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About the author

Hi and welcome! my name is Michael Baker, you can call me Mike, 63 this year, a UK expat now living in Sweden, a Swedish wife and 4 children (+ 3 grandchildren) add to the picture, not pensioned yet, I work as a production technician and have a background from mechanical engineering in the UK. My interest in photography started when I was about 15 years old, got my hands dirty in the darkroom, even tried colour development, without much success I should add! I have used most kinds of cameras during this time, from coupled range-finder up to medium format twin lens reflex (Mamiya C330), prior to going digital I was using Olympus cameras (OM-1, OM-1n and XA).  Started digital photography in 2002 using bridge cameras (long zoom) until 2012 when I bought my first DSLR a Canon. My interest in Linux started around this time as well, trying a different version about once or twice a year, but I would run them parallel with Windows, then in 2007 I felt the time was ripe to use Linux as my primary OS, no big step really so I am hoping that I might with the help of this blog  instill a little curiosity in the reader about Linux (if you are not already a user).

Workflow icon view

Linux versions used

Before starting on describing the software and my workflow it is perhaps in order to give a little information on the operative systems I use.

Although I have tried many different versions of Linux (so called distro hopping) I decided a few years ago to go with Ubuntu on my stationary PC, which is the machine I use for most of my work including photographic processing, I am now using version 12.04 LTS, I also havePCLinuxOS installed on an old laptop, (which has been used for writing parts of this blog) this is also suitable for photographic work, it just uses a different desktop environment.

I should also mention the fact that anybody can install and work with Linux nowadays, no need to work from the text-based terminal, all work, from administration, word processing, image processing, etc. is done from the GUI.

Once set-up anybody (including your granny!) can use it.

Why Linux? you may ask, first of all it is free, more or less all the software I need for it is also free, Linux will normally make better use of your system resources if you have plenty, and should normally run faster than a Windows OS of equivalent age, security is another factor, I got fed up with Windows being slowed down by Anti-virus, anti-this and anti-that, I have not had antivirus software on my PC for the last 5 years, there aren’t really any viruses in the wild for Linux, you can install AV software but this is really only for checking emails so you don’t pass on anything to others using Windows.

If you do get into trouble the official forums are very helpful and normally very fast, but do make a search before posting anything, your question will almost certainly have been asked before and answered!

All the major software required to work on a PC with Linux is usually included in the initial installation, should you require other software then this can be downloaded from a so called repository, this is another security factor, all software in the repository is checked so no malign code will be downloaded, plus a check will be made so that all dependencies are satisfied.

List of photo software used

The following is a short list of the photo software I use, for a complete list of Windows equivalents click here ( this also includes non photo related Software). My intention in this part of the blog is to give a short description of the software I use in my workflow, it is not intended to be more than a simple guide.

 

Shotwell  Organiser that also has certain editing functions (non-destructive editing).

Darktable Photo editing and RAW image development program (non-destructive editing).

Aftershot Pro Organiser, editor,and RAW image development  (non-destructive editing)*

Gimp  Photo editing and manipulation program (editing not yet fully non-destructive)*

Frogr  A Flickr remote organiser.

Grsync  Not photo software but all the more important, backup! *

= Windows version available.

Note! Most images used in posts can be viewed large by clicking on the image, return to post using your browsers back button.

Shotwell

The starting point for my workflow, Shotwell is the Ubuntu Linux default photo organiser, there is support for JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP and RAW formats, it has a set of elementary editing tools, (crop, rotate, colour adjustments, red eye removal etc.)  as mentioned previously editing is done non-destructively, any changes to your image will only be made on export (note! export) your original image is left unchanged on your hard drive.

First step is to import your image/images, personally I use the card reader built into my PC, but you can use a USB connection direct from the camera or browse for images already on your hard drive. When importing the software automatically groups photos taken at the same time, creating folders based on the images EXIF day – month – year data, this grouping is known as an Event there are of course other methods of grouping and sorting images, using star ratings or flags, the image below shows the latest Events, clicking on an Event shows the images taken, clicking on Library will show all indexed images in chronological order.

Shotwell1

User interface showing events.

