Edgartown Lighthouse We first visited the Edgartown Light at the time of the 12th Annual Ceremony of Remembrance. The lighthouse pedestal is studded with over 600 engraved cobblestones each commemorating a child who died too young. Each year the Martha's Vineyard Museum sponsors a remembrance for those who were lost and their families. It was a moving gathering, but not the best time to capture a clean view of the
Edgartown Light
lighthouse. I returned for sunrise on the last day of our trip and found wonderful light, starting with the predawn blue hour, proceeding through the brilliant sunrise and ending with the golden light dancing on the lighthouse and harbor. It was another glorious crisp and clear autumn morning.

Morning Light
Dawn Edgartown Light

Gay Head Lighthouse
Gay Head Light sits at the far Southwestern end of the island above the constantly eroding clay cliffs. In a couple of years the
lighthouse is scheduled to be moved back from the advancing precipice.  The cliffs are known for their bright colors and are protected from disturbance by state law. A dramatic view of the lighthouse and cliffs is available from the visitors area, south of the path to the tower, but you must pass a gauntlet of honky-tonk to reach the promontory. My goal was to get to the lighthouse around sunset. We were late on our first try at least partially because of the distraction of spectacular light across Nashaquitsa Pond near Menemsha. I was still able to catch a little soft evening light. On a
Nashaquitsa Pond Sunset
second trip we caught the warm light before the sun dipped below the horizon, but decided to get a different angle on the sunset from the entrance to Menemsha Harbor. I knew that I could catch the sunset behind the breakwater and was joined by a crowd enjoying the golden light and cool crisp air. After the sun disappeared the spectators broke into applause, much like you would expect following the grand finale of a fireworks show. We lingered for the dramatic after sunset, "blue hour" sky and then ambled to Menemsha's Homeport Restaurant for a late dinner.
Mily Way, Menemsha
Leaving the restaurant, I was hoping to find a clear view of the
night sky with minimal light pollution. Sadly the next day's coastal storm was edging in from the south, but I did get a nice glimpse of the Milky Way above the advancing cloud bank. Since it seemed to point to the celestial ribbon, I decided to leave the wide angle key stoning in the pier and boats. Not bad but I was still looking for better conditions after the storm.  I found a wonderfully clear sky on the last evening and captured the Milky Way without any significant light pollution over Edgartown's Katama Bay.

Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah
Sunset Menemsha Harbor

Gay Head Cliffs, 1957

Fading Glory
As a child, I remember the cliffs of Gay Head being much more brilliantly colored.  I found this image of the Cliffs from my parents boat, 57 years ago.  It's a scan of an old Kodachrome slide, but, with reasonable color correction, the difference seems clear.  Perhaps the effects of decades of acid rain?

Cape Poge Lighthouse
Ok, let's talk about Cape Poge  Lighthouse.  Cape Poge Light is located at the eastern extreme of Martha's Vineyard, actually on
Cape Poge Lighthouse (I'm Counting It!)
isolated island of Chapaquiddick. The current wooden tower was built in 1928 and is the is the most recent of five lighthouses located on this wind and sea battered site. Four previous lights, beginning in 1801, were all claimed by the sea. Cape Poge light is by far the most isolated on the island. To get there you must take the ferry from Edgartown to Chapaquiddick and then drive miles over deeply rutted sand roads. Only high slung four wheel drives are likely to avoid being stranded on the isolated road. Did I allow all of this to prevent me from completing my set of five lighthouses. Damn right! The sensible way to get to the lighthouse is on a tour run by the Trustees of Reservations, but sadly I couldn't fit that into our limited schedule. Happily I came up with a thoroughly lame work-around. As it turns out the Cape Poge Lighthouse is vaguely visible from the top of the Edgartown Light. It was about seven miles away, but by zooming in I was able to place a grainy check mark on my list of lighthouses. IT COUNTS!

Katama Bay

I'm a sucker for lighthouses and it was exciting to have the chance to explore five (sort of) new ones in such a concentrated period of time.  Of course we enjoyed all of the island's attractions and had a wonderfully relaxing time.  And I only have 800 images to get through instead of the nearly 5000 from Alaska!  Now back to work.

