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, August 30, 2015

Dead Tree Photo Archiving

If you're feeling safe, I have a cure for that

Hard Drive Maze
 We Digital photographers are often proud of our elaborate back-up schemes. It is usually some combination of multiple hard drives, on and off-site storage, and ethereal cloud-based repositories. My current approach includes a maze of external hard drives, including two, nearly saturated Dobro arrays.

Bob's Closet

 I have a couple of Hard Dive docks which allow back-ups to bare drives that can then be easily stored on or off-site. My neighbor's down-stairs coat closet is home to a couple of large external hard drives which should protect me from fire and theft.  

In the Cloud
To shield my precious images from tornadoes and other more global disasters I regularly back-up full size, high resolution JPEGs of my finished images to a private directory on my Zenfolio web site. That's a lot of back-up, I have over 30TB of magnetic backup on my desk, another 9TB resting in Bob and Lynne's closet and almost 4,000 of my favorite finished images are floating contentedly in the sky. I don't have the best, system for automatic back-up, but overall I should be able to rest reasonably comfortably at night. But there is a problem.

"Stuff" Happens

Hard drives are mechanical devices which, at some unpredictable time, are guaranteed to fail, even those protected by Bob's massive, champion weight-lifter, body are mortal. My Drobos' have reassuring built-in redundancy but even these can, and have, failed. Twice I have been forced to struggle through difficult and time consuming recovery procedures to save data which had disappeared within the unfathomable maze of Drobo's proprietary protocols. Floating above the vagaries of weather and other desk-top disasters, the cloud seems the perfect solution. Reassuring, but, at its base, cloud storage is just more hard drives managed by companies which can decide to go away tomorrow if their financial equation shifts away from adequate profitability.

But wait, there is even more discouraging news!

Fleeting File Formats

All my images are saved in various common image file formats. I routinely store mine in there native RAW format (Canon's CR2) as
Abigail & Grayson
well as separately in Adobe's non-proprietary Digital Negative
(DNG) and I have JPEGs in the sky. But all these files are view-able only because current software recognizes their protocols. If there is one thing that seems inevitable, it is that the file formats we will be using 10 or 20 years from now will be entirely different from those we rely on today. Better, no doubt, but different. Unless we are vigilant, and migrate our files and storage devices, our current hard drives with all those precious memories will be reduced to uselessness, suited only to be inanimate door-stops. The depressing news is that, once we are gone or reduced to senility, no one, certainly not my children, can be relied upon to do the necessary updates and our drives will likely migrate from door stop to land fill status.

Wow, that's way too much gloom for a lovely summer morning, but it is important to understand the limitations of even the most rigorous back-up strategies. The good news is that there is one additional archival step that can protect our most precious images. Make prints.

Make Prints

Great Grandfather Louis
There is something magical about a printed image that seems to defy the passage of time.  Because a photograph was preserved on a piece of physical media, my great grandfather can still gaze into my eyes from a picture taken during the civil war.  I can still see the little dribble on my mother's Easter dress from nearly ninety years ago.  It is true that the flawed dyes in my father's Kodachrome slides from the late 1950's have faded to a nearly
Mom 1926
monochromatic orange. Looking at those terribly discolored images, I can smugly insist that digital images are perfect and immutable, and it's true, the pixels of my digital images will never fade.  But I trust I've made the point that they can just disappear. My father's old slides are faded, but they are still here and will probably be here, in some form, a hundred years from now. Can you say that about your precious JPEGS?  I have been sorting through just a few of the hundreds of slide boxes I've inherited from my father. I have a similar number of my own carousels from my slide days, but I especially love exploring my father's images.

Martha's Vineyard in Orange, Early 1960s

Photoshop Magic

Jeff learns to sail, 1964
Studying all those pictures that he took of his young family and our many vacation cruises along the New England coast, it is like looking through his eyes. Many of the Kodachromes are orange but it is amazing how much of the original color can retrieved with the application of a little Photoshop magic. Those piles of boxes are an annoyance, filling up the dark corners in our house, but I am grateful to have them. 

Jeremy and Abigail in Pixels, A fragile treasure

The point of this long and discouraging polemic is that archiving to paper can be the best way to protect your most precious images and
the history they tell, for yourself and future generations. I enjoy the process of print making and believe that there is a magic quality in holding a physical print. I have printed many of my favorite landscape images and when properly protected, the high archival quality of current inks and paper promise that they will have a long life, but I have printed only a few of my recent family photos. I have shoe boxes filled with old prints of our young kids from my film days, but since digital arrived, about ten years ago, they are almost all delicate pixels.

