Rethinking photo editing

Photo editing has been something that I have been doing since my first ever photo scan in 1998 (I believe it was in June of that year but cannot be completely sure nearly twenty years later). Since then, I have using a variety of tools for the job and wondered how other photos can look better than my own. What cannot be excluded is my tendency for being active in the middle of the day when light is at its bluest as well as a penchant for using a higher ISO of 400. In other words, what I do when making photos affects how they look afterwards as much as the weather that I encountered.

My reason for mentioned the above aspects of photographic craft is that they affect what you can do in photo editing afterwards, even with the benefits of technological advancement. My tastes have changed over time so the appeal of re-editing old photos fades when you realise that you only are going around in circles and there always are new ones to share so that may be a better way to improve.

When I started, I was a user of Paint Shop Pro but have gone over to Adobe since then. First, it was Photoshop Elements but an offer in 2011 lured me into having Lightroom and the full version of Photoshop. Nowadays, I am a Creative Cloud photography plan subscriber so I get to see new developments much sooner than once was the case.

Even though I have had Lightroom for all that time, I never really made full use of it and preferred a Photoshop-based workflow. Lightroom was used to select photos for Photoshop editing, mainly using adjustment for such such things as tones, exposure, levels, hue and saturation. Removal of dust spots, resizing and sharpening were other parts of a still minimalist approach.

What changed all this was a day spent pottering about the 2018 Photography Show at the Birmingham NEC during a cold snap in March. That was followed by my checking out the Adobe YouTube Channel afterwards where there were videos of the talks featured every day of the four day event. Here are some shortcuts if you want to do some catching up yourself: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. Be warned though that these videos are long in that they feature the whole day and there are enough gaps that you may wish to fast forward through them. Even so, there is a quite of variety of things to see.

Of particular interest were the talks given by the landscape photographer David Noton who sensibly has a philosophy of doing as little to his images as possible. It helps that his starting points are so good that adjusting black and white points with a little tonal adjustment does most of what he needs. Vibrance, clarity and sharpening adjustments are kept to a minimum while some work with graduated filters evens out exposure differences between skies and landscapes. It helps that all this can be done in Lightroom so that set me thinking about trying it out for size and the trick of using the backslash (\) key to switch between raw and processed views is a bonus granted by non-destructive editing. Others may have demonstrated the creation of composite imagery but simplicity is more like my way of working.

Confusingly, we now have the cloud-based Lightroom CC while the previous desktop counterpart is known as Lightroom Classic CC. Though the former may allow for easy dust spot removal among other things, it is the latter that I prefer because the idea of wholesale image library upload does not appeal to me for now and I already have other places for offsite image backup like Google Drive and Dropbox. The mobile app does look interesting since it allows to capture images on a such a device in Adobe’s raw image format DNG. Still, my workflow is set to be more Lightroom-based than it once was and I quite fancy what new technology offers, especially since Adobe is progressing its Sensai artificial intelligence engine. The fact that it has access to many images on its systems due to Lightroom CC and its own stock library (Adobe Stock, formerly Fotolia) must mean that it has plenty of data for training this AI engine.

Batch conversion of DNG files to other file types with the Linux command line

At the time of writing, Google Drive is unable to accept DNG files, the Adobe file type for RAW images from digital cameras. The uploads themselves work fine but the additional processing at the end that I believe is needed for Google Photos appears to be failing. Because of this, I thought of other possibilities like uploading them to Dropbox or enclosing them in ZIP archives instead; of these, it is the first that I have been doing and with nothing but success so far. Another idea is to convert the files into an image format that Google Drive can handle and TIFF came to mind because it keeps all the detail from the original image. In contrast, JPEG files lose some information because of the nature of the compression.

Handily, a one line command does the conversion for all files in a directory once you have all the required software installed:

find -type f | grep -i “DNG” | parallel mogrify -format tiff {}

The find and grep commands are standard with the first getting you a list of all the files in the current directory and sending (piping) these to the grep command so the list only retains the names of all DNG files. The last part uses two commands for which I found installation was needed on my Linux Mint machine. The parallel package is the first of these and distributes the heavy workload across all the cores in your processor and this command will add it to your system:

sudo apt-get install parallel

The mogrify command is part of the ImageMagick suite along with others like convert and this is how you add that to your system:

sudo apt-get install imagemagick

In the command at the top, the parallel command works through all the files in the list provided to it and feeds them to mogrify for conversion. Without the use of parallel, the basic command is like this:

