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, January 28, 2018

2017 Retrospective

It is January, and therefore, it must be time for some retrospection.  As always, I try to focus my “favorites of the year” on experiences and events rather than trying to agonize over what I might consider to be my best images.

This year had its share of great experiences and photographic opportunities.  In the next two articles I will share a few of the pictures which will always remind me of the beauty and excitement of the past year.  Happily, I have no personal images which would document the tragedies of 2017, the natural disasters, the seemingly endless and totally avoidable string of gun related violence, and, of course the national embarrassment of Donald Trump.

Thank goodness, the beauty of New England continues to provide an island of peace in this increasingly crazy world.

Bird Feeder Photography

Tufted Titmouse
I start with one of my greatest joys year-round, watching the birds that cluster around my bird feeders.  They visit in all seasons and weather but are particularly welcome when they bring color to our drab winter.  Although I continue to insist that I am NOT a birder, I am beginning to identify the many species including: Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker and Cardinals.  And I love the bird watching that I can do from a comfortable chair in my toasty house!

Our Local Bald Eagles

While I am discussing birds, I must mention the family of eagles which, for many years, has nested across the Connecticut River from Chesterfield.  For several seasons I have enjoyed watching as their chicks matured to active juveniles.  It is great to see these majestic birds, but it is most exciting when I have been able to observe their behaviors.  Last spring, I captured an interesting aggressive interaction, over dominance of the nest, between a juvenile and a parent – the parent won.  Sadly, this winter the bare snag, which has been the location of their nest has fallen into the river.  Hopefully, they have found a new location which will continue to be visible.

Spectacular Winter and Escaping South

I love the winter.  It is one of my favorite seasons for capturing the unique beauty of New England, especially in December and January when the white is fresh and is a welcome relief from the drab brown of the November stick season.  But the winter in New Hampshire is long, and by the time March comes along, the persistent cold, snow and sleet becomes increasingly hard to bare. 

Key West Sunset
This year, Susan and I decided to escape the worst of the season and head south for some much-needed warmth. We loaded a rented mini-van and left on a month-long drive.  Susan scheduled a month long, warmth seeking, tour along the coast, as far south as Key West, planning visits with friends and family along the way.

  We spent the majority of our trip in Florida, mostly exploring both sides of the Everglades and relaxing for five nights in a quiet Key West condo oasis.  Our trip back home included stays with friends and family around Naples on Florida’s west coast, in addition to enjoying the beaches and nature preserves.

Everglades Gator
We had a great trip and I came home with over 4,000 pictures.  Many of the green landscape but mostly of animals, especially a great variety of birds.  Yes, I am a birder now.

For more images, check out my Search for Warmth Gallery

Key West Sunset Aboard the Appledore

We were considering another southern trip this winter, perhaps to New Orleans, but another project has come up to claim our time and money. We decided to stay put and enjoy the full winter experience.

White Egret Gulp, Everglades


In the last couple of years teaching has become an increasing part of my photographic work.  It seems a natural extension of the wide-ranging topics in my weekly blog.  Teaching has always been a goal, and I’m thrilled that my classes have seemed to be welcome.  

Over this last year I have expanded my offerings to include two sessions of my popular Introduction to Digital Photography Course and two Adobe Lightroom Courses.   

The Introduction to Photography program includes 8 hours of classroom time, and two photo-shoot field trips.  We cover everything from selecting a digital camera, to image file types, archiving, exposure, composition and dealing with different varieties of light. I am amazed at the number of people in our community who are excited to learn about the capabilities of their new digital cameras.  The class keeps filling quickly.

Lightroom around the table
The Lightroom Course includes 5 weekly, 2 hour sessions, during which I cover the essentials of this amazingly capable organizing and editing program for digital images.  For many, it is all that is needed to go from snapshots to works of art.  I had previously hosted my Lightroom classes at home, around our dining room table.  I am currently in the middle of my first class of the year and, given the vagaries of our winter weather, I am offering it in Keene.  Monadnock Imaging on Main Street is generously hosting the sessions.