My Paper Project

Abbby and Nellie Black Mountain

My current project is to collect those essential digital family photos into a directory and then systematically print them. The best, I will print myself to 8x10s, but for the majority of the images, I decided to perform a comparison among my other options. I brought ten images to my local Walgreens and another ten to Monadnock Imaging, my local camera store. That's right, we still have a camera store and, in addition to printing from digital files, the place actually continues to develop film. Bless them! I have no need for film development, but bless them none the less. I compared the
Susan and Nellie, Indian Pond
results from the two stores. The prices were about the same (a little over 30 cents per 4x6" print), but I found the Walgreen images to have too much contrast.   Monadnock Imaging uses a wet process on Silver Halide paper which has a nicer pearl finish and probably better archivability, and, for a more accurate rendition, I was able to match their sRGB color space. When I mentioned sRGB to the well meaning teenage drone at Walgreens, his eyes glazed over. It was helpful to make the comparison. Your results may vary, but for me, I'm going with Monadnock Imaging. Besides, whenever I can, I like to support our helpful local camera store. 

An Actual Camera Store!

I did some simple clean-up on my first 190 images and then used
Lightroom to export them as sRGB files to my USB thumb drive. The 4x6 prints will be destined for an album or more likely another shoe box, any place that is cool, dry and dark. Once I catch up, I'll try to be rigorous about routinely backing up to paper. This doesn't mean that I will be less compulsive about my digital back-up, but for the family images that I, and presumably my children, will find most valuable, I will sacrifice a few trees and place them in a format that will be more easily protected for years to come. It is a simple final step in my convoluted back-up scheme and I urge you to consider it as well.

First Batch, It's 20cents each for 190

All Archiving is Relative
Thanksgiving 2006
Of course it is important to be coldly realistic about all this archiving. In a few hundred years, even prints which have been carefully sheltered in the cool dark of my underground vault, will crumble to dust. In a few thousand years the deeply chiseled faces on Mount Rushmore will erode away. In about 4 billion years all life on earth will be incinerated by our exploding sun and in about 100 trillion years our entire universe will have expanded to a empty, dark void, with a temperature hovering around absolute zero. 

Have a nice day!

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A NIght Out with The Photographer's Ephemeris

There is a new player in town for locating the Milky Way and it turns out to be an old friend.

My usual approach to night-time photography begins with a determination of the time of the moon's rise and set, its location and phase using the remarkable Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE). The usual hot times for night photography are around the full moon and when the new moon leaves the sky dark for deep space observations. It is great fun to move my pin around the map looking for locations that will place the rising or setting moon behind interesting foregrounds.

Recently I have depended on a different application to find the position of the Milky Way. In addition to the moon, our galactic
disk is the other major attraction of the night sky and the Photopills App does a nice job showing the arc of the Milky Way and the position and elevation of the impressive Galactic Center. The location of the Milky Way is portrayed with a series of balls with their position representing the orientation and elevation above the horizon. As the time line is shifted the "galactic Balls" move across the sky. The balls increase in size as they approach the galactic center. It works well to predict the best time and location to shoot the Milky Way, when the galactic Center is in the best position. It is a little awkward to jump between TPE and Photopills, but the new version of the Photographer's Ephemeris brings these two functions together.
The Photographer's Ephemeris 3.4
The Photographer's Ephemeris

The Photographer's Ephemeris' latest version 3.4 is for devices running iOS 8.1 or higher. The App has a new night mode which shows the location of the Milky Way with a user interface essentially identical to Photopills. The Galactic balls are given an attractive 3 dimensional feel and the sky includes a few of the major constellations, but the overall UI seems based on the same concept. I'm happy that I don't have to learn a new system, but seriously, does TPE own Photopills or did they license the UI. Anyway, it's not my problem and I'm thrill that my favorite photo app now makes it easier to plan my night-time shoots all in one place. 

Walpole Sky

Milky Way over the Connecticut

A few days ago I used my upgraded TPE to find a viewing spot in Walpole for this month's optimal Galaxy viewing around the new moon. I found a spot on a bridge crossing the Connecticut River that had a nice view to the south. I was hoping that the trip further north would reduce the light pollution from Brattleboro Vermont and I was pleased that the horizon glow was a bit reduced. 


