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.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Last Buds

I hope everyone is doing well and using your photographic explorations to help manage your way through the maddening pandemic isolation.  Our exuberant New England spring has displayed a widely varied supply of color and new growth.  The inspiration seems endless, from bursting new buds to spreading young leaves, in a riotous array of shades of green.  For me, all I have to do is grab my camera and head, socially distant, out of the door, and that has been my sad problem.

Over this last, gloriously perfect, week of the spring, I have been completely crippled by a severe pre-patellar bursitis and cellulitis. The result has been that, while the spring colors have evolved, I have been hobbled with a walker and limited from bed to chair.  I thought my Covid isolation was a problem enough, but at least I could get out for nice long walks and drives, but now I have been limited to gazing longingly out my window or up into the trees from my porch. 

Westmoreland New Hampshire on my last drive before the lay-up

I was able to limp to my Orchard across the street
The good news is that, with a combination of surgical drainage, strong antibiotics and a knee restricting brace, I am feeling better, and I have reason to hope for improved mobility in the next several days. Susan will readily tell you that, whenever I am sick, I am prone to pitiful whining.  Ok that is true, but I promise that complaining only comes from a sincere desire to encourage all of you who are not “mobility challenged” to get outside and capture all the spring beauty that you can, before it is too late. There is only a week or so left before the dull drab summer colors descends.

Seven  Layer Focus Stack
Fortunately, before I was laid-up, I was able to capture much of the spring buds and a taste of the emergence of the early May leaves. This week I share a few of my later buds and early blossom photography, captured both outside and in the studio.  My next article will be dedicated to the varied shades of green that make the New England spring our “second Autumn”.  Again, it will be all about encouraging you shut-ins to get outside and enjoy what has been a wonderful spring.  And I’ll try not to be more than a just little jealous.

Lessons Learned
I have largely finished my in-studio macro photography and as I have been packing away my improvised gear,  I wanted to share a couple of tips that I have learned through my usual technique of “painful trial and error”.

Holding Tight
First, I have experimented with various ways to securely attach my subjects in the studio.  For the sturdy, woody branches, one of my old surgical clamps worked well, but these devices proved too sharp and tight for the delicate ferns.  They cut right through, and the greens quickly flopped.  On one occasion, I was struggling to maintain focus and then realized that the plant was slowly bending under the pressure.   I found that the solution was to tape the stems to a piece of mat board which could then be securely attached to the clamp. 

Manual Exposure
Even on Manual a few flares come through
In all of my early, focus stacked, shots, I set my camera on aperture priority, but even with the lighting and composition fixed, I saw some slight differences in exposure between layers which led, to areas of flaring around the subject in the blended composite.  I finally realized the problem was that, as the focus point moved towards the back of the subject, its size within the frame became subtly larger, with the dark background contributing proportionately less to the exposure and resulting in a darker overall image.  I could have narrowed the field of exposure to be restricted to the brighter subject, but the simplest solution was to switch to manual exposure. With the exposure fixed, the flaring disappeared, and without the clouding, my edges were much sharper.

Just a little rim light
Balancing the Light
Finally, as my subjects became more mature, and thicker, trans illumination became less effective.  Increasingly I relied on my large studio box to light the subject from the front, adjusting the angle to provide nice contrast.  I still used back-lighting, but in these cases, I adjusted the intensity to provide a nice bit of rim lighting to highlight the edges.

Spring is rainy season and I love droplet lenses

Ok, this is the last time I will say this.  Get out and enjoy the spring colors. I have seen some nice work on Facebook from many of my friends, but if you are still hiding in your house, you are missing out AND it is NOT my fault!

Check out my growing
Spring 2020 Gallery

Jeffrey Newcomer


Friday, May 1, 2020

Bringing Spring Indoors

Rhododendron Bloom
In my last two articles I encouraged you to get outside to photograph the constantly changing signs of the exploding New England spring.  It is a great excuse to escape our claustrophobic pandemic isolation.  The buds are swelling, breaking open and showing signs of early spring color.   It is all out there for you to explore, but now I would like to suggest that you bring some of that beauty back indoors. 

