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.

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.

Initial impressions of Windows 10

Being ever curious on the technology front, the release of the first build of a Technical Preview of Windows 10 was enough to get me having a look at what was on offer. The furore regarding Windows 8.x added to the interest so I went to the download page to get a 64-bit installation ISO image.

That got installed into a fresh VirtualBox virtual machine and the process worked smoothly to give something not so far removed from Windows 8.1. However, it took until release 4.3.18 of VirtualBox before the Guest additions had caught up with the Windows prototype so I signed up for the Windows Insider program and got a 64-bit ISO image to install the Enterprise preview of Windows 10 into a VMware virtual machine since and that supported full screen display of the preview while VirtualBox caught up with it.

Of course, the most obvious development was the return of the Start Menu and it works exactly as expected too. Initially, the apparent lack of an easy way to disable App panels had me going to Classic Shell for an acceptable Start Menu. It was only later that it dawned on me that unpinning these panels would deliver to me the undistracting result that I wanted.

Another feature that attracted my interest is the new virtual desktop functionality. Here I was expecting something like what I have used on Linux and UNIX. There, each workspace is a distinct desktop with only the applications open in a given workspace showing on a panel in there. Windows does not work that way with all applications visible on the taskbar regardless of what workspace they occupy, which causes clutter. Another deficiency is not having a desktop indicator on the taskbar instead of the Task View button. On Windows 7 and 8.x, I have been a user of VirtuaWin and this still works largely in the way that I expect of it too, except for any application windows that have some persistence associated with them; the Task Manager is an example and I include some security software in the same category too.

Even so, here are some keyboard shortcuts for anyone who wants to take advantage of the Windows 10 virtual desktop feature:

  • Create a new desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + D
  • Switch to previous desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + Left arrow
  • Switch to next desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + Right arrow

Otherwise, stability is excellent for a preview of a version of Windows that is early on its road to final release. An upgrade to a whole new build went smoothly when initiated following a prompt from the operating system itself. All installed applications were retained and a new taskbar button for notifications made its appearance alongside the existing Action Centre icon. So far, I am unsure what this does and whether the Action Centre button will be replaced in the fullness of time but I am happy to await where things go with this.

All is polished up to now and there is nothing to suggest that Windows 10 will not be to 8.x what 7 was to Vista. The Start Screen has been dispatched after what has proved to be a misadventure on the part of Microsoft. The PC still is with us and touchscreen devices like tablets are augmenting it instead of replacing it for any tasks involving some sort of creation. If anything, we have seen the PC evolve with laptops perhaps becoming more like the Surface Pro, at least when it comes to hybrid devices. However, we are not as happy smudge our PC screens quite like those on phones and tablets so a return to a more keyboard and mouse centred approach for some devices is a welcome one.

What I have here are just a few observations and there is more elsewhere, including a useful article by Ed Bott on ZDNet. All in all, we are early in the process for Windows 10 and, though it looks favourable so far, I will continue to keep an eye on how it progresses. It needs to be less experimental than Windows 8.x and it certainly is less schizophrenic and should not be a major jump for users of Windows 7.

ERROR: Can’t find the archive-keyring

When I recently did my usual system update for the stable version Ubuntu GNOME, there were some updates pertaining to apt and the process failed when I executed the following command:

sudo apt-get upgrade

Usefully, some messages were issued and here’s a flavour:

Setting up apt (0.9.9.1~ubuntu3.1) …
ERROR: Can’t find the archive-keyring
Is the ubuntu-keyring package installed?
dpkg: error processing apt (--configure):
subprocess installed post-installation script returned error exit status 1
Errors were encountered while processing:
apt
E: Sub-process /usr/bin/dpkg returned an error code (1)

Some searching on the web revealed that the problem was that there were no files in /usr/share/keyring when there should have been and I had not removed them myself so I have no idea how they disappeared. Various remedies were tried and any that needed software installed were non-starters because apt was disabled by the lack of keyring files. The workaround that restored things for me was to take a copy of the files in /usr/share/keyring from an Ubuntu GNOME 14.04 installation in a VirtualBox VM and copy them in to the same location in its Ubuntu GNOME 13.10 host. For those without such resources, I have packaged them in a zip file below. Other remedies like Y PPA also were suggested where I was reading but that software package needed installing beforehand so it was little use to me when the likes of Synaptic were disabled. If there are other remedies that do not involve an operating system re-installation, I would like to know about them too as well as possible causes for the file loss in the first place and how to avoid these.

Ubuntu Keyrings

Wiping of hard drives with Linux

More than a decade of computer upgrades and rebuilds can leave obsolete kit in your hands and the arrival of legislation controlling the dumping of electronic goods during this time can leave one wondering how anyone can dispose of them. Thankfully, I discovered that the local council refuse site only a few miles away from me accepts such things for recycling and saw me a good few times over the last summer with obsolete and non-working gadgets that has stayed with me far too long. Some were as bulky as a computer monitor and a printer but others were relatively diminutive.

Disposing of non-working and utterly obsolete equipment is an easy choice but I find this is harder when a device still works as intended and even might have a use yet. When you realise that computer motherboards still come with PS/2, floppy and IDE ports, things get trickier. My Gigabyte Z87-HD3 mainboard just has one PS/2 when predecessors would have had two and the same applies to IDE sockets and there still is a floppy drive socket on there too, a surprising sight for anyone used to thinking that such things are utterly outmoded these days. So, PC technology isn’t relinquishing backwards compatibility just yet since that mainboard is part of a system with an Intel Core i5-4670K CPU and 24 GB of RAM on there.

Even with that presence of an IDE port, I was not tempted to use leftover 10 GB and 20GB hard drives that I have had for just over a decade. Ten years ago, that sort of capacity would been respectable were it not for our voracious appetite for data storage thanks to photography, video and music. Apart from the size constraints, the speed of those drives cannot compare well with what we have today either and I quickly saw that when I replaced a Samsung 160 HD of a similar age with a Samsung SSD.

The result of this line of thought was that I was minded to recycle the drives so I started to think about wiping and Linux has a good tool for this in the form of the dd command. It can overwrite data on the disks so as to render the information virtually irretrievable. Also, Linux has a number of dummy devices that can supply junk data for overwriting purposes. They are like /dev/null which is used to suppress the issuing of output to the command. The first is /dev/zero which supplies octal zeros and I have used this. However, there also is /dev/random and /dev/urandom for those wanting a more random element to the overwriting.

To overwrite data on a disk with zeroes while having feedback on progress, the following command achieves the required result:

sudo dd if=/dev/zero | pv | sudo dd of=/dev/sdd bs=16M

The whole operation needs to be executed with root privileges and the if parameter of dd specifies the input data and this is sent to a pv command that shows a progress bar that dd would not produce by itself while sending the output on to another dd command with the disk to be overwritten specified using the of parameter. The bs parameter in that second dd command specifies the block size for the disk writing job. Unfortunately, pv is not installed by default so you need to add it yourself. On a Debian, Ubuntu or Linux Mint system, the command is the following:

sudo apt-get install pv

That pv sandwich also is invaluable for those times when dd is needed to copy partitions between different physical or virtual (in a virtual machine) disks. Without it, you might wonder what exactly is happening in the silence and that especially is concerning when you are retrying an operation that failed previously and it takes a while to complete each time.