Friday, October 15, 2021

Free Photo Editing Software

There are plenty of photo editing software out there and if you have been in photography for any length of time you would have come across some tutorial asking to at least make a levels adjustment to make your photos stand out. [ A levels adjustment has an affect on the contrast of the image. Mostly it is done to make the image to have more of a punch. Our eyes inherently like sightly higher contrast images] Now you can do this with the image editing software which comes bundled with your camera. These do a good job for the most part but if you want to do high level of editing then you head towards the de-facto industry standard- Photoshop form Adobe. If you talk to photographers they would point you towards Lightroom. Both are amazing software's but they come at a price.

If you happen to be on the Linux side of the table the only way to run these is to try and run it with a windows emulator like WINE  or you run a virtual machine machine running windows on it and run the software that ways. If you are on the Windows or Mac side and don't want to spend so much money then there are few alternatives which run on Linux, Mac and Windows. 

GIMP - Alternative to Photoshop
It was the first photo-editing software I ever used. Though I could not make much sense of it when I tried it for the first time, but now I use it a lot. I have used Photoshop and when you compare it to GIMP there are times when GIMP falls short in, at least in some cases but as the saying goes "you get what you pay for" and with Photoshop you just get anywhere between little bit to a whole lot extra. Having said that you get a lot with GIMP for free. In fact I know a lot of photographers who use Lightroom along with GIMP and don't feel the need to purchase Photoshop. 

There are many variants of GIMP like GIMPphoto or GIMPshop and if you are in new to photography then I would recommend you start of with GIMP before you drop money to buy Photoshop. Both Photoshop and Gimp are destructive forms of editing. In other words if you edit a photo and save it the changes are permanent. [Unless you keep a copy of the original photo.] This is not the case with Lightroom. Every change you make is undo-able. The original raw file is available for re-editing as many times as you like and all the changes made can be undone. [Unless you replace the original jpeg] 

Lightroom works natively with camera RAW files unlike GIMP and Photoshop which need plugin's to work with RAW. This apart from many other reasons this software is a huge hit with photographers all over the world. 

Rawtherapee - Alternate to Lightroom
Lightroom unlike Photoshop is also a workflow tool apart from being a non destructive form of editor. Now if are looking for a cross platform RAW editor currently I could find only Rawtherapee. There are many other RAW editors which run currently only on Linux or in some cases on Mac's as well. [Not on windows] Rawtherapee has many of the features which Lightroom has but it is not as intuitive to use. The interface takes some time to get use to. However, once you get a hang of it you can do a lot of things with this software.

Another software which I tested and liked a lot was Darktable. It was quite intuitive to use and currently runs only on Linux and Mac's. It has most of the features which are there on Lightroom and editing on it is a lot of fun. If you are in the world of Linux then I would recommend this software highly. Now if you are a windows user then I would recommend you install a virtual machine and try this software. If you have never installed a virtual machine it is worth the hassle to learn how to install a virtual machine and then install this software. If you are on dual boot then do give this software a try.  

If you are on a budget, but would like to start editing your photos and try out a lot of the Photoshop or Lighroom tutorials for free this is a good place to start. Happy Editing

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Photoshoot of the future.


I want you to imagine the studio of the future, where we would have cameras with assistants available to photographers hundreds of kilometers away from the subject getting photographed.

The photographer gives instructions by looking through the camera’s viewfinder and directs the person (or people) getting photographed. The raw files are sent over instantaneously for review and processing. We already see something like this in other fields. For instance, doctors practice tele-medicine. We have robotic surgeries performed over the internet, with doctors and patients separated by hundreds of kilometers. These remote applications deal with health and sometimes life-or-death decisions.

With increasing bandwidth and internet speeds and cameras becoming better at tracking subjects and keeping a focus-lock on eyes, it is only natural that the photographer need not be physically present, but can relay instructions over the internet and get the photos clicked. If you think this is in the distant future and is the stuff of science-fiction, well, then I recently got a taste of the future!

