A thing I like about photo workflow tools

The past few years I’ve started to take my amateur photography more serious, even though you cannot always tell from the quality of my output.

As a result I also spend more time behind my computer editing photos. It is still completely true that it is better to get a photo right in the camera than to have to salvage it in post-processing, but there are things you can do in post that you cannot do in the camera. This helps to give you an edge and to express yourself even better through photography.

Having been a contributor for the GIMP—an open source, so-called bitmap editor for photos—I am convinced of the program’s qualities (even though it doesn’t do 16 bits per colour), but recently I have started working a lot with workflow-based editors.

Bitmap editors work by giving you a virtual easel or canvas (neither metaphor is perfect) upon which you can do anything you like. Typically you use them to:

  1. Work on a photo.
  2. Save the final product.
  3. Move on to the next photo in the set.

Photoshop is another example of this category of editor.

Workflow-based tools let you swap steps 2 and 3. They also let you perform edits on a whole series of photos at once. Examples of this category are Raw Therapee, Lightroom and Aperture.

The workflow-based editors have several features that come in handy:

  • Non-destructive editing.
  • Image organization.
  • Profiles/recipes.

Non-destructive editing means that the software stores a list of edits alongside your original photo. If you want to undo some of these edits, you can. With a bitmap editor you have to make a copy of the photo and some mistakes cannot be undone. (Bitmap editors have features like multiple undo, layers and adjustment layers that help ease some of this pain.) Once you are happy with the edits of all your photos, you run a batch job to produce a final album.

Image organization helps with this because it lets you preview several images at once. You can even compare images in a half finished state. Again, the workflow-based tool does not destroy the underlying image when you save the image, but only stores a list of changes.

There is no particular reason why the makers of bitmap editors could not add this functionality to their tools. In fact I know the makers of the GIMP have discussed non-destructive editing in the past. In the end other features received a higher priority, which is understandable.

The reason I use the Canon tool instead of the potentially superior Raw Therapee is hidden in the word ‘potentially’. Raw Therapee does not fulfil the two minimum requirements for a usable workflow-based tool because its photo organiser does not let you preview edited photos correctly. (This may be a problem with the Windows version only, I haven’t tried the Linux version.)

Profiles/recipes, by the way, are sets of edits that you re-use across multiple photos. I find that I have little use for these. I started editing albums of photos because I still shoot roller derby and the lighting conditions of roller derby bouts tend to be such that every photo is its own set of problems. I can imagine though that if you have the same light in all or most of your photos, such recipes could prove useful.

Similarly, if you only have the odd photo to edit and don’t care as much about putting a little extra work in getting a consistent look with the tools you know, you might as well stick with the bitmap editor of your choice.

[Screenshot of a workflow editor.]

The changes I make in the toolbox to the right will show up in the preview to the left, but will not affect the underlying image file. If you need a file with these settings, you need to select File / Convert and Save in this editor (DPP).

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