Although Shotwell has a simple set of tools for editing I prefer not to use them for any major work, but they are useful for a quick edit for checking purposes, right clicking on an image brings up a menu, Enhance (automatic) is quite useful and sometimes does a really good job (sometimes not!) no problem, just click on Revert to original and you are back to the original image, I sometimes use the saturation slider (found under Adjust on the bottom of the screen) to desaturate an image and quickly check to see if it is suitable for B&W treatment,  again Revert to original reverts it. Open with External Editor (configurable under preferences) is one of the methods I use to open an image in my photo editor (Darktable, more about that later) , one final point, it should be mentioned that Shotwell does not strip EXIF data, this is always passed on , there is also the possibility of editing the time and date of the image (useful if you have a camera that is incorrectly set up), had to use this recently, a bit too quick of the mark with a new camera (Fujifilm X10) couldn’t wait to try it, skipped the setting time and date page, oops! but no problem, using Shotwell, date and time was easily changed and the images re-indexed, Voilà, images back in chronological order!

Shotwell2

Right click menu.

I have tested other organisers both in Windows and other versions of Linux but I find this by far the best, most intuitive, plain and simple great software!

Darktable

Once I have images uploaded and indexed by Shotwell (previous post) it’s time to start editing using Darktable, I should perhaps mention that Darktable can also be used to index a whole library of images but I prefer the Shotwell/Darktable method. The software looks similar to Adobe Lightroom, perhaps not quite as powerful but for an amateur or advanced amateur it has all the tools necessary and it is of course free! The software supports RAW, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, PFM and EXR formats, and as mentioned previously is non-destructive, (changes are only applied when an image is exported). Darktable is primarily an image editing tool but also has some simple manipulation tools such as spot removal.  Help can be found in several places, the Darktable home page can be found here, the on-line manual can also be accessed via the home page, a PDF manual can be downloaded from here, and I should add that though there is no “official” forum, help can be found on this Google+ site. At present this software is not in the normal Ubuntu repository but can easily be downloaded and installed from a trusted repository, see the Darktable homepage for more info, the installation is very simple if you choose to use Ubuntu (similar to a Windows install) and to add the repository so that updates are downloaded is also very simple.  I will be showing a simple import and edit workflow in this post, the software has far too many “bells and whistles” for me to go into too much detail but I will point out what I find useful and mention some of the plugins available.

The GUI is perhaps a little quirky the first time you open it, so I will include a few screenshots to show the way, when opened you will notice in the top right-hand corner that the GUI shows three main headings, Lighttable – Darkroom -Tethering, images are imported from the Lighttable mode, editing takes place in the Darkroom and Tethering allows the direct control of supported cameras via USB, a list of supported cameras can be found here, I have tested this function with my Canon EOS 600D and it worked fine but I will not be going into any further details concerning tethering at present (perhaps in a future posting).

Darktable modes

Darktable modes (top right).

Import can be done in several different ways, as mentioned previously I will normally use the “Open image in external editor” from Shotwell, but it is of course just as easy to do by clicking on Import image (import image/images) Folder (import folder images as film roll)  or Scan for devices which will check to see if any device (example: USB connection to camera) is connected and has files for transfer.

 

Import image.

Import image (top left in lightable mode).

Clicking on an imported image thumbnail will open it in Darkroom mode, as seen below, on the left panel (top left) Snapshots (takes a snapshot and splits display so that you can compare changes made, left: snapshot – right: active), History shows what has been applied to an image, clicking on a particular line will show changes made to that point, clicking on 0 (Original) returns you to the unedited start image. Next is the Colour Picker, this is quite advanced, allows you to store picked colours,  Image information  shows short form EXIF information, note! Darktable does not strip EXIF from edited images.

Right panel (top right) shows a histogram for the image being edited (changes can be made directly in the histogram by dragging) under this there is a row of icons, these are for the different groups of plugins (Basic, Tone, Colour, Correction, Effect), now we come to the interesting part, the panel under the icons is configurable, you choose the plugins (more about this later) you wish to have on the panel, this takes up less real estate and if you work with a fairly standard set-up helps keep the interface uncluttered. In the image shown below I am using the Velvia plugin (useful for landscapes, don’t always use it), Sharpen (default level), Crop and rotate (including Keystone for tilting image correction) and finally on this view Exposure, a lot of these plugins are configurable (using sliders), any settings made can be stored as pre-sets.

