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, February 28, 2016

Lightroom Panorama Tool

 One of the advantages of shooting digitally is the ability to blend a series of pictures into a wide panoramic image. As is true for most digital editing tools,  the capability for creating seamless panoramas from multiple images has improved remarkably. Not too many years ago the process of blending images required the use of a panorama head, the manual alignment of images and a sizable amount of luck. In recent versions of photoshop the process has been greatly simplified and the results much improved. It is now possible to routinely get good results from automatically blending hand held images. The creation of panoramas had been a function within Photoshop and a few other programs, but now this capability has moved to Lightroom and I have to say that the process is quicker and easier than in Photoshop and results are as good or better.

Pacific Vista, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, 12 Image Pano

The creation of panoramas had been a function within Photoshop and a few other programs, but now this capability has moved to Lightroom and I have to say that the process is quicker and easier than in Photoshop and results are as good or better.

In recent versions of Lightroom, the images can be brought into the panorama tool as Native RAW or DNG files.  When completed the

Poas Volcano Costa Rica
final panorama is added to the same directory or Collection as a separate RAW DNG file with all of its broad capability for further editing within Lightroom. Lightroom's automatic selection of the best projection is excellent and, as with Photoshop, the program can automatically crop the image. A new feature is the ability to adjust perspective to fill in the white gaps which inevitably appear around the edges of the final blend. This tool isn't perfect but it is amazing how much can be done to salvage the edges without causing significant distortion.

So let's look at an example of this new tool within Lightroom. 

Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major
Reworked in Lightroom from the 2006 images

Note: Although I have remade a few old panos, most of my recent Lightroom panoramas come from our recent trip to the wonderfully diverse landscape of Costa Rica.  Check out my growing Costa Rica 2016 Gallery

Shooting Right 

 We start with a series of  hand-held images of from one of my favorite farms in Chesterfield New Hampshire. The goal remains to overlap the images by at least 30% and to attempt to keep the views lined up along the horizontal.  A leveled tripod can help with this process but I find that, with attention, images can be made to line up well when hand-held. The real trick is to take extra care with camera stability. Just one blurry image destroys the whole series, and it is here that a tripod can be especially helpful. Also, given the variable effect of polarizers as the viewpoint is rotated, it is best to remove this filter before shooting.

Into Lightroom
Once I have selected a series of images for a panorama I like to copy them to a Collection within Lightroom. The Collection allows me to work with the images without becoming confused by the surrounding pictures and  it make it easier to find the final pano image. With the images selected, go to the Photo Menu and under "Merge" select "Panorama".  It's not hard, the only other choice is "HDR" - the subject for another blog. 


The Panorama Merge Preview window opens with a quick view of the panorama, and includes very few choices, the effect of each being rapidly visible in the preview. I routinely allow Lightroom to choose the appropriate projection and I almost never
have to over-ride the choice. Panoramas are never perfectly aligned and there is always white area around the sides. Typically these need to be cropped away, although in recent versions of Photoshop there is an option to allow the program to try to fill these gaps. Sometime it works great, but not always.  The Fill option is not available from within Lightroom - remember Lightroom is non-destructive, it doesn't mess with your precious pixels. 

Auto Crop
Lightroom does provide an option to automatically crop the offending gaps, but I typically leave this box un-checked until after the preview shows me where the problems occur. Cropping can be done at that point or with the non-destructive cropping tool after the image is opened back in Lightroom.

Boundary Warp

The latest version of Lightroom CC provides another option for
Boundary Warp
dealing with the gaps. The Boundary Warp slider can adjust the image perspective trying to draw out the edges to fill the gaps. It often works beautifully to avoid the need to crop key parts of the image, but it is not perfect and, if applied too aggressively, can cause obvious distortion.  When I took a fresh pass at my favorite old Roads End panoramas from 2006, the Boundary Warp created a sloping bank on the left where there is actually a flat glade.  Although upon review, I like the way the phony slope draws the eye to the road.

