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, August 31, 2021

Portland’s Six Lighthouses

😡I Hate Change😡

A while back the New England Photography Guild web site was discontinued.  The Guild Facebook page is still active, but along with the discontinuance of our website our blog articles have been lost.  

It is sad to have lost all the great blogs contributed by my fellow members of the Guild, but The members are still out there celebrating the unique beauty of New England.  For my part, I was able to salvage the text from most of my articles.  

I plan to republish many of these blogs with the images retrieved from my archives.  I found that the text can be a bit funky and the background appears white, but the information is still there.  

Against the Storm, Portland Head Light


Portland's Six Lighthouses

A  couple of weeks ago we were visiting friends who every summer, spend a month at Rye Beach on the coast of New Hampshire.  This is a regular yearly trip, but whenever I get to the shore, I try to spend as much time as possible exploring the unique aspects of the coast.  I love the rocks, the surf, and the quaint seaside villages, but, of course, my favorites are the lighthouses.  Around Portland Maine, there are six lighthouses, some of which are more accessible than others, and one has a strong claim to being the ultimate classic beacon along the New England coast.  In the past, I have explored all of these lights, but since we decided to extend our trip up the coast to Portland, I decided to visit all of them in one afternoon.
You can check out the locations on my map and follow the GPS locations.  I decided to tour the lighthouses from south to north starting with the most challenging ones to approach, the Twin Lights.

1-2)  Twin Lights, Cape Elizabeth
43.5643N, 70.1989

Forward Range Twin Light, Portland, Maine

Only one of the two Twin Lights is still functioning and both are on private property.  Both were built around 1828, but in 1924, the government dismantled the West (Rear Range)Tower.

It is closed off and is now part of a private residence.  The other light is closer to the shore and, although it is still operating, it can’t be closely approached.  Both lights can be seen from the south at the Two Lights State Park parking lot.  I found a nice view of the functioning light from the parking lot of the nearby Lobster Shack.  I am told that the Shack is famous for its excellent selection of coronary inducing fried food, but even on this mid-week afternoon the line was thankfully endless and the parking lot packed.  I stopped for a couple shots of the lighthouses but then moved on to relinquish our spot to the paying customers.  I will have to return when the weather is more conducive to photography, that is, dark and foggy, and less attractive to the saturated fat seekers.

The famous American Realist painter, Edward Hopper, painted one of the towers in 1929.  In 1970, the painting was reproduced on the first US Postage stamp to depict a lighthouse.

Edward Hooper Lighthouse Twin Light


3) Portland Head Lighthouse, Cape Elizabeth
43.6232N, 70.2079W

Morning Passage, Portland, Maine

A short distance to the north along Route 77 and then Shore Road is Portland Head Lighthouse.  It was commissioned by President George Washington and is the oldest lighthouse in Maine.  Unquestionably it is the most photographed light in New England. Located inside the forty-one-acre Fort Williams Park, the lighthouse and the surrounding rocky shore make great subjects for photography in any season, and any time of day, but it is most dramatic around sunrise and sunset.  On this trip, we first visited on a sunny afternoon.  I was hoping that a recent storm might have kicked up some heavy surf, but the waves were just average.   I returned the next morning to catch a sunrise.  The signs announce that the gates open at sunrise but I was able to drive right in about thirty minutes before dawn.

You never can be sure what you will get from an Atlantic coast sunrise.  On this day the clouds were disappointingly few, but the light on the tower was lovely, and I caught some nice waves crashing on the rocks. When shooting an active lighthouse, I try to catch a picture or two with the flash of beacon’s light.  Every lighthouse has its own unique timing and, with a little attention, the light can be anticipated. These images don’t need to be your best, since the light can be blended into whichever picture comes out as your favorite.



I enjoy shooting any of our New England lighthouses, but a trip to Portland Head Light is always a magic return to Lighthouse Mecca.


4) Ram Island Light
43.6314N, 70.1876W

A visit to Portland Head Light is another two-for-one lighthouse opportunity.  Across the entrance to Portland Harbor from Cape Elizabeth is Ram Island Lighthouse.  It sits precariously on a ledge that threatens the northern side of the harbor channel.  The frequent shipwrecks led to the construction of the granite lighthouse, which was completed in 1905.  The lighthouse can be photographed from Fort Williams Park.  I like to include Portland Head Light in the frame.  I usually stand back as far as possible to allow a long lens shot to enlarge the distant Ram Island Light against Portland Head.  When possible, it is worth waiting to capture a passing sailboat or lobsterman.  

