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, May 21, 2017

Conservation Photography

Beaver Pond at Madame Sherri's - Currently a Meadow

It has been my honor to serve for more than 30 years as a member
Sargent Trail - Friedsam Town Forest
of the Conservation Commission in my small rural town of Chesterfield New Hampshire. Over the years the commission has worked with our neighbors to provide for the protection and appreciation of the magnificent beauty and heritage of our special corner of New Hampshire.  I have always believed that an enhanced public awareness of the natural treasures of Chesterfield will inevitably lead to greater commitment to their careful stewardship.  With that goal, I developed, and continue to maintain, the commission’s web site. I have tried to use my photography to capture the beauty of our forests and villages.  

The Monadnock Conservancy
In our corner of New Hampshire, we are fortunate to have the Monadnock Conservancy, which is a strong advocate for conservation.  As a land trust, the Conservancy “works with communities and landowners to conserve the natural resources, wild and working lands, rural character and scenic beauty of the Monadnock region”. Conservation Commissions and other conservation organizations have an important story to till about the social, economic and spiritual value of protecting our natural environment, and this story can often be told most powerfully with pictures.  Although the staff of these organizations are highly skilled in the details of land protection and stewardship, they are not always proficient at capturing strong images which can tell a compelling story about the crucial importance of their work.  

Conservation Photography Workshop
Earlier this week, in response to a request from one of the Monadnock Conservancy board members, I hosted a group of staff and board to discuss the special role of conservation photography.  We also covered a broad range of their general questions about photographic techniques and best practices for the recording, storing, archiving,  transmitting and printing of digital images.  There was much to cover and, in almost three hours, there was a lot that had to be left for another day.

Monadnock Conservancy Photo
Members of the Conservancy are often found deep in the woods with shovels and saws on their shoulders, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they generally choose not to add a full featured DSLR to their load.  They came to our meeting holding a variety of compact and point-and-shoot cameras with a range of capabilities.  Almost none had the ability to shoot in RAW – “Oh the Humanity!”

Pisgah State Park Trail
Of course, I never tire of talking about photography, especially when I am among people who truly care about the quality of their images, and have such a crucial need for effective visual story telling.  We had a lovely time sitting around my dining room table. They were full of excellent questions. How many pixels are necessary, how can an image be transmitted, why doesn’t my print look like the picture on my monitor, I couldn’t resist delivering a short lecture on the value of RAW images, but I don’t think I convinced anyone to run out and buy a full featured DSLR.  Increasingly, compact cameras are capable of shooting in RAW. Maybe some will consider a high end compact like my Canon G11 that has that capability.

Gentle Critique
"Gentle Critique": Step Back to Reduce Distortion
Finally, I spent some time gently critiquing some of the images that I found on the Conservancy web site.  There were also sections of the site that were dominated by pages of pure text.  The Conservancy manages hundreds of acres of some of the most beautiful and pristine fields and forests in New England.  They have an endless supply of magnificence to capture, and the story of the conservancy’s work can best be told with lots of beautiful pictures.

Before the meeting, I considered what can be accomplished by quality conservation photography, and came up with three major categories.

Celebrate the Land

Porcupine Falls

 Celebrating the properties that the Conservancy has under protection and stewardship would seem to be the easiest task.  Simply show lots of beautiful pictures, but the images should be more than pretty picture-postcards.  They should draw people in and make them feel what it is like to wander the trails, stand before the majestic vistas or feel the mist rising from a powerful waterfall.  

The Calhoun Family Forest, and its Porcupine Falls is managed by the Monadnock Conservancy and, in a recent blog about the forest, I tried to follow this “feet on the ground” approach to the story.  


Of course the waterfall and cascades appeared prominently in the article, but I also included pictures of the trail sign, and the carefully maintained trail leading to the falls. This included a set of stone steps that must have required hours of arduous labor to construct.  

Tom on the Edge
It is great when we have the luxury of using several images to relate a story, but it is much more difficult when the tale must be condensed into a single image.  Tom Dustin standing precariously on the prominence at Mine Ledge, overlooking the Connecticut River, tells a simple, and obvious two-part story, the vista is spectacular and he is about to die!

