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.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Photo Studio Dream

Brief Break in the Rain, Spofford NH

I have always been a great fan of photography in miserable weather.  Blizzards, dense fog or rain can all be opportunities to capture dramatic environmental landscapes.  Of all the different atmospheric conditions, I find the most difficult to manage is heavy and blowing rain.   I have the gear to handle most situations and I always argue that terrible weather is the best time for photography,  but the last couple of weeks have been soul crushing.  We have had more or less a continuous blast of showers and torrential downpours, all combined with persistent heat and humidity.

IR Works Anytime
I have done what I could.  Last week, I cut through the haze with my infrared camera.  Mid-summer is always the best time to shoot IR.  The progression of violent thunderstorms has provided the opportunity for rainbow shots, but I never seemed to be in the right spot to capture a balanced composition. 

With challenges outside it seems like a good time to discuss my big indoor summer project, the construction of my new photography studio.  It has been a long time coming.

My Household Sprawl

Studio Work Table
To begin, I should describe my current “studio” arrangement. Beginning from when I started to take my photography seriously, and to my wife’s great frustration, my studio has been scattered throughout our house.  I have taken Abigail’s former bedroom as my matting and framing workshop.  I find it a very productive space, but Susan contends that it is a chaotic trash heap – she has a point.  

Backup Clutter
The small downstairs bedroom is now my office, where I do my photo editing and printing, not to mention storing my gear and my collection of camera bags, 15 and growing.  It is a self-evident truth that a photographer can never have enough camera bags. It all combines to create another productive heap.  To maintain domestic peace, I try to keep these two rooms closed as much as possible.  It helps that they are the only two rooms in the house that are air conditioned.

So, for my photography business, I have grabbed two rooms, and if I could limit the damage to these, I think I could have slipped by.
BUT there is more! Photography seems to have the ability to gobble up space.  Susan doesn’t mind that every wall in our house displays/stores my framed photographs, but we have only so much wall space.  Especially when I am between major shows, I have at least two large bins of pictures with no place to go other than on the floor of our gallery.  The problem is that these pictures along with all my other work can’t be exposed to the heat or cold of our attic or barn. They have to be protected in the house.  In addition to the bins of framed work, I have a couple of display racks of matted images in plastic sleeves.  It occurs to me that, if more people would just buy my work, this storage problem would go away.

Gallery Storage

Mat Board on the Bannister
Wait!  There’s more.  In addition to storage of the finished photographs, I must find places for my other materials.  I have the standing racks for cards, and the tent and display system for my annual Keene Art in the Park Show.  Much of this can tolerate temperature extremes and ends up in the barn, but my boxes of stock mat board must be protected and ends up leaning on the banister at the top of the stairs. 

Over the years, Susan has not been shy about letting me know how annoyed she has become with my photographic clutter scattered throughout the house.  My response has always been, “Where else can I put all the stuff”, and then, one day to my surprise, she responded,  “Why don’t you build your own studio/ workshop in the barn.”  Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how desperate she was to get me out of the house.

I have dreamed of having my own dedicated photography space, not only to do my matting and framing, but also to work on image editing, to have a quiet space to write and an area I could dedicate to studio lighting.  This year, a number of factors came together to make it all possible.

Coming Together

Spousal Support

First and most miraculously, I found that my wife was enthusiastically behind the project, at least until I announced that I was planning to add a screened porch to the back of the studio.   Of course, Susan was excited that I would have a space to enjoy my photographic pursuits, but she was also thrilled that she would be getting back an upstairs bedroom and uncluttered floors throughout the house.  I prefer to believe that the fact that I would be out of the house for large portions of time had nothing to do with her support.

Attached to our house is a beautiful and well preserved 1870s barn.  We have tried to avoid filling the barn with trash, and with the exception of the downstairs workshop have generally succeeded.  The workshop has suffered from a slow accumulation of “stuff”.  Tools, packing materials, an old Franklin Stove and assorted broken furniture had filled the space to the point that the room was too cluttered to be functional.  It didn’t require much thought to realize that that this was the obvious space for my new workshop. 

It took work to get rid of all the junk and litter, but after the purge we found 
Workshop Door, Not exactly Plumb
a space that was in remarkably good shape and ready for the major renovation.  Of course, we have learned that with old barns, as is true for old barns, nothing goes completely smoothly.  As we opened the wall for a door in the back, we discovered an area of rotting sill and, of course nothing was plumb.  We decided to just refinish the original irregular floor boards, but a few were eaten by carpenter ants and required replacement.  All of these problems added to the time and expense of the project, but I prefer to believe that my studio permitted us to find these issues before they became more severe and the barn fell off the bank into Partridge Brook.
Open Space - Looks Simple

The Builder

Jason and Floor Boards to Replace
The final piece for our project was getting a talented builder with whom we felt comfortable.  This was not a problem.  For some time we have considered Jason as a member of our personal staff and a trusted friend.  Jason has handled all of our recent projects and has always been available whenever he is needed, whether it is watching our house when we are away, helping with shoveling snow from our roof or bringing a ladder to help a friend who was locked out get into a second floor window.   He is experienced, easy to communicate with and, what is most important for a general contractor, he does what he says he will do.  From the beginning, Jason has been enthusiastic about this project, as he is whenever it comes to spending our money.

