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.

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

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