Relax

relax

This self portrait is my second try, both in self portraits and in stitching multiple photo’s of myself in one photograph. The first attempt was to blurry and there was more overlap of myself which made it difficult to post process.

Making such a photo is not that difficult. Make several photo’s of yourself  in different positions and put them together in software like Gimp or Photoshop.

Here are some things you should consider when shooting the photo’s:

  • First you need a tripod or a stable surface for the camera so the camera will not move between making the photo’s.
  • Second you need to make sure the exposure of all photo’s is exactly the same. Even the white balance should be the same (or you can change it in post)
  • Third you shouldn’t move objects between different photographs, it will make it extremely difficult to align the photo’s correctly.

When editing the photo’s you add each photo to a different layer and apply a layer mask to show the part of the photo you want to show. The most difficult part is to make overlapping areas convincing. Although there are different ways of creating a layer mask, I just use the mouse and a paintbrush tool. Doing this using a mouse is quite difficult and I think a pen tablet like the Wacom Bamboo will be very helpful here.

Over the next few weeks I will try out my Wacom Bamboo to see if it is really easier to use than the mouse.

Finding photos by using keywords

My photos are organised by date. So I have a folder for the year, the month and the day I took the photo. Sometimes I will use a project code and add it after the day. This way of organisation makes it difficult to find photos, you can’t find all the photos that are taken in London.

Another way to find the photos is to assign keywords to the photos.  With applications like Bibble it is possible to assign an unlimited number of keywords to the photos and after that you can search or select for specific keywords.

After my holiday I assigned keywords to my photos. All the photos got the keyword “Holiday 2011” and the name of the place or area where it was taken or what it is showing. I didn’t look for every detail, because if I would do that, I would be still working on those keywords.

I have thought of one special keyword, “panorama”. I use this for the photos that, as you can guess, are going to be used to create panorama pictures. I made a couple of them and using this keyword I can easily find them and create a panorama from them.

When I would have shot some multiple exposures of the same scene, and I wanted to create an HDR photo, I would mark them with HDR.

My tip for today, add meaningful keywords to your photos, but don’t go too wild with them.

Bibble 5 Lite, why I bought it

Last weeks I tried to rate some photos using open source software. I wanted to try the rating system I mentioned in a previous post and to be effective, the fist steps should be fast paced. To accomplish this I like to use the keyboard instead of the mouse. I found exactly one open source application that was able to do this out of the box, digiKam. The problem I have with digiKam is that it requires some other applications that I don’t want to have installed. Other applications either don’t have support for ratings, or don’t support keyboard short cuts, or simply don’t support Raw files. For me this was a reason to look back at Bibble. Bibble allows me go through my photos very fast and rate them by simply pressing the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5.

Another possibility that Bibble would give me is using a catalogue. A catalogue is basically a database where information about photos is stored. In the case of Bibble (and many other similar applications) this contains the Exif information that the camera stores inside the photo, like camera brand, used lens, shooting information like aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and a lot more. It is also possible to add more information to the photos such as keywords and ratings. The advantage of storing this information in the database is that it allows you to search for photos using this information.

Although I still love open source, I think the open source applications for managing photos is not that good. digiKam is the right tool for the job when you are using the KDE desktop engine on Linux, because (at least on ubuntu) a lot of KDE packages are installed when installing digiKam and this is not what I want. The only application I found that works on Linux is Bibble. Because Bibble is an extremely good and fast RAW processor and because of it’s capabilities for managing photos I have decided to buy a license for the Lite edition.

My next step is to find a good structure for adding my photos to a catalogue. Until I found a good way to organize my catalogue I can still use most of the options inside Bibble like rating and adding keywords to the photos.

Keep it simple, keep it fast

Taking photos is a fun thing to do, and it is easy to shoot a lot. The downside is that all these photos should also be stored and post processed afterwards, and this can become a burden when you shoot a lot.

Here is an overview of a typical workflow:

  • Take photos
  • Put the  photos on the computer
  • Organize the photos and rate them
  • Process the RAW files and send them to a photo editor
  • Do some modifications inside the photo editor(only when necessary)
  • Export to JPEG to store on the computer, send to the web, etc.