Jason Measuring the Sill Rot

With these key pieces in place, or project is proceeding.  At this point, Jason is completing the basic rectangular box which will be tightly insulated with foam and paneled with simple, rustic ship lap.  My job has been to anticipate everything I might need in the room, specifically all the lighting, electrical service, and cable.  I am only beginning to decide about the layout of the space.  It is all about what I want to be able to do in my studio.  I have a list, but that can be a discussion for another time as the project proceeds.  Let me just say that, in addition to all the photo stuff, the phrase “man cave” has also been mentioned.

Obviously a project like this can cut into my photography, but I am sure it will all be worth distractions.  Stay tuned for more up-dates.


Thinking about the design.  Fills up quickly!

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Infrared Season 2018

Infrared Photography yields interesting and often bizarre results, and summer is prime infrared season.

Ashuelot Color
Some years ago, I converted my old Canon 20D to infrared and since then I go through stages of shooting with this camera which is modified to see into a spectrum of light which is invisible to our eyes.  In previous articles, I have discussed the qualities of infrared images and the various approaches which can be used to take advantage of the special capacity of these pictures to create dramatic images.  

Ashuelot Infrared

Ashuelot River
Infrared images are most striking for their ability to capture the light reflected off green foliage, creating a scene which has a winter quality.  It is this electric effect on greenery that make summer the perfect time to shoot with infrared.  

As the summer deepens, the foliage settles into a monotonous shade of green.  There is still plenty of interesting stuff to shoot, especially around the Golden Hours, but infrared works well in all light from the bright midday sun to heavy overcast and rain. All I look for is dark areas, such as water, rocks or barns to provide contrast with the bright foliage.

Central Spire

Spofford Lake
Enough said.  I have been out this week looking for new images to add to my Infrared Gallery.  My eyes have adjusted to this new way of seeing.  I have included some of the reasons why summer is definitely Infrared Season.  I trust the pictures will tell the story best. 

Infrared Munch

Jeffrey Newcomer

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lessons Learned for Videography and a New Project

I love a project, especially when it involves doing something that is outside of my usual experience, something I can learn from.

Recently I was excited to hear from Dan White, who is overseeing the editing of our documentary celebrating Mount Monadnock’s history and special place in our region, that the film is nearing completion.  It has been a long road, and I have been frustrated that, for many months, it seemed that I was able to contribute very little to the progress of the project.  

Ayers Chamberlain Plaque
The work is now in the capable hands of the editors, so I was excited when Dan mentioned a couple of “holes” in the material available.  Apparently, they could use more footage showing the “Carry in and Carry Out” signs at the beginning of the trails. Also, different angles on the 1949 commemorative plaque celebrating the contributions of Philip W. Ayers and Allen Chamberlain would help illustrate the work done to protect the mountain..  Yeh, a project! – so I went to work.

Relearning Video Lessons
There is much that a still photography must learn when trying to capture video and this project provided the opportunity for me to be reminded of many of the important differences in technique.

Carry In Carry Out
The White Dot Trail
The first challenge was to find attractively located “Carry in Carry Out” signs that would work for a few seconds of video.  This simple slogan captures an important point about keeping the trails pristine. In discussions with the park rangers, it became apparent that my best option was to pick up one of the signs that I could place wherever it seemed optimal.  One part of being logistically “optimal” was to bring the sign to the park headquarters where the Ayers Chamberlain plaque is located at the base of the popular White Dot trail.

Finding the Right Spot
The folks at headquarters were, as always, delightfully friendly.  They provided a nice clean sign and the duct tape to place it wherever I wanted.  Ok, this was cheating, but the sign was on a real trail and real hikers walked by.  I first attached the sign to include a view of the Monadnock Visitor’s Center and then on a nice birch, with a view up the White Dot Trail. The challenge was trying to make a video of a plane white sign appear dynamic.  I was hoping for a little wind-blown tree motion, but finally tried to include hikers passing up the White Dot trail.  By far, my favorite was a close-up of the sign with a long line of hikers tromping by. 

Scale at the Visitor Center - I Don't Want to Know

The Priority of Shutter
Shutter speed is an especially important factor when shooting video.  It is generally recommended that the shutter be set close to twice the video frame rate.  With the usual rate of around 24 frames/ second, this yields a shutter of about 1/50.  This may seem a bit slow, but motion appears smoother when the frames have a slight tendency to blur together.  On sunny days, a slow shutter may require the use of a Neutral Density Filter, when even extremely small apertures and low ISO don’t allow a slow enough shutter speeds. 

