Going to the Sun Road, Glacier Park, MT
Etc., Recommended, Reviews, Software, Tech

Lightroom Publishing Plugins

Lightroom is a tremendously powerful piece of software, but there’s no way for Adobe to satisfy all the needs of every customer. That’s where plugins come in. There are tons of plugins for giving your photos a certain look, but there are also plugins for publishing your photos. Here’s the difference between publishing and exporting, as far as I understand it:

  • Exporting saves the input picture (usually RAW format) as a JPEG after applying whatever development settings you have selected. That JPEG can be included in your collection, but it’s basically a separate file at this point. Yes, you can “stack” it with the RAW file, but that functionality is out of the scope of this post.
  • Publishing creates a JPEG as well, but Lightroom keeps track of changes to your published images and can sync changes between the published images and the RAW images in your collection.

For example, if you export 0001.raw as 0001.jpg, then upload 0001.jpg to Flickr and then delete 0001.raw, 0001.jpg will remain on Flickr. However, if you publish 0001.raw to Flickr and then delete 0001.raw, then 0001.jpg will be removed from Flickr. Other development settings can be synced with publish as well.

Your workflow may not benefit from this functionality, but I like working this way, specifically while publishing to my hard drive. This gives me the option of having a mirrored set of smaller web-friendly JPEG’s (3200px at 60% quality) that stays in sync with my collection. I can then sync that directory with my cloud service of choice without paying out the nose to host the RAW files. This mirrored set stays synced even if I go back and delete or edit a photo from 2008.

Lightroom’s publish functionality doesn’t mirror your folder structure by default, so I use the Folder Publisher plugin from Jeffrey Friedl. He offers several other “goodies” for Lightroom including several other publishing plugins. Check them out and see if you can’t make your life a little easier.

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Mine, Software, Tech, Tips

Cloud Photography Part 4: Conclusions

Finally, the epic conclusion to my cloud photography experiment.  In part 1 I laid out the details of the experiment in which I would pretend I was a photographer who had to live entirely in the cloud.  Part 2 described the particular challenges of using a cloud based operating system for handling RAW files.  In part 3 I discussed the various web-based photo editing software available today.

The world of cloud computing is moving fast.  After I wrote part 1, Apple announced iCloud and Google began selling ChromeOS laptops.  The argument could be made that cloud storage is pointless since hard drives have become so cheap, but cheap digital storage goes both ways.  If it’s cheap for you to buy one 1TB hard drive, how cheap do you think it is (per hard drive) for Google to buy 10,000 of them?  The biggest argument against cloud computing is the requirement that we hand over our trust to external entities (Google, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, etc).  The risks of remote storage are real and Dropbox users like myself were recently given a strong reminder of that fact.  Dropbox had a small coding bug with the unfortunate effect that any password would work to log onto any account.  Whoops.  As always, the forces of security and convenience are battling each other.  Do I really need access to my entire digital life from anywhere?  Maybe not.

The cloud, it turns out, is best in moderation.  Placing all of your data in the cloud and relying on web-based tools to process that data can be just as restrictive as working 100% locally.  I ran into one difficulty after another trying to remain cloud-only.  For now, I’d say I’m fully committed to working on my desktop computer with Lightroom.  If you do want to try living in the cloud, here are some things I’d recommend to make things as painless as possible:

  • Work with JPEGs.  Work out what camera settings you like and learn to live with them.  Set the contrast and sharpening low to give you more latitude when editing the JPEGs later.
  • Do as much editing, deleting, and processing as you can before uploading your photos to the cloud.  Google+ has the best photo gallery I’ve seen yet, but it still sucks at quickly going through a lot of photos and deleting the uglies.
  • Watch the terms of service.  This depends on how Serious with a capital “S” you are about your photos, but be careful not to give your rights away as soon as you upload photos to the cloud.
Next, I’ll go through just how much cloud is in my photographic life now.
  • Editing, processing, and exporting is done on my desktop using Lightroom with RAW files.
  • RAW files and full-size JPEGs are backed up locally and to an online backup service not optimized for photos or sharing
  • Large web-sized JPEGs are uploaded to Picasa for personal use, to flickr for sharing, or to this blog for whatever it is I do here.
  • This gives me access to the backups from anywhere and a nice collection of shareable photos that can be embedded in forums, blogs, or wherever with ease.
Ok, how’d the photos turn out?  Below are my favorite 10.  The results were acceptable, but as I said I’m not a convert.  Maybe in 5 years I’ll try again.  Or maybe I won’t have a choice…
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Software, Tech

Cloud Photography Part 3: Post Processing

This is part 3 of my epic investigation into cloud computing for photographers.  Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

As mentioned in part 2, I was unable to find a web-based photo editor that supports raw files and the size limits for all the editors prohibit the use of 16-bit TIFF files.  After wrestling the files into JPEG format in Jolicloud, I was ready to apply some post-processing.  The post-processing I’m talking about includes basic things like exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpening and cropping.