Don't Try This at Home
At 10:30 pm the shoulder looks smaller
TPE showed me that the Milky Way would be moving across the river between 10 and 11pm. I set up on the bridge and captured some nice views. The only major difficulty was finding 20-30 second time periods when cars and trucks were not speeding across the span with their brilliant headlights. There was precious little room on the side of the bridge and I made sure to flash all my reflective garments as the vehicle came rumbling by. You are welcome to lecture me about safety, but, if needed, I was ready to leap over the side and, since I survived, the pictures were definitely worth the risk.

Two Galaxys For the Price of One

Andromeda in the Northern Sky
The Oval is Mine-Duh
The view of the Galactic Center to the south is the most spectacular portion of the Milky Way.  It is the perspective that dominates the vast majority of published Milky Way images, but, since you're out there,  I would suggest that you grab a few shots in the opposite direction.  This time of year the "tail" of the Galactic arch sits in the Northern sky and, although not as intense as the view around the Center, it has its own attractions.  The northern vista has a softer, less angry appearance with less galactic dust to cloud the stars, but my favorite reason for capturing this view is the chance to see the Andromeda Galaxy.  Andromeda is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way and the only galaxy visible to the unaided eye.  Even on a dark moonless nights, it only appears as a vague smudge of soft light, but, through a telescope, Andromeda can be seen to be more the six times the size of the full moon.  With the digital camera's the high ISO and prolonged exposures, this swirling mass of over one trillion stars becomes much more apparent.  The Andromeda Galaxy is more than 2.5 million light years distant from earth, and provides our best chance to look deeply back in time with our own eyes.  The light reaching us now left Andromeda when primitive humans first
Ancient Light  -  Coming at You
walked on the earth.  In our expanding universe, Andromeda is on a collision course with the Milky Way, and is therefore one of the few blue shifted galaxies we can observe.  But you needn't duck yet, the galaxy is approaching at the relatively leisurely pace of 86 miles per second.  It won't get here for about 4 billion years and by that time the earth will have been burned to a cinder by our exploding sun.  Comforting thought!  Although it may make you feel microscopically small, it is still worth a peak to see our future companion in the endless void.   

Andromeda Galaxy - Slightly Better View - A Telescope Still Helps

Anyway, I'm excited about the night features in TPE.   Version 3.4 of the Photographer's Ephemeris is available for free download and works for users running iOS 8.1 or greater. I reluctantly had to upgrade my iPad, but it was worth the hassle. For those unwilling to upgrade or who are running Android, Photopills is still a great option and has other features and nifty tools not available in TPE.  For me, The Photographer's Ephemeris' interface is cleaner and easier to use, but perhaps Photopills will come up with new features that will blow TPE out of the water. Don't you just love the free market system?  It's all good, and the software choices are infinitely better than those available just a couple of years ago. 

Jeffrey Newcomer

Friday, August 14, 2015

Working with the Light (Part 2)

It's Not Nice to try to Fool Mother Nature.

One of the key skills contributing to successful landscape photography is the ability to work with the prevailing light and not to try to force your images against what nature provides. Last week I shared a few thoughts on the subjects and techniques which work well with the beautiful Golden Hours and also on how to salvage quality images from the challenging bright midday sun. This week I cover approaches to some of my favorite "lights", overcast, fog and weather extremes. As always the key is to recognize the conditions and work within the opportunities and limitations that they provide.

Overcast Light

Enveloping Light

The rest of the non-photographer world thinks that overcast days place a dull blanket over the natural beauty of the landscape, but I love to shoot when the sky is gray. In many ways this light has opposite effects from those on brilliant sunny days. Overcast light is soft and diffuse with the sky serving as one giant soft box. The light wraps around subjects working especially well for portraits and macros and the rich color of flowers and foliage can shine through without the reflections caused by harsh directional light.


Sleep In!
Soft Forest Green

Overcast robs us of the opportunity to shoot the golden hours, but on the plus side, we don't have to wait for sunrise or sunset, since the advantages of overcast light extend throughout the day.  You can sleep late, have a nice breakfast and then wander out to leisurely seize the day.

Overcast is Great for Waterfalls

Hide the Sky?
Oppressive Sky
One major disadvantage of overcast is that the skys are often flat and uninteresting.  The simplest solution is to avoid shooting the sky and focus on the colors and detail of the landscape.  

