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, September 26, 2016

Magical Monhegan Island


Black Head from White Head Cliff


This week I finally got back out to Magical Monhegan.  Monhegan is a small island 12 nautical miles out from the coast and a world away from our 21st century lives.  The island is just 1.75 miles long and .75 miles wide with much of the “development” clustered around the harbor on the east side.  The single dock hosts ferries from Port Clyde, New Harbor and Boothbay, and is protected by the mostly uninhabited rocky island of Manana.  Monhegan has artist galleries, a few guest houses and a couple of seasonal hotels that have surprising good food, but it is the island’s quiet solitude which is its essential feature.  The western side is undeveloped and has tall rocky cliffs facing out to the restless Atlantic rollers.  It is reached only through a system of meandering foot paths. It is a great place for painters, birders, poets and, of course, photographers.  



Misty Manana Island lies across from Monhegan's Harbor



I first visited Monhegan about seven years ago.  It was an all to brief day trip as part of a workshop through Maine Media.  I had enough time to run from the boat across to one spot on the western cliffs and then back to see the lighthouse.  One of the island’s best features is the chance to relax and focus on your art, but that couldn’t be done in one hectic afternoon.  I wanted to go back at least for a week, but an agreement for two days was the most I could get from Susan.  I took the deal!


Angry Passage to Monhegan


Window on Port Clyde


After exploration of the classic Maine fishing village of Port Clyde, we took the ferry for the hour long trip to the island.  The protection of Monhegan’s harbor was welcome after a rough voyage.  We knew that the weather was going to be marginal for our two days so, after quickly settling into our room at the John Sterling House, we ran out to take advantage of the decent conditions for a hike to the cliffs on the western side of the island.  










White Head


The rocky shore is classic Maine, and we worked our way south from Burnt Head to Lobster Cove over irregular terrain.   The Cliff trail is a spectacular combination of dramatic sheer cliffs and paths cut through lovely wild autumn vegetation.  This time of year the Asters are especially thick and colorful.   













 
Toward the southern end of the island, Lobster Cove features the rusting wreck of the “Sheridan”.  On a fogy night in 1948 this 100-foot ocean-going tug lost its way and fetched up on the rocks.  Most of the islands many wooden wrecks deteriorated quickly, but this iron vessel has remained a reminder of the unforgiving character of the northern Atlantic. 






Wreck of the Sheridan




Monhegan Lighthouse
Keeper's Window
Monhegan’s rocky shore represents a substantial threat to navigation and much has been done to warn passing ships.  Most notable is the Monhegan Lighthouse.  The present brick structure was built in 1850 and is located at the island’s highest point.  It is 47 feet tall and is the second highest lighthouse in the state of Maine.  The lighthouse was automated in 1959 and its surrounding structures are now home to a small but well-arranged museum, covering the natural and social history of the island.



Harbor Inn
Monhegan is definitely a world apart but, at least in season, it is definitely not an isolated wasteland. Our room was nicely appointed and offered a view to the busy little harbor.  Sleeping was wonderful with the fresh sea air and the gentle sounds of the waves lapping on the rocks.  Each night we enjoyed excellent meals at the nearby Harbor Inn and after dinner settled into rockers on the inn’s porch, overlooking harbor and at least a sliver of sunset color.

 




Filtered Sunset
Our second full day was marked by intermittent light showers.  I’m a photographer, so I love bad weather, but anticipating downpours, we kept closer to home.  We explored the village and the lighthouse museum.  The sunset was filtered by clouds bathing the harbor in a magical pink glow, as the last light faded.




Misty Cliffs and Fairy Villages

Fairy Cottage
The next day dawned clear but with a dense fog.  I love fog and, before our return boat at noon, we managed another hike to the western cliffs.  We wandered through the Cathedral Woods which has an appearance reminiscent of the dense rain forests of the Pacific Northwest.  Hidden in a few of its glades are villages of “Fairy Houses”, which appear to have magically appeared.   We made our way to White Head which offers a view to the cliffs of Black Head located near the northern end of the island.







Marshall Point Blooms

 Marshall Point Light
 Our return trip to the mainland was foggy and uneventful.  Ending up at Port Clyde, I had to make a quick stop at nearby Marshall Point Lighthouse.  The harsh mid-day light was a problem but I have enjoyed visits to the lighthouse in much nicer conditions.  This time I focused on the flowers around the keeper’s house and then surrendered to Susan’s insistence that we get on the road for the long drive home.











