FOSS Photo Finishing

For a long time I found myself with a very comfortable photo work-flow. My post production isn’t very comprehensive, mostly involving simple exposure adjustments and the occasional black-and-white conversion with RAW (from a Canon 600D). This was being carried out on a modest 2010 model white Macbook using Adobe Photoshop/Camera RAW CS6. Simple and effective, I had never come across any issues with this setup.

I  tried Lightroom to see if it could expand my editing palette. At the time I found it to be too complex for my tastes and it’s gung ho approach to cataloging photos on my machine gave me much grief during the free trial.

A year later Adobe rolled out their subscription model for Creative Cloud. Call me old fashioned but I still find value in hard copies of software programs where the purchaser has the rights in perpetuity. Having looked at the pricing model, I couldn’t justify jumping over when I had an already functional setup. To me it was a greedy tactic to force users to serve as a constant revenue stream.

In 2016 I made the jump to a full frame DSLR (with a 2nd hand 6D MKI) and then found my Mac’s (now an i5 Mac Mini) performance was dropping off with the RAW’s. This seemed to correspond with the endless of MacOS updates that never failed to pop up as I was about to commence an edit. As a keen Apple fan (at the time) I downloaded them with no regard for the consequences. However, as time went on my mac started slowing down on the simplest of actions.

From a cold boot it would take another 5 minutes after logging in before I could even open anything. An inspection of my activity monitor showed a litany of “helper” daemons that were sapping my CPU cycles. They just had to ping Apple for reasons I didn’t know. “For goodness sake!” I thought to myself. This was after a few months spent wrestling with MacOS to stop forcing their rubbish “photos” app to pop up every time I wanted to import my photos.

Over the years I witnessed Apple winding down it’s reputation as being “for the creatives” to sell iPhones and iPads. Every 6 months I hoped Apple would announce a new machine/software that would be beneficial to creative work-flows. Instead we got a laptop with a “touchbar” and apps ported from iOS with “professional features.” This was the last straw for me. Apple’s disregard for the industries that helped them become the recognised brand that they are today comes across as outright contempt and I wouldn’t stand for it anymore.

During my University days I had come across communities who were producing free and open source software for creatives. In my research I had found free software that was not only able to satisfy my requirements but also had a strong community that would provide support, updates and tips to allow newcomers like myself to be bought up to speed.

My first foray into Free Open Source Software (abbr. FOSS) photo editing involved the unfortunately named GIMP (abbr. GNU Image Manipulation Program). Despite being a well known Photoshop equivalent, there is a learning curve when it comes to photo edits. In my case, the GIMP implementation for RAW editing was my first hurdle. Initially installing the popular ufRAW plugin as a separate entity rather than incorporated into GIMP. I subsequently broke this setup and had to start from scratch. This is all while I had started trying out Ubuntu Linux as my main computer platform.

After much trawling of Ubuntu forums I was able to get this proverbial Frankenstein of a workflow up an running. Fortunately my efforts were not for naught as I now had a neat PS and ACR clone running a hell of a lot smoother than I did on Adobe’s software in a long time.

In my further research on FOSS workflows I kept seeing references to this software called “Darktable” a clone of Lightroom. While not containing all the bells and whistles of Lr it was functional for my tasks and completely manual in it’s asset management: two big ticks in my book. In fact all my photo posts with the exception of “From The Vaults” have been edited with this software.

Rig Front View
Front view of the new edit setup


Today I’ve moved my desktop workflow off that crippled Mac Mini to a circa 2010 HP Z series workstation (Quad Core Xeon, 12GB RAM, Nvidia Quadro Graphics). “Why not stump up for a new machine?” I hear you ask. I’m a big believer in getting the most out of available technologies and recycling machines rather than throwing the “obsolete” away. E-Waste is an issue that continues to escalate as long as “forced obsolescence” is conducted by big tech. Workstations are very versatile machines regardless of their age (except those weird 90’s ones). They’re normally built to last due to the requirement of high reliability machines.

In my move to this particular machine, the overall setup was not without it’s hurdles. The software that I had tested and proved worked fine decided to fail when I applied updates. Most of which were solved with driver/firmware updates.

Changing workflows is never a small undertaking, I don’t recommend undertaking such a task lightly. Backup everything first then: test, test, test! There’s no set time frame for when you should switch over. It has taken me over 9 months to move over completely. If you are seeking to change up your production process it might be worth your time to see if there’s any FOSS alternatives to your currently programs.

Black Gum Tree
“Back Gum Tree” The first shot processed on the new system.

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