Challenges of Outdoor Macro Photography
Last time I discussed some of the problems of outdoor macro photography.   Most importantly, it is often difficult to find a satisfactory balance between a small aperture to provide good depth of field and a short shutter speed to freeze motion.  This can be especially challenging in low light situations, but bright light can cause its own problems with stark shadows and blown-out highlights.  Photography is all about finding the best compromises, and with care and patience great images of nature’s fine detail can be obtained outdoors.  But since we have been told to isolate, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the advantages of bringing macro photography indoors.

My Spring Floral Cheat
It is usually about this time every “normal” year that I head out for my springflower photography “cheat”.  I go to my favorite local greenhouse (Walker’s Farm in Dummerston Vermont) and, while Susan buys plants for the garden, I shoot an amazing variety of healthy flora, all indoors with soft diffuse light and no problems with the wind.  

The only major difficulty is keeping people from tripping on my tripod. I always get great shots and the plants are all labeled for easy identification.  It is simple, and I am never the least bit ashamed of my lazy deceit. Sadly, this year the damn Covid 19 has prevented me from visiting  the greenhouse, and I have been forced to create my own special environment.

Trans-Illuminating Autumn
My Sunroom "Studio"
A few years ago, I decided to bring a selection of autumn leaves indoors to use trans-illumination to highlight their brilliant colors.  My setup was simple, a  bright light, a piece of black mat board and my macro lens.  In that situation, I was shooting with the light shining through thin leaves and the effects were stunning.  To avoid difficulty with depth of field, I pressed the leaves flat before shooting, and with the camera on a tripod, I could shoot with a small aperture.  My only real challenge was to get Susan to allow me to clutter half of our sunroom for the project.

Illuminating Spring

Over the last week I have worked to reproduce my indoor lighting to shoot the developing spring flora, and Susan is happy that I can set things up in my barn studio.  I do not have the focused tensor lamp that worked so well for my autumn leaves, but I found that the intense trans-illumination was not as important. 

 Unlike the flattened autumn leaves, spring buds and flowers have greater dimension and are more opaque.   To achieve balance illumination, I found that I needed to add a variable amount of front lighting, with one of my LED studio lights.  I kept the large light source close, allowing the light to wrap around the subjects.  

Maple Buds

In the controlled Indoor setting, focus was much easier to manage.  I could enlarge the depth of field with small apertures, routinely shooting at f32.  The diffraction associated with such small apertures can cause softening of image detail, but much of this can be corrected with sharpening in post-processing.

Single Image f 5.6
Even with small apertures, macro photography is associated with shallow depth of field, but a restricted DOF can be used to direct attention to a small area of the image.  Quite often this means leading the eye to the stamen.   A single exposure, with a small aperture, can be a pleasant solution, but when you want the entire subject to be sharp, focus stacking is a great solution.

Six Image Focus Stack

Focus Stacking
Six Image Focus Stack with Blended and Touch-up Layers
Focus stacking involves blending multiple images taken at different plains of focus.  I have discussed the details of this procedure in previous articles.  The technique is not complicated but does require the use of image editing software. If you are using Adobe software, Lightroom will not allow the required manipulation of layers, but  Photoshop simplifies the process of aligning, blending and touching up the images. 

Although variably focused images can be obtained in the field, it is much easier and more precise when in the controlled studio environment.  When both the subject and the camera are held stationary, a sufficient number of pictures can be obtained to result in sharply focused macro images.  Indoors, I routinely obtained six or more images each with subtle differences in focus and with greater numbers of layers the post-blending touch-up process was much less difficult.

Whether indoors or out, there are great photographic opportunities as our New England spring progresses.  Images captured in natural settings can be great, but consider experimenting with the control that comes with bringing those flowers and buds inside.  With a few simple tools, you will discover an exciting new world of detail and beauty.

Dogwood Bloom

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