The first step is obviously not done on the computer, unless you scan some photos or old negative, but all the others are done on the computer and can take a lot of time, using the right tools will keep the whole process simple and fast. In this post I’ll take a look at how I am trying to approach my complete photographic workflow. I am in no way an expert in photographic workflows and I am still trying to get this workflow working for me.

Get it correct in camera

First of all, when I take a photo I try to get the shot as good as possible. I try to get the correct crop, the correct exposure and I try to get the horizon as straight as possible. This way I don’t have to spend time to post process the image. I rather make some extra photos with different exposure and composition than to use software to get the shot correct. Since going through the photos and discarding the once you don’t like is much easier and faster than trying to correct a photo in post processing. This means however that I need to know what the photo should look like before I take it especially when I should consider the crop. This is not easy, but I found that when you try to visualize the photo before taking it will result in a better picture.

Get the photos from the camera

As soon as I am finished taking photos, I am at home or near my laptop and I have  some time, I will take my memory card and copy the photos from the card to my hard drive. There are multiple ways of doing this and there are a lot of application that can help you here. I don’t connect the camera to the computer, but use a card reader, this saves the battery life a lot. I also don’t use any of the applications, since they are mostly to much focused on one type of shooting.

Most (if not all) applications assume that when you import or download photos from the camera, the photos belong to one job or category, there is no way to tell these applications that you took some shots of Amsterdam and some shots from the forests near Ede (which for me are two different categories, architecture and nature) and used the same card for this. These are two separate jobs/categories and you want to store them in different directories or label them differently. This is at least a problem I  ran into last year on holiday, on the same day we went to different locations and I took a lot of pictures on all the locations.

What I do at the moment is just copy all the photos to a folder on my desktop and from there I add them to the correct locations. Now that the photos are on my hard drive I will put the card back in the camera and format it so that it is ready for use.

Judging the photos

Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t really had a good system for going through my photos and decide which I wanted to keep and which could go away. Since I used different applications to go through my photos, I had a lot of different ways of doing it. Sometimes I used ranks, (“Oh this photo is good, that gets 4 stars, that one is bad, that gets 2 stars”) other times I just went through my photos and when it was a little bit good (“it’s not blurry, so process it”) I processed it and saved it in Gimp.

A few weeks ago, I came across the following blog post:  http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2011/03/photo-editing-101/. This post describes that you can go five times through the photos and decide whether the photos are good enough for the next round or not, when the photo is good enough it is rated by an extra star or higher rank. Although I didn’t complete my first sessions using this method, it is a method that I would like to try out and see how it works. Obviously this will only work when I have software that has good support for this, and there is exactly the problem I have at the moment. Although Rawstudio does support ranking, you can’t do it using the keyboard, which slows down the process considerably.

Processing and correcting

The most essential step in the workflow is processing and correcting the photos. I only try to do the basics like adjusting the white balance, straighten the photo, cropping, lens and colour corrections and a bit of sharpening. When I am finished with this step I send the photo to Gimp where I save the photo in Gimps native format.

I try to keep this step simple and fast so that I can move on to the next photo as soon as possible.

Advanced Post Processing

Not all photos are perfect and sometimes the camera is dirty. It is now time to remove dust, unwanted objects / people and so on. This can all be done using Gimp.

Sometimes I want something different like a black and white image with a red flower or something like that, this can’t be done in most raw processors, so I also do this in Gimp.

I am not doing this for majority of the photos, because it just takes to much time.

Exporting

Since I do some post processing inside Gimp, I decided that it would be the easiest to use Gimp for exporting the images as well. I already did this a few times, and it takes some time at the moment (especially when you also want your signature and copyright notice on the photo) but I think part of this can be automated using some scripts.

Conclusion

Post Processing can take a lot of my time and that is annoying. I wan to spend more time shooting and learning. The biggest problem I have now is that I can’t rate the photos very easy but I tried a new (at least for me) peace of software called digiKam where I can rate the images by pressing Ctrl + <number>, but installing it on my machine gave me a lot more packages than I want. I will use it to try out the rating method and use ufraw to process the photos and of course Gimp for the rest. Hopefully I can come up with a replacement for digiKam which fits more in my workflow.