What can be better, two lighthouses, a sunrise, and a boat!  The only thing better would be to include massive waves crashing against the lighthouse – an excuse to come back again.  The Rams Island Light is now automated and was sold by the government to a private buyer in 2010 for $190,000.


Spring Point Ledge Light
43.6499N, 70.2255W

The next lighthouse up the coast is located next to the Campus of Southern Maine Community College.  Spring Point Ledge Light was built in 1897 to mark a dangerous Ledge which lies to the west of Portland’s main shipping channel.   It is a “spark plug” lighthouse, which traditionally refers to a beacon built on a caisson in open water with the light sitting on top of a cylindrical three-story living area.  They look a lot like spark plugs.  In 1951 the lighthouse was attached to the mainland with a 600-foot granite breakwater, making it the only caisson-style light in the U.S. that can be walked to by visitors.  The lighthouse is owned by the Spring Point Ledge Light Trust, which schedules tours of the structure during the summer.


Bug Light
43.6556N, 70.2349W

The final lighthouse in our tour is little Portland Breakwater Light which is also called “Bug Light”.  The current structure was built in 1875 and marks the entrance to Portland Harbor.  It was designed by Thomas Walter, the architect of the U.S. Capital buildings including dome.  The light is easily accessible from Bug Light Park, which includes a memorial to the New England Shipbuilding Corp shipyard.  During WW II, the massive yard constructed over 200 of the Liberty Ships that were so crucial in transporting American industrial output across the Atlantic.  Now, all that is left is a skeletonized bow, representing one of the ships.

Liberty Ship Memorial, Portland, Me

Whether you visit one or all 6 of Portland’s lighthouses you will find endless opportunities to capture much of what makes the Maine coast such a special place for photographers.  I hope to see you there.

For more images of Portland’s Six Lighthouses, check out my Portland LIghthouse Gallery

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Summer Deluge

Another Gulf Road "Transient"

In New England, every season offers its special photographic opportunities.  Autumn’s spectacular colors and winter’s quiet white blanket provide obvious attractions, while late falls “stick season” … well we must nap sometime.  Spring typically is valued both for the beautiful and varied early foliage, and also for the waterfalls that surge in response to the seasonal rains and spring run-off.

Garwin Falls, 2018

In recent years, I have scheduled a spring waterfall workshop for mid-May.  It is the best time of year to celebrate the flowing water in my corner of New England, but this year I had to cancel my plans.  First because the pandemic was still limiting close interactions and secondly because our unusually dry spring reduced the streams to disappointing trickles.

We finished May and June with severe drought conditions, but since the weather in New England never stays the same for long, we have been drowned in July.  Suddenly our streams and waterfalls have gushing at a time when the water is usually drying up for the hot summer months.

Old Jelly Mill Falls, Dummerston Vt

Chesterfield Gorge 

For several weeks I have been enjoying the late season flowing water.  Familiar waterfalls such as the Old Jelly Mill falls on Stickney Brook in Dummerston Vermont and Chesterfield Gorge in my home town, have been as active as I have ever seen. And, of course, the water has found its way into our leaky stone-lined basement.  Happily, our sump pump has been working hard to reduce what might have been 4-6 inches to just about 1 inch of water.

An Inch in the Basement

Route 30 Falls

I have been particularly struck by the dramatic flow in what I think of as transient run-off waterfalls.  My area has numerous falls that only seem to bloom in response to heavy downpours.  The water produces beautiful falls that come quickly and largely disappear within a few hours to a day.  On Route 30 near where Stickney Brook enters the West River, a steep road-side drop-off creates a lovely falls in response to heavy rain.  Come back any other time and there is only a trickle.

Fallen Arch July 2021

MadameSherri Forest in Chesterfield New Hampshire is most famous for the arched stairway which is the only remains of the Madame 1920’s summer party house.  Sadly, and inevitably, the recent storms appear to have been the last straw, resulting just a couple of weeks ago in the collapse of the top-most arch.  Happily, the area continues to offer other points of interest.  Next to the parking lot is the pond which had been the guest’s swimming hole.  The pond normally drains slowly into Gulf Brook, but here as well, the rains have energized the outflow to a boiling surge.

