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Getting Started with Free Software Photography
While many people may mistakenly assume that quality photo processing can only be achieved with commercial software, it is entirely possible to have a compelling photographic workflow using Free Software. From downloading images from your camera or media, to raw processing, to retouching, there are many avenues to getting an image ready to print or post.
Note that many of the Free Software photographic applications are very flexible and thus you can connect them together in many different ways to yield different results. This tutorial is about giving you a starting point to allow you to develop a workflow that suits your style and produces pleasing images.
In broad strokes, the steps covered in this article are:
- Getting image from the camera to the computer
- Viewing, sorting, grouping, and adding metadata
- Editing RAW files (.cr2, .nef, etc.)
- Editing images using a pixel editing program
Getting images off camera/memory
The first step for each digital work flow is to load your digital images to the computer. There are several possibilities to do that. You can connect the camera directly to an USB port or you can take the memory card out of the camera and connect this using a card reader.
Connecting the camera to USB does work in most cases, but there are combinations of camera and operating system which just fail to get the camera recognized. So connecting the memory card using a card reader, assuming the card reader is compatible to the used operating system,
is the way to go then. Also, many cameras provide only a slow USB connection; a USB3 card reader could save a lot of time here.
Most if not all modern cameras or mobile phones do store the date and time the image was taken inside the exif data of the image. So it’s a good idea to check the date and time settings of the image taking device before any shooting session. As this data inside the exif section of the image file could later be used for having i.e. a photo management software (see further down).
For copying the images from the card or camera there are several options.
Viewing,sorting, grouping, and adding meta data
After having copied all files from the camera, the next step before starting the development process is to view the images. Here you also can sort the images into sub folders in example for panoramas, focus stacking or HDR processing. While viewing it’s also time to tack the images. Tacking here means to flag the images with some color or a flag meaning “process”, “not sure”, “don’t process” also some rating with stars could be of use for the complete process at this point. Last but not least while viewing the images now at the monitor it’s also a good point to decide which images to keep and which just to be deleted. While it’s not strictly necessary to flag and rate your images, you will find that doing so saves you a lot of time later when trying to find the best images to choose for processing.
At this point of the process it can divide into different paths. A path using different tools for just viewing, sorting and grouping and others for adding meta data. Or a path using just one tool for this kind of things.
Tools for viewing, sorting and grouping:
- operating system file explorers like dolphin, Windows Explorer, what else?
“All-in-One” Tools :
- darktable (Linux, Mac OSX) ?parthas Win version?
- digiKam (Linux, Mac OSX and Windows)
- Shotwell (Linux)
Raw is a file format containing all the information collected by your camera sensor when you press the shutter. Not all cameras are capable of saving images in Raw format. If you aren’t sure, check your camera owner’s manual. If your camera can’t save Raw image files, then skip to the Pixel Editing section of this tutorial.
Raw vs. jpeg (Why use one over the other? Keep it high level!)
When you choose to shoot in the jpeg format, you let your camera make many choices about the way your image looks, such as bit depth, contrast, sharpness, and color temperature. The camera then discards information about your image and saves the jpeg file to disk.
When you choose to shoot Raw, you camera makes no such decision. it records information, such as color temperature, date, time, and camera make & model, then saves the raw file to disk. When you get back to a computer, you can use a raw development application to to adjust the raw image without degrading the image.
The Raw editing packages that are mentioned here are non-destructive editors [make sure that no packages are added here that are not non-destructive] , meaning that the original Raw file is not altered. by the editing process. The editing steps are saved in a separate file, often referred to as a “sidecar” file, which allows the editor to re-apply the edits when the Raw file is opened again. This is an important feature, since you may want to return to the same image and edit it differently at some future time. You are almost certain to want to do this as your editing proficiency grows.
Raw Processing Outputs
Once you have finished working on your image in your chosen Raw editor (see below for some popular Raw editing packages), you need to save your work in a pixel format so that it can be viewed by others or printed. Output formats typically include JPEG, PNG and TIFF.
Your workflow may not be done yet! There are edits that can be made more effectively on a pixel-oriented image such as a JPEG than on a Raw image file.
- Works on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows
- Batch processor/queue files to process
- Film Emulation
- Works on Linux, OS X, and Windows (beta?)
- Supports masking
This probably deserves a mention but should probably point to a more substantial tutorial/explanation than we have time for here. (pixls article).
- Clone out large things (Heal selection, resynthsizer, Heal tool, Clone tool)
- Finer masking than can be accomplished in your RAW processor
- Post-raw pixel editing possibly required
- JPEG workflow