mogrify -format tiff *.DNG

In both cases, the -format switch specifies the output file type with tiff triggering the creation of TIFF files. The *.DNG portion itself captures all DNG files in a directory but {} does this in the main command at the top of this post. If you wanted JPEG ones, you would replace tiff with jpg. Shoudl you ever need them, a full list of what file types are supported is produced using the identify command (also part of ImageMagick) as follows:

identify -list format

A little look at Debian 7.0

Having a virtual machine with Debian 6 on there, I was interested to hear that Debian 7.0 is out. In another VM, I decided to give it a go. Installing it on there using the Net Install CD image took a little while but proved fairly standard with my choice of the GUI-based option. GNOME was the desktop environment with which I went and all started up without any real fuss after the installation was complete; it even disconnnected the CD image from the VM before rebooting, a common failing in many Linux operating installations that lands into the installation cycle again unless you kill the virtual machine.

Though the GNOME desktop looked familiar, a certain amount of conservatism reigned too since the version was 3.4.2. That was no bad thing since raiding the GNOME Extension site for a set of mature extensions was made all the more easy. In fact, a certain number of these was included in the standard installation anyway and the omission of a power off entry on the user menu was corrected as a matter of course without needing any intervention from this user. Adding to what already was there made for a more friendly desktop experience in a short period of time.

Debian’s variant of Firefox , Iceweasel, is version 10 so a bit of tweaking is needed to get the latest version. LibreOffice is there now too and it’s version 3.5 rather than 4. Shotwell too is the older 0.12 and not the 0.14 that is found in the likes of Ubuntu 13.04. As it happens, GIMP is about the only software with a current version and that is 2.8; a slower release cycle may be the cause of that though. All in all, the general sense is that older versions of current software are being included for the sake of stability and that is sensible too so I am not complaining very much about this at all.

The reason for not complaining is that the very reason for having a virtual machine with Debian 6 on there is to have Zinio and Dropbox available too. Adobe’s curtailment of support for Linux means that any application needing Adobe Air may not work on a more current Linux distribution. That affects Zinio so I’ll be retaining a Debian 6 instance for a while yet unless a bout of testing reveals that a move to the newer version is possible. As for Dropbox, I am sure that I can recall why I moved it onto Debian but it’s working well on there so I am in no hurry to move it over either. There are times when slower software development cycles are better…

Moving a Windows 7 VM from VirtualBox to VMware Player

Seeing how well Windows 8 was running in an VMware Player virtual machine and that was without installing VMware Tools in the guest operating system, I was reminded about how sluggish my Windows 7 VirtualBox VM had become. Therefore, I decided to try a migration of the VM from VirtualBox to VMware. My hope was that it was as easy as exporting to an OVA file (File > Export Appliance… in VirtualBox) and importing that into VMware (File > Open a VM in Player). However, even selecting OVF compatibility was insufficient for achieving this and the size of the virtual disks meant that the export took a while to run as well. The solution was to create a new VM in VirtualBox from the OVA file and use the newly created VMDK files with VMware. That worked successfully and I now have a speedier more responsive Windows 7 VM for my pains.

Access to host directories needed reinstatement using a combination of the VMware Shared Folders feature and updating drive mappings in Windows 7 itself to use what appear to it like network drives in the Shared Folders directory on the \\vmware-host domain. For that to work, VMware Tools needed to be installed in the guest OS (go to Virtual Machine > Install VMware Tools to make available a virtual CD from which the installation can be done) as I discovered when trying the same thing with my Windows 8 VM, where I dare not instate VMware Tools due to their causing trouble when I last attempted it.

Moving virtual machine software brought about its side effects though. Software like Windows 7 detects that it’s on different hardware so reactivation can be needed. Windows 7 reactivation was a painless online affair but it wasn’t the same for Photoshop CS5. That meant that I needed help from Adobe’s technical support people top get past the number of PC’s for which the software already had been activated. In hindsight, deactivation should have been done prior to the move but that’s a lesson that I know well now. Technical support sorted my predicament politely and efficiently while reinforcing the aforementioned learning point. Moving virtual machine platform is very like moving from one PC to the next and it hadn’t clicked with me quite how real those virtual machines can be when it comes to software licencing.

Apart from that and figuring out how to do the it, the move went smoothly. An upgrade to the graphics driver on the host system and getting Windows 7 to recheck the capabilities of the virtual machine even gained me a fuller Aero experience than I had before then. Full screen operation is quite reasonable too (the CTRL + ALT + ENTER activates and deactivates it) and photo editing now feels less boxed in too.