Madame Sherri Pond Outflow

Gulf Road "Transient"

Gulf Road Transients

Down the road from Madame Sherri, along the Gulf Road, is my favorite collection of “transient” waterfalls.  The road cuts through a deep gorge adjacent to the Gulf Brook, on its way to the Connecticut River.  During heavy rains, at several spots along the way, waterfalls plunge down the hillside to disappear under the road and into the brook.  When the weather is right you only need to stand in the road to capture these dramatic cascades dropping to your feet.  It’s easy shooting, but you may be forced to dodge the heavy trucks and bucket loaders as they repair the washed-out dirt road.  

"Transient after a couple of dry days

The important thing is to time it right.  Within a day or so of dry weather the show is largely over and we are back to a dry stream bed, or at most a trickle.

Another Gulf Road Transient

Boiling Gulf Brook

Wilde Brook, Chesterfield Gorge

So, I got my waterfall season, just a month late.  July is almost over and the rain hasn’t stopped yet.  I don’t know if this is the new, globally warmed, normal, but with the rain pouring down today, I guess I’ll be out shooting the falling water again tomorrow.

So get out and capture the falling water whenever nature delivers, and keep track of the “Transient” waterfalls in your area.

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Monday, July 19, 2021

Summer Infrared Season

Lower Pasture Chesterfield, NH
I have been sitting on this article since last summer.  Now, the earth has turned and it is again a great time to talk about exploring our landscape beyond our own vision into the infra-red.   

I hate to generalize, but for photography in New England, summer is not my favorite season.  Perhaps I expressed it best in a previous article from the summer of 2017:

“It’s summer!  Great! The days are balmy, which is just a nicer way of saying hot and humid.  The Black Flies have been replaced by voracious Mosquitoes, and, if you want to see the sunrise, you must drag yourself out of bed at 4:30 AM.  It is wonderful to see all the green, but the foliage has largely matured to the same monotonous shade for maximal photosynthesis.  BAH HUMBUG?”

To be sure, I enjoy the rich fragrant air with its sweet scents of fresh growth, and I will admit that New England’s warm summer months hold their own visual attractions.  Summer sunsets and sunrises can be dramatic, as can the light during the changeable weather, from morning fog to afternoon thunderstorms.  I have always insisted that, if we are prepared to accept what nature provides, all seasons and times of day can provide photographic opportunities, but I get bored with the persistent monochrome of green.

Happily, summer offers another photographic attraction.  All that green creates the perfect conditions for infrared photography. 

Bradley Hill Vision

Pasture Gate, Chesterfield NH
 Everything that we see comes from our retina’s ability to respond to a narrow spectrum of reflected light.  Beyond the reds, in slightly longer wavelengths, which are just beyond what we can see, lies infrared. Reflected infrared light changes the appearance of the world.  Most notably, plant matter reflects light strongly in the infrared, making the summer greens appear like a winter landscape and the blue sky turns a deep black as it absorbs the infrared light. Infrared penetrates haze, causing even the dullest landscapes to snap to attention.  It may all seem unreal, but what an infrared sensor "sees" is actually no less true than what our retinas record in blues to reds.  

Electromagnetic Spectrum

Infrared photography follows most of the rules of Black and White.  Void of color, the visual impact depends on pattern and contrast. 

Spofford Home

In previous articles, I have discussed the effects of infrared light and how I modified my old Canon 20D to become an infrared camera. What I wanted to do in this post was to share some of my infrared images from this summer.  Hopefully I can inspire you to convert one of your old dust-collecting doorstops into an infrared camera.  LifePixel specializes in such conversions, and I was happy with their service.   It is not expensive and you will learn that there is much more to our world than can be seen through the illusion created by our narrow visual spectrum.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Birds and a Bear

Proud Goldfinch
So here is the story.

For years Susan and I have been frustrated by periodic bear attacks on our bird feeders.  The feeder would suddenly be missing or dragged away down the embankment toward Partridge Brook, and the Sheppard hook would be bent down in a curve, often impossible to straighten.  Sometimes we could salvage the sadly mauled feeder, but after our most recent attack this summer the poor thing was devastated beyond repair.