Choosing the right Post Processing software

The software I have tested is mainly for processing Raw files. These means that correcting white balance and colours is the main thing that could be done using this kind of software. Because I sometimes shoot in JPEG as well (or rather other shoot in JPEG with my camera and I forget to change it back to RAW) support for JPEG files would be a plus, but I could do without it by using Gimp directly.

Browsing files within the Post Processing Software is more important. I could use other software for browsing and I actually did this when testing UFRaw, but most of the time I was opening UFRaw to look more closely at the image and tried some corrections before actually discarding the image.
Browsing through directories will make the whole Post Processing much easier. Opening  a directory via the menu slows the process down, especially when you’re not sure where the photo are located you want to post process or when you want to post process multiple photos in different directories.

Sometimes it is useful to  do more advanced editing like getting rid of people, dust or objects. Bibble lets you do this, but the other programs won’t. The other programs don’t have support for it, and it really isn’t needed. Gimp (or any other editing software) lets you do this with more control.

Bibble is the only application that makes it possible to resize the photo on export. This is a feature that could be very useful when you want to export a lot of photos to the web. In Rawtherapee it is not possible, but I think that it shouldn’t be to difficult to add. Adding a watermark to photos can only be done in Bibble using a plugin. But it Gimp there are also plugins for adding watermarks and also for adding frames and other decoration.

Choosing the right Post Processing Software is not that easy. Especially when there are two programs that are very good and fits almost all my needs. Those two are obviously Rawtherapee and Bibble. Bibble is very easy to use and I would pay for it, because it can do a lot of things that is worth paying for (like selective editing). Rawtherapee takes more time to get used to, but I think that once there is a stable version and the developers going to concentrate on the user interface and accessibility as well (more shortcuts for instance) it will be much better and easier to work with. The problem with Bibble is that it doesn’t have the possibility to send the photos to Gimp, while Rawstudio does have that functionality build in.

For the moment I think I will try Bibble for a few weeks and keep an eye on Rawtherapee to see how the development is going.

Looking at Bibble

Bibble is a commercial project for a complete digital workflow. Bibble Pro is one of the fastest programs I have tested. It comes in two versions, a Lite version and a Pro version. Both versions have the same functionality, but the Lite versions has more restrictions, but these are hardly noticeable when you only use it for basic manipulation of photos. When you want to work with multiple catalogues and import photos, it could be useful to look at the Pro version. but at this moment I can’t find any reasons to justify buying the Pro version.

When I look to the needed and wanted features I come to the following  conclusion:

  • Raw support: Bibble not only  supports Raw, it also supports JPEG and TIFF. On the website there is a list of supported cameras.
  • White balance and colour correction: Both are available, for white balance there are several presets and it is possible to select a white colour. Colour correction is mainly sliders, and you can choose the colour you want to correct, but I didn’t really use this option.
  • Lens correction: Bibble has excellent support for lens correction. If the used lens is known to Bibble, it is possible that distortion can be automatically corrected, if the lens is not calibrated the corrections can be made manually. It is also possible to correct Chromatic Aberation (unwanted colours around edges) and vignette (dark parts in the corners of the photo)
  • Tools for straightening, cropping and perspective corrections: Straightening and cropping can easily be done using the mouse. Perspective correction is not available by default, but there is at least one plugin that could be used for this.
  • Export options: Bibble has several export possibilities. By default there are 6 profiles for exporting and you can change and add profiles if you want. In a profile you can tell Bibble to what format it should export, which size the output file should have and which meta data should be included in the output file.
  • Non destructive editing: All changes are Non destructive in Bibble.
  • Easy and clean interface: I really like the interface of Bibble. There are two sidebars. The one on the left shows libraries and the file system where you can select what photos you want to see. All the adjustment tools are located on the right side. There is a menu bar which contains a lot of options for editing the photo and changing the user interface. There are also several toolbars where tools can be selected for photo editing. After you learn to know the interface it is really easy to work with, learning it is a bit more challenging.
    When using sliders for colour correction or white balance, you can also use the keyboard to give a number you want to use, which could be very useful for setting the value back to the original value.
  • Photo browsing: Bibble lets you browse photos on the file system as well as photos in catalogues, when the photos are in a catalogue you can also browse photos based on metadata, like keywords, or shooting information.
  • Simple ranking system: Bibble has 3 ranking systems: Ratings where you can give each photo 1 to 5 stars, Labels where you can give each photo one or more colours and the easiest one Tagging where you can Pick or Reject a photo.
  • Multiple versions of a photo: Bibble lets you create multiple versions of a photo so that you can experiment, it doesn’t create a physical copy, this is all handled inside Bibble.
  • Adding copyright notice: There is the possibility to add a copyright notice in the metadata of the photo, but there is no build in functionality of a watermark like copyright notice. There is however a plugin which you can use for this purpose. I don’t know if it is possible to add a watermark when exporting the photo…

