Linux and Photography

Linux and photography have always been somewhat of an odd couple. Photographers have mostly preferred to use Windows or Mac OS over any Linux distro thanks to the wider range of image management and processing applications available for them. Now, I had been one of those photographers happily using Windows and a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop until a few months ago when Vista went south on me. While reinstalling, I did some reading on the new release of Ubuntu Linux (Hardy Heron) and through that, found Ubuntu Studio. After a bit more reading about the OS and some of the new applications that are available, I decided to take the plunge and installed Ubuntu Studio 8.04 on my laptop along side my Vista install.

Keep reading for more on my experiences using Ubuntu Studio as my photo editing OS.

Unlike the regular flavour of Ubuntu, the Ubuntu Studio installer DVD does not come as a live disc. Instead, to install it you must use the text based installer. This is fairly straight forward and anyone who has installed Windows XP in the past will feel right at home. Once the install is complete, it’s just a matter of waiting for the computer to restart and then you are greeted with a simple splash screen and a nice log in screen. After logging in, the desktop comes up (much faster than Vista might I add) and you are ready to first run the update manager to bring your system up to date and then begin installing additional software.

Under Windows, I had become some what reliant on Adobe’s Lightroom for almost all of my photo processing. So the first thing I did was search to find a viable alternative to it. Unfortunately there was no single program that handled the image management side of things as well as having as much editing control as Lightroom so I had to settle for two programs to cover the main tasks. The first program that I use is DigiKam. I use it to import and catalog my photos when they first come of the card from the camera. It has basic editing features but I have not explored them in much depth as of yet. DigiKam’s interface is easy enough to understand and it is customizable but again, I have had no real need to go in search of more themes as the program does enough for me as is.

Now that the management side of the operation was sorted, I needed a program to do the actual editing. Now, I could have opted to use the Gimp which comes with Ubuntu Studio but after using Lightroom for so long, I was more interested in finding a similar application for editing. The three that kept popping up were Lightzone, Bibble and RawTherapee. The first two are mighty powerful applications but with one big drawback, they are not free. RawTherapee however is. So I decided to see how that one went.

From first glance it looks a lot like the develop window in Lightroom. All the edit controls are on the right, histogram up the top and the film strip down the bottom. Opening images is a bit slow every now and then but nothing to be too annoying. Applying adjustments to your photos is fast and all of the controls are easy enough to understand. Having the history appear in a list on the left hand side is useful as well. Not just to go back to a certain point but so you know exactly what you have done on your photos. Of course, you can hide the bar on the left hand side and the one down the bottom to create more space for your image to reside in.

Once you have finished working on each photo, you can hit the save button, which saves it to a pretermined folder or the save as button which gives you more options on file types and save locations. There is also what appears to be a large update for RawTherapee in the works, so it will be interesting to see what new features are added in that.

Of course, there is still sometimes a need to do more extensive edits than what RawTherapee can be used for. For these times, there is the Gimp. It is basically a free program much like Photoshop. Some people think that it is complicated to use but honestly, it is surprisingly straightforward. Especially when coming from photoshop. Sure the interface is slightly different and your keyboard shortcuts won’t work but it is still very much the same.

There are also various other image related programs that either come with Ubuntu Studio or are easy to get via the built in package manager. One of these is a panorama creation program called Hugin. As I haven’t actually used it yet, I can’t comment on it. But from what I have read, it is a very effective tool.

So what have I found from the past few months using Ubuntu Studio? Well, it is certainly a viable alternative to using Windows. Its fast enough, looks good enough and the programs available are certainly capable enough. There are programs that replace most of the other programs I use on Windows, Rhythmbox is a nice alternative to iTunes and even has iPod support, OpenOffice has come a long way in recent years and matches up to Microsoft Office very well and aMSN replaces Windows Live Messenger. Lastly, there is Firefox, but we should all be using that already anyway.

For me though, I’m going down the Mac path. Just missed using Lightroom a little bit too much…

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4 Responses to Linux and Photography

  1. maxborg says:

    Nice post!
    I come from OSX and since more than five years I use GNU/Linux to manage my photos. I use Ubuntu and I added manualy the applications I need from the repository.

    There is another great free software for images manipulation: is qtpfsgui (available on the Ubuntu repositories) useful to produce HDR images.

  2. Sam says:

    Yeah, I knew of qtpfsgui but as I never do HDR I never looked into it. Although I had been a member of the group for it on flickr for a long time.

  3. Pingback: Linux and Photography – Round Two « SH Photography

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