Male Cardinal

We love our birds, with the feeders attracting Chickadees, Titmouse, Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Purple and House Sparrows, and, this year, an especially prolific and brilliant collection of Goldfinch.  We could not forsake our feathered friends, so we got a new feeder and set it out among a collection of branches hung to provide convenient perching locations.  The branches also provided me the opportunity to photograph the birds in more natural appearing settings.

Over the last couple of weeks, the birds have gone crazy, camping on the branches, and draining our new, larger, feeder every day.  Because the bears have always attacked at night, we resumed bringing the feeder into the house every evening.  No problem?

Over the years, our feeders have probably been bear smacked 6-7 times.  It is annoying, but most frustrating for me as a photographer is that during all this time, I have never seen, much less been able to photograph, one of these felons. 

Earlier this week on my return from a walk, I noticed that the feeder was missing.  It was noon, and I knew that it could not have been a bear attack, not in the middle of a bright and busy summer day, but the feeder was gone.  And then I saw the bear lurking at the edge of the steep bank leading down to Partridge Brook. For just one second, I cursed my presumptions about daytime attacks, and then I ran into the house to get my camera, quickly attaching my 100-400mm telephoto.  When I returned outside, the bear was gone, and I cursed myself a second time for not grabbing a quick and fuzzy iPhone pic of the beast when I had the chance. I was certain that my compulsion to “gear-up” had robbed me of the chance to finally capture a shot of our bear.

The bear was nowhere to be seen and I heard no rustling in the woods.  Dejectedly, I wandered to the edge of the bank hoping to catch a glimpse of the bear retreating far below along the brook. 


Then suddenly, a black apparition jumped from behind a tree, just 20 feet from my nearly soiled underwear. We stared, he huffed, and then something strange and stupid happened.  Before I retreated to our deck, I actually stood and snapped several quick pictures of the face-off. I don’t know what I was thinking.  I can only guess that my photographer’s brain must have taken over and refused to miss yet another chance to “bag” my bear.  I don’t remember if I attempted to focus, but I must have tried, since the focal length was 320mm and I was expecting to see something far down the bank.  I had no chance to make any other adjustments and, on aperture priority of f14, the shutter was only 1/25th second.  Not surprisingly, two of the three images were a bit blurry, but miraculously, one shot was passably sharp.  In retrospect, I am only happy that I had no pictures of massive claws descending onto my head. Good sense quickly took over, and I scampered back to the relative safety of our deck.

Again, the bear had disappeared, but just as I caught my breath, Mr. Bear returned.  He meandered along the bank edge and nearly chased us into house when he ventured further into the yard.  He turned out to be a very cooperative model, but my decision to grab my telephoto was vindicated.  I was able to get sharp close-up shots with the lens stabilized on the deck railing. He was an impressive beast, probably at least 250-300 lbs., but my estimate may have been affected by our earlier close encounter.  Incidentally, I feel comfortable referring to the bear as “he” since review of my images provided ample evidence of his gender.

I finally bagged my bear and learned some important lessons. First, we can no longer feed our birds in the summer.  Removing the feeder at night is no longer proof against increasingly bold animals.  We hope to salvage our feeder from down by the brook, but it won’t be rehung until after hibernation in the winter.  Second, being surprised by a bear, 20 feet away, is not the time for photographs – duh!  Black bears generally do not attack humans, but that was crazy.  Finally, I will miss all my beautiful birds, but during the summer they will have no problem finding food.  I will be there for them when the snow flies.

It may be awhile before I get another chance to capture such great bear shots, but I will be satisfied grabbing many more pictures of our little grandson, “Bear Cub” Owen.

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Flash Photography I, Cute Little Owen!

This is intended to be the first in a series of articles about flash photography, but, first things first.

Owen Loves Yogurt : Perfect!
I have the cutest, most good-natured 8-month-old grandson.  This statement may seem a bit over-zealous, but I am only reporting an inarguable fact, which is unrelated to how long we have been waiting for our first grandchild.  Owen is always happy, he never cries, and only poops sweet-smelling sunshine. 

