Linux for Photography

Linux is a wonderful operating system, but one thing that gets overlooked a lot is how it can help a photographer’s workflow. In this article I discuss the software that’s available and my workflows, and pose a question for everyone.

If you don’t know my story on how I got into Linux, it’s about time I told it. It was almost 3 years ago. My son had just been born, and I had some pretty outdated photography software. I was running Adobe Lightroom 1.0 (or something like that) and Creative Suite 3. Sadly, those were the highest I could go without upgrading my Power Mac G4 to an Intel mac. Additionally, this same computer would no longer run the latest versions of Firefox. I was pretty stuck.

The real key in my workflow was Lightroom. Unfortunately, I had a really small budget. Also, it was likely that, much to my chagrin, I was going to have to go back to Windows. So, I searched for alternatives. This is where alternativeto.net came in handy.

The only viable alternative was a program called Darktable which does not run on Windows, but Linux as well as Intel Macs. Same situation, except this time there was a potential solution.

Having dabbled with Slackware in 1997 an Ubuntu in 2009, I decided to give Ubuntu a try again. This time I was blown away. The Unity interface felt comfortable, especially coming from the OS X world. Also, Darktable was a great replacement for Lightroom, and Gimp was a good replacement for PhotoShop.

The only thing missing was RAW to DNG conversion that Lightroom could do internally. I convert to DNG because it’s a fairly universal and open format, and has lossless compression which saves disk space. The only solution I could find that ran natively under Linux was Digikam with its Kipi plugins, which ran best and integrated best with the KDE Plasma desktop.  This got my switching to Kubuntu.

Unfortunately, being comfortable with my OSX-like workflow, Plasma turned out to be too windows-like. Don’t get me wrong, it can be customized very well, and the tools are excellent. But, from a photographer standpoint, it’s just too cumbersome.

Fortunately, I found out that I can run the standard Windows version of the Adobe DNG converter with WINE. This seems to work fine for my needs.

So, to stay at the most up-to-date software, I’ve been using Fedora 21 with its default desktop environment (GNOME Shell 3.14). Although not a “rolling” distribution (which tends to have breakages in my experience), it seems to always have the latest versions of software.

My workflow is as follows:

IMPORT: I use Rapid Photo Downloader. This organizes my photos by year and date into my library.

CONVERT: For this step, I use Adobe DNG converter to convert the RAW files to DNG. I discard the raw files as the conversion to DNG is lossless.

EDIT AND DEVELOP: This is where Darktable comes in. From there I can mark my picks and adjust the photos that I pick, retouching in GIMP as needed. From there, I export into my main photo library as JPEG.

ORGANIZATION: For this I use Shotwell as it can create custom albums and export to social media. This is where I simply keep my photos as it serves as a logical replacement for iPhoto for me.

What do you use? Let me know in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “Linux for Photography

  1. Reblogged this on Bitratchet and commented:
    The Photo workflow for Linux is always going to be different than Windows or Mac. But many of the basic and complex techniques are there. I’ve never owned a copy of Photoshop and the last commercial Adobe product I used was probably in 1999.

    • That was, indeed, the big hurdle. I had to adjust my workflow from primarily Lightroom and iPhoto with Photoshop for retouch to a couple more steps to get a similar workflow. Lightroom and Darktable organize nothing similar to each other, and Darktable has way more options. It’s just a matter of what modules you use the most and adding those modules to favorites. My workflow is close to what I had on OS X, and that’s really what I was shooting for, if you pardon the pun. 🙂

  2. You’ve probably seen that I do a lot of landscape/panoramas. I also post a lot to the OpenSource Photo community on G+. (Been slacking on that lately.) I have pentax cameras, which save as DNG which (apparently) saves me a step. I like to curate those directly in Darktable if I have a batch to curate. That’s mostly for people-photos or product stills. If I’m going right to Hugin for a pano, I often start off with the jpeg versions because those are just going to get chewed a lot anyhow.
    Cropping and bordering I prefer to do in Gimp. Landscapes I often do some constrast tweaking in gimp after hugin, too.

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