Linux Tools For Serious Photographers

This page is continuously updated to include new material, so you might want to bookmark it for future reference.

While most mainstream Linux distros come with photo management software, these applications are more suited for shutterbugs than serious amateurs and professional photographers. But besides applications like F-Spot and Shotwell, there are quite a few high-quality powerful Linux-based photographic tools that can rival proprietary commercial applications like Adobe Photoshop Elements and Lightroom. Using applications like Entangle, Rapid Photo Downloader, and digiKam, you can turn your Linux machine into a powerful darkroom for processing and organizing photos.

Common Photographic Tasks

Let’s start with a brief overview of common photographic tasks:

  • While you’d normally use your camera to take photos, there are a couple of Linux-based tools that can be used to remotely control and trigger your camera. These tools can come in handy for exposure bracketing, focus stacking, macro photography, and so on.
  • Before you can do anything with your photos, you have to transfer them from your camera to a computer, and then import them into the photo management application.
  • Next, you have to sort and organize the imported photos.
  • Once the photos have been neatly organized, you have to process the RAW files.
  • Most of us share our photographic masterpieces with others. And in most cases, we publish photos using either one of many third-party photo sharing services, or upload photos to self-hosted galleries.

So what are the tools that can help you to handle these photographic tasks on Linux?

digiKam to Rule Them All

Setting up a photographic workflow is unthinkable without an application that can help you to import, process, and organize photos. While there are several such applications available on Linux (Rawstudio, Darktable, RawTherapee, etc.), digiKam makes a sensible choice for a number of reasons.

  • Thanks to the LibRaw decoding and processing library, digiKam can handle a wide range of RAW formats. digiKam currently supports more than 400 cameras that shoot in RAW, and new models are added almost as soon as they hit the market.
  • digiKam offers several ways to view your photos. You can use a conventional album view, browse photos by tags or by date, or display your photos as a timeline. digiKam also allows you to view your photos on the map, provided they have been properly geotagged.
  • Speaking of geotagging, the application sports a separate interface for working with geographical data. You can use it not only to geotag photos, but also geocorrelate them. digiKam offers another useful feature called reverse geocoding. Using it, you can retrieve human-readable locations such as city, street, country, etc. for photos based on their geographical coordinates.
  • The photo management application offers a wide array of tools that can help you to keep tabs on your photos. For example, digiKam offers tagging and rating features. In addition to that, the application sports the Color labels and Picks tools. The former lets you apply color codes to photos, while the latter can come in handy for quickly sorting photos.
  • digiKam sports powerful filtering and search capabilities. The dedicated Filters sidebar in digiKam offers a simple yet flexible way to filter photos by specific criteria. For example, you can easily set up a filter that displays photos containing certain tags and have a specific color label.
  • The application supports non-destructive editing and versioning. This allows you to tweak photos without affecting their originals. In addition to that, you can save multiple modified versions of the same original and use digiKam to neatly organize them as well as keep track of changes made to each version.
  • When it comes to editing, digiKam offers a wide selection of useful tools. Besides the usual suspects like Curve and Level adjustment tools, digiKam offers exposure blending, lens correction, perspective adjustment, black-and-white conversion, and many other nifty features. Better yet, the application sports powerful batch processing capabilities which allow you to apply multiple editing and conversion operations on a set of photos.
  • Finally, thanks to a comprehensive collection of bundled plugins, you can publish your photos on many popular photo sharing services like Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, SmugMug, and others.

digiKam

Although digiKam can handle practically any photographic task you throw at it, there are other utilities you might want to add to you photographic toolbox. So let’s take a look at how you can use digiKam and other tools to handle different photographic tasks.

Capture Photos

Tethering your DSLR camera to a computer opens a whole new world of possibilities: you can instantly view your shots on a large screen, trigger your camera remotely, practice the art of time-lapse photography, and perform other clever tricks.

Entangle

While commercial tethering software for Windows and Mac OS X often costs serious money, you can enjoy all the advantages of tethered shooting on Linux free of charge courtesy of Entangle. This tethering software lets you control practically all camera settings, trigger the shutter from the computer, view a live preview of a scene, and automatically download captured images to the computer.