Monhegan is a uniquely magical part of the Maine coast.  It is definitely worth a trip.  I will definitely be back.  I would love to settle in for a relaxing week or two, but until Susan is ready to escape to write her great American novel, I may have trouble getting her to dessert civilization for that long.  In the meantime, I have work to do as I wade through the 700 images from this visit.  Perhaps more pictures next week, but autumn is coming! and I have to prepare for my Fall Foliage Workshop coming up on October 14-16th.



I will place images of Monhegan as I get to them in a gallery on my web site.








Sunday, September 18, 2016

Getting to Know Your New Camera



Indian Pond : Canon 5D Mark IV : Nice Dynamic Range


Sure is Pretty
I have been shooting with my trusty Canon 5D Mark 2 for about 7 years.  Seven years is an eternity for digital technology, but Canon has not been quick with innovation in there 5D series.  I decided not to upgrade when the Mark 3 came out.  I just didn’t feel that the improvements were worth the increased in price.  It was missing many of the features that I was looking for as part of a truly innovative step forward.  I thought that advanced features, such as GPS, WiFi, intervalometer, increased image bracketing, a touch screen with an articulated LCD screen, 7 fps, and 4k video would come quickly, but Canon had stuck with the Mark 3 for years.  Now that the Mark 4 is finally out, with almost all these features and more, I had to breathlessly take the leap.  


Upward : Mark IV

From my early experience with this camera, I am very pleased.  Compared to my Mark 2, the image quality is in another world and the features meet most of what has been on my wish list.  The one disappointment is that the articulated LCD is missing.  Given the ubiquitousness of this feature, it seems an unnecessary omission, but I’m not here to quibble.  I’ll just glory in all the new stuff I get to work with.








Sunset Shore, Spofford NH
Canon 5D Mark IV

It has been awhile since I acquired a new high end camera, and I thought it would be a good time to discuss a few key elements and functions with which to becoming familiar in any a new camera.  Fortunately for me, when compared to my 5D Mark 2, the Mark 4 has a familiar layout of controls.  I don’t have to retrain my muscle memory for many of the essential buttons and dials, but there are still some basic steps required to become familiar with these remarkably capable tools.






The Basics

As soon as you open the box, before the new camera smell fades, and before you take a single shot, there are a few basic steps to get your camera ready to go.


Batteries
Charge the battery and get a second battery to keep charged and ready in your bag at all times.  You should never risk running out of juice in the middle of an important shoot.  There are few electrical outlets in the forest.



Memory
Confirm that you have the right memory card and have extras.  With bigger sensors, image files are getting massive.  Make sure that your cards have sufficient capacity and that they are fast enough to keep up with the pace of your shooting.  Especially with 4k video, only the fastest read speeds will serve.


Filters
Before I take my new camera out into the nasty, dusty, environment, I always take measures to protect my lens.  Sure, new cameras always come with a lens cap, but it has been my experience that you can’t capture many pictures with the cap on.  A simple clear, or UV filter, can provide an extra level of protection

Disaster Avoided
when you are shooting, and I will often order the filter when I order the camera.  Some photographers question the value of placing an additional piece of glass in front of your lovely expensive lens, but for me, this simple protection has avoided disaster on numerousoccasions.  It is shocking how expensive these simple filters can be, but I never skimp on my filters.  Don’t put a piece of cheap plastic in front of your beautiful multi-coated, multi-element glass.  



While we are discussing filters, you might as well add a polarizing filter to your order.  It is THE one essential filter especially for landscape photographers. 



LCD Protection
You can choose to get a piece of plastic or glass to protect the LCD from scratches and cracks.   Just make sure that your touch screen will work through the added layer, and that the screen is clean before you apply the protector.  I never took this precaution on my Mark2 and, after seven years, I do have a few scratches and even one small crack, but nothing that has affected the camera’s function.




·   Struggle with the Camera Strap:
Anything you can do to reduce the risk of dropping your precious baby is definitely worth the effort.  I like to replace the corporate strap with one that is more comfortable, functional and that doesn’t scream to the world that I am packing an expensive, mugger attracting, camera.



