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.

A look at Google’s Pixel C

Since my last thoughts on trips away without a laptop, I have come by Google’s Pixel C. It is a 10″ tablet so it may not raise hackles on an aircraft like the 12.9″ screen of the large Apple iPad Pro might. The one that I have tried comes with 64 GB of storage space and its companion keyboard cover (there is a folio version). Together, they can be bought for £448, a saving of £150 on the full price.

Google Pixel C

The Pixel C keyboard cover uses strong magnets to hold the tablet onto it and that does mean some extra effort when changing between the various modes. These include covering the tablet screen as well as piggy backing onto it with the screen side showing or attached in such a way that allows typing. The latter usefully allows you to vary the screen angle as you see fit instead of having to stick with whatever is selected for you by a manufacturer. Unlike the physical connection offered by an iPad Pro, Bluetooth is the means offered by the Pixel C and it works just as well from my experiences so far. Because of the smaller size, it feels a little cramped in comparison with a full size keyboard or even that with a 12.9″ iPad Pro. They also are of the scrabble variety though they work well otherwise.

The tablet itself is impressively fast compared to a HTC One A9 phone or even a Google Nexus 9 and that became very clear when it came to installing or updating apps. The speed is just as well since an upgrade to Android 7 (Nougat) was needed on the one that I tried. You can turn on adaptive brightness too, which is a bonus. Audio quality is nowhere near as good as a 12.9″ iPad Pro but that of the screen easily is good enough for assessing photos stored on a WD My Passport Wireless portable hard drive using the WD My Cloud app.

All in all, it may offer that bit more flexibility for overseas trips compared to the bigger iPad Pro so I am tempted to bring one with me instead. The possibility of seeing newly captured photos in slideshow mode is a big selling point since it does functions well for tasks like writing emails or blog posts, like this one since it started life on there. Otherwise, this is a well made device.

More thinking on travelling without a laptop

When it comes to the technology that I carry with me on trips away, I have begun to start weighing devices on my kitchen scales. The results are a little revealing. The HP Pavilion dm5 that has gone with me to Ireland and other places weighs between 2.5 and 3 kg while my Apple iPad Mini 2 comes in at 764 grams. My 12.9″ iPad Pro with its Logitech keyboard weighs between these at 110 to 1200 grams. The idea of consolidating computing devices for travel has been discussed on here before now and the main thing stopping my just going with the iPad Pro was the viewing of photos without filling up its 32 GB of storage space.

Since then, I just may have found a workaround and it is another gadget, this time weighing only a few hundred grams: a 1 TB WD My Passport Wireless portable hard drive. Aside from having a SD card slot that allows the automatic backup of photos, it also can connect with tablets and phones using WiFi broadband.

WD My Passport Wireless

It is the WD My Cloud app that makes the connections to mobile devices useful and it works smoothly on iOS and Android devices too. Nevertheless, there is more functionality on the latter ones such as DNG file support and an added slide show feature that works with JPEG files. Both of these are invaluable for viewing photos and I feel a little short-changed that they are not available on iOS. Hopefully, that will get resolved sooner rather than later.

Thankfully, my Pentax K5 II DSLR camera can be persuaded to save DNG and JPEG files simultaneously so that they can be viewed full screen on both types of devices without having to transfer them onto the tablet first as you would with Apple’s SD card reader. Usefully, that gets around my oversight in buying iPads with only 32 GB of storage each. That now looks like a false economy given what I am trying now.

Such is the weight difference, just taking along my Apple iPad Pro and the WD device will save around 1 kg and there is less fuss at airport security screening too. While my HTC phone would suffice for seeing photos as slide shows, I am wondering if my battered Google Nexus 9 could come too. The only dilemma then would be how to pack things since I am not sure how a large iPad screen would seem to cabin crew or other passengers during take off and landing. That makes using the Nexus 9 onboard more of a proposition and the iPad might go into the hold luggage to make life a little easier. Still, that choice is a minor concern now that I can try travelling overseas without a laptop to see how I get along.

Thoughts on eBooks

In recent months, I have been doing a clear out of paper books in case the recent European Union referendum result in the U.K. affects my ability to stay there since I am an Irish citizen. In my two decades here, I have not felt as much uncertainty and lack of belonging as I do now. It is as if life wants to become difficult for a while.

What made the clearance easier was that there was of making sure that the books were re-used and eBooks replaced anything that I would wanted to keep. However, what I had not realised is that demand for eBooks has flatlined, something that only became apparent in recent article in PC Pro article penned by Stuart Turton. He had all sorts of suggestions about how to liven up the medium but I have some of my own.

Niall Benvie also broached the subject from the point of view of photographic display in an article for Outdoor Photography because most are looking at photos on their smartphones and that often reduces the quality of what they see. Having a partiality to photo books, it remains the one class of books that I am more likely to have in paper form, even I have an Apple iPad Pro (the original 12.9 inch version) and am using it to write these very words. There also is the six year old 24 inch Iiyama screen that I use with my home PC.

The two apps with which I have had experience are Google Play Books and Amazon Kindle, both of which I have used on both iOS and Android while I use the Windows app for the latter too. Both apps are simple and work effectively until you end up with something of a collection. Then, shortcomings become apparent.

Search functionality is something that can be hidden away on menus and that is why I missed it for so long. For example, Amazon’s Kindle supports puts the search box in a prominent place on iOS but hides the same function in menus on its Android or Windows incarnations. Google Play Books consistently does the latter from what I have seen and it would do no harm to have a search box on the library screen since menus and touchscreen devices do not mix as well. The ability to search within a book is similarly afflicted so this also needs moving to a more prominent place and is really handy for guidebooks or other more technical textbooks.

The ability to organise a collection appears to be another missed opportunity. The closest that I have seen so far are the Cloud and Device screens on Amazon’s Kindle app but even this is not ideal. Having the ability to select some books as favourites would help as would hiding others from the library screen would be an improvement. Having the ability to re-sell unwanted eBooks would be another worthwhile addition because you do just that with paper books.

When I started on this piece, I reached the conclusion the eBooks too closely mimicked libraries of paper books. Now, I am not so sure. It appears to me that the format is failing to take full advantage of its digital form and that might have been what Turton was trying to evoke but the examples that he used did not appeal to me. Also, we could do with more organisation functionality in apps and the ability to resell could be another opportunity. Instead, we appear to be getting digital libraries and there are times when a personal collection is best.

All the while, paper books are being packaged in ever more attractive ways and there always will be some that look better in paper form than in digital formats and that still applies to those with glossy appealing photos. Paper books almost feel like gift items these days and you cannot fault the ability to browse them by flicking through the pages with your hands.

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