DarkroomGUI

Darkroom mode.

At the bottom right of the above screenshot you will see More plugins, clicking on this will show all available plugins (image below) these are too numerous to list here, there is a full list in the manuals also the Wikipedia Wiki for Darktable found here gives more information, More plugins also shows if a plugin is active and chosen as a favourite. Although not shown on the Darkroom mode image above there are of course the standard Levels and Curves plugins, also one that has been added fairly recently called Shadows and Highlights which even at default settings can do wonders to a seemingly flat image.

 

More plugins

More plugins

Finally I should perhaps mention B&W conversion, Darktable has several tools for this depending upon the kind of result you require, I normally use the Monochrome plugin, but you could also use the Colour correction, Colour zones or Channel mixer plugins, when activated the Monochrome plugin (image below) is shown, the ring in the middle can be enlarged and moved to the difference colour areas to enhance specific parts of the image, similar to using colour filters on the camera.

Monochrome plugin

Monochrome plugin.

So using Shotwell and Darktable together I have a seamless workflow which will normally only take a couple of minutes to adjust/correct an image, after adjustment the image is exported to a folder named Darktable_modified on my hard disk, but there is also support for exporting to Flickr, Picasa, sending as mail, it will even produce a simple website gallery for you! OK Darktable has a bit of a learning curve (but no worse than other programs of this calibre that I have tried) and for free software I am certainly not complaining! I can use it for more than 90% of my images and find myself returning to it even though I have other similar programs on my PC, the next post will show  the software used (Corel Aftershot Pro) when Darktable doesn’t quite cut it.

 

 

 

Corel AfterShot Pro

This software is used from time to time for the reasons mentioned below and as such can be part of my workflow, but because it is only used occasionally I will not be going into any great detail. I should mention that this is the only non-free software on my PC, I download a trial to test if the software could address a couple of shortcomings with Darktable (previous post), it turned out it could! one of these was chromatic aberration, because I only work in JPEG the Darktable CA plugin does not function (RAW only), I had tried a couple of plugins for Gimp but found them lacking in one way or another, the CA filter in Corel AfterShot Pro worked fine on JPEG images (more info below), the other shortcoming to be addressed was image noise reduction, Darktable has a couple of plugins for this but one of them is very slow (the most effective one!), I had seen that Corel AfterShot Pro incorporates a light version of Noise Ninja which I knew from previous experience was leading software for noise reduction, so that was the clincher. There is a  a good demonstration video on their website if you wish to delve deeper into what the software is capable of, one point of interest is that it is multi-platform with versions available for Linux, Windows and Mac, the interface is again similar to Lightroom, but personally I find it a little cluttered, because some parts can be collapsed it is possible to improve this a little, but I prefer the Darktable approach (configurable). If I had started off with AfterShot Pro and had never used Darktable then I am sure I could have used this software for almost all editing, it is a very powerful package, RAW, JPEG and TIFF formats are supported, if you do install the software it is a good idea to let Aftershot Pro index your images, otherwise you can miss out on certain functions (example: editing history) but be warned it takes quite a long time to index and produce thumbnails if you have thousands of images!

Corel Aftershot Pro interface

Corel Aftershot Pro interface

The software uses tabs (right hand panel) to access the different modes, lots of tools and sliders, again I won’t go into any detail on this, just basicly cover the two points I have mentioned previously, it’s perhaps difficult to see on the above screenshot but Noise Ninja is the next to last slider on the right hand panel, works great if used correctly, not really much to add on this, the CA sliders (see image below) which can be found under the Detail tab are marked R/C and B/Y, the R/C slider adjusts the red channel to correct red or cyan fringes, and the B/Y slider adjusts the blue channel to correct blue or yellow fringes, it’s not automatic but it is very easy to use and works well on JPEG images,

C/A sliders

C/A sliders

It is perhaps of interest to know that it is only recently since buying a DSLR (Canon EOS 600D) that I have really become aware of CA in some of my images, previous bridge camera’s have obviously had more effective in camera filtering.

 

 

Gimp

Just a mention really concerning this software, It is often said that Gimp has a steep learning curve, because it has so many tools this is to be expected, personally I think that the best way of getting to grips with Gimp is to search for tutorials on the Internet if you are unsure “How To” something, I certainly have, and have always found what has been looking for.

I use Gimp for image manipulation, which can also be part of my workflow, I tend to be “old school” and try to get it right in the camera thus do not really do much in the way of manipulation but on the odd occasion I will have to use software to clone out details that should not have been part of an image, or perhaps “beautify” a portrait and that is where Gimp comes into the picture. The clone and healing tools are the ones I tend to use most, (don’t think any explanation necessary) also useful are the image resizing tools, I can do this in Darktable but prefer Gimp because it gives me a wider choice in how the resizing can be done (canvas size, print size, scale image etc.) finally it should be mentioned that there are plugins for Gimp to do almost anything, I found one called Sharpen (Smart Redux) that has a multi stage method of sharpening an image, lots of settings that can be tweaked but even default values can do wonders on the right kind of image, I found it worked particularly well on certain B&W images.

Gimp is of course useful for other graphics work, the header image for the Workflow category was made using Gimp and it was also used for modifying and manipulating the other header images.

Frogr

This software is a Flickr remote organiser, although it is possible to use Flickr’s own web uploader from Linux I found it a little unstable from time to time, this was from Chromium which is my default browser, strange thing was this was not a problem from Firefox, Flickr have their own desktop uploader but only for Windows and Mac, so I started looking around for a Linux equivalent, actually there are several but the one that I found suited my requirements was Frogr.

It is extremely simple to use once you have set it up with your account details, the + adds an image  , – removes an image and ↑ uploads an image/images. Shown below is the user interface and the menu that is shown after right clicking on an image (Edit details), you can also choose to Add tags, Add to group, Add to set as well as Open in external viewer from the right click menu, I have found the program to be extremely stable, and so far have not had a single problem uploading single or multiple images from it , not really much more to add, again a nice simple clean interfaced program that just works!

Frogr user interface and menu for adding tags,comments etc.

Frogr user interface and menu for adding tags,comments etc.

Grsync

Last but by no means least is Grsync, not photo software but all the more important, backup! This is of course something that we all know is of vital importance but still tend to miss, my own personal method is to use this software and two external USB hard drives, I will not remove an image from the camera memory card until the transfer has been made from the PC’s hard disk to the external hard drives, overkill perhaps but better safe than sorry! Grsync makes it very easy to backup, basically you choose a name for the backup session (Synchronize_pics_to_ExtHD) then by clicking on the open button browse to the source and destination, and that is more or less it! clicking on the gears icon starts the backup, clicking on the blue (i)nformation button does a “dry run” (no files are copied but you are able to view what would have been done). There are loads of settings that can be chosen from the Advanced and Extra option tabs for all manner of backups, I will not go into great detail here, my settings can be seen in the image below, perhaps the most important is the “Ignore existing” which ignores files that already exist on the destination, although I do have one checked on the Advanced options page, “Show itemized changes list”. A mouse over on a check box will give more information about its function, so most of it is really straightforward but if you need more info it can be found here You will even find a ported version for Windows!

Grsync user interface.

Grsync user interface.

Should perhaps add that I do of course use this software for other backups, documents etc. for this I have created separate sessions, four in all, you can of course use just one for everything you backup but I prefer this method, trying to keep things structured!

Old Tessar

Cheap LED lightsource

Found some cheap LED work-lights (39 SEK about £3.50 each) and mini tripods (10 SEK about £0.90 each) that with a little work were turned into light sources suitable for table-top and macro photography, all that was required were a couple of pieces of aluminium (25x13x9mm) that were drilled and countersunk for two screws and a central hole that was drilled and threaded 1/4″ Whitworth, these were then glued and screwed with small self-tapping screws onto the housing of the work-lights, I would have preferred to have them mounted internally but there was too little space between the battery compartment and the outer housing.

 

Tripod fitting

Close-up of the tripod fitting.

Mounted work-light.

Mounted work-light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch close-up

First close-up using two work-lights as primary light source.

This was the first test image using the LED light sources, used cloudy setting for WB, good enough for a first try, could have used custom WB to improve on this.