You can browse more of  my Vineyard Images on my
Martha's Vineyard Gallery

South Beach Surf

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My "New" $30 Tripod

Sturdy Tripod

Stability on the Cheap
Of all the equipment available to supplement your photographic efforts and empty your wallet, there is probable nothing as
Focus Stack
important as a good tripod. A tripod is obviously critical to stabilize your camera when conditions do not permit sharp, hand-held images, but perhaps more importantly it makes you slow down.  It enforces a level of care in the framing of your images and permits the precise collection of multiple images when attempting focus or exposure stacking. A heavy tripod can also serve as a vicious and readily apparent cudgel when wandering alone in sketchy neighborhoods.  A good tripod can be expensive.  You may pay $400-$900 for a high quality carbon fiber tripod and the ball head will add an additional several hundred dollars. Aluminum tripod legs are cheaper and their increased weight can actual provide enhanced stability.  If you don't have to lug them for miles into the back-country, they can be a good choice.  There is no single perfect choice, but have I have just fashioned a "new" tripod for only $30, that allows me to combine the best of both worlds.
There are Few Things More Expensive Than a Cheap Tripod
I am sure that at some point I have pontificated about the importance of a high quality tripod. I distinctly remember saying, "You can buy a cheap tripod and end up replacing it every few years, and all you will ever have is a cheap tripod. Or you can spend the money for a good tripod and have a good tripod for the rest of your life".  Although obnoxiously smug, I have taken this commandment to heart and  discarded several flimsy tripods before settling on a sturdy Manfrotto (3021BN) and a Manfrotto ball head. The tripod was not the most expensive I had seen, but it was solid and although a bit heavy, I was happy with its performance. A few years later I decided to invest in a lighter carbon fiber Gitzo Tripod
with a Kirk, Arca Swiss, ball head. The new "sticks" were easier to manage on my backpack and the Arca Swiss head accommodated the new L-Bracket that I had attached to my camera. L-Brackets allow easy switching from horizontal to vertical camera positions with improved stability. The addition of Arca Swiss L-Brackets to my cameras meant that my Manfrotto tripod, with its incompatible head, was immediately relegated to the dust at the back of the closet. 

Gitzo with L-Bracket
My lite but sturdy Gitzo tripod has served me well for the last seven years. but there have been occasions when I would haveappreciated the greater weight and stability of my old Manfrotto. This has become a significant issue when using my 2x Extender on my 100-400 Zoom. When fully cranked to 800mm, it is a challenge to keep the camera steady, especially when wind is an issue. That sad Manfrotto kept calling to me and I finally decided that I had to do something. I looked at a number of possible approaches to adapting the tripod for Arca Swiss. The most expensive would be to buy a new Arca Swiss Ball head, but I didn't want to spend the several hundred dollars that would be required for a decent head. A search yielded various Arca Swiss adapters that might replace Manfrotto's proprietary system, but they all involved brutally removing the current clamp from the ball with the potential for damage or destruction of the head. 

A Simple Solution
 I finally settled on the simplest solution. I found an Arca Swiss clamp that I could attach to the Manfrotto plate. If it worked I could always go back to the Manfrotto system if needed. The only question was whether this Stacked plate arraignment would be sturdy and stable enough for my gear. I decided that if this didn't work I could always go to plan B and force the Manfrotto Plate from the ball. I chose an Arca Swiss Plate that was not the cheapest available and had generally good reviews. Happily, the $29.95 plate attached firmly. The only modification required was that I had to mount the plate backwards on the Manfrotto system to keep the quick release lever from interfering with the Arca Swiss adjustment knob.

Super Moon 800mm Stable


I have been generally thrilled with the results, using my Manfrotto routinely when I'm shooting within easy range of my car and the Gitzo when packing my gear into the woods. So far my modified Manfrotto has be stable and flexible. Camera stability is a critical factor for obtaining sharp images and the combination of a light packable tripod with a more massive set of legs, to be used when stability is more challenging, is a perfect solution. It is especially perfect when the "solution" costs only $30.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Alaska, Talkeetna and Devil's Gorge

After our all too short visit to the immense Denali National Park and Preserve, we headed south to the little village of Talkeetna at
the confluence of the Chulitna, Susitna and Talkeetna Rivers. Talkeetna is a unincorporated "Census-Designated Place" which, by the 2010 census, is home to 876 residents. Since 1997 the town's honary major has been Stubbs the Cat whose majoral office is close to his bowl at Nagley's General Store. Talkeetna was the inspiration for the rustic village portrayed in the 90's TV Series "Northern Exposure". The town's "Main" Street can be walked in about 5 minutes, but it is famous as the jump-off point for many of the expeditions headed to Mt Mckinley. We came to Talkeetna to spend a day traveling by Jet Boat up the Susitna River.

Our trip took us 65 miles up the wilderness river. The weather was overcast with occasional rain and we once again failed to get a glimpse of Mt McKinley, but at least we stayed dry under the cover of the boat's cabin. The passing shore provided glimpses of various birds including Bald eagles. We saw few signs of human presence with the exception of occasional groups of fishermen who gathered at the entrances of mountain streams that tended to be clearer than the silt madden, glacier fed Susitna. Our final goal was the nationally registered Wild River park of the "Devil's Gorge". The shallow draft and impressively powered Jet Boat allowed us to move through the increasingly violent cascades of the gorge, pausing at the
Approaching the Rapids
tumbling Class 6 Rapids. Our captain did an amazing job negotiating the rapids and was a excellent guide, describing the history and natural features of this wild river.  On the way back we stopped on a small river island for a short walk to reconstructions of a native fishing camp and a trapper's shack.   