Roads End farm Road, Boundary Warped

The great thing about the Lightroom Panorama Tool is that the preview comes up quickly and adjustments are easy to make before finally pressing the "Merge" Button. The whole process is much quicker and with generally excellent results. After the merge is complete Lightroom places the new panorama file within the

source Directory or Collection, next to the original images. The panorama is saved as a RAW DNG file and remains fully editable from within Lightroom. When doing panos in Photoshop I typically perform a lot of global editing before I run the Panorama Tool but with Lightroom I more often send the images with very little preliminary manipulation.

Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

That's it. I love the ease and quality of the results from within Lightroom. It really is a lot simpler than you might guess from my unnecessarily long description, but your results will still depend on the care you take capturing the images. If there isn't sufficient overlap the program may not be able to produce a pano. In that case,  you will have to go back and do it again, but it doesn't take long to develop good technique.

Fertile Valley, Costa Rica

So get out and have fun and always approach any scene with the question, "would this make a good pano?".

Costa Rica 2016 Gallery

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Is Photography Art ? Is it a Craft ?

A Few Disjointed Thoughts on the Art and Craft of Digital Photography

Some years ago I went through the process of applying to the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen for juried membership. My application and sample images were accepted and then, after a long silence, I was told that the decision had been made that digital photography would not be considered as either as craft or art. It was explained to me that digital processes where considered "automatic" and not requiring any artistic input. They would only accept photographers using "chemical" processes for their work.

I was annoyed by what I felt was a shallow understanding of the opportunity for art and craft that digital photography provides. I had been a "chemical" photographer for years, but like many, I moved to digital when I realized that I could exert much better control of the whole process, from the initial image to the final print. I must admit that I retain a strong nostalgia for my wet darkroom days. I would love to find a cologne with the intoxicating scent of fixer, but, earlier this year, I finally donated all my darkroom equipment to the Vermont Center for Photography.


Dealing with Rejection

Despite my rejection, I have always enjoyed the artistry of the members of the League and have admired the energy that the organization has exerted to promote the their work. The League has established 7 beautiful galleries throughout New Hampshire and runs its Annual Craft Fair every August at the Mt Sunapee Resort. I have a number of good friends who are members of the League and whenever I see them, I take the opportunity to engage in a little good-natured moaning about my rejection. Recently Juried member Bob England, who does remarkable wood-working, told me that the league was sponsoring a show on the impact of technology on the crafts and he thought this might be a good time to revisit the restrictions on digital photography. My ego hasn't been trampled in awhile so it seemed reasonable to take another pass.

Rules of the Craft

I can understand how traditional craftsmen might consider any photography to be on the fringe of what might be seen as a "hand-made" craft, but the league has embraced the work of many fine photographers. So why the absolute distinction between "chemical" and other methods of recording images? From my research I discovered that the same restrictions are still present in the League's guidelines for photography. In the first paragraph is the unequivocal statement, "The League accepts both traditional and chemistry-based photography". "All digital processes are excluded". Seems pretty strait forward, but then I reviewed the information on some of the league's twenty three photographers. I was impressed with the variety and quality of the work being done.

From an incomplete survey of information on the league web site, as well on personal sites, I found numerous examples of photographers who have switched to digital photography, often citing the benefits of better artistic control. Of those who proudly still shoot using film, many note that they scan there images and use printing techniques which appear to involve ink jet printers to create archival prints. Certainly many still use an "an all chemical process", but, as it should be, the techniques employed for artistic expression demonstrate a healthy degree of variation.

Digital Orphan
So why is digital photography seen as an orphan, not finding a home in either the definition of art or craft? To me the art and craft of Photography regardless of the recording medium are actual two separate pieces leading to the same goal, the unique expression of a view of the world.

Craft is the system one masters to be able to create a work which is the reflection of a personal vision. In photography we apply our craft both while shooting and in the "darkroom" (chemical or digital) to interpret the reality that we observe. Painters do the same with different tools, but it is the interpretation no matter how it is rendered that brings the art to life.

The Craft of Photography

So what is the "craft" of photography. It is actually the combination of many decisions and manipulations. It starts with choosing a subject and deciding when and in what light it should be captured. The angle of view and subtleties of composition are all crucial before the shutter is pressed, along with the impact of aperture and shutter speed on exposure, depth of field and motion. The manipulation of these factors is the same regardless of whether the recording media is film or digital.

