I am very interested in photography. Although I am not a professional or even looking to be a professional in the field, I do enjoy using my DSLR and trying out new things when I can. I like posting my pictures to websites like Flickr and seeing how people react to my work. Since I use Linux on my home computer, over time I have developed my own work-flow when I want to do some post processing before either posting to Flickr or on my blog. While I don’t have the tools that are available to Windows users, there are many free and open source programs available to me for my meager needs. Even if I had been on Windows, I would not have wanted to really spend any money on my hobby for software (the hardware is expensive enough). I would have probably used the same tools that I use on Linux. This is a list of my essential photo tools for Linux.
The GIMP is my choice for photo manipulation and retouching. My first brush (pun intended) with GIMP was with the Windows quite a few years ago. I did not use Linux then and it was the only free “Photoshop Clone” that was available for Windows. I upgraded every time there was a new release and am very comfortable with the tools and the menus. The best part about GIMP has to be the plug-ins. The vast repository of plug-ins available for the GIMP is the best thing. A standard installation of GIMP for me contains plug-ins that I use practically every time I am playing around with an image.
While the GIMP can’t really beat PS and its siblings when it comes to professional photo-editing, there is no reason a non-professional should spend ridiculous amounts of money on commercial photo-editing software when the GIMP is present. The additional plug-ins that I use most frequently are:
The Advanced Tone Mapping (ATM) Plug-in: This is one smooth plug-in for anyone who is sick of the process of creating a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. Basically you take 3 shots at different exposures, align and combine them, and then Tone Map them to get an image that shows more range from shadows to highlights. The process is tedious to say the least. Especially if you are using open source/free software. This plug-in lets to tone map a single image to give it the same appearance as you would get after tone mapping a HDR image. It is easy and the results are quite satisfactory. Of course, the quality of your original image also matters. There are various options you can play with to get good(realistic) to really freaky(freaky) results.
Exposure Blend Plug-in: This plug-in makes it easy to merge 3 differently exposed photographs into one image. The output is not a HRD image however the blending does provide a very good input file for the ATM plug-in mentioned above. In some cases, the exposure blend is enough to not even require a use of the ATM plug-in.
Lomography Plug-in: What is it about the lomo effect that has gotten people to rally themselves together and create groups and clubs for it? I don’t know and I don’t care really. However, the effect does give some interesting pictures to look at and you can always “argue” that the “feel” of the scene changes when you have shot in lomo (whether real or fake). The lomography plugin gives really nice results and you can actually choose the kind of colours that want the image to take, whether you want to make the skies green or the whites yellow. This plug-in has it all. If you have enough money and the willingness to spend it then get yourself the real thing.
QtpfsGUI is as complicated to use as the name might lead you to believe. This program is a fair, open source rendition of commercial programs like Photomatix. The aim is to be able to create a work-flow driven tone mapped HDR image. It allows you to create a HDR by blending multiple, variously exposed frames of a scene into one HDR image and then tone map this image using many tone mapping algorithms. The resulting image from each of the algorithms is different and you get to choose the one you like best.
There is a lot of trial and error involved and it is a very engrossing process to say the least. However, while the usage is not very user friendly, the results can be amazing and are only restricted by how much effort you put in to the HDR creating process. This a must have for me when I have the time and I want the result to be mush more than satisfactory.
Yes, that’s right, Picasa. If you are thinking, why I would be using Picasa when I already use the GIMP, the answer lies in the fact that I use the web based Picasa to store that pictures that I want to feature in a blog. This too was driven by the fact the Picasa plug-in for WordPress was way better than the Flickr plug-in that come to use when you must insert pictures for either of the services in to your blog post. I still use Flickr for sharing images that I don’t blog about or if I just have to use one or 2 photos in a post. If I am looking to blog in a photo tour kind of way then the photos go to Picasa.
Also, there are quick editing tools available in the Picasa desktop application that you can use to quickly edit, straighten, align, crop etc an image before uploading it to the online service. You don’t have to fire up the GIMP every time.
Phatch stands for Photo+Batch. Get it? Its a really powerful batch photo-editing application. When I upload my pictures to either Picasa or Flickr, I generally resize them to a decent size to be able to upload quickly. Internet speeds in India suck. Phatch not only resizes images but you also have the option to do other small actions on images like add shadows, round the borders, add watermarks and many more. It’s very versatile and more over its quick. The best thing is that its a pain to install in Windows.
Update: digiKam is also now part of this list of “Must-Haves”.