an earlier post. Basically, I organize everything by date. I create a directory for each year, and within that I create a directory for each day. This makes backing up my collection pretty straightforward, as it doesn't depend on any software-specific database layouts. I've been using computers long enough to see lots of software applications come and go, leaving their users stranded with proprietary file formats that can't be used by any current program. I won't fall into that trap, so I try to stick with standard techniques wherever possible.
Let's assume I've just photographed a big event, and I need to weed out the bad shots, clean up the good shots, and send the images to the client. Once the images are placed into the proper folder for the day they were shot, the first step is to sift through everything to cull out the bad shots. Once that's done, I'll go through and edit the keepers before sending them off to the client.
I talked about my culling process in an earlier post. I used to use an open source program called "digiKam" for that. It works reasonably well for quickly culling a large shoot, but it's not the best option for that (more later). I still use digiKam for finding and trivial editing of one-off photos, but I no longer use it for large jobs for a couple reasons.
First, digiKam is a destructive editor, meaning it performs all of your modifications in place on the actual image. You can undo operations while the editor is still open, but once you save the image, you're stuck with just a JPEG (or other format) image. You can't go back later and change just the 3rd step of your 7-step process, and you're also stuck with storing a full size copy of both the original and every new version of your image.
Many professional editing programs are known as "non-destructive editors" or NDE's. They store all of your change operations in a control file associated with each photo. If you want to go in later and remove the B&W conversion that you applied, but keep all your other changes, you can do that. These control files are quite small, so you can keep several different versions of a single photo without tying up huge amounts of disk space. You can even print the finished version directly from that control file. Of course, these control files are usually proprietary, so you're still dependent on the longevity of the app you chose. I always export my final edits into a new JPEG -- partly for long-term viability, and partly because that's what I need to give my client anyway.
Another drawback of digiKam is that it takes forever to scan my library when it first starts up. I'm not sure what it's doing during that scan, but it can take several minutes on a library as big as mine. It's annoying.
Third, digiKam's editing operations are pretty simplistic, and almost exclusively operate on the entire image at once -- no masking or localized operation.
I used to do heavy editing -- especially anything involving localized operations on just part of the image -- in an NDE app called LightZone. LightZone is a very powerful & flexible program, and is perhaps still the most versatile non-destructive editor I've used on Linux. Unfortunately, it was written in Java and was therefore a big resource hog. It ran quite slowly, so using it to process a large job kind of sucked. It was great for editing single fine art photos where quality was more important than speed. Alas, Light Crafts, the company that created LightZone, went out of business in 2011. You can still find copies of the LightZone binary out in the wild if you want to play with it, and I certainly intend to keep my copy installed until something better comes along. I think version 3.9 was the last official Linux release.
Nevertheless, I've been disappointed with how long it takes me to postprocess a "simple" event shoot. I've heard so many good things about Adobe's Lightroom from the photographic community that I got to wondering whether it would be worth the pain to buy Lightroom and do all of my processing on Windows rather than the Linux environment in which I'm so comfortable. I recently downloaded the trial copy of Lightroom 4 on my wife's Windows 7 laptop and sat in on a 3-hour Lightroom workshop.
Lightroom does have a few down sides compared to ASP. First is the cost: Lightroom 4 currently sells for $150, while ASP sells for $60. Second, I find the user interface to be rather unintuitive for new users. Judging from the response in the beginner workshop I attended, many new users have a hard time getting up to speed with how it does things. I'm sure it's efficient enough once you get the hang of it, but getting there could be a long road. I've been using and writing a wide variety of image editing programs for about 20 years now, so I'm no newbie when it comes to deciphering user interfaces. I think Lightroom 4 leaves something to be desired.
Of course, AfterShot Pro isn't perfect, either. I do find its interface to have an easier learning curve than Lightroom, but there are lots of tricks that I never would have figured out on my own if I hadn't gone poking through the keyboard shortcut configuration window. I pulled a few gems from that experience that have noticeably reduced my mouse usage and sped up my processing time.
Another big complaint I have with ASP is that it won't let you adjust the color temperature of a JPEG image. You can adjust the RGB/CMY sliders for a JPEG's color cast, but simple color temperature adjustment is reserved for only raw images. Why? Nobody can answer that, and other people on their forums complain about it as well. I generally work with JPEGs for my event photos because they're shot in dim rooms at high ISO, and the in-camera noise reduction is better than that of any postprocessing software I've seen yet. This is one example of several seemingly arbitrary limitations imposed by ASP's designers.
I'm not wild about is ASP's raw processing, either. Raw images look a little different for every camera (or rather, every sensor), so editing programs have to tweak the raw image differently for each device. New cameras require updates to the program in order to be handled correctly. (All editing programs work this way.) In looking at the colors, levels, etc of the raw images from my Canon 7D and 50D, it seems that Lightroom does a better job of getting a good image right off the bat. LightZone also does better than ASP in this area, IMHO.
The most glaring difference between Lightroom and ASP is the availability of aftermarket plugins. There are countless different plugins available for Lightroom. You can practically count the ASP plugins on just your fingers & toes. This will change as the product matures, of course, but if you're the type that loves to play with different effects without wanting to know what's happening behind the scenes, a good selection of plugins would be a big selling point for you. I'm not that type.
In my limited experience with Lightroom 4 and moderate experience with ASP, it seems that the manual photo editing capabilities are quite similar between the two packages. Neither of them has the power of Photoshop (or even LightZone), but they're adequate for most users. ASP does seem to slow down dramatically as you start adding multiple layers. I didn't get that deep into editing with Lightroom, but since I was running it on a significantly faster computer, I couldn't have performed a fair comparison, anyway.
Although Lightroom is probably the better of the two packages by a narrow margine, it comes with some significant baggage named "Windows 7." The advantages of Lightroom don't even begin to outweigh the pain of having to move all of my postprocessing workflow to Windows from the Linux environment where it currently sits.
Given all this, AfterShot Pro is where I find myself spending the most time when editing a large photo shoot. I find the rating & culling features to be as quick & easy as possible. Once I've got the collection narrowed down to just the keepers, the editing features are powerful enough to clean up most of the event photos I deal with. ASP also makes it trivial to copy edits and metadata settings from one image to multiple others, which saves gobs of time when all of your images were shot in the same environment and require the same changes in post. In short, ASP saves me time, and time is my most valuable commodity these days. An efficient editor can mean the difference between making $15/hr and $50/hr on a fixed-price job.
So what happens when I need more editing horsepower than ASP or Lightroom can provide? Sometimes, LightZone still fits the bill pretty well. The fact that it's a non-destructive editor is a big selling point, because I'm always running short on disk space and I sometimes like to go back and tweak something after the first editing session is done. However, I find myself using it less & less.
When I needed to clean up some professional portraits I shot recently, the GIMP handled the job easily. I'm really only scratching the surface of all the great features that a program like this offers to serious photo editing, but I like what I've seen so far.
So that's the current state of my Linux photo editing software collection. I know there are plenty of other programs available. It's possible that something I've not heard of would be a better option that what I've currently got, so PLEASE speak up if your favorite program wasn't mentioned above. I can't wait to hear from you!