While digiKam won’t rival dedicated software for tethered shooting, you can use the application’s Import interface to trigger the connected camera and instantly fetch photos from it. This functionality can come in handy when you want to have an instant preview of photos you take on a large screen. There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind, though. digiKam can’t control camera settings (shooting mode, aperture, shutter speed, etc.) remotely, so you should set them beforehand. The images captured from within the Import interface are not stored on the camera’s storage card, so make sure you import them into digiKam before you disconnect or turn off the camera.

Import Photos

digiKam offers several ways to offload photos from the camera and import them into the application. Using the commands available in the Import menu, you can grab photos directly from the camera or storage devices connected to the computer. You can also add individual photos that are already on your machine and import folders containing photos. digiKam also lets you pull photos from popular services like Facebook and SmugMug.

Rapid Photo Downloader

Instead of digiKam, you can use a dedicated tool like Rapid Photo Downloader to transfer photos from the camera to digiKam collections. Despite its name, transferring photos is only one of Rapid Photo Downloader’s many talents. For starters, it can simultaneously download photos from multiple sources, so if your camera has two card slots, you can transfer photos from both of them in one go. More importantly, using Rapid Photo Downloader’s preferences, you can configure the way the utility processes and sorts the downloaded photos. For example, you can define a rule that moves photos taken on a specific date into a separate subfolder. Rapid Photo Downloader can also rename photos during download using user-defined rules. The Backup section lets you specify a destination directory where Rapid Photo Downloader will store backup copies of the downloaded photos.

Sort, Organize, and Manage Photos

Once you’ve imported photos, you can tag them. digiKam lets you create and assign an unlimited number of tags to a photo. Better yet, you can also create sub-tags for more granular tagging. For example, you can create the macro tag for tagging all your macro shots, and then add the tamron90mm and nikon105mmsub-tags to tag photos taken with a specific lens.

Color labels is another feature that can be useful for keeping tabs on your photos. It allows you to color code photos using one of nine color labels. How you use this feature depends on your particular workflow. For example, you can apply one color label to photos you shared on the web and other one for photos you plan to use in your portfolio.

digiKam’s Geolocation window

digiKam’s geotagging capabilities can come in rather handy when you want to add geographical information to your photos. The application features a dedicated Geolocation interface which offers several ways to obtain the geographical coordinates of the place where the photos were taken. You can use the mouse to move around the map to locate the desired spot. Or if you know the full or partial address of the location, you can use the built-in search feature to find it on the map.

Geeqie

digiKam is undoubtedly a powerful application for organizing and managing your photos, but there are situations when you need something like Geeqie, a lightweight yet flexible image viewer with a slew of nifty features. For starters, Geeqie is lightning fast, and it can handle RAW files courtesy of the UFRaw software. Better yet, Geeqie can batch convert RAW files to the JPEG format, which can come in rather handy if you want to share photos or upload them to photo sharing Web services like Flickr. When viewing photos, you can enable the Image Overlay feature which displays key info about the photo such as basic EXIF data and histogram. Using the View | Exif Window command, you can view all EXIF data of the current photo. Geeqie also sports a so-called Pan View which presents photos as a timeline, a calendar, or a folder hierarchy. Besides that, Geeqie offers the nifty Marks feature designed to make it easier to sort and filter photos. Using this tool, you can assign up to six marks to each photo using appropriate commands from the Select menu.

Process Raw Files

Next step is to process RAW files. Here, too, you can either use the tools offered by digiKam or opt for a dedicated RAW processing application like Darktable.

Process Raw Files in digiKam

digiKam’s built-in RAW Import Tool offers all essential features for developing digital negatives. The RAW Import interface is split into three key sections. In the RAW Decoding section, you can tweak demosaicing, white balance, noise reduction and chromatic aberration correction as well as color management settings.

Processing RAW file in digiKam

In the White Balance section, you can adjust white balance settings and specify how the system should handle highlight clippings (overexposed areas in the photo). In addition to that, you can manually tweak exposure compensation settings, apply one of the supported noise reduction algorithms to the image as well as enable and configure the chromatic aberration correction option. Finally, you can adjust exposure settings (brightness, contrast, gamma, and exposure) in the Post Processing section. You can use the RAW Import Tool to process individual RAW files, but if you need to convert multiple files in one go, then digiKam’s Batch RAW Converter can come in rather handy. As the name suggests, this tool allows you to process several RAW files in one go.