Digital Photography
 In digital photography the image is recorded on the digital sensor.
The Digital Darkroom,  Photoshop
When shooting RAW the pixels captured are recorded in an un-modified form, without any "automatic" interpretation, and only come to life in the digital darkroom with the artistic interpretation of the photographer. Programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom provide an incredibly wide range of options to the digital artist, but it is his or her artistic sense and soul which is reflected in the final work. Because of the almost infinite range of controls, there is much craft that goes into the development of a digital image, as well as in the entirely different craft of print making.

Chemical Photography
"Chemical" photography is not especially different. With film, the
My Chemical Darkroom 1977
image is captured on a light sensitive emulsion smeared on a piece of plastic. Film can be chosen for different properties, but in the end the photographer is at the mercy of some unrelated chemist in a lab. The film photographer can manipulate the results from the negative to better express his vision. He can dodge and burn portions of the print, crop the image to achieve a pleasing composition or choose different papers to enhance or mute contrast, but all these adjustments are available in the digital darkroom and with broader range and better control. It is great that some observers feel that a print from film has a more pleasing appearance, but this preference is in the eye of the individual and need not apply to the broad audience.

That is what art is all about. Regardless of the craft used, art comes from an individual interpretation of reality. Whether done with pigment smeared on a canvas, a chisel on stone. the response of light sensitive chemicals on plastic or the signal from light sensitive chips on a sensor, It always comes down to the magical ability of the artist to draw the viewer to his or her special vision.

It would be an honor to be considered among the talented artists in the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, but for me, it is a worthwhile exercise just to explore my own place, balancing craft and art, and glorying in the amazing range of human expression.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Returning to New England II



Costa Rican Croc
Returning from the
Central American warmth of our two week trip to Costa Rica it was easy to get depressed by the cold and dark of our New England winter.  I was  saved by the process of preparing a talk for a local women's group.  They requested a presentation about my favorites photography locations within the regions.  As I collected images from all of the times of the year, I was reminded of the special place that we are privileged to inhabit.  Our beautiful, challenging and widely varying seasons are what makes New England unique and what makes it the best place I know to practice photography.

Last week I started the process of celebrating some of my favorite seasonal photo opportunities by discussing winter and spring.  This week it is all about our long languid summers and the spectacular explosion which is a New England autumn.

Along with winter, summer is our other long season. Spring and fall are times of quick transitions that provide dynamic opportunities for photography. Perhaps surprisingly, and despite the pleasant weather, summer is often the most challenging season to find interesting subjects for photography. The leaves have settled into the deep monochromatic green that is optimal for efficient photosynthesis and the animals have settled into their warm weather stupor. The sun often rides high in the clear sky creating harsh contrasts, but there are special attractions to keep us going until autumn.

Warm Greens

The warm greens of summer foliage can be lovely especially when trans-illuminated by the rays of the sun at dawn and near sunset and their hues vary depending on the color of the light that shines on the foliage.

Summer Sunsets

The warm humid air encourages the development of dramatic cloud formations which can lead to impressive storms and can also contribute to the color and drama of our summer sunsets.  Summer haze can also enance the beauty of the setting sun.


In the north, the growing season tends to be preciously short and as a result the growth must be exuberantly quick. We see this in our fields and pastures as well as in the greenery of the forests. Standing in a corn field you can almost hear the stalks reaching up to the light. 

Covered Bridges and Farms
This is probably as good a place as any to mention two essential pieces of our photographic environment. In all seasons, farms and covered bridges are famously iconic parts of the New England experience, but they are especially noticeable in the productive time of our brief summer. I have my own favorite local farms that I visit on a regular basis. There always seems to be something interesting going on. Covered bridge are more static but changes in weather and light can reveal them in all their utilitarian grace.

Art in the Park
Finally there is the Art in the Park. At the end of every summer the Monadnock Area Artists Association manages to bring a remarkable assortment of artists together to fill Keene's Ashuelot River Park for a wonderful art fair. This two day gathering is the only art show in which I participate. Once a year I drag out my 10x10 tent, hang my pictures and pray that we won't be slammed by a torrential thunderstorm. I usually sell enough to make the show worth while, but I do it primarily to have a chance to visit with my friends from the community. It is a great way to finish the summer and prepare for the autumn.