Mt Washington Valley, Lightroom Panorama

In just a few years teaching has become a prominent part of my photographic work and I suspect that my time spent on the classes and workshops, along with my commitment to this weekly blog will only continue to grow.  If you have any questions, you can always check out my Blog Index, which now categorizes over 400 articles on digital photography in general and New England photography in loving particular.

Photography Workshops

I was excited this year to offer two workshops, one exploring spring waterfalls in our region and the other repeating my Fall Foliage Weekend Workshop.  Workshops are very different from classes with some discussion around the table, but much of the learning coming from dealing with practical issue in the field. 

I scheduled the waterfall workshop for early in the spring when I hoped the streams would be flowing at their maximal rate.  In fact, we had heavy rains prior to the weekend and the falls were all amazing.  Of course, being spring in New England, we had to deal with intermittent showers, but I had a great group that was well prepared and excited by the falling waters.

Porcupine Falls

This year the Foliage Workshop suffered from spotty color and from the fact that it began a day after I returned from our three week trip to Italy.  I somehow struggled through the jet lag, helped along by a very energetic and sympathetic group.  We managed to find some excellent locations and I was impressed with the images that my “kids” captured.

I enjoy the workshop format and will be offering my Waterfall weekend this spring.  Other possibilities for the coming year include a winter workshop and possibly one on night photography. 

That’s it for the first five highlights of 2017.  Next week I will collect a few more.  I may need more than 2 weeks to get this all together.

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Snowy Morning Ride

On Wednesday of this week I awoke to a lovely coating of white.  About 4-5 inches of light fluffy snow had fallen overnight and the temperature was cold enough to keep most of it clinging to the trees.  There was still a light flurry and I was anxious to get out to explore while everything was fresh, but I had to take care of my usual routine duties. I filled the bird feeders, prepared a quick breakfast and of course managed a cup of my favorite Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee.  I have been hooked on Peaberry since our trip to the coffee plantations of Costa Rica. Finally, I had to clear the snow from the driveway.

My priority goals for the day were to go to the bank and hit the gym.  I also needed to help Michael take down the chairs and tables from my Lightroom Class at Monadnock Imaging in Keene, New Hampshire.  Unfortunately, the travel over Chesterfield Hill was paralyzed by the snow and I couldn’t get in until after noon.

Of course, when I finally headed out, I was hobbled by the “Winter Wonderland” beauty along the road. I worked my way into town first along back roads, around Stonewall Farm in Keene, NH. 
Snap Moments
Grimes Brook Snap

As I drifted along, I was reminded about one of my favorite phenomena of road-side photography, the “Snap” Moments. The views along wooded back roads are often clogged with dense road-side trees, making any sense of depth impossible, but occasionally, as I float along, scanning right and left, an opening will flash by revealing an interesting perspective.  For just a second, the scene can snap to a view of interesting foreground and a complimentary background.  I swear, when these magic scenes pop into view I hear a soft “Snap”, and then the magic is gone.  The snap moments are not just openings in the forests.  It also occurs when the foreground and background elements suddenly come into alignment with a flash of recognition. These magical moments can occur without warning, but they can also be anticipated from special situations.  As I approach fields I always watch carefully for even the smallest openings that might reveal a lonely tree, rocks or perhaps animals grazing in the pasture.  I look for roadside railings that could mark an interesting raven or perhaps a brook flowing under the road. 

Farm buildings can also provide a nice colorful break from the monotony of the passing trees. I find it relaxing to scan the forest for the "snaps", but I must occasionally remind myself to check to see if I am going off the road. Lonely back roads are the best for this kind of scanning, since, on busier lanes, it is all too common to suddenly find yourself with a line of impatient drivers following close behind.

Left, Right and Snap

On my exploration of the roads around Stonewall Farm, I did my share of scanning for snaps.  The snow was falling and there was a soft overcast light, I had to stop (safely) off the road and take time to slowly explore the lovely forest “dark and deep”.  But I had “promises to keep” and had to move on.
I enjoyed shooting around Stonewall Farm’s back buildings, especially where the red structures contrasted with the trees and the glistening white, and the detail of farm equipment carried a creamy frosting of white.  Buildings and streams offered their own snap opportunities.  The red barn, with the flanking Apple trees in foreground, snapped momentarily into alignment.