Process Raw Files in Darktable

While digiKam makes a rather competent tool for working with RAW files, using a dedicated RAW processing application like Darktable makes a lot of sense. Although Darktable is designed for serious amateurs and professional photographers alike, the application sports a slick and user-friendly interface which puts all the essential tools at your fingertips. Darktable relies on the RawSpeed decoder library which supports many popular RAW formats. In addition to that, Darktable comes with custom-enhanced color matrices which provide better color rendition. Similar to digiKam, Darktable uses non-destructive editing, meaning that no editing actions are applied directly to the photo. Instead, all editing information is saved in an .xmp file, leaving the original photo untouched.

Processing RAW files in Darktable

The editing operations in Darktable are displayed as a list in the history palette, and you can revert to any previous step by selecting it in the list. The clever part is that you can turn a history stack into a style, so you can apply the exact same actions to other photos in just one step.

All tools in Darktable are treated as modules, and you can enable and disable them at will. This allows you to customize your workspace to fit your specific photographic needs. Darktable comes with only a few key modules enabled by default, but you can easily activate other modules by picking the ones you like in the more plugins palette. Each plugin contains a number of parameters you can tweak. The sharpen plugin, for example, lets you adjust three key parameters: radius, amount, and threshold. If you are not happy with the result, you can reset all the parameters with a single mouse click. You can also save the current parameter values as a preset which you can then apply to other photos.

Once the RAW files have been processed, you can export them. The application supports a wide range of graphic formats, including 8-bit JPG, 8/16-bit PNG, and 8/16-bit TIFF. Besides the ability to export photos to the hard disk, Darktable can upload the selected photos to your Flickr or Picasaweb account as well as send them via email.

Other Raw Processing Tools

Of course, Darktable is not the only open source RAW processing application out there. Here are a few excellent RAW processors you might want to try. GTKRawGallery, for example, provides an impressive array of tools suitable not only for viewing but also for processing and organizing RAW files. GTKRawGallery uses the dcraw RAW decoding library which can handle practically every RAW format out there, including the usual suspects like CR2, NEF, RAF, and DNG.

GTKRawGallery

The application also provides a graphical interface that gives you easy access to all dcraw’s RAW processing features. GTKRawGallery also supports popular image formats such as JPG, TIFF, PNG, SVG, and many others. So even if you don’t shoot in RAW, you can use the application to manage your photos. In addition to image manipulation and management tools, GTKRawGallery boasts advanced features like a histogram tool, non-destructive editing capabilities, and the ability to read and write metadata in the EXIF, IPTC, and XMP formats. GTKRawGallery even supports color management based on ICC profiles courtesy of the LittleCMS software. All this functionality is wrapped in a lightweight interface which is usable on small screens. GTKRawGallery may not rival digiKam or Darktable feature-wise, but this lightweight application can come in handy when you need to process RAW files in a hurry or keep tabs on your photos when you are out and about.

If neither Darktable nor GTKRawGallery work for you, here is a list of other RAW processing tools you might want to try:

Share and Publish Photos

digiKam allows you not only to organize and edit photos, but also share and publish them. Thanks to the bundled KIPI plugins, the application supports a wide range of sharing options: from creating static HTML photo galleries to uploading photos to popular photo sharing services like Flickr, Picasaweb, SmugMug, and many others. In addition to photo sharing web services, digiKam supports popular self-hosted photo sharing applications like Gallery and Piwigo.

Example of a Piwigo-based photo gallery

If you are looking for a web-based application that allows you to host photos on your own server, Piwigo should be at the top of your list. This application runs on the Apache/MySQL/PHP stack, and it offers all the essential features. You can upload photos to Piwigo using the built-in uploading tool, you can arrange photos into albums and sub-albums, and limit access to individual photos. Piwigo also allows you to tag the photos, and edit them in batches. The application can handle multiple users, and you can specify access rights for individual users and groups. In addition to that, Piwigo supports plugins, so you can extend its default functionality by installing third-party modules.

10 comments on “Linux Tools For Serious Photographers
  1. John says:

    For us newbies, you may want to mention that display (aka sharing) options include using either a desktop application such as Jalbum, or using a self-hosting server application such as Gallery or Piwigo on dedicated box or virtualized on a desktop using VirtualBox. Virtualization can be used for development.