Bibble is a very solid and fast program. Al loading and preview generation is done in the background and you can easily work on a photo while other photos are loading. A great addition is that Bibble makes it possible to make simple edits to the photo. You can easily heal and clone parts of the photo, and you can create regions to make some selective changes, so you can blur part of the image, but leaving the rest of the image sharp, or make part of the image black and white. Of course these changes can also be done using Gimp, but than you need an extra editor and it take a little bit more time to do it.

Looking at Rawtherapee

Rawtherapee is yet another project that reads and manipulates Raw files. The first versions of Rawtherapee  were freeware, but since January 2010 the source code was released and it is now an opensource project, but there hasn’t been a stable release since then although a lot of work has been done.

Rawtherapee has a lot of the same concepts as Rawstudio, but it has a lot more options. The tested version is an alpha version from November 29th 2010.

  • Raw support: Since Rawtherapee is  build on dcraw it has support for most raw formats, but a nice addition is that it also supports other file formats like JPEG.
  • White balance and colour correction: For changing the white balance you can use two methods, using a colour picker, and several controls. For colour corrections there are also several options, you can use a colour mixer and you can shift colours.
  • Lens correction: Rawtherapee has support for lens correction, but this is not done automatically by looking at the lens information itself. It is possible to make the lens correction you need and save this as a profile which could be loaded at any time.
  • Tools for straightening, cropping and perspective corrections: Rawtherapee makes it very easy to use any of these tools. Straightening can be done by selecting a straight line or by using a slider in the user interface. Cropping is just as easy, use the mouse to select a region or use the controls in the tool on the right side of the screen. Perspective corrections can also be made, but this can only be done using two slider controls controlling the horizontal and the vertical correction.
  • Export options: Using Rawtherapee you can export photos one by one or by putting them in a queue. You can export the photos to JPEG, PNG and TIFF and you can send individual photos to Gimp or any other configured editor. It is not possible to resize the image.
  • Non destructive editing: All editing in Rawtherapee is done non destructive.
  • Easy and clean interface: The interface feels a bit strange. There is not menu bar (unless you count the Preferences and the Fullscreen buttons at the buttom of the screen as one) and there are a lot of tabs, but these are used for separate all the different options from each other. The only tooltips can be found when hovering your mouse over the toolbar items, but they only give you the name of the tool. I couldn’t find any other help functionality, which would be a great addition for such an extensive program.
  • Photo browsing: On the left side of the screen you can select the folder you want to browse. In the middle of the screen all the photos in the selected folder are shown including some extra information about the camera settings that where used for that photo.
  • Simple ranking system: There is a ranking system available in Rawtherapee. You can give each photo 1 through 5 stars, but this can only be done using the mouse.
  • Multiple versions of a photo: It is not possible to make multiple versions of a photo without physically copying the photo.
  • Adding copyright notice: Rawtherapee doesn’t give you the possibility to add a copyright notice when exporting or on any other moment.

The downside of Rawtherapee is that there is no current stable version. The latest stable version is from 2009. The unstable version is still a work in progress and people are working hard to get it stable.

What I really like about Rawtherapee is that there are so much possibilities, almost everything what I want to do is possible within Rawtherapee. The one thing that is missing is resizing the image on export so that you can save multiple photos for the web with just a few clicks.

I really hope that the new version will be coming soon, since I don’t like to use an unstable program for such important work.