Ok, I may be getting carried away, but he is a great little Kid.  Since he was born, Sue and I have been excited to spend as much time as possible with Owen, but over the last LONG months we have been frustrated by our pandemic-induced isolation.  We have been forced to make do with frequent Facetime visits and Zoom family meetings.  We are grateful for the new technology, but it cannot replace the warmth of real physical contact.  All we wanted to do was blow kisses into his neck, inducing the inevitable chortling giggles.  

Happily, after 2 weeks of strict isolation in their home outside of Boston, the family came to join us for an extended stay in New Hampshire. 

For nearly 3 weeks, we gladly cared for the little guy while Abigail and Grayson caught up on their work, setting up their remote offices on our dining room table.  As you might expect, I have been shooting tons of pictures of our delightful grandson.  I would love to fill this article with the undisputable photographic proof of Owen’s perfection, but his parents are reluctant to splash his face across the internet.  I understand their concern.  It would be cruel to spread dissatisfaction among all the other new parents of the world. 
Flat Mat Rickey

Because of the scarcity of willing models during the pandemic, I have been forced to use more compliant subjects.  Meet "Rickey the Head".  Rickey was originally designed to demonstrate various CPAP masks for patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, but with a coat of mat paint to blunt his plastic sheen, he is a reasonable subject for my flash experiments. Owen would have been MUCH better!

Flash (Some Basics)
I don’t think I can get more obnoxious, so I guess I better move on.  One of the side benefits of spending so much time photographing Owen is that I have become more comfortable with the use of my flash.

 Given my concentration on landscape photography, I have seldom needed to use artificial lighting.  For portraits, I have depended on natural illumination, even when that meant that I was forced to either use high ISO or suffer from soft blurry images.  I have never been thrilled with the results from my flash photography.  It is not because of a lack of gear.  I have always felt that I possess more speed lighting equipment than the knowledge to use it effectively.  

Over the years, I have regretted this deficiency.  I have felt uncomfortable that my Introduction to Digital Photography Course contained no discussion of the use of flash.  My next offering of the course is scheduled for next autumn and will be on-line.  I had already planned to expand the course to five sessions and include a preliminary discussion of flash photography.  I have always found that the best way to learn something is to be forced to teach it, but Owen’s 3-week residency provided an even better opportunity to expand my understanding of flash and prepare for my class discussion.

I will venture into a discussion of the types and usage of flash, but, this week, I will touch on a somewhat disconnected collection of information will include:

  • How electronic flashes work
  • How the burst of light synchronizes with a camera's shutter
  • What effects the exposure of flash images
  • How the quality of the light can be modified  

More details will be coming, although much of my time is still filled with Owen duty - both the activity and the brown residue.

Types of Flash

Sadly, I am old enough to remember when “flash” meant using flash bulbs for a quick crude blast of light. Over recent decades, single-use bulbs have been replaced by electronic strobes.  

Tubes for Canon 580EX II Flash
Electronic flashes produce short blasts of light created when a charged capacitor releases high voltage through a Xenon gas filled tube. Electronic flashes produce intense light over a short duration usually measured in thousands of a second. The amount of light delivered by the flash is governed by the duration of the burst of light and not by its brightness.  The short flashes produce less light. They demand less power from the batteries and require shorter recycling times. The shorter bursts also work better at freezing action.  When flash duration is at its maximal duration, some blurring may be seen in very rapid motion, but, for most speedlights, and depending on how it is measured, the flash duration ranges from about 1/400th second at max power to 1/20,000 at lowest output. 

By comparison, Apple iPhones and most other smart phones use a short blast of LED light for their flash.  The light is less intense and therefore must be of longer duration and less able to freeze action.

Cameras generally have a maximum shutter speed for synchronization with the flash burst.  The great majority of DSLRs use a focal plane shutter.  In these, a first leaf moves across to expose the sensor and then the second follows to end the exposure.
Example of Flash Duration at Full and 1/2 Power
At half power flash cuts of at 50% brightness
 At slow shutter speeds, usually less than or equal to 1/200 - 1/250 the shutter is fully open for a short period of time before the second leaf closes, and a properly timed flash can expose the entire sensor evenly.  At faster shutter speeds, the second leaf must begin its trip across the sensor before the first leaf is fully open. 
Fast Shutter Dark Curtain (Wikipedia)
 The result of this moving slit is that there is no moment when the flash can expose the entire sensor.  My Canon 5D Mark IV has a maximum Synch speed of 1/200.  Above this I will see a dark curtain across a portion of the image where the flash failed to expose the sensor.  

