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Photography Holidays, Courses and Workshops in France

Learning Resources

Photography holidays in FranceMolly - 3 This part of Studio Lavalette's website is designed to hold information and/or links to useful learning resources that we think might help you with your photography and image editing.

Learning Resources - Menu

1. Inkjet printing

2. f/stop Explained

3. Auto-bracketing

4.  The Hipstamtic iPhone App

5. Black and White Printing

6. Graduated Neutral Density Filters

7. Flashguns & Speedlites

8.  CameraSim



Although inkjet printers have been around for 15-20 years people still struggle to make decent prints: what they see on the computer screen is just not what comes out on the paper.  It's all very frustrating.  So I wrote this article for a friend, that you might find helpful. I know it refers to large-format printing, and the Epson 4000 printer, but the principles of how to create great-looking inkjet prints still applies. 

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I came across this write-up on the f/stop years ago - it is the most exhaustive and thorough explanation I've ever read.

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Auto-bracketing is where you set your camera to take more than one shot (say 3, 5 or 7 shots) of the same scene, but each shot has a different exposure setting.  Note that the camera does not actually take each of the multiple shots, you do, it's just the exposure settings are changed automatically for you by the camera's software.  You can always set the camera to do a burst of shots, then press and hold the shutter button and the multiple shots will be taken at the differing exposure settings.

If you intend to use a sequence of auto-bracketed shots for an HDR image, you'll almost certainly need a tripod and almost certainly need a shutter release cable - for more on auto-bracketing and HDR see this Step-by-Step Guide to HDR images. 

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Synthetic LLC is a software business based in San Francisco that develops apps for the iPhone. It's founders are Lucas Buick and Ryan Dorshort, they come from Wisconsin and look altogether far too young!

At the moment they have three apps on the market:

  • Hipstamatic;
  • Swankolab; and
  • Incredibooth

Hipstamatic was launched in December 2009 and has millions of downloads,  but it was not until two years later did I discover it - and I confess that I'm somewhat addicted!

Basically the app uses the iPhone camera lens and functionality, but renders square images that have had a bunch of *filters applied to them and in a variety of combinations to make the photograph look dated - it could just as easily been called a "retro-matic".

*The filters are chosen by the user, but are dressed-up as: different types of film; varying lenses; and different flash units etc. The basic app comes with some tasters of all three and you can buy and download a slew of others. You can label and organise your photos, share them via the Hipstamatic website or other social networking sites and get them printed. It's a very clever business and business model and I wish I'd have thought of it!

Their website is here and I recommend you download it and give it a spin.

There are other competitors out there, like Vintage Cam, but as someone who used to run a business that developed plug-ins for Photoshop, I think what these guys have done is fantastic.  You can see some of my Hipstamatic photos of the River Cam at Byron's Pool here.

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I print using an Epson 4000 and in getting my 10 B&W photographs ready for my Royal Photographic Society, (“RPS”), Licentiate assessment, I discovered that the under sunlight there was a green colour-cast on the prints and under fluorescent lights I could see a magenta colour-cast. – eek....neither were particularly edifying or for that matter desired! And as the RPS are looking for technically good photographs, I decided I needed to better understand the problem and find a fix.

The colour-casts arise when you print using Photoshop, letting it drive the ICC profiles to match printer and paper – see this PDF for more details on how to print and ICC profiles.  But….when printing B&W’s, Photoshop draws on all the ink cartridges, not just the black ones,  and this is what causes the colour-casts to appear.  

So the solution lay with a raster image processor (“RIP”) that just used the Matte Black, Photo Black and Photo Black ink cartridges on the Epson 4000 – and after Googling for a while I found these guys  - and within 30 minutes my problems were solved!  Now, irrespective of the lighting conditions and lighting sources, my B&W prints look B&W and there are no colour-casts at all.  Thank you Roy Harrington and team at QTR!

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In 3. (above) I talk about the virtues of auto-bracketing 3-7 photos and then together using these shots to make an HDR image.  But there are, of course, other ways to sort out scenes that are "compromised" e.g. the instance of a sunset where there is strong light in the sky, but the foreground, relative to the sunset, is dark. The "compromise” is this:

  • if you expose the shot so as not to blow-out the sky, the foreground will be a black mess, with no shadow detail;...but....
  • if you expose the shot for the foreground, the sky will be completely blown-out.  Eek!

So if you’re not interested in making an HDR image, consider using a, (the rather pompously entitled), Graduated Neutral Density Filter, or “Grad” for short.  In my opinion the best Grads are made by Lee – here is their website.  I’ve just bought the basic Lee system to get me started – this includes:

  • a holder for up to three Grads;
  • a lens adapter for the Grad holder;
  • a set of three Grads; and
  • a pouch for the three Grads – at £180 for three Grads, these dudes are expensive and I want them properly protected.

