Linux Photo Tools
by Robert Seetzen
This is an article from c't Digital Photography, the in-depth quarterly for the photo enthusiast, brought to you by the publishers of c't – Europe's biggest-selling IT magazine. The current issue includes articles on panorama and macro photography and how to get spectacular results using legacy lenses with DSLRs. There are also software reviews, an artist's portfolio, tips on shooting techniques and a free DVD packed full of software, video tutorials and a free close-up photography ebook. You can order this and all previous issues here.
There are increasing numbers of pro-grade photo tools available for the Linux platform. This article explains just what you need to perform your complete photo workflow using the world's most popular free operating system.
When photographers mention the "workflow", they are talking about efficiently processing large numbers of digital images using a computer. From the moment images are loaded onto a computer – often in RAW format – to the moment they are displayed, either as prints or electronically, the various steps of the development process have to mesh as smoothly as possible. The heavyweights on the image editing scene, such as Photoshop or GIMP, play only a supporting role in the overall image processing workflow.
The distinction between the tasks of viewing and processing digital images are blurring rapidly in today's software packages. The act of switching from an overview of a batch of freshly imported images to complex processing steps is constantly being simplified, often by combining multiple processes in a single program window. Some programs even save you and your computer the effort of saving processed images and simply save the corrections you make in a list of commands that is applied afresh each time you open an image file. Such "non-destructive" editing leaves the original image untouched or saves it to a separate location when new versions are created.
This concept speeds up image processing, but can cause problems in the way programs interact. If the processed version of an image only exists virtually in a non-human-readable lists of commands, other programs often just display the unprocessed original. Some semi-automatic export tools are capable of producing real thumbnails of virtual images, but programs that edit images non-destructively still have difficulties working seamlessly with programs from other manufacturers.
Having said all that, an efficient photo workflow doesn't have to be non-destructive, and doesn't necessarily take place in a single program window. If you are prepared to deal with multiple user interfaces and software handling concepts, you will be able to produce professional looking results by using clever combinations of appropriate tools. This is a tried and trusted approach for many Linux users, who are familiar with using collections of individual tools that each perform one specific task particularly well. The choice of efficient photo workflow tools for Linux is not as wide as it is for Windows, but there is nevertheless a good selection of powerful programs available for importing, viewing and geotagging your images, as well as for performing a multitude of other tasks. Depending on the types of tasks you wish to perform and your degree of skill, you can use many of these to fill the gaps in the functionality offered by all-in-one tools such as Bibble or digiKam.