Category Archives: Personal

Back from NYC…

We had a chance to get back to the east coast for a quick visit to NYC and the WTC 9/11 Memorial. Quite an emotional time… the people around me, myself… my brother tells me that the volunteers place yellow roses in the names of those lost, on their birthdays…

Close-Up Photography, Behind The Scenes…

Close-up photo of sedum

My wife surprised me over the weekend with a large flowerpot she filled with succulent sedums to brighten up the studio door entrance. The area in question gets a lot of afternoon sun so she came up with something that can stand all that light and heat and also not require very much watering.

I had been in the studio shooting close-up images of blood testing kits and needed a bit of a break from all that close focusing so I headed outside to shoot close-ups of the new sedums! This entire shot occupies about as much real estate as the top segment of your thumb so we are definitely past 1:1 in scale here. I had recently upgraded to the newer Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro lens from the older 100mm USM macro introduced in March 2000. While I had no complaints about the older version except being slow to focus in low light (what else is new?) I wanted to see what the designation of L quality had to offer. Being almost double in price, I was expecting a lot and it did not disappoint.

For much of my close-up work with the older lens, I relied on a 62mm Nikon 5T close-up lens attached with a step-up ring to the 58mm macro. This arrangement allowed me to go beyond 1:1 for much of my macro work without having to employ extension tubes which eat a considerable amount of light. There is virtually no light loss with the 5T as it screws on to the front of the lens. With the new lens being larger at 67mm filter thread size, I would need a step-down ring from 67mm to 62mm and this situation had the potential for vignetting the corners using the smaller 5T CL lens.

I’m happy to report that was not the case as I soon discovered. I haven’t experimented at many distances yet, but in this instance I was only about 6 inches away from the little flowers and any slight vignetting was added in Lightroom4 but I was glad to see no apparent vignetting from the lens/ring/5T set-up. Shot in manual focus (as are 95% of my macro images) the lighting consisted of one dome-diffused Canon 600EX-RT on the left, aided by a white fill-card on the right. The colors were sweet but when I saw it on the camera’s LCD monitor it cried out for a B+W treatment. Enjoy :-)

Remembering my step-dad Tom Maher…

My step-dad Thomas L. Maher passed away on September 11th, 2011. Tom was a husband, father, grand-father, great-grand father, and great-great-grandfather, a skilled machinist, mechanic, and avid golfer. Tom was the kind of guy who never backed down from a mechanical challenge, who in the morning after coffee, could take a non-running engine and the shell of a bug and by suppertime have a street-legal, Inspection-ready Volkswagen Beetle ready to go. I have personally seen this happen many times.

When Tom came into our family, it must have been difficult for him. The McLernon’s then were a loud and boisterous bunch, and the air around our dinner table was thick with tales of the 60’s & 70’s, politics, business, student unrest, and a family of doers setting off in a wide array of career and lifestyle directions.

In early August 1975, the summer of my nineteenth year, after an emotionally sleepless night contemplating all I was leaving behind and all I wanted my life to become, I packed up my van and in a bright, clear New Jersey morning started the journey of my life, a road-trip to Arizona to begin my love affair with the West and to continue my dis-jointed college education. Much to my surprise, the first letter I received from my Mom at my new home, brought news that she and Tom were married in our back yard on a beautiful September day, and she even included a few photos to prove it. I was only gone three weeks and was kinda miffed that they pulled a fast one on me, not that she was marrying Tom, but that it appeared they waited until I was safely out-of -town to tie the knot!

Tom’s natural curiosity about how things work was frequently on display as he took on jobs fixing things around our house that stayed fixed. Tom was also always keenly interested in some new technology, whether it was CB radios, computer hardware and software, or learning the ins and outs of digital photography.

When Tom & Char moved to North Carolina, within a few months he built the shop of his dreams, “Tom’s Own Shop” to house his thousands of tools and his trusted retirement lathe from DeLaval Turbine.  Tom was never too busy to design and create some arcane piece of studio hardware I needed yet couldn’t afford out of a block of steel and after a short time in his shop, he’d have produced it, leaving behind a large blob of blue metal shavings and the lingering aroma of burning oil. In relaying the story about his retirement, Tom said De Laval had offered him the traditional retirement pocketwatch or the lathe he’d worked on all those years since they were retooling his shop. Tom selected the lathe because in his words “I already had a watch”!

Tom taught me how to use a chainsaw.

Finally, there was a mischievous side to Tom that I hope many of you had the agonizing pleasure to endure. I will leave you with two small vignettes that perfectly illustrate his fun loving side. Whenever we were down at the house in NC, Sundays were always an issue about what sporting event was going to be on TV, my NASCAR or Tom’s golf. His house, his rules, so many times I headed over to the Winners Circle Restaurant in Myrtle Beach to watch the race or to the beach to listen to it on the radio. I think he felt a little bad about this but not so bad that it stopped him from sitting down those Sundays in his favorite chair with a cold beer, a  hot sandwich and Freddie Couples. One year, Tom excitedly told me he finally broke-down and bought a TV for the back bedroom and when I stayed at their house from now on, I could watch all the NASCAR I wanted to when I came to visit. When I arrived and walked back there, low and behold, there it was, in all it’s glory, a miniature 4”x5” black and white TV from Radio Shack. “Just like downtown”! Tom said.