It was beginning to get dark, but before I ran off to the bank and the gym, I had to cruise by the Monadnock Market Place area to look once more for Hillary the Snowy Owl.  She was on one of her favorite poles next to the Days Inn.  I had to grab a few more shots including a cute glance over the top of the beam.  I have been hoping to get a few sharp shots of Hillary in flight, but the light was nearly gone, and my images were sadly blurred.

I finally made it to the bank and my desperately needed work-out.  I got home very late for supper, but it is days like this that are too perfect to be ignored.  If we did, what would this photography stuff be about?
Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hillary the Snowy Owl Visits Keene

Hillary, Keene NH, 2018

Rye Harbor 2014 
During the last couple of weeks Keene, New Hampshire has been honored by the presence of a majestic Snowy Owl.  These Artic creatures occasionally venture south, tending to arrive in occasional “eruptions”.  They are most frequently seen along the seacoast and my first encounter was during a particularly intense visitation back in the winter of 2014.  On that occasion I had to travel to Rye New Hampshire and Salisbury Beach, but was rewarded with several sightings.

Male Salisbury Beach, 2014

My first encounter was on a rooftop in Rye, but later I caught a couple of birds in more natural habit at the entrance to the beach.  These birds are amazing in any situation, but the holy grail is to catch them in trees or settled into the grass, and most notably when in flight.  In 2014 I was lucky to shoot the Snowys in all of these situations, although my one “in flight” picture was only a partial capture on take-off.  

Salisbury Beach, 2014

Salisbury Beach 2014
The Snowys were definitely worth the long, early morning schlep to the seacoast, but this winter I was thrilled to hear that a Snowy Owl had taken up residence right next door in Keene.  Given the fact that I am primarily a landscape photographer, I was initially able to assume a nonchalant attitude.  After all, I had photographed snowys in the past, and they probably hadn’t changed much in the last four years. But I kept seeing great pictures in social media and, since she was only fifteen minutes from my house, I had to check it out.  Most of the observations centered around the Monadnock Market Place and the industrial park on the opposite side of Route 9. Both developments are built on marshy lowlands on the west side of Keene, and was the focus of my search.

Red Tail Hawk
My first drive-by was unsuccessful, but since these locations were conveniently placed on my normal route home from Keene, it was easy to return.  I was successful on the second visit.  Snowy owls are famously easy to observe, first because they are calm birds and not easily disturbed and secondly because, unlike most owls, they tend to be out during the daylight hours.  All you need do is scan the light poles and telephone poles for small blobs of white.  My first sighting turned out to be a lovely, although quite common, Red Tailed Hawk, but I spotted my first white blob on a light pole in the Subaru parking lot.  When I returned later in the day , she had moved across the lot to the Hundai Dealership. 

Resting at the Days Inn Keene 2018
Two days later I caught the bird on a telephone pole across route 9 next to the Days Inn. The Snowys are wonderfully photogenic when seated imperiously surveying the fields.  She was easy to approach and I got some nice shots perched on human created poles, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to catch the bird in natural habit or in flight.  So I decided to have some photoshop fun and try to place the bird in a nicer setting - otherwise known as cheating horrible with Photoshop.

I searched my archives for winter photos which matched the lighting and which provided somewhere for the snowy to perch. 
Hillary 2018
I ended up with a shot from several years ago of a pasture fence in a snow storm and combined it with the snowy image at the top of this article. I wasn't trying to fool anyone, but the challenge was  to make the images blend together naturally.  I had to adjust the snowy’s color to match the warmer tones of the scene and then I blended in claws from another image to make the bird appear to be more naturally perched.  Finally, I made a highlight selection to capture some of the snowflakes and layered them over the “unsnowy” Snowy.  Ok it was all “fake news” but it was a fun activity, and not fake as long as I admit the deception.