Happily, when the flash is engaged, my camera routinely does not allow shutter speeds faster than the max synch.  My 580EX II, and many other flashes, have a setting for “High Speed Synch” which allows faster shutter speeds by using a series of fast bursts to prolong the flash duration.  

Flash Exposure
The important thing to remember is that the electronic flash is generally much faster than the synchronization speeds, and therefore, the exposure is independent of the shutter speed and is governed by:
  • Flash “power” (actually, the duration),
  • Aperture size 
  • ISO

The shutter speed only affects the  amount of ambient light seen in the image. So:

Basic Rules of Flash Exposure:
  • Exposure of the flash subject can be modified by changing the flash power, the aperture (f-stop), or the ISO
  • Changes in the shutter speed only affects the brightness of the ambient light. 
  • Changes in the f-stop affects the flash brightness more than the ambient background light, but if you adjust f-stop to alter flash exposure, you still may need to compensate for the change in ambient light with an adjustment in the shutter speed.
  • Changes in the ISO affects the brightness of both the flash and ambient light.

    Simple, more on this later

Flash Quality
All electronic flashes work in a similar way to illuminate a subject, but the quality of the light can vary greatly.  The quality of light depends on multiple factors including: 

  • The size of the tube.  The larger the size of the flash, the softer the light.

580EX II Flash vs Pop-up flash on the  Canon SX50 HS
  • The ability to control the light intensity, most notably with manual controls or feedback systems such as TTL (Through  the Lens) metering.

TTL Mode on Canon 580EX II

  • The ability to modify the light with diffusers, umbrellas, soft boxes.  All to increase the apparent size of the flash, which softens the light and allows it to bend around the subject.
Globe Diffuser
Handy when on the fly
 chasing a rug rat
Owen Chews, Globe Diffuser

  • The flash location (on or off the camera) Please, if possible, get your flash off the camera.

26 Inch Octa Soft Box, Off Camera with Radio Trigger

  • The ability to combine lighting with other flashes as a master or slave, using cables, or optical, infrared or radio triggers.
Godox Radio Trigger

  • The ability to modify the color temperature of the flash with gels
Honl Full CTO (Color Temperature Orange) Gell:
Adjusts flash to match incandescent light or warm evening light

Read the Books!
This is only the briefest introduction of a few important topics. There is much to talk about, the complexity can be daunting.  It is more than I can hope to cover in a few short blogs.   There are many articles and books which cover electronic flash in much greater detail.  A couple which I have found particularly helpful include:

A great choice for those shooting with Canon equipment. I have the first edition, which although missing information about Canon’s latest top-level flash (e.g. the 600EX-RT), still Covers my 580EX II and does a wonderful job making flash comprehensible.  The 2nd Edition is quite pricey, but I may go for the new book if I get the 600EX.  Of course, by then there will probably be a 700EX.

A short book which clearly sets out Scott’s simple approach to flash in his folksy style. It is not as encyclopedic as Syl Arena’s guide, burt unlike Syl’s, it is not directed toward a specific system.  Also it is a whole lot cheaper.  Although Scott’s basic approach to manual control of flash is mercifully straight forward, he suggests a long list of additional, wonderful, but expensive equipment. That cheap book has already cost me a lot more money!

Read the Damn Manual:
Your camera and flash manuals are full of great information which is specific to your gear.  They are free and, unless, like me, you can’t find the manual for you’re 580XE II,  you already have them,   Never fear, copies of all the manuals are available on-line.  The manuals are a great start, but they necessarily tend to be focused on the specific gear.  Books such as the ones above excel in discussing how flash can be modified and crafted to fulfill your artistic vision.

You have your camera and flash, now you need to get out and shoot.  Read the manual, try different settings, and learn from your mistakes with the instant feedback which digital photography provides.  

Modern flashes are wonders of smart technology, but I recommend starting with manual.  As you become more comfortable with how electronic flash works, you will be able to identify the situations in which manual or smart setting, such as TTL, are best used and be able to tell why things go wrong.   
Globe providing fill flash to balance with the background ambient light

My grandson Owen is back for another stay, prolonged I hope, and I anticipate getting more experience in the use of artificial light. The learning never stops.

Jeff Newcomer