Free photography software.

There is a range of free software, and by swapping and changing between the software, all but the most complex operations can be done. However away from the adobe produces, the problem is one knowing the names to look for, to be able to down load, and also finding out how to use it.

Most Photography clubs will get guest speakers on how to use adobe products, and other market leaders like Photomatrix (HDR), PicturestoEXE (AV), and Hugin (Panorama), and others, but for Gimp, RawTherapee, (RAW) Picturenaut, (HDR) UFRaw, (RAW) FastStone Photo Resizer, PhotoStage Slideshow, (AV), Codex, (Thumbnail viewer), Audacity, (Sound), Kompozer, (Web page developer), PhotoME, (Metafile correction), and SM Tether, (Nikon computer remote) the beginner is left to fend for them selves. OK that’s the list to jog memories.

RAW

Some programs link Picturenaut handle RAW files directly, but often first step is to convert from RAW (12 or 14 bit) to Jpeg or other 8 bit format. UFRaw was the standard program used with Gimp, but the user interface left a lot to be desired. RawTherapee is far better, main thing is it includes a screen of thumbnails so you can select the pictures you want to process. The options are huge, but lacks graduated filter and adjustment brush found with adobe, but has options missing in adobe equivalent as well, so is a very powerful bit of software. So why do we take pictures in RAW after all it adds more to do before one can present the image to world at large. Well it captures a higher dynamic range which means less grain with under exposed bits and less white out with over exposed bits so more ability to correct any slight errors when taking. Most camera’s that capture is RAW will allow this to changed into Jpeg in camera together with any slight adjustments ± 2 EV stops so worth taking in RAW even when you have no computer software. Adobe allows one to alter a selected part of the image rather than working on the picture as a whole but also up dates are expensive so where the camera is not supported one has two options. 1) Convert to DNG. 2) Convert with free software like RawTherapee. Where the original RAW is 12 bit (i.e. Pentax) then converting to DNG is likely best option but where RAW is a 14 bit file (i.e. Nikon) then RawTherapee is likely the best option even if simply converted into a 16 bit tiff to then load into either adobe RAW or main program. When the next stage is Gimp then we have to convert to 8 bit but we can still convert twice once of shadows and once for high lights and combine with layers getting same final result as with adobe selective functions it just takes a little longer.

Gimp

Only works with 8 bit files. However it does most of the things photographers need including layers and masks. It now saves in it’s own special format so retains info on layers and masks it will of course also save as Jpeg in fact will even save and open photoshop files to a limited degree. There have been offers of old editions of Photoshop for free, and since Photoshop has been able to work with 16 and 32 bit files for a long time likely that is the best option. However Gimp will do most of the things we normally use Photoshop for however the commands can vary. I will give one example. Having produced two jpeg files one for shadows and other for high lights one can with Photoshop start with an automatic combining then fine tune the result. With Photoshop to load two pictures into layers one needs either Bridge or to convert one from background after loading. Gimp however has a load as layers command. With Photoshop you add a mask to the layer then go to Image and then “Apply Image” to do that auto blend but with Gimp as you add the layer mask you are offered “Greyscale copy of layer” which brings you to the same point. In both cases you are offered an “Invert mask” and it depends which is one top to if it needs inverting or not. However if anything the Gimp is easier but with the different method not so easy to find some one who can tell you how to use it.          


Picturenaut

A HDR program on par with CS4 (CS5 is better) however it lacks the local tone mapping found with Photomatrix. Works better direct from the RAW files. Lacks a front end with picture icons so careful notes required as to what to load up. Using the camera hand held one is likely to get ghost images also things which have moved and it would seem the method of isolating and correcting these problems differs between adobe and Picturenaut so it has been found one group will work better with one and another group better with the other so there is no clear leader. Again very different methods to use, but the basic principle is the same. You produce a 32 bit file then reduce this to 16 or 8 bit retaining best of both high lights and shadows but the result can be rather wishy washy neither having the local tone mapping of Photomatrix. CS5 does have some ready made curves to help but often it is better to manually combine as both quicker and it retains the contrast of the original images. However using Photoshop “apply image” or Gimp “Greyscale copy of layer” the images must have been taken with camera on a tripod. As we move to more than two images then the HDR programs come into their own. I have used 5 with 2 EV between each all RAW images so an extra 8 EV to what would be captured with single image. However many associate HDR with the local tone mapping used by Photomatrix to counter the wishy washy effect and although with CS5 there is some tone mapping it will not equal Photomatrix and Picturenaut makes no real attempt to produce surreal images.

Hugin

Unlike the rest of the free software this one is leagues ahead of Photoshop. It has so many features most of which I never use. So in the main it is three stages, combine, select crop, produce final image. It however does not handle RAW files so first one has to reduce to Jpeg. As with CS5 it will handle vertical and horizontal at the same time so where a ultra wide angle lens is not available one can take 9 images 3 each way and combine. Tripod helps but not essential and it needs less work to squeeze into correct dimensions than CS5 not giving the funnel like shape often seen where just 2 images are combined with CS5.

Codex

These are made by many manufactures my PC has Pentax and Nikon codex loaded so I can see thumbnails of my RAW files. Not really required with RawTherapee but you don’t really want to start it up just to view what file is what.

FastStone Photo Resizer

Real boom when setting sizes of competition entries and setting for web upload. It will handle batches, so although other programs can do the same this one is handy.

PhotoME

Good to correct meta data dates and even lens size when you forget to set on camera.

Notes

I use CS5 and have no intentions of moving over to free software in the foreseeable future, so don’t use Gimp or the RAW converters except to show others. However Picturenaut and Hugin are very good. With both it’s a case where some times CS5 does better job and some times the free ones do it better.

Oddly I still use Paint to crop screen dumps as it loads faster. My bundled software with camera was not much good. I am told of many other bits of free software able to handle RAW and manipulate images but really not interested. Each has its own way and I have no intention of learning all the different methods of doing the same thing. Hugin yes I will be using that and may when CS5 fails try Picturenaut but as one’s skills improve one leaves Gimp behind one is hardly going to create droplets with Gimp (Like a macro). The problem with internet search is so many free programs once down loaded turn out to be free trial. OK with PicturestoEXE the free trial means it has a banner but still works and makes some very good AV’s (Audio Visual) combining still images to produce a presentation. Yes Photostage Slide show is free but no where near as good. I found producing a web page presentation was not easy. Although free software or at least bundled will produce a slide show to get pairs of images so before/after, Winter/Summer, or close-up/overview was a real problem. Adjusting sound depends what version of PicturestoEXE but Audacity is very good at adjusting sound tracks to match slide show. Although I used CS3 (Kompozer may be free but not as good) to work with the files, it was in the main all manual, using both cascading stile sheets and java script, to produce the page I wanted. I found no quick fix. As with many I am sure, making notes is not my best activity, and also I am often in too much of a hurry to set camera with manual lenses to correct length, or f stop, here PhotoME comes to the rescue. I was surprised at what is actually recorded for example temperature of camera body. But main thing it allows me to correct errors in meta data as well. Although CS5 can be used to reduce files to size for completion or internet FastStone Photo Resizer is so easy to size a whole batch of pictures it is my preferred program for this task. Codex varies between both operating systems and camera with Nikon found it would work with XP with Pentax Vista was first it would work with and it was a third party program. What it does is let you see thumb nails of RAW photos, but RawTherapee allows you to select anyway. SM Tether is for Nikon and allows you to take over some of the camera controls with the computer.