Ok. Do I need to say that the New England autumn is special. On my recent tour of Costa Rica I showed some of my autumn pictures to our guide and driver. They had never seen a real fall, and they were stunned by the color. They couldn't believe that trees could actually do that. It was good to see the season through fresh eyes, it's just sad that it lasts for such short period of time.

Jenne Farm, Reading Vermont

Of course with all this beauty we have to expect that it will attract a crowd. We have come to expect visitors from all over the country and world. One morning I was enjoying the iconic autumn splendor of the Jenne Farm in Reading Vermont when a bus full of Japanese tourists pulled up and started competing for the best tripod locations. They were reasonably respectful folks and I felt a certain irrational that people would come all this way to see MY farm. Happily I have the place to myself for the rest of the year. I just wish that the legions of peepers would hang around a bit longer to help with the raking.

Political "Peepers" 

John Kerry 2004
The second great autumn influx comes only once every four years. I can't wait for next week when my phone will stop ringing and no one will give a damn what I think about Donald Trump. By the way, in case your interested, YUK!, just one man's opinion. I have to admit that I enjoy New Hampshire's unique opportunity to see the candidates close up, but it does get more than aa little exhausting. Maybe I should throw one of my bags of leaves on top of Marco Rubio's bus as he heads out for South Carolina.



There is much more to autumn than brightly colored leaves and one of my favorite parts is the harvest. I love traveling among the pastures and farm stands photographing the rich variety of produce. Although our famous Pumpkin orgy is no more there are still many harvest festivals celebrating the fruits of another bountiful growing season.

Descending Light

Peacham Vermont

One of the benefits of shortening days of autumn is longer periods of warm, low light. Especially when the leaves are still on the trees the light provides a warm glow that magnifies the brilliance of the foliage.

Calendar Time
For me autumn is always Calendar time. Every year I produce my New England Reflections Calendar to benefit the wonderful work of Cheshire Medical Center's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. If I do it right, I actually start working on the calendar in the spring, but it is in the fall that I spend much of my time getting the calendars out to all the regional stores that have agreed to sell them. It is a lot of work, but well worth the effort as I renew acquaintances with the many people who are enthusiastic about supporting our rehab program.

Have you bought your Calendar yet? There are a few left and although it is getting a bit late, but the pictures don't go bad and it is for a great cause.

Falling Leaves
Although the leaves display their brilliant colors for just a few days, autumn is a much longer season. As the leaves fall the quiet moody character of the forest is revealed. It is derisively call the "Stick Season", but to those with a patient eye, there are interesting patterns of structure and light to be found before all is covered by he inevitable blanket of

Well that is my year. Selecting the images for this exercise has brought me back to an appreciation of why I have such love for the beauty and the variety of challenges that make photography in New England such a unique experience. Now I can go back to processing my Costa Rica images without the sense of lost paradise.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Returning to New England I

 The contrast could not have been more striking. 

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Less than a week ago I was in the tropical forests of Costa Rica. Although we had to manage with a couple of rainy days, in that Central American country's dry season, the weather was generally warm and clear, and of course the wildlife was abundantly exotic. It is the price we pay for the miracle of modern travel that, within a day, my system was shocked with the abrupt transition to the cold, dark, barren environment of our New England winter. and my winter funk was made worse by the lack of our usual soft pristine coating of snow.

The depression has been softened by my time spent reliving my warm Central American experiences as I edit the images from that lovely two weeks, but I realize that I must return to an appreciation of the special attractions of our varied seasons. Who needs constant warmth, garishly decorated birds and sinfully delicious fruits, when we can have the sharp clean air of a northern winter and the enveloping warmth of a fire in the wood stove.


My forced re-acquaintance with the charms of New England has been helped by the rapid approach of a talk I agreed to give to a local women's group. In the past I had presented stories of my trips away from our region, such as Alaska and the Galápagos Islands, but this time the request was for a discussion of some of my favorite local areas for photography. When I got home I was shocked to discover that the talk is coming up in just over a week, but it does give me chance to remind myself of what makes my home a uniquely beautiful place in which to live and photograph.

