linux photography series

  • Rant about my first impressions and problems letting old habits go.
  • Round 1 is about my first raw edits using Darktable.
  • Round 2 discusses managing the developed pictures with Digikam.
  • Round 3 focuses on exporting images from Digikam and publishing them in a gallery.

Lightroom? Lightroom!

I think this post may start a flame war ;-). Be sure this is not the intention. There are Lightroom fans and the ones who do not like this tool at all. Personally I belong to the group of users who love Lightroom. I really do believe that Lightroom is one of the best all in one solution you can currently find out there. Yes, some think I must be completely crazy. But for my personal needs, this is true. So here is a list of steps i usually use as my workflow. Sometimes I skip one step or do a later steps earlier in the process. In general, this is how I process my photos.

  1. Importing the raw images to Lighroom (and creating the previews for faster working)
  2. Quicksorting and removing bad shots (around 75% of all shots I remove, are removed here)
  3. Rename the files
  4. Add global Tags (Shooting, Location, etc)
  5. Let Lightroom detect faces (Family and friends only)
  6. Autoapply some base settings depending on ISO values
  7. Go through the pictures again and add ratings and remove some more images
  8. Edit all remaining images (low rated with minimal effort, high rated with more effort)
  9. Assign the images to multiple collecitons (e.g. webgallery, file exports, …)
  10. Publish all images to all targets with one click
  11. When I retouch an image later it gets republished automatically, so I do not have to track all changed images by hand.

So I have a highly integrated and efficient workflow from the import to the export and even supporting updating the external targets. So I have more time to work on the images I’d like to spend time on. The next benefit is, that I always work on the original raw file and may have multiple virtual copies. So all changes are non destructive. I also do not have to take care about raw and corresponding jpgs as the jpgs may just get rebuilt with a few clicks. So the only files I really care about are the raw files and the Lightroom database.

Why GNU/Linux?

I left windows on my private systems behind, because I do not want to depend on Microsoft and / or Apple. So the only free operating systems, where I am really in control of what is going on, is GNU/Linux or a bsd derivate. So GNU/Linux is my choice of the desktop operating systems. I see the following advantages:

  • I’m in control of the system, not the company that invades my computer
  • Running smooth and fast even on a 7 year old core i7 2600K
  • The desktop looks like I want it to look and works like I want it to work.
  • I can switch between multiple desktop environment, if I want to
  • I have all applications (except one) available in a nice package repository (using arch GNU/Linux)
  • Applications are close to the upstream provider
  • Gaming is not that important anymore, but I have multiple steam games running.
  • Probably a higher security standard than on windows and / or mac (may be false as well)
  • Good documentation and tutorials that help one get started (arch wiki is a really good source)
  • A big community to get help if RTFM does not solve the issues

The disadvantages are there as well:

  • Some Windows applications do not have a direct alternative (e.g. Lightroom)
  • Sometimes I have to stay with older hardware to get better driver support (shame on the hardware builders, they support the monopole)
  • It’s not a “I don’t have to know what I am doing” system. You have to learn how it works.
  • Sometimes it requires some manual fixes due to configuration issues (one time in more than one year so far)

Alternatives to Lightroom

I tried a ton of applications. Some are great tools and I really would use and support them. One of the main issues is the workflow I have and got used to. Here are some (not all) applications I looked at:

Darktable

This is the raw development application. If you need to develop raw files, this tool has ton of features to make images look awesome. I would consider it as a Lightroom replacement if it would provide the asset management features of Lightroom. With an asset management, I would say it is a 100% capable replacement for Lightroom. But as far as I saw it, the developers of darktable refues adding such features to Darktable, because they are not going to write a file explorer. You should use the file manager of your choice. They are right somehow, but an asset manager is more than just a file manager.

Corel Aftershot 2 and 3 for GNU/Linux

This tool (non free) looked promising and I downloaded the trial version of it. Because it is a comercial proeduct that tend to be a replacement of Lightroom with similar features, I had high expectations. Sadly the application was unable to import some simple jpegs (that every other tool on the system could open without a problem). The support told me after waiting two weeks, that this camera was not supported (a simple jpeg, not a raw file). Sorry, this is just a lame excuse. Then it failed on some CR2 of my EOS 7D as well and I canceled the trial period and uninstalled it. I am willing to pay for a working good application but this was everything but not working. I need a tool that simply works stable and without big issues.

shotwell

Simple to less functionality to be a replacement.

DigiKam

This was the most promising tool for my needs. I really thought I found it and I may switch now to a complete open source solution for all my work. I have to say that it didn’t work out. It was unstable and had issues reading my raw files. I also see the UI not intuitive and easy to understand so I stopped my evaluation as I could not get to the point where I saw a real chance of getting it to work as I like to. One drawback is that there seems to be an issue with the exif metadata so that I would have to reapply all tags after editing the raw file. Eventually I should give it a second chance with the new release and try it again.

Current solution

Currently I have a virtualized windows running in a virtual box only for editing my images. The screens are calibrated under GNU/Linux and my amateur like tests showed good results. So I go for that for the moment. But this solution has drawbacks as well. First of all is the lack of hardware support to give Lightroom more performance. With a native running Windows, Lightroom can benefit from the gaming graphic card. This does not work within a virtual machine without PCI passthrough. The second issue is that running Lightroom in a virtual machine is slower that running it on a native booted windows. I have no intend to make the system dualboot, because I am lazy and would slowly migrate back to windows.

This current solution works for now but it is not the preferred solution.

The Future

Rumors on Lightroom

There is a simple reason why I think about all this again and again. Currently I love Lightroom and how it works. But there are rumors going on and they point all to the same direction. Put all your files to the cloud and work online. The rumors go from a online only version to a mix with a local fat client implementation like today. If Adobe would really forces me to upload my raw files to edit them, it would be a k.o. criteria for me. I do not trust any cloud provider. Even if they do no harm intentionally, it happens that the data get to the wrong persons. Further more, it is all about the money and if they can get more money by adding another disclaimer to their terms to use your data for their own advantage, they will do it. So it is quite uncertain where the road leads to.

What if I start today?

If you start today and you do not have a large library to take care of, you should probably start with digiKam and Rawtherapee. digiKam is a nice tool for the asset management and Rawtherapee gives you all you need for developing the images. The only thing you really should think about is your workflow and how you store what and when. So you have to be prepared to manage two sets of files. The raw file and the developed jpegs.

What’s next?

On one hand, I have my Lighroom-database with around 25’000 pictures where at least 20’000 pictures have adjustments. In addition I am familiar how Lightroom works and I have a quite efficient workflow with less overhead. But on the other hand, I see the vendor lock-in getting bigger and bigger. So if I switch, I need to figure out what to do with the old images and all the edits. I know I can not convert them, because these settings are Lightroom specific and will not fit other algorithms. But I would like to import at least the star rating and the keywords to be able to search for images within the whole library. But even importing these information is a shaky task.

The next question is about my workflow. When I stop using Lightroom, I need another workflow that is as efficient as it is today and prevents me from dealing with the image multiple times. I do not want to manage the images twice, one for raw and one for jpeg. How to deal with the metadata as not all metadata are passed correctly between the different applications?

So for this year, I will not leave Lightroom and use my virtual machine. But I will evaluate the digiKam + (Rawtherapee or darktable) combo again and probably start with these tools next year. I will think about a possible workflow and how to go on without adobe.

Tips and help welcome

Do you have some experience with photography and GNU/Linux? It would be nice to get some tips or hints to the right direction. Feel free to contact me at blog@haefelfinger.ch.