    Thank you for your article.

  2. Stumpy says:

    Thank you for your article. (I notice GIMP is not featured). I’m pleased to see Geeqie is recommended. I use it extensively. Fotoxx has some useful tools for HDR and Panaorama that I have used too. I haven’t used GTKRawGallery (terrible name) for a while – I might have a look again though. I’ve used Darktable and RawTherapee with good results. Thank you again.

  3. hkb says:

    More inclined to go with Darktable; also looking at Aftershot Pro.

  4. Warren says:

    Piwigo requires PHP and MySQL but does not require you to be running Apache, according to their website. Apache is not the only web server, nor everybody’s favorite.

  5. There seems to be a “new” tool you haven’t listed called LightZone (http://lightzoneproject.org/). Once commercial software, now in the early stages of beeing converted to open source.

  6. PS also, I think the features of Gimp 2.10, which will be released soon, might be of some interest to photographers. The Gimp roadmap: http://wiki.gimp.org/index.php/Roadmap

  7. garhol says:

    There’s also the pretty impressive commercial offering from Corel. Aftershot Pro used to be Bibble but Corel bought it out (if I recall correctly). It’s got a really nice workflow (non-desctructive), good raw support and I didn’t see any slowdown moving over from Lightroom on windows to it. There’s a free trial as well. ->http://www.corel.com/corel/product/index.jsp?pid=prod4670071&cid=catalog20038&segid=6000006&storeKey=us&languageCode=en

  8. Phil says:

    50%-80% of the photos I take are off people I know and of them, 20%-30% are in the places one of them live.
    Can someone show me the photo organising suite that can easily tag photos with a unique tag for a person I know or a place where they live such that I can use it as a foreign key into my contacts list?
    I mean a proper key – not the person’s name (possibly fudged with their maiden name or date of birth) – a proper unique through time ID shared between a half decent contact manager and a half decent photo manager.
    Whilst I’m on this rant, a photo manager that does not store all the information in a database – you don’t store the jpeg file in the db, why store all the tags and descriptions in one? If they can’t be shoehorned into the image itself (well, the raw image should always be left intact shouldn’t it?) perhaps a similarly named file in the same directory?
    But then again, I’m probably just showing my hard core command line background :-)

    Rant over – carry on

  9. Bob K. says:

    I’m sorry but Linux is not a platform for serious photography. Most if not all professional photographers that I have seen use Macs or Windows based PC’s. With way better, and more advanced, photographic, proprietary tools. Adobe, Canon, Corel, Nikon, Capture One, etcc. all shun Linux, and the opensource philosophy. Gimp is poorly developed, one or two, at the most, full time developers. and lacks 16 bit or higher color depth. End of 2014 now, going on 2015, and no Gimp 2.10, with higher bit color depth. Most professional photographers will not stand for this extremely slow development cycle, and lack of high end features like over 8 bit color depth, and lack of integration with high end plugins. Topaz, Photomatix, Nik software. ect. .. So why bother using, or even trying Gimp. Someone mentioned Aftershot Pro. Great product but one major problem!. Where is Painshop Pro for the Linux platform. Corel’s pixel editor, and companion to Aftershot Pro. Shows how much even Corel considers Linux as a photography platform. Not highly. Good articles, but your barking up the wrong tree, by putting Linux and serious photography in the same title. In reality there is no such thing, and probably never will be. Should have been titled. “Linux for Beginning Photographers”. and note that you will at some time need to change platforms, if you really want to do photography seriously.

    • yourmom says:

      @Bob K., I agree with your points regarding the underdevelopment of Gimp, and I agree that the Linux tools are nowhere near as easy to use as some on other platforms. Given the choice, I will always feel more comfortable using Photoshop on Windows or Mac. I don’t agree with you at all when you say that serious photography can’t or doesn’t go well with Linux. Believe it or not, there are still a lot of serious photographers that produce quality images with zero post processing. I wouldn’t consider myself a pro photographer, but I am a Linux user by trade, and to discount it as a legitimate platform for any endeavor is just misinformation or plain laziness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 499 other followers

%d bloggers like this: