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, March 25, 2018

Backyard Birding

Downy Woodpecker

I am tired of waiting for the overdue hints of spring.  It is time to take matters in my own hands and post pictures of the birds that are flocking to my bird feeder.  They have been coming all winter, but they have become more enthusiastic.  I suspect they are storing up for important spring “activities”.

House Finch Pairing

Titmouse Glance

Along with a suet container, my feeder dangles just off our deck and within easy range of the sunroom.  It is still cold, but I can manage to settle in with the window cracked to get some unobstructed views of my many visitors.  From my location the 400mm lens brings me close, and with good light and an ISO of 800 I can get some great hand-held shots, holding the shutter at 1/500 to 1/1250 the of a second.  

These nervous little birds tend to flit in and out quickly, but I can often hold my focus long enough to get what I want.

Feeders, Spofford

Junco Lair

In a few short sittings, I have been able to capture Tufted Titmice, Gold Finches, House Finches, Purple Finch, Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals and, of course, endless numbers of little Chickadees.  

Sparrow Bokeh

This year my feeding station is not as rich and elaborate as previously.  Given the devastation of previous bear attacks, I have simplified with one small feeder which proved effective in blocking the frequent squirrel assaults.  The reduced capacity required more frequent refilling, but it is less susceptible to  damage.

Northern Cardinal

Gold Finch Snack

Bird feeder photography is simple, especially when compared  to the usual birding techniques.  There is not lying for hours on the cold damp ground waiting for something to happen.  I sit in a comfortable chair with my coffee at my side, confident that the birds will be attracted to my bait.  The birds do not appear natural when they are perched on my feeder, but I have added a branch next to the dispenser.  Very often the birds land there, waiting their turn on the feeder.

As close as I am with my 400mm lens, the background always has a nice soft Bokeh, even with f stops from 11 to 22.  

Purple Finch

Downy Bite

I have never been able to detect when a bird will glance in the right direction or suddenly leap from the branch.  My action shots have all been a matter of luck and persistence.  I always feel fortunate if I get two or three “keepers’ from the hundreds of images I bring back to the computer, but, HEY this is Digital, and I can spare millions of trash pixels for every great shot.  

Chickadee Stare

As spring finally arrives, I’ll keep watching the greedy winged creatures.  The weather will get warm, but as the window becomes less chilly, it will be the black flies that will chase me from my spot.  All-in-all, I think I prefer the cold.  Soon it will be the threat of marauding bears that may force an end to my bird feeder season.   

Chickadee, Reach for Flight


Jeffrey Newcomer

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Looking Through Stuff

Through the Trees, Warwick Ma.
After grinding out over 400 blog articles, including my Getting It Right in the Digital Camera Blog, my contributions to the New England Photography Guild blog and various other articles, it is getting increasingly difficult to come up with sparkling new things to say.  I have covered all the camera basics including exposure, composition, focus and file selections, but the nice thing is that this situation works to encourage me to buy new equipment to review, and to travel to fresh locations, in and out of New England.  

Snow can Screen, Chesterfield NH

In the last couple of weeks I have discussed my new set of neutral density filters and the latest installment from our tour of Italy, including Bologna and Lake Como.  This week I decided to get back to my personal roots of more basic challenges of effective imaging .  I asked myself, “How has my photographic eye changed over the years ?  What have I learned?”.  One thing that immediately came to mind is that I am much more willing to look through stuff.

Stuff Gets in the Way!
Spire Screen, Keene NH
One of the great frustrations of landscape photography is that things always get in the way of my perfect compositions.  Trees, bushes, grasses and wires always seem to be In the wrong spot, and, when I am able move to a clear location, a have to accept an suboptimal point of view.   I can always choose to stay in the perfect spot, but I then must spend hours in Photoshop cloning away the offending junk. I still work to open many of my images, but increasingly I have come to accept and appreciate the attraction of looking through stuff.

Photoshop’s Disappearing Acts

Spofford Village, NH
About five years ago, I published an article reviewing the various ways that distractions can be removed using Photoshop.  Specifically, I was trying to remove a branch from in front of a church in Spofford New Hampshire.  I used simple cloning and patching to erase the branch and Puppet Warping to move it to the side.  Sadly, at that time, Smart Fill was not yet available. All of these techniques can be challenging and time-consuming, but I always love the process of removing distracting stuff.

Puppet Warped Branch

Steeple Cleared - Much Work
In this case, as I stepped back from the removal process, I discovered that I actually preferred the original image, branch and all.  Over time I have become more aware of how some natural screening elements can enhance the interest of compositions.

The Glory of Tangles
I reviewed my archive of favorite images and found many in which the screening elements seemed to add to the image’s attraction and I tried to understand the situations in which a little screening was not so bad.

Autumn Rush,  Wardsboro Vermont

I found a few broad categories of images in which there seemed to be value in looking through foreground “stuff”.  Of course, I am talking to photographers here, and you will inevitably have your own tastes and preferences, but perhaps this exercise will encourage reflection on the when screening is ok.  

My Categories

Contribution of the Foreground to the Story
Weathersfield Barn, Vermont
It is obvious the tangle of brambles in front of the dilapidated barn in Weathersfield Vermont is essential to the focus of the image.  The same is true of the ice coated bushes screening the barn in Marlborough New Hampshire, taken in the aftermath of the disastrous ice storm of 2008.

2008 Ice Storm, Marlborough NH
Westmoreland NH
The line of trees with classic sap gathering buckets screens the barn, but, in all these images, the screenings do not distract, they add an essential aspect to the story of the images.

Contrast with the Background
Stickney Brook Falls
For me, the foreground screens are most effective when they contrast with the background.  I see this most frequently when I place sharp features in front of the soft flowing water, whether it is cascading brooks or waterfalls.  