All of Them

Every single web app I tried lagged so far behind Lightroom and GIMP in terms of processing speed, feature set and file compatibility that I can’t recommend any of them as your primary photo editor.  None of them work well as part of a multi-file workflow.  If you choose to edit photos this way, you’re looking at a one-at-a-time painfully slow process.  Also, the results I got were kind of ugly.  A big part of that comes from trying to work with JPEGs instead of raw files.  However, editing a JPEG with GIMP seems to yield better results than any of the web apps.  All of the web apps I tried were free.  Big plus.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Adobe is the big dog here and I was excited to use their editor.  They clearly have the upper hand when it comes to photo manipulation software and I think that Adobe Lightroom is the best piece of software (not just photo software) I’ve ever used.  Don’t worry about any bias towards Adobe though, because I think Flash and Reader are just plain awful.

What did I think of Photoshop Express?  I don’t know.  It’s got 2GB of free space, which is good.  However, it crashed every time I tried to load a file, which is bad.  I tried Chrome and Firefox and a couple different files, but nothing worked.

Let’s recap:

  • Pros:
    • Free
    • 2GB of storage
  • Cons:
    • Didn’t work at all

Picnik

Picnik is mostly free and it’s integrated well into Picasa, Google’s online photo gallery.  The integration with Picasa makes Picnik the best web app by far in terms of workflow.  Also, Picasa now offers unlimited space for photos that are 2048 pixels or smaller.  Not good for backups, but great for online photo sharing and small prints.

First, the good.  The interface is easy to use and includes enough control for small edits.  I also like that you can export the results directly into your Picasa gallery with the option to overwrite your original file or create a new file.

On the negative side, Picnik is constantly bugging you to sign up for the premium non-free version which gives you more control and a few more presets for Lomo-ish effects.  The free version gives you controls for exposure and compensation with a few finer controls for shadows and highlights, sharpness, and “local contrast.”  Unfortunately, adjust any of the sliders more than just a bit and you’re going to end up with a muddy mess of a file.  Also, “local contrast” is a checkbox and not a slider.  Checking it makes your photo ugly.  Unchecking it restores your photo back to normal.

Overall I found it pretty difficult to get decent results out of Picnik, but the direct integration with Picasa is worth a lot.

Aviary HTML5 Image Editor

HTML5 gets talked up constantly on the web, so I was excited to try this one too.  This editor seemed more like a proof of concept than a full-fledged application.  The exposure controls were way too simple.  Also, they did nothing.  Something was broken and none of the adjustments showed up on the photo.

Aviary Phoenix Image Editor

Phoenix is Aviary’s Photoshop-esque editor and was my personal favorite.  The interface was great and the feature set was incredibly powerful.  With patience and skill I’m sure you can achieve some great results.

Two things kept Phoenix from being my editor of choice for this experiment.  First, it’s JPEG-only.  Yes, all the other apps were JPEG only also, but the Phoenix editor is so powerful that it’s begging to be used with a raw file.  All that power is wasted on the measly 8 bits of a JPEG file.  The second reason is a lack of workflow integration.  You can upload multiple images to Aviary, but it’s hardly a full-featured gallery or photo-sharing site.

The Winner

In the end, Picnik won out, but not because it was the best.  Every single web app I tested was crippled by a lack of raw support.  There’s only so much you can do to a JPEG, so you might as well use the software that’s quickest and easiest to access.  Aviary has a complete suite of web-based image editing apps and they should be applauded for what they’ve created.  However, for my purposes, it just wasn’t worth the hassle of leaving the Picasa bubble.

There was a lot of frustration, but it was fun trying out these web apps.  It’s good to challenge our beliefs from time to time and to learn what’s out there.  I now have a better feel for the state of the art in cloud computing for photographers.  Everything I tried here was free, so I recommend giving some of them a shot and seeing what you can come up with.  Coming up next is the thrilling conclusion where I’ll share the photos that I dragged through the mud just to get them on the cloud.

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Software, Tech

Cloud Photography Part 2: Jolicloud

This is a continuation of my experiment in cloud computing as it relates to photography.  Read part 1 here.