A little back story: A client had booked me for a head-shot earlier this year. Then the second wave of the pandemic hit and we went into yet another lock down. My client's deadline wasn't negotiable, and so the only solution available to us was to shoot virtually.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Here’s what we came up with.
The location: I did a virtual tour of my client’s house to identify spaces with good window light and clean walls.
The assistants: The client's family 😊.
Reflectors: Steel plates and hand-held mirrors to bounce light back when required.
The camera: Well, as the adage goes the best camera is the one you could not take along, and the next best one is the one you have. In our case, the only camera at our disposal was a cell phone camera. The camera could shoot in raw, and we used Lightroom to save DNG files.
The direction: I gave instructions using a Bluetooth headset. One earbud was with my client so that I could instruct her on posing, and the other was in the ear of my "assistant" (my client's son)!
Bringing it all together: We set up a conference call on the "camera" so that I could see what the cellphone camera was seeing.
These days cellphone cameras have a lot of megapixels. On a side note, it feels like witchcraft that such a small sensor can pull in so many megapixels!
I was able to crop in and still get a reasonably good resolution. And since we shot in DNG, I had some latitude in pulling back blown highlights and bringing up shadows a bit without creating noise.
This is just a cellphone and you can see some of the photos from the shoot.
Below are some photos from the shoot.

Portrait using natural light

Portrait using natural light

The Remote Photographer

In the future, it's not difficult to imagine a modern mirror-less camera connected to a computer that sends out a live feed to a photographer hundreds of kilometers away, while the photographer instructs the assistant on-site about how to hold the camera, how much to zoom, work camera angles, etc. Simultaneously they can give instructions to the subjects as well. There could also be a motion sensor tracker which tracks the human something like the Microsoft kinect and the mimics the action using a humonid or a drone at the other end, who knows.

Will it replace in-person shooting? I don’t think so. I am certain I would have come up with more ideas if I were on location. But for certain kinds of shoots, especially where a client cannot travel or the photographer cannot travel, I think this will work out.
In the future, a photographer could have multiple studios or borrow studios and work in New Delhi studio for an hour, then the next hour work Singapore and the one after that in San Francisco. I don’t see it happening for landscape photography where the fun of the shoot is visiting the place. This future is coming, and the only prohibiting factor – for now – is the cost, and that will also go away. It is not a question of “if”, it’s a question of “when”.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Magic of music

We are going through difficult times and I thought I will share something different which can inspire you in a different direction

There is nothing like music which can change the mood of a person. You can be transformed from one mood to another just by listing to your favorite track. One such place you can find this plenty of is in Indian classical music be it Hindustani or Carnatic music. Both are based on ragas. While the implementation can vary, fundamentally at its core is ragas which are a melodic framework where certain notes or swaras are to be used while going up and coming down. These swaras with the way they are placed together can evoke emotion which is why the ragas have time of day when they should be played

Indian classical enjoyment certainly goes up when you do some active listing. Today I want to share one such case with you. If you already know theory of Indian classical you can skip this and directly go to the track but if not read on.

There are many beats system in Hindustani classical music tala (literally meaning clap) which are rhythmic beat that measure musical time. One of these is the teen tal. Check out a brief introduction below.

An artist may play a set song or may freelance depending on what they are playing. Let's layer the complexity on this, the artist has to adhere to rules of the raga and tala. If they are playing a set composition then the notes or words must end on a certain beat 'know as sum' and if they freelance in between, like a jazz musician, then they must do it within the constraint of the raga and tala and finish on the correct beat.

With me so far. Good, lets add a bit more complexity to this, a percussionist playing the tala  can change speed to twice the speed or four times the speed. This in Hindustani music is called dhrut. So a faster version of theen tal is dhrut teen tal. It sounds like this

The artist now performing may speed up with the beat and end at the right note or slowdown enough that the beats go by fast enough and they end on the right note creating a contrast between the two. All this while adhering the rules of the raga and if there is a song then within the rules of the song.

Now lets come to raga. I am sharing with you a performance of Rag Desh by Buddhadev Das Gupta - Lilting Melodies 

This has all the elements I just mentioned. This is an amazing rendition of Raga Des. This raga is an uplifting raga which is true for this track as well. If you have great speakers or headphones then listen to this on that. The song is like walking down mountains where there is light rain. It starts off slow and as we start following the trail of water coming together which leads you to a small stream which is when the beat starts.

Then as you follow the trail of the stream it slowly picks up speed to a point where it joins a river and then the river becomes faster with many rapids and finally ending a beautiful waterfall.

Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta was a real jewel of Indian classical music. You can read about him here