Trapper Shack

After we returned from our 5 hour trip we headed south to Seward on the edge of the Kenai Fjords National Park. It was a long, but beautiful ride after a busy day on the river. We did get to drive through Wasilla, outside of Anchorage and, once again , confirmed that you CAN'T see Russia from the town.

Devil's Gorge Rapids Video

I will need to describe our trip to Alaska in small bits. There is too much to show and nearly 5,000 images take time to review and process, but stayed tunes. On our last of the trip we hit the creature jack-pot and it is worth the wait.

No Russia in Sight

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, September 8, 2014

200 Blogs and Counting

First Blog  Image,  HDR Toned
I'm publishing this article from Logan Airport as we await the bus to our car.  It is 12:30 AM but, coming from Alaska, it is only 8:30 PM.  Our trip was amazing and I will have much more to share in future blogs, but I like to get my weekly article in on Sunday, so this is a perfect time to celebrate my 200th blog.  You can check out some of my early Alaska Images in my Alaska Gallery - many more to come.

It seems like it was only a short while ago that I celebrated my 100th blog article, but somehow number 200 has crept up largely

unnoticed. I started blogging in January of 2009, but only published 11 articles in the first 2 years. At the time, I had no idea how to find my reader statistics and thought that I was largely speaking to myself. Then I noticed the "Stats" button and suddenly discovered to my great surprise and a little horror that some people were actually listening. The sudden awareness of an audience made me reassess my approach to the blog. Beginning in 2011, I set a goal of producing one article per week. I wanted to create a predictable resource that would be helpful for developing photographers, especially those who focus on the unique beauty of New England. The production of a weekly blog is a time consuming process which does eat away at shooting and editing time, not to mention the ability to have a life. So why have I kept at it.

Stubbornness, I guess, once I commit to something, I hate to see it slip and, the longer I kept to the schedule, the more I felt the

imperative to continue. In my first article I expressed both my reasons for starting a blog and my reluctance about the process. Among my goals was to tell the stories that were connected with many of my images and to share what I had learned about the marvelous art of photography. I also hoped to develop the ability to talk more fluently about my images and process. Chief among my concerns was my discomfort with much of what I saw as pretentious and over-inflated verbiage that is so often used to describe the photographic process. A tree has never "spoken" to me about how I should "capture its essence". As I said in that first article, I
Optimal Aperture
"try to find good light shining on an interesting scene and then start looking for the solution to the multifaceted puzzle which will eventually yield the best image". That is about as "artsy" as I can manage. The surprising thing is that, over more than five years, my primary goals have not substantially changed

The First 100Back in September 2012, I celebrated my 100th blog article and asked "Where Did They Come From". It is still a matter of considerable mystery and terror trying to come up with fresh topics on a weekly basis, but one of the great things about the blog is that it has forced me to investigate new areas of photography , if only to come up with fresh topics. Too often when I try to come off as an expert on a subject, I feel nervous that it may be glaringly apparent that I just discovered the information myself. As I said 100 blogs ago: "As I have worked to keep the posts interesting and constructive, I have discovered that I have learned more than I could ever teach in my short articles. My research often involves finding the actual basis for many of the photographic techniques that I have learned through painful trial and error." 

The Second Hundred
My second hundred blogs were not really much different from the first. I still focus on the Monadnock Region and Southern Vermont, but enthusiastically report on travels to other parts of New England and the world. And I continue to look at the process of photography from the perspective of how it has changed with digital technology and post-processing capabilities. It was on the occasion of my 100th posting that I recognized this focus and renamed my blog, "Getting It Right in the Digital Camera". At that same time I created an index of the articles organized with such topics as
"Digital Basics", "Photographic Composition", "Tips and Tricks" as well as collections of articles about photography in and out of
Blog Index
New England. I also referenced articles I have published on other blogs including the New England Photography Guild and Nature Scapes. Of course my largest topic is "Getting It Right in the Digital Camera". It is my continuous attempt to show how digital cameras have changed what it means to get a picture "Right in the Camera", and I must apologize for my repeated tirades. 

Hungarian Parliament on the Danube

The Future
So what are my goals for the next 100 articles. First it is to continue
to share my photographic perspective and experiences. As long as people seem interested I will continue to make the effort to keep the information flowing. I know that it is a immense conceit to think that people might be interested in my opinions and activities, but I have discovered that I enjoy the writing and would probably do it even if I was the only one reading. I can't predict where this will lead. It can't even predict what next week's article will be about. Surely there will be descriptions of locations highlighting the beauty of our region, while also trying to illustrate a few technical points of photography. Now that I am fully retired from my medical hobby, I hope to do more teaching. Some of my articles will be in preparation for talks about the basics of photography. And of course I may be forced to buy occasional new gear, solely as an excuse for a blog. 

Finally I want to thank all my readers. I am in awe of the talent and commitment of my followers, and I am aware of the honor of your attention. Photography is a never ending journey of discovery and adventure. At least I hope it is, or I may run out of things to talk about some day.

Jeffrey Newcomer