The Poster Video 
For my poster shots, I was shooting in shadow and 1/50th was not a problem to maintain, but even at the slow shutter speeds, relative wide apertures resulted in shallow depth of field.  I could have substantially increased the ISO, but in this situation, I was happy with keeping the focus on the posture

Between the Rocks
The plaque was more of a challenge since it was partially blocked in front by a bolder.  My goals were to keep the inscription legible while including a small wedge of background greenery.  I had to view the plaque on a tangent, stopping down to get adequate depth of field.  This meant that I had to increase the ISO to 800 to nudge the aperture to f7.  It is always about compromises, but video seems to tolerate higher ISOs.

It was great fun working on a video project, as little as it was.  I hope I captured some useable footage for the film.  I will deliver many more options of stills and video than seen here. As always, at best, I might expect to see it flash by in 5-10 seconds of the final documentary.  Regardless, it was exciting to have an excuse to get back into shooting moving images and remembering  all the mistakes I have made in the past.

Here are just a few lessons 
I have learned from painful mistakes:

·      Shutter speed is the first element to consider in setting the exposure.  About twice the frame rate, usually 1/50 – 1/60th.  Shutter is the priority, with aperture and ISO adjusted to achieve optimal exposure and meet any special needs.  The settings should be fixed in manual mode to avoid sudden changes in brightness.  Faster shutter speeds can be used but might result in a choppy look that can be distracting, but effective in special situations.  Check out the first hectic scenes in “Saving Private Ryan”.

·      Without special equipment such as a fluid tripod head and devices for smooth “follow focus”, limit the amount of panning and focus changes. I am a devoted “B-Roll” shooter.   I like to keep the camera steady on a tripod and cut together short takes, and I avoid auto-focus.

Gina in Vertical
When I first started shooting video, I actually shot a couple of scenes with the camera held in the vertical orientation.  Duh, don’t do that unless you are one of what seems to be the majority of smart phone videographers.

·      Good audio is as essential as good video.  As can be seen in these rough clips, the audio on my camera are generally crappy.  In the final film, these clips will be overlaid with nice audio, but when I want to capture the live sound I use a separate mic and field recorder.

That’s it!  I can’t wait to see the next cut of the film and of course the final product.  In the meantime Dan, I am always ready for another project.

Jeff Newcomer

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Martha’s Vineyard Escape

Oak Bluffs Channel

It has been a very busy summer.  We have enjoyed mini-vacations 
Abby and Grayson at Mayfair Farm, Harrisville NH
In New Port Rhode Island, Lake Morey Vermont as well as a lovely Independence Day family gathering with Jeremy and his significant other Gina and, of course, Abigail and her newly minted husband, Grayson.  In addition to working on the images and blogs from all these activities.

Future Studio
 I have been finishing the design of my 2019 New England Reflections Calendar and working with our builder Jason on the layout and facilities of my new studio/man cave.  Susan is so enthusiastic about getting me and my stuff out of the house that she actually agreed that I should convert a portion of our barn into my photographic escape.  I get a studio and she recovers an upstairs guest room.

Sounding Edgartown
Amid all this hustle, Susan and I just returned from a couple of days on Martha’s Vineyard where the focus was on some serious relaxation.  We spent two nights at our good friends Connie and John’s Vineyard retreat.  We relaxed at the beach, explored the quieter corners of the Island and ate exceptionally well. 

East Chop Light
On previous visits to the Vineyard, I have always felt pressure to run about seeking the classic shots especially around the magic golden hours.  My goal on one trip was to photograph all five of the islands lighthouses.  This time I relaxed and shot whatever came my way.  There were still plenty of wonderful images to be found.

To the Beach

Leaving our car behind, we took the Island Queen from Falmouth to Oak Bluffs and spent the first afternoon relaxing at the beach.  With temperatures in the mid 90s at home, we were quite comfortable sharing the ocean’s edge with the scavenging sea gulls.  

The Atlantic Edgartown Ma
Dinner was at the Atlantic in Edgartown – expensive, but great food and gigantic portions.  We all brought home provisions for lunch the next day.  The evening was warm and beautiful, great weather for a stroll along the waterfront.

The Atlantic Line

Evening Launch, Edgartown Ma

West Tisbury

The next day we explored some of the less congested back roads.  Even on one of the busiest weeks of the season, it was possible to find quiet roads, away from the craziness of the seaside towns. 


Menemsha Traps
Finally, we ended up in Menemsha.  This little fishing village is one of my favorite corners of the Vineyard, It is a great place to shoot active fishing and lobstering vessels among all the lines and lobster traps.  It is also one of the best places to buy fresh seafood - and we did.  Dinner was a quiet gathering of local friends at John and Connie’s house.


Sea Bass Fillet Menemsha

The next day, we had time for peaceful walks through the Scrub Oak forest before heading to Oak Bluffs and the cruise back to Falmouth.  

We had a lovely time on the Vineyard.  It was a chance to relax before the hectic excitement of the big family holiday.  

Falmouth Channel

I have added more images from our trip to my growing collection in my 

Jeffrey Newcomer