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My Free and Open Source Photography Workflow

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freeopensource

After several years of trial and error, I finally have a complete RAW photography workflow in Linux that I am happy with.

The applications in this workflow aren’t just native to Linux, they are also free, open source software (FOSS). There is no need to dual boot, use WINE or a virtual machine. It’s a pure FOSS photography workflow running in Linux.

Image Viewer: Geeqie

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For an image viewer, I am just looking for something simple, fast and color managed.

I don’t need a photo manager, darktable already has that covered. The image viewer just needs to be able to open all major photo formats quickly, so I can review my exported images. Geeqie does all that wonderfully.

Since color management is a priority for me, popular applications like Shotwell and Eye of Gnome aren’t even a consideration.

Although Geeqie can display EXIF data, histograms and more, I usually remove all the sidebars and widgets so I just get a quick, clean look at my photos.

Monitor Calibration: dispcalGUI or Gnome Color Manager

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Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, the first step in your photography workflow should be to calibrate your monitor’s color with a device called a colorimeter (or a spectrometer). This is necessary for the colors on your screen to be accurate. If they aren’t, you can’t properly correct color and exposure.

dispcalGUI has more advanced features, such as measuring ambient light and a test chart editor, than Gnome Color Manager. If you are an enthusiast or professional, dispcalGUI is probably the best option for you.

If you are looking for something quick, and don’t want to be overwhelmed with options, Gnome Color Manager is excellent. It is also easily found in most popular Linux distribution’s repositories or already installed by default.

Hardware Compatibility

I have used several different monitor calibration instruments in Linux. Below is not a technical review, just a brief summary of my own personal experiences with them.

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I prefer the color profiles created with the ColorMunki Display, but the older Spyder 3 Pro model is still great.

Unlike the ColorMunki Display, I’ve never had any compatibility issues. Just plug it in and go.

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Of the three instruments, I think the ColorMunki Display generates the best profiles.

However, I’ve had problems with both Linux and Mac OS X recognizing the device at times. Due to its compatibility issues, I can’t recommend it.

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The ColorHug is the only open hardware option that I know of.

Back in 2013, it created color profiles that were too red. However, this has improved greatly in the latest firmware update. Despite its issues, I am very happy to support the open hardware option.

Download and Rename Photos: Rapid Photo Downloader

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I keep all my photos and folders organized by using specific naming conventions that include the date and a description, ie:

YYMMDD_Summer-in-Brno-0001.CR2
YYMMDD_Summer-in-Brno-0002.CR2
YYMMDD_Summer-in-Brno-0003.CR2
YYMMDD_Summer-in-Brno-0004.CR2

Renaming my folders and photos makes finding them so much easier. Rapid Photo Downloader automates this process for me.

Depending on my needs and settings, I can often just insert my memory card, type in a description (job code) and click download. My folder, sub-folder and photos will automatically be renamed.

Rapid Photo Downloader can also create backups to a destination of your choice during the download.

darktable has an option to download and rename your photos as well. This may be enough for some users. I just prefer Rapid Photo Downloader for its automation and features.

Custom Camera Color Profiles: ArgyllCMS

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I create custom color profiles for my camera to produce consistent, accurate colors and to speed up my workflow. I do this by taking pictures of a color target in different lighting conditions and using ArgyllCMS to generate an icc color profile. This is all done on the command line.

There a several color target options. I am using the ColorCheker Passport target, but enthusiastic FOSS users might prefer Wolf Faust’s color targets which are released under a Creative Commons license.

Unfortunately, this step is often frustrating. Unless the photo has been taken in a very specific way, Argyll will not properly recognize it. This can lead to many failed attempts even after you think you have mastered it.

There used to be a Linux version of CoCa, a GUI to make this camera color calibration process easier, but it appears to have been dropped. It would be great to see someone in the community picked it up.

Photo and Metadata Management: darktable

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Before I begin editing my RAW photographs, I need to cull the images using ratings and add important metadata. The lighttable view in darktable allows me to do just that.

I can quickly review a collection of images, add a star rating of 1 – 5 and then filter the results to only show what I what. IPTC metadata such as keywords, description, copyright information and photographer credit can also be added here.

An important part of photo management is being able to quickly and easily retrieve images from a large collection. The lighttable view allows you to filter your images through many variables such as: rating, keywords (aka: tags), date, color label, iso, camera model, etc.

RAW Editor: darktable

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There is a surprisingly high number of good RAW photo editors available to Linux users, including digikam, RAWtherapee and darktable. For me, darktable is the best option.

darktable covers all of the basics like white balance, exposure, curves, shadows and highlights. However, it goes beyond that allowing for advanced selective editing with drawn masks, precise control over adjustments (I am particularly fond of the “bauhaus sliders”) and blend modes.

I didn’t fall in love with darktable right away. It can be very intimidating to new users. There are a lot of different tools full of sliders, drop down menus, presets and options. Many of these modules (darktable’s name for the tools) have the same or similar functions as other modules.

However, if you can get passed its initial learning curve, you’ll discover a fully-featured, powerful application that can even meet the needs of many professional photographers. I love having such a great application to edit my RAW photos with under Linux.

Touch Ups and Web Preparation: GIMP

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After years of editing photos in Adobe Photoshop, I was surprised to find out that I actually really like the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).

However, I first had to change the user interface and keyboard shortcuts to mimic Photoshop’s before I felt at home. But after that, it was smooth sailing.

Often, my work in GIMP is limited to just some quick touch ups before I export images for the web. But even when I want to get more in depth, like skin smoothing or making composite images, the GIMP still gets the job done. Though I find that any serious work requires several extra plugins to be installed.


P.S. If your familiarity with Photoshop is making it hard for you to transition to the GIMP (it did for me), I wrote an article outlining the steps I took. Also, if you’re interested in learning how to use any of these programs, I created The Open Source Photography Course.

For free educational resources, here are some on the darktable website, and here’s a collection of tutorials for GIMP. Pixls.us also has great articles and an active community.


About the author: Riley Brandt is a full-time photographer and occasional videographer at the University of Calgary. He graduated from SAIT Polytechnic with a major in photojournalism, and also studied news writing, marketing, and graphic design. You can find more of his writing, resources, and educational materials on his website. This article was also published here.

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