Magical (And Make-believe) Snowy in the Storm

Over the last few days I have not seen our Snowy.  I fear that all the attention might have sent her to parts unknown, but I’ll keep looking, as I continue to search for that prefect airborne image.  Regardless, I felt  honored to spend more time with these remarkable creatures

*** My Mistake ***
As of  last evening 1/15, Hillary was still with us. 
Keep looking!

Someone Has to Name Her
Did I mention that, since no one else has done it, I have taken the liberty of naming Keene’s 2018 Snowy “Hillary”.  Let me assure my conservative friends, that Hillary is just a name.  The bird ia apolitical and  IS a female, and I refused to call her “Kelly Anne”.  I promise, if we get a male next year we can name him “Sh**hole”.

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What’s New in Lightroom CC Classic

There have been some big changes in the Lightroom world of photo management and editing.

The Big Split

Lightroom CC
Recently Adobe split the Lightroom Program in two.  There are many good discussions of the differences between these very different programs, but simply speaking, the new Lightroom CC is an entirely new cloud based program, with a simpler interface, but significantly pared down capabilities.  It is designed for more casual photographers, and those who work primarily through a mobile interface.

Lightroom CC Classic
For more serious photographers who store larger image archives locally on hard drives and who want to use the full features of the old Lightroom, the new program has no significant place.  That includes me.

Many of the Lightroom Classic devotees have been concerned that an ‘old” program might be neglected in favor of the shiny new cloud version.  Adobe’s commitment to the desktop version remains to be seen, but they would be crazy to abandon their power users.  The optimistic news is that the new Classic program does have a few significant improvements, and new features.

Range Masking of the sky

I can get the usual boring stuff out of the way first.  As is true with most Lightroom upgrades, Lightroom Classic includes compatibility with new cameras.  

Other major improvements include:

·      Broad Improvement in Performance

o  Faster response when launching applications, generating previews, switch between Library and Develop Modules, adjusting sliders and brushes, scrolling through images in Library and develop modules, Smart Preview generation and more.

·      More Powerful Auto Adjustments

o  Lightroom CC Classic uses Adobe’s Sensei technology’s advanced machine learning to automatically apply the best edits for many slider controls including: Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Saturation, and Vibrance.  As before, the Auto buttons may not provide the perfect solution, but they may be a better first step in making adjustments.

·      Faster Image Selection

Image previews open more quickly.  This is activated when images are uploaded with the Preview set as Embeded and Sidecar. 

·   Range Masking for fine selection control  

   This is my favorite new feature.  Range Masking provides additional control over the application of local adjustments including with Adjustment Brush, Radial Filter, or Graduated Filter.  After defining a rough mask, Range Masking can be used to refine the selection based on color and tone based criteria. 

Darkening the Greenery

I wanted to selectively darken the leaves behind the yellow lilies.  I could have done a rough selection of the leaves and then use the color Range mask to sample a few of the green leaves to refine the selection.  I found that a simpler approach was to select the entire image and then the color sampling worked as well to isolate the greenery.

Original Image
All of image selected

Range mask adjusted to darken greens

Village Sky

Original Image Spofford Village
Another frequent use is to use Range Masking to isolate the effects of Gradient and Radial mask.  Again, an initial rough mask can be refined by sampling the unique color or luminance under the mask.  Here I was able to achieve independent control of the sky above the complicated horizon at dust in Spofford village.  The was to add a touch of color without affecting the branched below.  This would be an impossibly complex mask to draw by hand.

Gradient Mask Applied to sky

Final Image
By applying a luminance Range Mask to the initial Gradient Masking, I was able to select the sky for adjustments in tone and hue.

Range masking improves the ability to apply local adjustments and, if your editing is limited to Lightroom, it is a great addition.  The selection and masking features in Photoshop remain much more powerful and precise.  One obvious limitation in Lightroom CC Classic’s Range Masking is that it can only work if there is a difference in color or luminance between the selected and unselected part of the image. I will continue do most of my global editing in Lightroom, Photoshop remains my choice for most local adjustments. 

With a few significant improvements in the first Classic Lightroom CC, we can hope that Adobe will continue upgrade the "Pro" version of this important program.  We will be watching!

AND if you want learn more, there are still a couple of seats available for Introduction to Lightroom "Classic" which starts this coming Tuesday.  

Jeffrey Newcomer, NEPG