·  Camera Bag:

Bagophilia, a Common Affliction
Do I need to say that you should protect your gear in a camera bag that is comfortable to carry and provides easy access to your camera.  I belong to a bag support group which helps me deal with my pile of thirteen bags!  Again it is a good Idea to look for a camera bag that doesn’t LOOK like a camera bag.





·   Add Your Camera to your Insurance

Whether you have separate insurance for your photography business or add your camera equipment to a rider on your household policy, you should not waste any time getting your new camera listed, including the value and serial number.  Stuff happens!


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------



Ok.  I suppose you actually want to take pictures with your lovely magic maker.  There is a lot to consider as you become acquainted.  Here are just a few suggestions, but it all comes down to, practice, practice, practice. 





Practice, Practice, Practice

Make Lots of Mistakes, Learn from them
and
Read the Damn Manual


 
Most camera manuals have “QUICK START” section which should get you going in a couple of pages.  Don’t expect to get through the full manual in one sitting.  My manual for the Mark 4 is almost 700 pages long.  Most of it is a reference, not a novel and it will be solving my insomnia for months to come.


The first, and the most obvious, point to make is that practice is essential in becoming familiar with your camera’s controls.  Experiment with all of the settings and carefully review the results.  Don’t take a new, untried, camera on an important shoot.  You don’t want all the pictures from that critical family gathering to be hopelessly overexposed and out of focus. 


Foot Photography
I always suggest that you settle onto the couch, enjoy a glass of wine and try all the setting while shooting pictures of your foot.  Fortunately, with digital cameras, the results can be immediately reviewed and corrections made.  Learn how to figure out what went wrong by examining the details from each shot, not only by reviewing the LCD screen, but also by studying the image’s EXIF Data.  The EXIF data is embedded in each image and includes a mass of information, including the f-stop and shutter speed, ISO and file type.  Eventually, you may not want all the image data to show up on the screen after each shot, but while learning, it is essential to have that immediate and specific feedback.




Start by understanding the location and function of the essential controls.



Find the Essential Controls:
Discover what is familiar and what is different from your previous camera.  Even cameras from different manufacturers tend to follow similar schemes.   Find the labeled diagram with all the buttons and dials.  Only a few will be needed to get you started.  It all starts with the shutter.


 

  • Shutter(duh)
  • Shooting modes (Aperture & Shutter priority, manual),
  • ISO 
  • Exposure Adjustment

  • Auto Focus

  • Image Types





Once you have found the essential controls it is time to start playing.   Isolate the individual controls and experiment with them one at a time. Resist the urge to run out and shoot randomly.  I know the feeling, but you will get there faster with a systematic approach.



Exposure Control



Add caption


Shooting modes, Aperture and Shutter Priority, Manual, and ISO, all have their effect on exposure, but they also have secondary effects.  These include depth of field, motion capture, sharpness, and noise, that are important to understand during the early exploration of your camera’s features



Know the Secondary Effect


Aperture Priority: Depth of Field
 
 In aperture priority exposure is determined by the size of the opening.  That is simple enough, but you should explore the depth of field with various apertures.  DOF is dependent on the size of the aperture, but it is also affected by the size sensor.  For any f-stop, the DOF is much greater on the tiny sensor of an iPhone than from the ‘full” size sensor of many DSLRs.  









Shutter Priority:  Shake

Slow Shutter : Cotton Candy
Shutter speed directly controls the exposure, but it also affects your ability to capture motion.   The shutter speed’s impact on freezing or blurring motion is obvious, but as you first explore your new camera your question should be, “How fast does the shutter need to be to make it possible to hand-hold a shot”.  Most modern cameras or lenses have some form of shake reduction and a bit of experimentation is needed to determine how slow a shutter speed can be before some form of external stabilization is required.  Of course the “shake limit” is not strictly related to the camera.  It is also dependent on the focal length of the lens, and the amount of coffee you have consumed.  I’m not as stable as I used to be and I keep my monopod or tripod close at hand.



ISO: Noise

Modern cameras have remarkably sensitive sensors that can, with high ISO levels, shoot in low light situations, but, with increased ISO, noise inevitably becomes aproblem.  Again systematic experimentation is necessary to determine how high the ISO can be pushed before the noise becomes unacceptable to your eye.  Larger sensors tend to have less noise at high ISOs, but every camera is different.

