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 theĀ 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.

Upgrading a 2012 Google Nexus 7 to Android 5.0

Today, I was lured into upgrading my 2012 Google (ASUS) Nexus 7 to the final version of Android 5.0 (also known as Lollipop) by an icon in the device’s top panel. Initially, it felt as it was working OK but a certain sluggish could not be overlooked and there have been complaints about this with some questioning the sense of what Google have done. However, there would have been comments about grandfathering the device if they had not left us have the latest release of Android so there was no victory either way. We humans are fickle creatures and there is an example of exactly that in a well observed double-ended short story by the Irish writer Maura Laverty.

My impressions of how the upgrade had lumbered the tablet had me wondering about replacing the thing with either an Apple iPad Mini 2 or a Google (HTC) Nexus 9 but a much less expensive option came to mind: doing a full factory reset of the device using its recovery mode. That may sound drastic but much of what I had on there was in the cloud anyway so there was nothing to lose. So these are the instructions from Google themselves and I will leave you to use them at your own risk:

  1. If your tablet is on, turn it off.
  2. Press and hold the Volume Down button, then press and hold the Power button at the same time until the tablet turns on. You’ll see the word “Start” with an arrow around it.
  3. Press the Volume Down button twice to highlight “Recovery mode”.
  4. Press the Power button to start Recovery mode. You’ll see an image of an Android robot with a red exclamation mark and the words “No command.”
  5. While holding down the Power button, press the Volume Up button.
  6. Use the volume buttons to scroll to “wipe data/factory reset,” then press the Power button to select it.
  7. Scroll down to “Yes -- erase all user data,” then press the Power button to select it.

Note: If your tablet becomes unresponsive at any point during these steps, you can restart it by holding down the Power button for several seconds.

Once that was completed and the tablet restarted, the set-up routine began and took around an hour to reinstate the various apps that had been lost by the rest. Much of that was down to the time taken for re-installation rather than that taken by the actual downloads themselves over a wired broadband connection. The wait was worth it because the Nexus 7 feels more responsive again. While there times when little lags are noticeable, they are nothing next to the slowdown that I had witnessed before the rest. It might have been a better option than attempting to return to Android 4.4.4 using a factory image, which was another option that I was considering. So long as there is no deterioration in speed, the effort expended to do a reset will have been worthwhile.

Copying only updated new or updated files by command line in Linux or Windows

With a growing collection of photographic images, I often find myself making backups of files using copy commands and the data volumes are such that I don’t want to keep copying the same files over and over again so incremental file transfers are what I need. So commands like the following often get issued from a Linux command line:

cp -pruv [source] [destination]

Because this is in Linux, it the bash shell that I use so the switches may not apply to others like ssh, fish or ksh. For my case, p preserves file properties such as its time and date and the cp command does not do this always so it needs adding. The r switch is useful because the copy then in recursive so only a directory needs to specified as the source and the destination needs to be one level up from a folder with the same name there so as to avoid file duplication. It is the u switch that makes the file copy incremental and the v one issues messages to the shell that show how the copying is going. Seeing a file name issued by the latter does tell you how much more needs to be copied and that the files are going where they should.

What inspired this post though is my need to do the same in a Windows session and issuing xcopy commands will achieve the same end. Here are two that will do the needful:

xcopy [source] [destination] /d /s

xcopy [source] [destination] /d /e

In both cases, it is the d switch that ensures that the copy is incremental and you can add a date too, with a colon between it and the /d, if you see fit. The s switch copies only directories that contain files while the e one copies even empty directories. Using the d switch without either of those did not trigger any copying action when I tried so I reckon that you cannot do without either of them. By default, both of these commands issue output to the command line so you can keep an eye on what is happening and this especially is useful when ensuring that files are going to the right destination because the behaviour differs from that of the bash shell in Linux.

Removing advertisements from uTorrent

BitTorrent may have got some bad press due to its use for downloading copyrighted material such as music and movies but it does have its legitimate uses too. In my case, many a Linux distro has been downloaded in this way and it does take the weight off servers by distributing the load across users instead.

Speaking of Linux, my general choice of client has been Transmission and there are others. In the Windows world, there is a selection that includes BitTorrent, Inc. themselves. However, many favour uTorrent (or Ī¼Torrent) so that’s the one that I tried and there free and subscription-based options. To me, the latter feels like overkill when an eternal licence could be made available as an easy way to dispatch the advertisements on display in the free version.

As much as I appreciate the need for ads to provide revenue to a provider of otherwise free software, they do need to be tasteful and those in uTorrent often were for dating websites that had no scruples about exposing folk to images that were unsuitable for a work setting. Those for gaming websites were more tolerable in comparison. With the non-availability of an eternal licence option, I was left pondering alternatives like qBittorrent instead. That is Free Software too so it does have that added advantage.

However, I uncovered an article on LifeHacker that sorted my problem with uTorrent. The trick is to go into Options > Preferences via the menus and then go to the Advanced section in the dialogue box that appears. In there, go looking for each of the following options and set each one to false in turn:

  • offers.left_rail_offer_enabled/left_rail_offer
  • gui.show_plus_upsell
  • offers.sponsored_torrent_offer_enabled/sponsored_torrent_offer_enabled
  • bt.enable_pulse
  • gui.show_notorrents_node
  • offers.content_offer_autoexec

In practice, I found some of the above already set to false and another missing but set those that remained from true to false cleaned up the interface so I hope never to glimpse those unsuitable ads again. The maker of uTorrent need to look at the issue or revenue could get lost and prospective users could see the operation as being cheapened by what is displayed. As for me, I am happy to have gained something in the way of control.

Fixing Background Image Display in GNOME Shell 3.10

On upgrading from Ubuntu GNOME 13.10 to Ubuntu GNOME 14.04, a few rough edges were to be noticed. One was the display of my chosen background image: it was garbled. Later, I discovered that there is a maximum width of 2560 px for background images in GNOME Shell these days and that things get messy beyond that.

In my case, the image width was around 6000 px and I was used to its getting resized in GNOME Shell 3.8 and its predecessors. It seems that the functionality got removed after that though so the workaround of manual image resizing in the GIMP needed to be employed. Though having big images open in memory creates an additional overhead, not handling them very well at all looks like a bug caused by setting 2560 px as a maximum screen width for the GNOME Shell panel and the complete removal of Nautilus from desktop rendering duties. Let’s hope that sense is seen with ever larger screen sizes and resolutions coming our way.

It’s the sort of thing that did get me looking at adding on Cinnamon 2.2 for a while before setting background image scaling using the indispensable GNOME Tweak Tool was discovered. LinuxG.net has a useful tutorial on this for anyone with such an adventurous streak in them. For now though, I am OK with my set up but the GNOME project’s focus on minimalism could affect us in other ways so I can see why Clem Lefebvre started the Cinnamon one primarily for Linux Mint and the desktop environment is appearing elsewhere too. After all, Gedit lost its menu bar in GNOME 3.12 so it’s just as well that we have alternative choices.

Update 2014-05-06: It seems that the desktop image bug that afflicts GNOME Shell 3.10 got sorted for GNOME Shell 3.12. At least, that is the impression that an Antergos instance in a VirtualBox virtual machine gives me.