I’ll be out and about shooting again soon and will post my results so you can see the step change improvement I’m expecting.

Update - 17 May 2012....I just found this short movie made by Lee Filters - it explains everything I've written above, but with added visual demos:

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I've been using Bowens studio flash heads for about 7-8 years now and they are solid and reliable chaps, but until recently I've never really used my flashgun - it's a Canon Speedlite 430 EXII. With the impending launch of our photography courses in France, I thought I'd better get a handle on this little beastie and to get the best out of it.  Well.....I've now done some extensive testing and can report as follows:

NB - before people start launching libel suits for misrepresentation, I want to stress that all my tests so far have been done indoors, with no other light source other than the Speedlite(s).

  • The hotshoe is quite simply the last place in the universe to put a flashgun. The results consistently range from abhorrent to quite awful.  Even if you twist/angle the flash and bounce light off ceilings or walls, there no redeeming features to using this accessory. I'd rather not take a photograph than use the Speedlite on the hotshoe.  End of.
  • So If the hotshoe produces naff results, that implies you have to get the flash off it.  With credit card in hand I bought a bracket made by Custom Brackets in the US.  I bought this one which sits to the right of the lens (as you look through the viewfinder).  At the time of purchase, I did realise that any portrait shots would put the flash underneath the lens, but the bracket looked cheap, easy and fast to use. Sadly I have to report the bracket is just that, cheap, easy and fast, because the results were still pretty miserable and unflattering even when bounced.
  • I went back to Custom Brackets and ordered this one .  It's quite expensive and somewhat fiddly to fix the camera to.  True you can move your camera around and the flash stays in the same place, but from a photographer's standpoint, the pictures were less than inspiring. I conclude that unless you are desperate, even this fancier and expensive bracket does not produce what I deem to be pleasing results.

So, after taking more than 500 photographs with these two brackets, for which I noted all, (and I do mean "all"), the camera settings and physical measurements/distances, (from the flash to the model; from the model to the floor; from the model to the backdrop; the angle of the flash etc etc), I concluded that:

  • not only is it imperative that you need to get the Speedlite off the camera;
  • but you need to get the Speedlite away from the lens - and I mean right away; and
  • you need to diffuse the Speedlite itself.

Somewhere in our brains, we humans are hard-wired to see light striking objects at an angle,  (rather than directly at an object), it's because this is precisely what the sun does.  Depending on the time of year, the sun tracks through the sky anywhere from 50 to 120 degrees and the shadows created by it fall across objects and then away at an angle.  In all but the desert, the sun also produces produces graduated shadows rather, than harsh unforgiving black areas.

Back at the drawing board...I bought the following:

"photography courses", France, "Photoshop courses"Softbox

A portable Lastolite 54x54cm softbox - they give it a whizzy name and call it an "Ezybox". 

"photography courses", France, "Photoshop courses"Clamp

The head of the Speedlite fits into the back of the Ezybox, and through the post-box opening of, this, the EzyboxPlate.  The Plate easily attaches to the back of the Softbox.

"photography courses", France, "Photoshop courses"Connector

The Ezybox Plate then connects to this, the Lastolite Ezybox Tilthead Bracket, enabling you angle the Softbox Plate and Speedlite.

"photography courses", France, "Photoshop courses"Stand

You then screw the Tilthead Bracket to this, a Bowens Compact Stand.  Job done...well not quite.  I also bought...

"photography courses", France, "Photoshop courses"Canon 580 Speedlite

...another Speedlite, this time a Canon 580 EXII....

"photography courses", France, "Photoshop courses"Transmitter

..a Canon Transmitter....and lastly...

"photography courses", France, "Photoshop courses"Battery

...a lithium battery for the Transmitter.  You'd think that when you spend £170 on a Canon Transmitter, they'd throw-in the £5 lithium battery, but no, it's extra!  As are the four AA batteries needed to power the 580 Speedlite that costs £350.

Armed with the above kit, I can tell you that I'm now taking, what I consider to be, acceptable photographs.   There is no substitute for natural light, especially during the two golden hours (one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset); the next best source are flash heads, and the last, is the Speedlite configuration above.

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Over in Washington State, on the USA's West Coast, a chap called Jon Arnold has developed an online, self-help, simulator for those photographers wanting to get to grips with the differences between f/stops and the speed with a shot can be taken.  He's also built-in features like distance, ISO setting and focal length.  I think it's a brilliant and cool app., as do thousands of others.  Check out his website here.

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