ISO Noise Test




Automatic Exposure Schemes

Most camera have an array of choices for evaluating the amount of light reaching the sensor and adjusting the exposure in response.

Different exposure patterns can be selected, including center weighted, spot or various evaluative modes. It takes practice to understand how to select between them, and which works best in different lighting situations.  Evaluative might work well for generally even lighting, while a center weighted mode will be better to deal with the challenges of strong back-lighting.




Auto Focus:

9 point auto Focus : Canon 5D Mark II

Sharp focus is an essential part of capturing a great image, but it is not only about seeing clearly.  The location and depth of clear focus can direct the eye to the important parts of an image and de-emphasize the effect of distracting elements.   






63 focus points : canon 5D Mark IV
Manual focus is functionally simple, but often difficult to nail precisely, especially when viewed through a small, dark viewfinder.  Live view can help zero in on focus, but the ability of auto focus to find and lock on to precise focus is remarkable.  It is a matter of knowing how to give enough direction to the auto focus system so that it knows where you are looking.     






Learn how to activate and hold auto-focus over the desired part of the image.  Most cameras start with the “half press” shutter approach to achieving focus, but you might eventually consider the advantages of “back button focus”.  This typically requires a deep dive into the mysteries of your camera’s menus, but you will find that it can be worth the effort.






Image Types

Images can be recorded in a few different formats, typically Raw, JPG or both.  If possible, RAW is generally the best choice to capture the most amount of image data for eventual editing, but not all camera can shoot in RAW.



-----------------------------------------------------------------------------  

Practice

That is a very brief look at the first few pages of your massive manual.  It should get you started on an exciting exploration of the incredible capabilities of a modern digital camera.  Don’t be intimidated. To paraphrase a familiar quote, “ 99% of cameras are smarter than 10% of photographers”.   

So just enjoy the journey, and take it page by page.


Jeff Newcomer, NEPG
partridgebrookreflections.com

603-363-8338


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Single Lens Walk-About

Spofford Lake Outlet


Storm's Prelude, Spofford Lake
It has been 3 months since my hip replacement and I am doing well.  Walking smoothly without a cane and beginning to get back on the trails. Today I hiked up to beautiful, isolated Indian Pond.  Not a strenuous climb, but a milestone for me.  I’m still a bit nervous about doing too much jumping around on rocks, but it is hard to complain about the pace of my recovery.  Despite my increased mobility, much of my routine walking exercise is still around the traditional loop through our village of Spofford New Hampshire.  I have always been amazed at how much beauty and variety is pack into that short 1.2 mile loop, and I almost always find new points of interest to shoot along the way.  I walk with my Canon 5D Mark II strapped around my neck and most often attach my work-horse 24-105mm lens. 


24-105 Workhorse

Wide Angle Fern



The 24-105mm covers an amazing range of possibilities, but at times I like to force myself to see differently, and will use my 100mm fixed macro lens.  I love the sharpness of this lens and enjoy the opportunity to focus closely on the detail of the flowers and foliage along my route.  It is remarkable how restricting your view to a different  focal length range can change your way of seeing, and open whole new opportunities.  




 
 

Although my 100mm is the lens I use most commonly to “break away” from my usual point of view, I have other interesting options.  Of all my lenses, I believe that it is my 16-35mm wide angle that I use the least.  It is a great lens and I’m not sure why it gets so little love.  Perhaps the reason is that it overlaps the wide end of my 24-105 lens and often 24mm seems wide enough for most purposes.  Of course there is also the fact I get lazy about switching lenses and accept 24mm when 16mm might reveal more impact. When out shooting with my small shoulder bag, I can only carry one additional lens and, depending on my plans, that usually means that I will add my 100-400mm or the macro.  I need a Sherpa to carry all of my glass!





 
This week I decided it was time to give the 16-35mm a chance.  The thing cost enough!  I should use it or dump it on eBay.  So I went out on a single lens walk around, exploring my usual Spofford  loop, but with my eyes switched to take advantage of the special advantages of a wider point of view

 











Wide Angle Love
What special capabilities does a wide angle lens provide.  First and

Wide Angle Distortion
most obviously it allows us a wide angle of view.  People will often site this as an advantage when shooting expansive landscapes, but the wide angle should not be used just to cram more stuff in the image.  I seldom use the lens in this situation.  When faced with a broad landscape, I will most often capture a multi-image panorama of the scene. Our sophisticated editing software makes panoramas easy to process and with multiple shots the final image has higher resolution than a single wide angle frame.  As seen in the pictures of Spofford Lake, the multi-image panoramas also avoid  the distortion that extreme wide angle glass can create.  Note the elongation of the pontoon boat on the right.


Multi-Image Panorama




 

Foreground Power
 When I am shooting with a wide angle I am more likely to turn the camera on its side and capture strong foregrounds.  A key advantage of a wide angle lens is that it has a substantially wider depth of field.  It is an inescapable rule of optics that, when compared to longer glass, wider lenses have a smaller apertures for any f-stop, and therefore have a greater depth of field.  This makes them great for capturing sharp detail in foreground elements of an image.  Compared to my 100mm macro I can get greater depth in the flowers while the background falls off in the distance.  A key part of getting the most from a wide angle lens to find something of interest to place very close.




Converging Lines
As I took my turn around the Spofford Loop, I spent most of my time moving extremely close to the flowers and foliage.  I love the way this draws attention to the detail of the flora.  Of course,  an inevitable effect of the wide angle is the creation of converging lines.  Sometimes this can add an interesting perspective to the image, but it can also be an unnatural distraction.  Perspective controlling tools in editing programs such as Lightroom and 



Over-Correction of Perspective


Photoshop can help reduce this affect, but software has its limits.  The tools work by pulling the converging lines apart and when taken to extremes this can cause a distortion in the detail of the image.  Trees can appear to expand as they reach upward.



 







Whiskey Barrel Flowers
On my wide angle tour through Spofford I shot flowers, ground cover, ferns, and Ivy working its way up a tree.  I especially enjoyed capturing the flowers in my whiskey barrel. Susan will confirm that I have an excessive amount of pride about finally hiding or ugly well head inside the barrel.  It makes a great planter, fully covers the pipe and the alcoholic fumes can nearly knock you over.  That’s just one benefit from getting really close with a wide angle lens.

 


I had a lovely walk and I think I will keep my wide glass. It is just one part of using the camera to extend our vision.  

Jeff Newcomer
partridgebrookreflections.com
603-363-8338


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Art in the Park and the Autumn Photography Rush



 


It’s the end of another Art in the Park weekend and, as usual, after two full days of sitting and doing nothing, I am exhausted.




Art in the Park is Keene New Hampshire’s annual celebration of the arts in the Monadnock region and beyond. Every Labor Day weekend nearly 90 tents fill Ashuelot River Park with a broad range of artistic expression, painting, crafts, sculpture and off course photograph.










 
I have my 10 x 10 pop-up and a simply contrived, inelegant hanging system, but this is the only time each year that I do an art fair.  I typically sell enough to make it worthwhile, but the real reason to come back is for the opportunity to visit with friends and try to shame them into buying one more picture for their walls.  I enjoy sharing the stores behind my images and discussing my process, but it is a long couple of days.








It usually takes about two hours to set up the tent and attach my hanging system.  It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on custom built hanging walls but I have settled on a more basic approach.  I suspend ordinary metal shelving from wood slates attached to the tent supports and arrange the pictures with simple S hooks.  I place my mated images in a couple of display stands, set up my table and chairs. I then settle down for hours of the pleasant occupation of talking about my work.




It's All About the Weather
Take Down
The weather is always a concern.  Early September is generally a great time to be outside, but we live in fear of thunderstorm related wind and torrential downpours.   This year hurricane Hermine drifted out to sea and we lucked out with beautiful early autumn weather.   The crowds tend to follow the weather and business was steady. 








 


It was a successful weekend, but I have to admit that it is a good feeling to pack up for another year.  My bins are cluttering the house awaiting the next to show; Kristen’s CafĂ© in October.  










Hectic Autumn
Autumn is my busiest time both for teaching and fall foliage shooting.  Next Tuesday, I’m traveling down to Framingham Massachusetts for a talk to the Gateway Camera Club on the working with the variety of light that we enjoy in New England.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting another session of my Basic Digital Photography Course for Keene Community Education and, on the weekend of October 13-15th, I will be offering a workshop focused on fall foliage photography.  It is an exciting and hectic time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Now I have to collapse in bed after all that doing nothing.




Jeff Newcomer
partridgebrookreflections.com
603-363-8338