Cloud computing is moving forward at an astonishing pace and one of its benefits is operating system independence.  If your operating system can access the internet, then you can play in the cloud.  The purpose of this experiment is to determine the viability of a “cloud only” approach to photography.  That is why I am using Joli OS for this experiment.  It was designed specifically for maximizing interaction with the cloud and minimizing local computing.  Also, I just wanted to play around with Jolicloud for the fun of it.

Installation

Trying Jolicloud is easy.  You can create an account and use it right from your browser.  After setting everything up, you can download and install Joli OS right beside your current operating system.  Setting up your computer with two different operating systems (i.e. Windows and Joli OS) is called dual booting.  In the past, dual booting could be nightmarish, but it has become fairly simple.  Just run the Joli OS installer and after a reboot, you’ll be ready to go.  When you power up your computer, you’ll see a choice between Joli OS and Windows with a timer counting down from 10 seconds.  Unfortunately, the Joli OS installer defaults your OS choice to Joli OS, but that can be fixed with a bit of searching.

Setup

Once booted, you create a device password  and you can login with the account you created in your browser.  All of the apps you installed will be there along with a few other settings like connections to Dropbox or Google Docs.  In addition to the apps you set up in your browser, there are a few local apps and access to your local storage including all the files on your Windows partition.  There are tons of limitations to using Jolicloud imposed by the cloud-only approach, but there are advantages as well.  A big advantage is that all it takes is one click to install apps and they are ready instantly.  Of course “installing” an “app” basically amounts to no more than adding a bookmark with an icon to your desktop.  Below is a screenshot of how I set up my desktop.  I took the background photo while on an airplane and I find it to be nice and literal.

Updates

Since all of your apps run on the web they are all automatically up to date.  Any data that needs to be synced locally is taken care of when you first log in.  Updates of the OS itself are done in the background.  Living with a computer that you don’t have to worry about updating is a huge advantage of the Jolicloud approach.

First Impressions

I knew before I even tried Jolicloud that it wouldn’t work as my primary OS.  That’s fine though, because it’s not intended for that purpose…yet.  It’s intended for use on netbooks, laptops, or computers “up to 10 years old.”  After installing Joli OS on at least one device, you are awarded with a “recycler” badge assuming that you revived an ancient computer from its dusty grave.  Not so in my case, but it’s a nice thought and if I had an old computer lying around I’d certainly try using Joli OS to revive it.  Of course my primary computer is a 4-year-old desktop, so maybe it’s already ancient.

So far, I think I like the idea of Jolicloud more than I actually like using it.  I like how lightweight it is, but it’s hard to get past that it’s really just a desktop with a browser and some links.  Responsiveness is a mixed bag.  Apps come up quickly, but web apps just don’t run as smoothly as native software.  Growing up with computers that run native software and maybe pull a few things off of the web makes adjusting to the cloud-only approach a little difficult.  Let me elaborate.

Getting Photos from the Camera to the Cloud

On a phone, getting photos from the camera to the cloud is easy.  On a computer with a full OS such as Mac, Windows, or Linux: also easy.  Using Joli OS: not easy.  The laptop I was using has a built-in SD reader, but when I plugged in my SD card nothing happened.  After some searching online, I found out that memory cards and USB devices work “sometimes” in Joli OS.  I tried removing and reinserting the card several more times with no luck.  Now what?  Warning: this might get a bit Linuxy.

Since Joli OS is really just a stripped-down version of Linux, it comes with access to a terminal which can be used to actually do things.  There is a normal terminal available with user-level access or root terminal with device-level access.  Guess which one I had to use to get the SD card to work…  Yup, the root terminal.  I used the following commands to do the equivalent of importing photos using Lightroom or Picasa:

mount -a (provides access to the SD card)

mkdir /home/bryan/Pictures/[folder name] (for each destination folder I wanted to copy photos into)

cp /dev/a/DCIM/[folder name]/* /pictures/[destination folder]/* (copies every file from the source folder on the SD card to the destination folder on the computer.  Must be done for each folder being imported from or to)

Great.  Now I’ve got the files on my laptop’s hard drive.  The problem with this approach is it requires root-level access and that only works if you are using a computer that you own.  What happens when you try to do this on a hotel computer or your school computer?  I guess you better hope they’re not running Joli OS.

Working with RAW files (*.DNG)

Adobe’s DNG files are the closest thing to a standard for RAW files.  Support for them is great… on desktop software sold by Adobe.  I couldn’t find a single web app (paid or free) that provides support for processing RAW files of any format.  Some supported TIFF files, but upload limits and obscene file sizes conspire to ruin that option.  One of the few local apps available in the Joli OS apps directory is GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program).  The GIMP is a fantastic piece of software available for free on multiple platforms, but it doesn’t natively support RAW files.  Luckily there are plugins available help the GIMP process RAW files.  Unfortunately, none of them were available from the Joli OS apps directory.  Back to the terminal again…

The best RAW plugin I found is called UFRaw.  It has a graphical user interface (GUI) for one-by-one processing, but it also has command line support for batch processing.  It’s no Lightroom, but it will do.  Installing it required the following command:

sudo apt-get install gimp-ufraw

Once installed, all I had to do was double-click my files and they would open in the UFRaw GUI where I could edit them in all their 16-bit glory.  Unfortunately, it takes a while to load each file and what do I do with the duds?  Also, UFRaw is a native app and the purpose of this experiment is to test out web apps.  I decided to give up the fine-tuned control and I asked UFRaw to automatically spit out a bunch of JPEGs for me to upload and process in the cloud.  Throwing away all of those extra bits is painful, but the cloud made me do it.  I used this command to batch process my DNG files using the default exposure settings:

ufraw-batch –exposure=auto –out-type=jpeg /home/bryan/Pictures/[folder name]/*.DNG

It took about 15 minutes to make it through about 150 pictures, but it chugged along quietly in the background.  When the conversion was done, I used the Picasa app (really just a link to picasaweb.google.com) to upload the resulting JPEGs.

It was disappointing not to be able to edit RAW files in the cloud.  If anyone has a recommendation for a site where this can be done, please let me know in the comments.

Jolicloud Conclusions

I wanted to like Jolicloud, but in the end I just don’t think it’s for me.  There’s still a lot to like, but not enough for me to consider using Joli OS as my primary operating system.  The Jolicloud developers should be applauded for taking an open, forward-thinking approach to OS design.  Jolicloud’s goal of resurrecting old computers is fantastic and I could recommend Joli OS for an old computer, a netbook, or a tablet without reservation.  On a current desktop or laptop however, it just feels like a waste of computing power.  The workarounds required for doing a basic operation like grabbing pictures from my camera shouldn’t be necessary.

Joli OS is a great netbook operating system and I would definitely use it over Windows 7 or XP on a netbook or tablet, but I don’t own a netbook or tablet.  It was fun trying it out and it was free, but I didn’t miss it too much when I went back to using Windows 7.

Tune in next time for Cloud Photography Part 3: Image Editing.

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Software, Tech

Cloud Photography

I’ve recently developed an interest in cloud computing.  As this is a photography blog, I’ve decided to perform an experiment to see whether it’s worth our time for photographers to move to The Cloud.  First, what is cloud computing?  The goal of cloud computing is to provide users with constant access to their software and data from anywhere using any device.  You’re probably already a part of the cloud just by using web-based email.  Your emails sit on a server “in the cloud” and you can get access to them from anywhere with a browser.  Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are the big players in the cloud computing arena, offering lots of free or cheap storage.  Microsoft and Google both offer an entire suite of free office software that runs entirely in your browser.  It’s up to the user to decide whether it’s worth trusting one of these companies with their data in exchange for a lot of convenience.  Convenience that lasts only as long as a constant internet connection is maintained.  Trade-offs abound.

What does this have to do with photography?
Just as there are office apps that run in the browser, there are also photo-editing apps.  Are these apps as good as their desktop counterparts?  That’s what I aim to find out.

What are the benefits of cloud computing to photographers?

  • Persistent backups
  • Instant sharing with clients, friends and family
  • No need for 5 TB hard drives and supercomputers
  • Access to photos and software from anywhere – edit photos from the computer in the hotel lobby or at grandma’s house

And the drawbacks?

  • Software choice
  • Cost – large storage plans can get pricey while good hardware keeps getting cheaper
  • RAW processing – see software choice
  • Trust – forced to trust that Microoglesoftazon will keep your data safe and private
  • Internet connection is mandatory
  • Calibration – colors on different devices vary wildly

Jolicloud
Using Windows or Linux or OSX will make it too easy to cheat and use familiar desktop tools.  Therefore, I will be using Joli OS, the installed version of Jolicloud.  Jolicloud is a free operating system based on Ubuntu Linux that can run entirely in a browser.  When installed on a computer, Joli OS is essentially just a big browser window.  There are some apps that run locally such as GIMP, but for the most part everything it runs must be a webapp.  Joli OS provides some local storage space, but I am going to treat it as a temporary place to store my data before flinging it up into the cloud.

The Experiment
I want to see what it takes to get a batch of RAW files from my camera processed and stored in the cloud using only Joli OS running on a laptop.  The only rule is that I must do the entire process from either Joli OS or a browser.  I’ll document my frustrations and my successes on this blog.  Whatever my conclusion turns out to be, I know I’ll learn a lot along the way.

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