It all comes down to a simple, but essential, task, show the beauty of the land so that people will treasure these resources and understand the importance of their protection.  Nothing will happen without the support of the community.

Celebrate the people

Audrey's Bench, Friedsam Town Forest
          Of course, nothing can happen to protect the land without the efforts of lots of people, and this is another essential part of the message of any conservation organization.  Showing volunteers at work is an important way to acknowledge their essential contributions. Individual close-up portraits can be powerful, but
Madame Sherri Kiosk - Anne Stokes
here again the focus should be on the story. Individuals or groups can be shifted to the side to allow the location and the activity to shine through.  Of course moving the people to the side can also strengthen the composition as they are removed from the DEAD center and closer to “Rule of Thirds” guidelines.  Sorry, I can’t write an article without mentioning the Rule of Thirds at least once.
Trail Opening : Moon Ledge, Black Mountain
I'm NEVER in the Picture!

Hide the Scruff
Like most such organizations, the Monadnock Conservancy has group pictures of their staff and Board of Directors. This is an excellent way to personalize the organization, but I couldn’t fail to notice that in the staff picture the hot girls were up front while hiding the scruffy men in the back.  A very smart technique.

Show the Challenges

Planned Cut - Friedsam Town Forest
Along with an appreciation of the natural beauty should come an understanding of the effort that goes into protecting and managing these environmental treasures.  The challenges can be both natural and  man-made.  Insensitive logging techniques, fire, erosion and the encroachment of invasive species can all represent important threats.  Again pictures can be crucial in demonstrating these issues and showing concrete examples of the constant work required to combat these problems.

Clearing the "Party" Trash - California Brook

Chain Saw Opportunities
Clearing the Bridge after a Storm
The Chesterfield Conservation Commission manages mile of trails that provide access to our forests. In recent years we have found help from dedicated volunteers who have agree to become trail stewards.  Each steward monitors a particular trail, managing the small problems, and letting the commission know when more serious issues arise. 

Ravine Bridge Saved!

The “more serious issue” usually means that a large tree has fallen across the trail, requiring the  help of our “chain saw” friends.
 It is often a great chanced to document the effort that is required to maintain our lovely system of trails, and everyone feels safer when I have  camera and NOT a chain saw in my hands.  When a tree fell across our beautiful ravine bridge in the Friedsam Town Forest my fellow commission members saw only, “more work”.  All I saw was a chance for More Pictures!

Madame Sherri Castle

It was great fun sharing a little of what I know about photography as it applies to the protection of our natural environment, and as always, I ended up learning as much as I taught.  The group brought up issues that I had never considered.  For example the staff was concerned about using photography to help perform more formal documentation of the extent and value of the properties that are being considered for protection. 

I was very impressed by the dedication of these individuals and there desire to learning anything that might further their mission. While reviewing the Monadnock Conservancy web site, I was especially inspired by their lyric description of the special character of our corner of New England.  I can’t imagine anyone saying it better.  You can find it on their web site, but I can’t resist repeating it here.  It may become my mantra.



Rolling hills and mountain ridges, broad expanses of woods and open meadows surround a village, a meetinghouse, a stone wall, a narrow dirt road. This beautiful landscape — anchored by Mount Monadnock, bounded by the eastern hills and the Connecticut River — has working farms and forests as well as wild lands. Moose browse on spring buds and black bears forage for blueberries; the deeper lakes are home to nesting loons and native brook trout thrive in coldwater streams. There are places to hike, to hunt, to paddle and to simply enjoy the quiet outdoors. The water is clean, the air clear and the night skies dark.

The New England that has disappeared in so many other places is alive and well in the Monadnock region. The people who live, work and play here value and care for the land, embracing the connections between the landscape and the economic and social vitality of the region. There is a strong sense of community, and people work together to ensure that the region’s unique rural character will remain through the changes of today and tomorrow.” 

Well said!

Jeff Newcomer


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