Lastly, this story still brings tears of joy to Gayle and I and is totally true. The first time Tom and Char met my future wife in September 1995, Gayle had flown in from Portland, Oregon to celebrate the Labor Day weekend with us and we were sitting down to a nice Tom & Char home-cooked turkey dinner. During salads, Gayle feels something pressed against her leg under the table and it is a note being passed to her from Tom. Not knowing what to think or do, she discreetly unfolds the paper, reads the note and hands it to me with mixture of delight and alarm on her face. After meeting the woman of my dreams only one hour before, Tom had slipped her a note with a poker face, that read “Please help me. I am being held captive here against my will.”

I’ll close by saying that it’s true, Tom’s passing leaves a void in many of our lives today but he is now without pain and hopefully in some way reunited with his beloved Charlotte. By remembering him, either by his generous nature, mechanical wizardry, making the whole carload lift their feet as we traversed the NC/SC state line, the Cool Whip container in the freezer where the hand-written label said mashed potatoes but was really frozen peas, or those unbelievable poems or limericks he could spout off the top of his head at a moments notice, these remembrances may bring all who knew him some small comfort and even a bit of joy. If they do, then rest assured, Tom’s spirit will endure.

I never called him Dad but he always treated me like a son.

Godspeed, Pop-pop!

Recharging the Batteries, Columbia River Gorge Trains…

Gorge Train

After spending the better part of two months using Canon Speedlites to shoot lots of images for my new Digital Field Guide about the Speedlite system, I felt like I needed a break from flash photography and the computers. My photographer friend Dave Lutz suggested a trip out to the Gorge to shoot some trains, bridges and tunnels and I thought it was just the ticket to get the ‘ole creative juices flowing again. Sometimes all we need to break the routine is to step outside and flex the creative muscle.

While Dave chimps his images on his camera’s LCD monitor, I photographed him in Continuous shutter mode as a freight train whizzed by. This one was by far the best of the burst as the camera isolated him in the negative space between the railcars and an added bonus was getting the fall leaves behind him on the other side of the train.

Gorge Train2

Adding a Second Speedlite to Your Macro Photography…

This was shot in my backyard for the macro section of my new Canon Speedlite Digital Field Guide set for release February 2010. It shows the benefit of adding a second Speedlite for the background (triggered by PocketWizards) to counteract the tendency of the background to go black when shooting macro images at high f/numbers.
Canon 5D Mk II, ISO 2000, f/11 @ 1/80 sec. with an EF100mm macro lens. Macro Twin-Lite MT-24EX for the main light, 580EX II for the background, both on manual settings.

I So Believe in Karma…


I am continually amazed at the good things that happen in life and today was one of those times.

Without going into all the details, 29 years ago (1980), I paid a fine for a friend who was, let’s say, unable to do so. I was living in Arizona at the time, planning to move back to NJ in a month and that was a fairly big hit to my travel budget, but it was the right thing to do at the time. Back in NJ I kept sporadically in touch with them and every time we’d speak they said they’d make good on the debt. Well, after a while the calls stopped coming and my letters were returned as “undeliverable”.

I was more than frustrated and pissed that I had been blown off like that, knowing that money would definitely help my gear budget for my brand new photography business. As more time went by, I got over it, chalked it up to my own naivete, and figured it was one expensive life lesson I just paid for and made a note to self, to never do that again.

This past Saturday I was back at the studio after a small portrait shoot, on the computer downloading images and an email pops into my inbox and it’s from that same old friend. I sat back in my chair, not believing my eyes, stunned. Could it be real? Or some mutual friend just jacking me around for a laugh? A short cryptic note with a website link in the tagline. I clicked it and a flood of emotions took over as I saw this successful person’s passion displayed on their business website. Hands shaking, I dialed the number on the website.

Long story short, we talked for an hour and again the long standing debt was discussed and a check was promised.

It arrived today.

Never say never. That’s why I believe in Karma…and people.

Canon 5D Mark II Digital Field Guide…

Canon 5DMkII cover

My book is finally out in the bookstores! As many of you know,  this spring I wrote a digital field guide for an exciting new Canon camera, the 5D Mark II, for Wiley Publishing. I hadn’t wanted to blog too much about the process while I was writing it because part of me wasn’t sure I could complete the book within the required timeframe but now that it’s published, I thought I’d share some details about the process.

Around October of last year, my friend Mark Fitzgerald of the Digital Darkroom called me to see if I would be interested in writing a book about the new camera (not yet out) for the company that publishes his Lightroom and Photoshop Bibles. “Absolutely” I said, having never written a book before! Mark hooked me up with his Acquisitions Editor who was overseeing the project and long series of emails and phone calls commenced. 265 emails all totaled. Wild.

It was an extrodinary learning experience. Where I had hardly ever, in all my years, looked in the camera manuals that come with new cameras more than a handful of times, my 5D Mark II manual is now, literally falling apart from over use, checking and rechecking procedures and language for accuracy.

I’ll be highlighting different aspects of the book in future blog posts but wanted to get this up today. You can find more info about the book from Amazon here, Barnes & Noble here or Borders here(Borders has the previous 5D DFG author listed :-P .) I’m now hard at work on my second DFG for the series, this one on the Canon Speedlite System due out in February 2010 and a third one (top-secret!) is in the works. Wow, it’s like a whole new career!