Beaver Falls, Colebrook NH

Spofford NH

Contrast may also include differences in color or tone, such as the brilliant foliage in front of the dark house or the snow covered branches contrasting with the rich red building  

Roads End Farm, Chesterfield NH

To Mt. Monadnock, Jaffrey NH
I also found images in which the contrast was primarily between near and far, with distant grand landscapes.

Distant View, Newfane Vermont

Northfield Pasture
Foreground elements can also partially frame and highlight a key portion of the more distant subject.  The sunlit trees in the picture of a Northfield Massachusetts pasture break only slightly to reveal a distant horse, gazing in the October light, and the three trees on a hillside in Pomfret Vermont nicely draw the eye to the distant barn.

Pomfret Vermont

Practical Considerations and Sheer Laziness
There are many times when it is not possible to frame a composition without including screening stuff, but I often try my best to crawl into some awkward locations, which are usually wet or dangerous, to get around the obstructions.  Even when that is possible it often means accepting a suboptimal composition.

Perkins Pond Falls, Troy NH
  I like the image of the Perkins Pond Falls in Troy New Hampshire, looking down from the edge of the steep bank and screened by trees. On another occasion I found a spot down-stream, from which I could descend to the level of the brook, but it required considerable effort to work my way up to the level of the falls.  A pretty picture and without obstruction but I think I prefer the shot from the bank, including the lovely trees.  And, of course, it was also much easier to shoot.

Perkins Pond Falls  - Brook Level

As always, the final decision about composing with screening elements comes down to personal taste. Although my nature is generally to avoid distractions, the benefits of a little contrast is often worth considering.

Jeffrey Newcomer

Monday, March 12, 2018

Bologna and Lake Como

Plazza d Accusio Bologna

Towers of Bologna
With winter seeming to drag on endlessly, it is a good time to look back to another part of our wonderful tour of Italy last fall.  I still have thousands of pictures which require editing.  I completed a bunch celebrating Rome, Tuscany, and Florence, so it seems a good time to show some of my images from the next phase of our trip, Bologna and Lake Como.  It is frustrating that I have so many pictures that I haven’t had the chance to work on, but I want to show a taste of the rest of our trip, Bologna, Lake Como and finally wonderful Venice.


Street Market, Bologna

Four days exploring Florence wasn’t nearly enough and I was reluctant to board the train west to Bologna.  For some reason I pictured a dull, working city, but Bologna was the biggest surprise of our trip. 

Bologna is a relatively quiet University town with a wealth of well preserved Medieval and Renaissance architecture.   It is home to Italy’s oldest university, founded in 1088, and currently has over 8o thousand students. Bologna is also famous for its nearly 40 kilometers of porticos.  In medieval times, these were built to expand the floor space of upper stories, but they became a valuable addition to public space. In 1288 the city passed an ordinance requiring all new houses to have porticos.  The structures were required to be tall enough to allow a man to ride through on a horse.

Basilica di San Petronio Festival

Soaring, Basillica di San Petronio
On our first night in town we were on hand for a religious procession as hundreds of priests carried relics from the  Basilica di San Petronio around the Piazza Maggiore.  After escaping the ring of priests, we explored the wonderful web of ancient narrow streets lined with open air markets and cozy restaurants.  We returned to the Piazza to try to shoot the full rise, but given the height of the surrounding palaces, I could only capture the moon long after the blue hour had faded.

Moon-Rise Piazza Maggiore

Dissection Theater
On our second day we had a private tour of the city with Giamoco, a wonderfully friendly and knowledgeable native of the city.  The tour was as much about the local food as the architecture, but I especially enjoyed a tour of Bologna’s old medical college.  The elegantly wood paneled dissection theater was a tasty supplement to our dining stops.

Garisenda and Asinelli Towers
Bologna is known for its many towers.  In Medieval times a family’s status was often measured by the height of the tower on their house.  During the 12th century Bologna had over 100 towers of which 24 are still standing.  The two most famous are the Garisenda and Asinelli Towers, both of which are leaning.  They are still safe to climb, but there was no way I could convince Susan to scale one, even if they weren’t leaning.

Student Parade, University Quarter
The greatest attraction of Bologna was the chance to wander the ancient narrow porticoed streets.  We explored the large University District and met Abby and Grayson for a drink at a bar which was converted from an ancient church.  From here we finally broke away from the kids, but it was wonderful to share so much of our journey with our children.  Bologna was a pleasant surprise and, as was true for all our stops, we could have spent much more time there. 

Endless Street Cafes

The next morning we got up early for a train to Milan and then a car to beautiful Lake Como.  


Como  and Swiss Alps from Brunate

Lake Como 
Como Harbor
Lake Como is located in Northern Lombardy close to the Swiss border and the Alps.  It is of glacial origin with steep surrounding mountains and is about 146 Square kilometers in area.  

Lake Como Ferry
We stayed in a lovely hotel on the lake.  It was just up the shore from the town of Como and had panoramic views up the lake and to the town.  On our arrival the winds were quite blustery and it kicked up a serious chop on the lake. On the next day, the winds had calmed allowing a comfortable boat tour up the lake.  The cozy villages and extravagant lake-side villas were lovely. 

Torno, Lake Como

Brunate in Moonlight
 After more exploration of Como, I was actually able to get my height adverse wife to ride the Tram up to the hill-top village of Brunate.  The view took in Como, the lake and the snow covered Alps and Susan actually survived the trip. Lake Como reminded us of the mountains and lakes of New England.  

We were beginning to feel ready to get home, but there was one more stop on our itinerary, wonderful Venice.

Basillca di San Petronio
More to See: