About Me

My photo
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, 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

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