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, May 29, 2016

Capturing the Full Impact of Ocean Surf Photography

The Full Crash

Capturing the Crash : Surf Stacking

I don't get to the shore as often as I would like.  Those of us who live around Keene New Hampshire are proud of announcing that we are located in the “precise geographic center of New England”, but that does mean that I must make a long trek to get to the ocean.  I grew up on the north shore of Boston and spent my summers on the water in Gloucester Massachusetts.  I love living in the Monadnock region but my distance from the shore is my only major regret, so, whenever I get the chance, I bring my camera to capture the restless water.  From my sadly limited experience, I can't claim to be an expert on ocean surf photography, but, since I seldom can wait for the perfect conditions, I have learned something about making the best of the conditions with which I am presented.


Last weekend Susan I traveled to visit old friends who are now living in York Maine.  We were excited to spend time with Wally and Michele and even more excited to see their new granddaughter Maya and her doting parents, Emile and Keri.  Of course I also had my eye on the weather and tides to see what I might capture by sneaking away to the shore.  York's premiere coastal attraction is the classic Nubble Lighthouse perched dramatically on its tiny island off Cape Neddick.  I've shot the lighthouse many times but I am always looking for new light and angles.  On this trip I had to work a little harder.  

Nubble Light, A Better Dawn

I initially planned to get up early on Sunday for sunrise at the light, but, as I went to bed, my iPad showed me that the morning was predicted to heavily overcast.  No chance for a glorious sunrise and besides the tide would be nearly dead low at dawn.  There seemed nothing to be gained from dragging myself out of bed at 4AM.  I only half reluctantly turned off my alarm and settled in for a nice long rest. My next option was to get up for a leisurely breakfast with friends and then see how things looked at around noon when the tide would be high and perhaps there would be a few breaks in the clouds.

Of course even on an overcast day Nubble Light is a popular tourist attraction and the dense noontime crowd was assembled on our arrival.  Fortunately, the tourist thin substantially down on the slippery rocks and I was able to find a number of unobstructed angle to the lighthouse.   The decent was a bit scary considering my crumby left hip, which is scheduled for replacement next month, but I made it down without damage to either my joints or, more importantly, to my gear.

I hoped for energetic surf from the passing storm, but the waves were only moderate.  I scouted for locations with interesting foreground rocks and a good angle on the light, and then the trick was to get low on the rocks to minimize the apparent gap between the shore and the island.  I settled in and, as my butt became progressively cold and damp, I planned the shots I would need to capture the full drama of the crashing surf. 

The challenge of surf photography comes as we try to capture the sense of relentless motion within the limitations of a still image.  Here are the problems, and some of my attempts at solutions.

Surf in Motion

Newport Dawn, 1/250th f18
The portrayal of surf varies widely primarily based on the length of the shutter.  Short exposures freeze the drops in mid-flight highlighting the hectic, random nature of the splash, but I love long exposures that render the water in a soft blur that portrays a sense of motion.    

Portland Light Surf, 1/4 f22

 For these images the timing can be quit critical.  With longer exposures the detail in the water can be lost and with exposures of several seconds the churning ocean can be rendered as a misty flat pool.  It is all a matter of artistic taste, but, in most situations, I prefer shutters set to less than a second to preserve enough detail in the water to reflect the patterns in the flow.

Penobscot Mist , 2 Seconds f22 Flattens the Waves

Capturing the Right Wave

Wave Patterns
It is often said that waves travel in groups of 7 building to a maximum amplitude and then falling off.  Anyone who spends any time observing waves against the shore knows that their sizes do vary in a more or less regular pattern, but the rule of seven is not a reliable guide. There is no way to be sure when a big wave is coming, but after viewing a few cycles it is possible to make reasonable predictions and then shoot off bursts of images when conditions seem right.  Anticipation is key since, if you wait to see the perfect "crash", it will be gone before you can hit the shutter.  It mean capturing a lot of useless images, but there will often be some gold among the slag.  Thank goodness for digital

Pemaquid Light, One of 35, 1/6th f22

photography and large memory cards. Years ago I was shooting the surf off of Pemaquid Light in Maine from a precarious rock which projected into the bay. Before I was nearly washed away I managed to capture more than seventy images, as I tried to anticipate the perfect wave.  At home I was thrilled to find two images from the 70 that I felt were worthy "keepers".  One is thirty-five is not a bad ratio.

Getting Depth

I usually try to include interesting foreground rocks in my surf and lighthouse images and, even with the small apertures dictated by my long exposures, it is often impossible to capture the full depth of field in focus.  I routinely use focus stacking to get everything sharp but the foreground surf has a tendency to get in the way. 

Getting the Full Crash
On a number of the photographs of Nubble Light, I first shot a series of images focused on various planes, restricting my shots to times when the surf was quiet.  I combined these in a “Focus Stack” using Photoshop's Auto Align and Auto Blend tools and used this blend as my baseline full focus image.  I then settled back, focused on the foreground rocks, and shot multiple images of the crashing surf trying to capture the perfect wave and its aftermath.   In post I was able to choose among my best surf shots to blend with my baseline depth of field image.  

Cool huh?  Cheating?  Of course not it was what I saw - almost - there is still one more step to blend the entire experience into a single image.

Capturing the Whole Event : Surf Stacking

After the Storm , Kennebunkport Maine
When I watch a wave crashing against the rocks the full dramatic event usually takes a second or two from the initial explosion of surf through the secondary surge of froth blanketing the rocks.  It is much like fireworks whose initial explosion is followed by the flowering of colored streamers.  For both fireworks and crashing surf, my eye records the event as an unbroken continuum, but, given my desired shutter speed, a single still photograph of surf can only record a portion of the display. 

Three Part Splash

Returning to the crash, I blended parts of three shots taken to record the progression of the wave's “performance”.  


The first shot captured the splash at its peak but tended to wipe out the view of the rocks further in.  The second and third shots combined to show the surf working its way around the rocks revealing subtler patterns of dark and light.  Using the blend of the three shots, I was able to much more closely match, in a single digital image, what my miraculous "analog" eye perceived.  

Shooting the Slot

I finished by settling into a somewhat precarious position along the slippery edge of a slot that faced the lighthouse.  Again, a burst of images recording a single wave includes views of initial splash along with the rushing swirl that shot up the slot.  I just had to remember to lift my feet with each surge.  No single image recorded the full cascading event but a blend of three images was much truer to what was dramatically apparent to the eye.  I then added this surf blend to a background image which was captured to get the lighthouse in sharp focus.

The Slot

The Purist Lament

Ok, while you are busy being appalled with all my trickery and before you say that I was not recording the actual experience, I would argue that the least accurate representation of crashing surf would be a single image freezing only a short segment of the event.  Whether or not you agree there is one more point me can all acknowledge.

Don't Get Washed Out to Sea

Almost Stranded Off Hampton Beach NH
Having on a couple of occasions been nearly stranded on a rock as the tide came in, I feel qualified to make the point that it is important to check the tide tables and anticipate the surge. It is always safer to set up just AFTER high tide. Especially at higher Latitudes, the tidal rush can be surprisingly fast and "rogue" waves can occasionally strike without warning.    It is a reasonable precaution to allow a buffer between you and the water's edge.  Just remember that you may be able to swim but your precious camera gear cannot.


I hope that you will find better conditions on your next trip to the shore.  The best opportunities generally come at high tide after a big storm has kicked up massive breakers, but with a little planning you should be able to make the most out of whatever nature provides.  The waves are giving their all to the performance, the least you can do is work to bring it all home.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Photography Marathon

Clarence DeMar Marathon : A Project

I think my neighbors in the Monadnock Region have come to understand something about me.  I love photographic projects and am easily hooked (i.e. Suckered) when the cause is worthwhile. 

So let me tell you about the DeMar Marathon.

The Clarence DeMar Marathon is an autumn tradition in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire.  Clarence DeMar won his

Clarence DeMar Running Boston

first Boston Marathon at the age of 23 in 1911.  Just before the race his doctor told him that a heart murmur suggested cardiac problems and that if he insisted on running he should drop out at the first sign of problems.  He won the race, and his doctor died of a heart attack two years after issuing his apocalyptic warning.  Clarence was never inclined to drop out of anything and over the subsequent years he won a total of 7 Boston Marathons, a record which still stands.  His last victory was in 1930, when he was 40 years of age, and he became the race's oldest winner, another long standing record.  

DeMar had a long connection to Keene New Hampshire.  He taught Industrial History and Printing at Keene Normal School, which is now Keene State College, and he coached the schools track team.  He remained an avid runner throughout his life, completing his last Marathon at age 65 and finishing 14th in a 15K race at the age of 69, shortly before his death in 1958.  

DeMar was quoted as saying,
 “I sometimes feel that the whole world is divided into those who pay attention and accomplish things and those who distract attention and are infernal nuisances. The runners are paying attention and the rest of the world is mostly trying to distract them.”

Route 12a, Surry
The Demar Marathon has been held for the last 38 years and nobly continues the tradition of dedication and joy that was personified by its namesake.   Today, the Demar has grown to be a community event with a broad range of activities to engage runners of every age and ability.  In addition to the full, world class, 26.2 mile course, there is a half marathon, and a Senior Marathon.  To encourage an early appreciation of the importance of fitness, beginning in 2013,
Ashuelot River Surry
the event has also included a Kid's Marathon.  Children from Kindergarten to fifth grade log 25 miles of running and walking in the spring and summer before the race. Those who achieve this goal earn the chance to run the last 1.2 miles of the DeMar Marathon on race day.  The sight of Hundreds of children triumphantly crossing the finish line has become one of the favorite attractions of the day. 

Kids Marathon

Unmatched Beauty 

Ashuelot Gorge

The course is arguably the most beautiful in the Northeast and perhaps the country and this year I was asked by the Marathon organizers to capture images of the route.  As many of you know, I love to be given a project.  There is nothing like a challenge to get the creative juices flowing.  I love what the Keene Elm City Rotary and all of their supporters have done to make the DeMar a region defining event and I was thrilled to help.  I'm on the job.

My first goal was to define the route.  I have many shots from the general region, but I wanted to include only images that would reflect what the runners would actually see along their run.  There was plenty with which to work.  I downloaded a copy of the route map and turn-by-turn directions from the Marathon's official web site.  The map looked complicated especially as it threaded through the back roads of Keene, but the majority of the course runs along beautiful country roads with long straight stretches from its beginning in Gilsum and through Surry. It becomes a bit more complicated as the route weaves through Keene, but it is still a beautifully peaceful run.  I decided to take an afternoon to follow the entire route, by car of course.  

This year, the race will be run on September 25th and should be blessed with the rich colors of our early autumn foliage.  On my tour of the route last week, I enjoyed the emerging spring greens. The starting line is in the village of Gilsum next to the Historical Society building and just above the Gilsum General Store, which is a classic small New England country store.  I took the opportunity to say hello to the owner who has always generously sold my New England Reflections Calendars. 


A short distance from Gilsum Village the route takes a sharp right onto NH Route 10 South and then, just as quickly, another right across the dramatic Gilsum Stone Arch Bridge across the Ashuelot River to Surry Road.  The bridge was finished in 1863 and, at more than 36 Feet above the river, is the tallest dry-laid bridge in New Hampshire.  Dry laid bridges are constructed without and mortar and maintain their structure solely through the precise fitting of their stones.

Surry Road, Ashuelot River, Gilsum

Surry Road follows the Ashuelot River through rural country-side and as is often true of roads in New Hampshire it inexplicably changes into Gilsum Road. The road stays close to the river for much of this stretch with small brooks joining the Ashuelot at intervals along the way.  It is a beautiful route and a personal favorite for pastoral New England photography in all seasons.

Spring Foliage on the Ashuelot, Surry Road, Gilsum

Surry Dam Road, Surry
At the intersection with Route 12a the course takes a sharp left turn and then follows 12a into Surry.  Attractions along the way south to Keene include a stretch down and back along the top of the Surry Dam with dramatic long views, a run next to the beautiful Brentwood Golf Course and a glimpse of Keene’s Stone Arch Bridge as it across the Ashuelot.


Within Keene the route becomes substantially more convoluted as it weaves through quiet residential neighborhoods, parks and a lovely rolling cemetery.  It all comes to a classic ending as the runners sprint down Keene State College’s tree-lined Appian Way. 

The Appian Way

Along Brentwood Golf Course
I had a great first drive along the route and I will return to catch the growing beauty of the course as its foliage matures into summer greens.  You can check out the images as I collect them in my DeMar MarathonGallery on my web site. 

You are invited to come in September to run in one of the marathons or just enjoy all the beauty and excitement of this special event.  Both runners and spectators have raved about the beauty of the course, the organization of the event, and above all, the friendliness of the army of volunteers.

North Cemetery Wall, Keene NH

Thanks to the Marathon Web Site for Information and images: