Thursday, June 5, 2008

Linux Experience So Far

Jim Talkington asked if I was having any luck with Linux for my photography work, so I thought I'd respond in a blog entry about my experience. I would like to read about other people's experience using Linux, whether it's good or bad. Considering that I don't have experience using Photoshop and other commercial tools, I don't know what I might be missing.

There are a handful of people that I know of using Linux for digital photography. I don't know of anyone using it to make money, though. Here are the few people or groups I know of using Linux for photography work.
Here's my experience with the tools I'm using.

I use the Gnome Desktop Environment. This is important as it's how I access my software and my files. I gave XFCE a try, but found the file manager to be a bit buggy. It froze up on me a few times, but other than that, I liked it. I'm back to Gnome. I use Windows 2000 at work and find I'm much more productive on a Linux desktop running Gnome.

Being that I shoot everything in RAW, I had to find a RAW converter. I began using UFraw and found it easy for me to get good looking images. I do like some of its features that RawStudio is missing, though. I did make the switch to RawStudio because of the improved workflow. It allows you to copy and paste settings to one or multiple files at a time. My first few experiences with it proved to be difficult, but I managed to figure it out.

The thing I like about UFraw that I don't like about RawStudio is the ability to use the scroll wheel to fine tune sliders. This is especially useful when working with color balance. It's nice to be able to click anywhere on the slider to make larger adjustments while scrolling the wheel to make finer adjustments. It's not so easy to make the fine adjustments by clicking & dragging the slider, in my experience.

I have had RawStudio crash on me a few times. It has mostly happened while switching directories, rarely ever while working on a file. I don't recall ever losing any changes as a result of it though.

I also discovered that you have to turn on color management in RawStudio. For the longest time, I couldn't get a good looking portrait out of RawStudio, no matter how hard I tried. I turned on color management and my portraits are coming out great (remember, I've only been at this for a month... great to me is mediocre to most everyone else).

I have been using the Gimp for a long time now. I don't know how many years, but I use it in place of Photoshop at work (I'm a web developer/programmer). Thankfully, I'm not the main developer. I need to have the PSDs flattened by the production guy as some features in Photoshop aren't supported in Gimp. Thankfully, my responsibilities don't normally involve cutting up a design and turning it into a page.

I have only been using Gimp for a little over a month for photography. I don't have any experience with Photoshop to compare with, so I don't know what I'm missing out on. I have been very happy with the Gimp so far. There are things I'm looking forward to that are in planning or in the works, such as non-destructive editing and 16bit support. I'd love to be able to make a curves adjustment without producing a bunch of gaps in my histogram.

I haven't learned enough to be artistic yet. I'm working on that though. I've gone through some of the many tutorials available, watched videos. I've even worked through tutorials designed for Photoshop with some success. Steve Paxton has some videos and tutorials on his site that describe the process and techniques he uses. I've found those to be helpful, even though he uses Photoshop.

I haven't run into any problems with cataloging yet. I have just over 700 images that I decided to keep and convert from RAW. These are very easy to manage using GThumb. GThumb has support for tagging or categorizing as well as the ability to organize images in catalogs and libraries. I haven't done this yet, but I'm sure I will be forced to soon.

I have yet to print a photo and when I do, I'll likely take it to Walmart to do it. I don't have any color profiles set up for my monitor yet. I wouldn't even know where to begin to figure this out. Joel Cornuz talks about it some on his blog, but I haven't attempted it yet. For now, things work out okay for uploading my images to Flickr.

This is the account of my experience. I'm in it for fun and to learn. If I make money at it some day, that would be great, but I don't have hopes of that. I already ruined one perfectly good hobby by making a career out of it. If I do decide to take my photography to a professional level, I will give the commercial tools a try. I'll see how they compare to what I have available from the open source community. If I do, I'll write about it. But, my experience so far has been pretty positive. I'm learning, I'm turning RAW files into TIFs and JPEGs that look decent to me and I'm having fun.

Look at my Flickr stream and browse through my blog archive. I have posted the best of my photos so far. Whether or not they look good is another thing. Hopefully they do and hopefully it's due in part to the tools I'm using.

Being that this is a photo blog, it would be wrong for me to end this without a picture.



Jim T. said...

John, this really is great information, thanks for posting it. I'm going to load Ubuntu onto my new laptop and take a fresh look at photo processing with it. And after looking at your Flickr photostream, I'm jealous...your stick-in-a-cans are shiny and new! Nicely done.

Dorky Musician said...

I'd like to hear about your experience. I don't recall ever having seen any comparisons of open source and commercial software by someone whose photography is their bread and butter.

And the stick-in-a-cans are a genius idea! I can't believe how simple but useful they are. If you have any other tricks like that up your sleeve, you'll have to include it in your blog.