As I looked for iconic images, I decide to organize the talk around one of our most important advantages over the monotonous weather of the tropics, we have seasons. 

As I considered the range of attractions of our New England seasons, I realized that honoring all the beauty deserved at least two parts, so here is a brief examination of the photographic wonders that are found in our winter and spring.


Winter Solitude

 We can start with the current season. Winter can take the greatest effort to find photographic attractions, but in its simplicity it is the most elemental of our seasons. Without the colorful thick foliage it is possible to appreciate the intricate structure of the tress and the stark interactions between light and shadow. Unlike any other season, the winter's quiet frees us to concentrate on the visual beauty all around, but in winter all is not always calm and peaceful.

Cruel Weather
Winter provides a striking contrast between the harshness of our storms and the quiet softness which is often left behind. Stormy weather always provides excellent subjects for photography, and the elements are never as visible as they are in a winter gale with the snow angrily slanting across the landscape.

View without Foliage 

 With the leaves off the trees, broader views of the landscape become apparent, opening vistas that can be appreciated at no other time. It is this time of year that we in the Chesterfield Conservation Commission often take advantage of the longer views to plan new trails.

Bird Feeder Wildlife

Feeder Props

Winter birds are always a welcome reminder of life in the bitter winter months. In the last few years, I have become an enthusiastic feeder watcher, but happily birds are found surviving the elements throughout the region. The Snowy Owls are just one example of these vigorous and resilient creatures.

Tufted Titmouse


Holiday Lights

The holiday lights on our homes and public spaces provides a much needed sense of warmth as winter settles in.

Maple Sugaring

Sugaring is always a happy harbinger of the coming spring and every year, in Keene New Hampshire, we are treated with a look back at the old ways of sap collecting at the Stonewall Farm Sap Gathering Contests. No tubes, just red buckets and horse drawn sleds. And there is nothing better than the sweet tastes of maple syrup on ice cream or snow.



Flowing Water

One of the earliest signs of spring is the flowing water which cascades through our brooks and waterfalls as the run-off progresses. Until the time that the first buds appear, early spring is primarily a season of mud and the blessed sight and sounds flowing water.

Bursting Buds

I find the earliest buds of spring to be especially interesting and surprisingly attractive. The plants come forth with strange, almost other-worldly explosions of delicate life, often looking nothing like the mature growth that they will become. It only lasts a few days but it is a remarkable promise of the life to come.


Second Autumn  
When spring gets thoroughly established the colors present in infinite shades of green and yellow. I refer to this time as our second autumn and I find the variety of tones to be even more varied and interesting than those of our more garishly colored fall display. The added advantage of the spring color is that it is not immediately followed by the dull shriveled leaves crashing to the ground. By contrast, the spring color is the harbinger of our great explosion of life.


Spring means flowers and I'm always excited by the first blooms. I am heartened by the appearance of the Crocuses and Daffodils, but I also look forward to getting a jump on the season by visiting our local greenhouses. My favorite is at Walker Farm in Dummerston Vermont. They always have a great collection of well cultivated blooms which are easier to photograph in the soft light and calm air of the greenhouse. 

Milky Way
As it turns out spring and summer are the best seasons to view the Milky Way as the galactic center rises higher in the evening sky. As the air warms I look for areas of dark sky and greedily run out to capture the Celestial show. After all in a few billion years it will all be different.

Walpole Sky

Animal Awakening
Spring is the time of animal enthusiasm as both wild and farm animals rush to feed on the tender fresh growth. This is no better seen than at Stonewall Farm's Annual "Dancing of the Ladies", when the cows are first released to pasture after a long claustrophobic winter in the barn. For a few minutes the cows go wild prancing, butting heads and even occasionally kicking up their heals. It all makes a great show, but quite quickly they return to their usual semi-comatose grazing state.

Dancing Lady, Stonewall Farm

Next week, Summer and Fall and, somewhere in between, I have to assemble it all into a short talk.  HOW can it be short!

Jeffrey Newcomer