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Over time I've become fairly skilled in using Picasa to do post-processing starting with NEF files, but I'm thinking it's time to step it up a notch, and explore what I can do with a more sophisticated tool. The problem is . . .

GIMP and Photoshop intimidate me. They have all these settings and choices I don't understand. I can't even figure out quite how to do the things I know how to do in Picasa.

Does anyone have a non-scary way to begin to explore more sophisticated post-processing? (BTW, if it's relevant, I prefer to work in a Linux environment, which is another strike against Picasa at the moment).

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1  
btw, it's Picasa - one S. Corrected for you. :) –  Reid Aug 5 '10 at 20:41

9 Answers 9

up vote 5 down vote accepted

DigiKam

On Linux (and with some effort on Windows), you can organize your workflow with digiKam. It is an advanced photo organizer, with 16-bit color depth support, color profiles, its own RAW processor, lens correction tool and a simple editor suitable for many tasks. You can invoke external tools too (I still invoke Gimp and UFRaw sometimes, when I need more control or multi-layer editing).

DigiKam supports almost all photo formats, RAW included, is reasonably fast, doesn't force its own database or directory layout on you (organize photos as you like, optionally you can store metadata in IPTC/XMP tags), easily exports to many image hosting servies. DigiKam will support non-destructive editing soon.

It's Light Table allows to compare similar shots side by side (very useful to select the best shot out of a series, I like it). Its editor, beyond the essentials, has some cool features like Local Contrast tool (not available in Gimp) and Refocus sharpening (done better than in Gimp). Another digiKam toy I like is Contrast Blending (like enfuse, but with a nice preview). There are many other gems to explore.

As far as I know, the digiKam team is working hard to support also the Windows port of the digiKam, but I never tried it.

Other Lightroom alternatives

Other Linux alternatives to Lightroom are:

I liked Rawstudio's approach a lot, but the last time I checked it didn't auto-rotate shots from my camera. Otherwise, it is going to be a very good piece of software.

My own experience with Darktable was not positive. It appears to be too slow on my laptop, but the last version I tried was very old. It may have improved since then.

RawTherapee was a already a decent piece of software some time ago. Now it went Open Source and is going to become even better and more flexible with time.

Bible is very good and advanced, but you have to be willing to pay some money for it. It is available on all three major platforms (Linux, MacOS X and Windows).

There is also F-Spot, but I think it's not suitable for serious use. Too slow, tends to enforce its own directory layout on the user, very simplistic tools.

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GIMP and Photoshop aren't really designed for post-processing per-se. They're both excellent image editors.

Ideally what you want to define is a workflow.

A workflow goes something like this:

  1. Import photos from camera
  2. Tag, assign metadata and organize your photos
  3. "Process" raw images, using exposure, contrast, saturation etc controls
  4. If necessary, use GIMP or Photoshop for any major image manipulations
  5. Export to Disk/Web

You can use a variety of tools, or a single all in one tool, to accomplish each step of your workflow.

Picasa obviously does many of these things for you, but as you noted in your question, it's light weight in terms of processing images.

Since you prefer Linux, I can't offer too much help, other than to seek out other workflow solutions on the web. My guess for linux, you won't find too many all-in-one solution, so you will probably need to combine several opensource tools to accomplish what picasa gives you. As a Windows/OS X user, I use Adobe Lightroom for all steps, with Photoshop as my "super toolbox" when I need it.

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You will Never Regret moving to Lightroom or Aperture

I'm sorry that neither of these run on linux, (Aperture is mac only).

However, I moved from Picasa to Lightroom about 18 months ago, and I haven't looked back.
Now I can do so many things with such precision and ease that it's a whole new world!

I rave about Lightroom to my friends whenever this topic comes up, but I hear very good things about Aperture, so I won't claim that Lightroom is better (I went for Lightroom because I was using Windows).

Both products have a free 30 day trial:

I hope that helps :)

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I want to buy it, but i have trouble with the $299 (CAD) price when I'm not making any money from photography.. but i guess it's just part of the price you pay - it's cheaper than a new lens. –  newfie_coder Aug 23 '10 at 15:17
    
Lightroom is worlds better than anything available for Linux, unfortunately. I now have a windows partition for that reason. –  Jason Sundram Aug 25 '10 at 6:00
    
I'll rave about Lightroom 3 as well. –  Nick Bedford Oct 9 '10 at 22:51

In Linux I use Bibble, which is has some warts but which is the only serious option AFAICT. It's $99 for the Lite version and $199 for the Pro version, and you can download a free trial and check it out. The results look great.

One reason you might be confused by Picasa is that the controls try to be "magic" and hide what is actually going on. In raw converters like Bibble, the controls tend to be more orthogonal and specific.

Edit

Bibble will support the workflow in Alan's answer. I believe other Linux options like RawTherapee and Lightzone will as well.

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RawTherapee is a pretty good piece of software and the price is excellent. :) It's my personal choice on Linux and on my lowly Windows XP netbook. –  John Cavan Aug 5 '10 at 23:15
    
BTW, RawTherapee has become Open Source some time ago. So it's going to be free in any sense. I liked it too, when I tried it, but didn't want to get stuck with proprietary software as it was one day. –  sastanin Oct 12 '10 at 13:37

Have you tried f-spot? It has some photo editing features.

On an unrelated note, I really wish Adobe would release Lightroom for Linux...

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I second that Lightroom for Linux plea! We can only hope... ;-s –  AJ Finch Sep 20 '10 at 15:23

I think you have to just jump in and try it. I have a list of tutorials for Gimp designed for people without much image editing or computer experience here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/gimp_beginners/discuss/72157618632212393/ ...that'll give you some experience with the tools I use the most.

Feel free to Flickr Mail me with any questions rather than posting them to the group -that group is pretty much dead, but I'm responsive by FlickrMail.

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If you have Windows, Paint.net is an excellent (and free) image editor similar to GIMP or Photoshop, but simpler and easier to learn.

I think it's a good "next step" (easy enough to just try it, since it's small and free) after Picasa. My own workflow is more like:

  1. Copy images to PC
  2. Organise, rotate, crop, etc in Picasa
  3. If needed, do some basic editing on a few images with Paint.net
  4. If there's something I need that Picasa and Paint.net can't do, fire up the GIMP.

Also note that the main "tricky" part of the serious image editors (Paint.net, GIMP, Photoshop) is the concept of layers. You might want to find a youtube video on how layers work, because once you've seen it explained clearly, it's pretty straightforward.

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Whether you are a Windows or Mac user and a passionate photographer the next step on the path to professional photography is Adobe Lightroom 3. Unfortunately, I am not sure if it has been released for Linux users. Anyway, Lightroom 3 is a digital darkroom for serious amateur and professional photographers. There is an incredible number of video tutorials on the web so step by step you will grip the basics and more advanced controls in order to give your pictures an amazing boost.

Good luck with your photography.

Greg

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I've used Paint Shop Pro and DxO Optics Pro on Windows. Both are decent alternatives to Photoshop, IMO. One of the factors to consider in favor of Photoshop, though, is that 95%* of all tutorials ever published on how to do any kind of photo manipulation will have instructions for Photoshop. If you're running something else, there's often a way to do the same type of thing, but you'll have to do some translating.

I'm not sure how well either of these would work under something like VirtualBox, but with the seamless mode in VirtualBox, these might be pretty tolerable.

(*) It's a well-known fact that 87.6% of statistics found on the internet are made-up.

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