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, April 19, 2015

First Falls

The Roaring Catsbane

Chesterfield Gorge Spring

We are now firmly in our second "stick" season. The air is warming but the trees are showing only the swelling buds that promise the glory to come. Like in November after the leaf drop, we are in the middle of a few weeks of tough sledding for New England photography. Sadly, our spring stick season has the added disadvantage of being the mud season as well, but given the generous spring run-off, it has the major advantage of being one of the best times to enjoy and shoot our regional waterfalls. 

The waterfalls are the primary savior of this time of year. I've been out shooting some of my local favorites and I'm reminded of the benefits and challenges of capturing the flowing water in the early spring.

The Benefits

Spofford Cascade
The obvious advantage of shooting spring waterfalls is the generous flow of the spring run-off. At no other time of the year is the strength of the cascading water as predictably powerful. New England is full of small brooks which, for much of the year display only a trickle or go completely dry, but in the spring these reluctant streams burst into life. In my home village of Spofford New Hampshire there is a tiny nameless rivulet which generally has an unimpressive flow as it drains down a steep set of cliffs from the main road above. I regularly check the status of the stream as I drive by on my way into the village, and predictably, it has blossomed this spring into a lovely cascade. The brook is difficult to approach with the usual steep banks, slick rocks and damp leaves, but with permission from the owner, I was able to find a few stable places to grabbed my shots.

Catsbane Brook Falls, West Chesterfield, NH
A little later I will moan about the lack of colorful foliage to decorate our falls, but an advantage of the bare branches is that waterfalls are less obstructed, becoming more completely visible. The trails are also easier to find in the spring with a great expansion of the range of sight through the forest. It is for this reason that we on the Chesterfield Conservation Commission often use the early spring and the late fall to survey and set out new trails.

Awaiting the Light on Merriam Brook
Ok, a couple of days ago I crushed my first Black Fly of the season. Within a week or so the miserable plague will be fully upon us, but for a few weeks in the early spring we able able to clomp through the underbrush without constant attack. It is a great joy to settle by an isolated forest brook and enjoy the freshness without the pure air being poisoned by the DEET saturated fumes from my bug repellent. On a recent visit to Merriam Brook in Surry New Hampshire, I explored downstream from the more familiar Forty Foot Falls and, with the increased flow, I found some lovely cascades. Unfortunately the sky was bright, bathing the falls with highly contrasting dappled light. Fortunately, without the clouds of bugs, I was comfortable waiting the couple of hours that it took for the sun to drop behind the trees. I was rewarded with soft even lighting to capture the flow, and during the wait I was able to plan my shots and also write part of this blog.

The Challenges

Green Around Pond Brook Falls
For me the biggest difficulty of shooting waterfalls in the early spring is dealing with the drab, grey and uninteresting backgrounds. This time of year the dramatic, roaring falls are surrounded by bare trees and skeletal bushes. Even the brave little ferns are only beginning to pop their delicate heads from the soil. A few sharply outlined branches can add an effective bit of contrast against the soft path of a flowing cascade, but in general I focus on tightly framing my images, including as little of the bare surroundings as possible. Occasionally I'm able to find a waterfall nestle among evergreens to provided some desperately needed color, but, in general, the attention needs to be directed to the water.
Mist Fed Moss, Merriam Brook, Surry NH


Hubbard Falls Steep Bank
The other major challenge of early spring waterfalls is the difficulty of access. The combination of the last of the winter's snow and ice and the mud slicked leaves can make approaching the falls a potentially disastrous adventure. Hubbard Falls in Chesterfield features two dramatic drops, but both are are nestled at the bottom of steep gorges.  The key is to take things very slowly and to plan ahead. Whenever possible, I avoid steep slopes and slick rocks. I carefully pack away my equipment and, with one or two sturdy walking sticks, I pick my way one step at a time. I don't pull out my camera and tripod until I am on reliably stable ground.
Hubbard Gorge, Chesterfield NH

I previously discussed the special importance of protecting the equipment when photographing near water, where one misstep could send your expensive gear tumbling down stream. I always recall previous disasters and keep my camera strap safely around my neck, even when the camera is attached to the tripod.

Ashuelot Dam Falls,  Keene NH

Pulpit Falls

Pulpit Falls in HDR
Early this week I had the chance to guide my friend Steve Hooper to beautiful Pulpit Falls in Winchester New Hampshire. The weather was not ideal with bright sunlight bathing the gorge with excessive contrast, but the strong flow showed the falls at its dramatic best. A little HDR helped with the light, but as Steve explored near the falls, I climbed up the cliffs around the gorge looking for a new and loftier perspective. My adrenalin surged as I picked my way carefully along the barest hint of a trail which only intermittently cut into the steep bank. I finally found an opening in the trees and managed a nicely
Pulpit Falls from Above
elevated view of the falls that was only partially obstructed. I could have grabbed a cleaner view by sliding further down the steep bank, but with nothing separating me from the precipitous cliff and sure oblivion except a few damp leaves and pine needles, I decided that I would would concentrate on the task of finding my way back to the "trail". Waterfall photography in the early spring often means taking what you can reasonable get and living to shoot another day.

Arch Over Spofford Lake

The wonderful thing about photography in New England is that
Campus Crocuses
despite the variable conditions of our seasons and the constantly changing weather, there is always something interesting and beautiful to shoot. I am a sucker for the languid lacy beauty of failing water when captured with long exposures, but regardless of the season, the secret is to get out there and celebrate whatever nature chooses to provide.  After all early spring is also the beginning of Milky Way season and brave little crocuses are already bursting though the cold soil.

Jeffrey Newcomer


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