Focus on the Foreground

Show little if any of the flat gray overhead.  But the sky doesn't always need to be completely avoided. Proper exposure of the dark landscape can result in overexposing the sky and "blowing out" any detail, but current digital editing tools and high dynamic range techniques can salvage interesting detail in the clouds. When I'm able to bring out the drama and ominousness of the clouds I feel I no longer need to crop them out of the image. 

Dramatic Sky Revealed


Fog and Mist

First an entirely worthless answer to a question you didn't ask. What is the difference between fog and mist? Actually they are both essentially clouds which have come down to earth, but the difference has to do with how far you can see through the cloud. Fog is thicker, limiting visibility to one km or less, while you can see through mist for 1-2 km. Who decided this? Obviously NOT an American. How far is a km anyway?


Fog and mist are both bounteous gifts for photographers. Nothing gets me out of the house as fast as when I see the fog settle in. To the benefits of soft overcast light, they add a sense of depth and drama,  and turn bright colors to subtle pastels

Clear Foreground Depth

Clear Foreground

Misty Blanket

The key to the impact of fog and mist is to find situations with depth that can be effectively portrayed and the essential key to that portrayal is to have something interesting in the foreground that can appear relatively clear and sharp compared to the distant fog enshrouded background. Images with flat fog uniformly clouding the entire image may provide a touch of mystery but they suppress rather than enhance the feeling of depth.

Misty Depth

For maximum effect the sharp foreground elements are best placed off to one side. The rule of thirds still applies, but in rare situations, such as my image of the distant  house floating above a beach in Nova Scotia, the relationship between clear foreground and soft background can be effectively reversed.

Floating, Nova Scotia

See the Light

Seeing the Light

Fog and mist don't always occur under densely overcast skys and when the sun shines through, it makes the light dramatically palpable. To catch the brightest rays of light it is usually best to angle your view toward, but not directly into the light. The rays of light may only last for a few minutes as the fog lifts, but during that time you can find some magical images. It is well worth the wait.

Extremes of Weather
Photographers love bad weather. Whether it is howling blizzards, pelting rain or towering thunder clouds, bad weather provides many of the most dramatic and dynamic opportunities for photography. 

Lightning Light


Much like the effects of fog, rain and snow provide the opportunity to demonstrate a feeling of depth and the importance of clear and interesting foreground elements is similar. The difference comes from the fact that fog and mist create a soft welcoming feel while extreme precipitation should make the viewer shout, "I'm glad I'm not there!" Unfortunately, you ARE there and so special attention to the protection of your equipment is required. 

Soft Snow

Shutter Speed 
Shutter speed can have a strong effect on the mood of images of precipitation.  With snow, a slow shutter reveals streaks that emphasize the storm's ferocity while a quick exposure catches the individual flakes as soft points of light, suggesting a more peaceful scene.

Snow Streaks

Gentle Rain, Cape Porpoise, Maine

Finding the Weather
It doesn't take a meteorologist to recognize when a storm is overhead or that thunder storms tend to move from west to east, and  to help the planning, there is an endless supply of weather apps for our iPhones or Androids. The challenge is to figure out when and where to get out into the maelstrom. 

Storm Over Monadnock

Often the best light occurs just before or after the storm strikes. Some years ago I ran out from work just after a thunderstorm past and chased it to the top of a hill east of Keene New Hampshire. I was rewarded by one of my favorite views of a storm breaking over the top of Mount Monadnock.

After The Storm

On another early morning I was able to catch the clouds breaking up in the dawn light after a heavy snow storm had just passed.

Perhaps the most impressive "after weather" events are the rainbows that appear when the sun breaks through low in the evening sky and bounces off the interiors of the fleeting raindrops. The point is that poking around the edges of weather can be even more rewarding than being immersed in the storm.

Town Hall Rainbow, Chesterfield, New Hampshire

Protect the Equipment

So protect your equipment and chase after that wonderful miserable weather that nature generously provides.



Celestial Light

Dublin Lake
Of course I have left out one important type of light, the lack of it. Night photography has expanded with the rapidly improving capabilities of digital photography and it is a topic deserving of its own discussion. In fact I have written a number of articles as I have learned about exploring the depths of our milky way and the drama of or own satellite.

Overcast, fog, bright overhead sunlight, extremes of weather and the night sky all offer their own attractions. It is the glory of shooting in New England that we can often experience many or all of them in the same day. In New England there is never a bad time to go out shooting as long as you accept the challenge of embracing what nature provides.

Jeffrey Newcomer