Basic Edits

In this section we will cover the basic tools you will use to process your image.

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Workflow describes the overall processes you use between retrieving the image from your camera to your finished image. It includes:

  • camera setup and image capture (in particular whether you capture in RAW or JPEG or both
  • file management including storage strategies and the importance of backup
  • indexing and cataloging (so you can easily find your beautiful images again in your ever-growing image collection)
  • basic editing
  • advanced editing
  • display including printing and mounting, web galleries etc. (though I probably will not be going into these areas in this post-processing training site)
  • Backing up your images (OK I know I mentioned this earlier… it is important and usually neglected. You’ll only value it after your disk drive dies. Look at this post)

How you set up your workflow is a very personal thing, but if you do it right your work will be more efficient and it will save you hours and hours of time and frustration. The links below will discuss some of these aspects in greater detail.

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RawTherapee is a richly featured RAW file editor with versions for Windows, Mac and Linux. It is free, open-source software.

RawTherapee is a powerful, cross-platform raw photo processing system, released as Free Software (GPLv3). It is designed for developing raw files from a broad range of digital cameras and targeted at users ranging from enthusiast newcomers who wish to broaden their understanding of how digital imaging works to professional photographers.

RawTherapee provides a powerful suite of tools for you to produce amazing photos and showcase your creativity.

RawTherapee benefits users who take the time to learn what it can do. Luckily the community is quite welcoming and helpful! Check out the Forum, read up on RawPedia, and ask questions – there’s always something neat to learn! 🙂

RawTherapee is Free and Open Source software. This means you can use it free of charge, wherever you like and however you like as long as you abide by the copyleft GPLv3 license.

It boasts high image quality, and support for a huge range of RAW formats, and documentation and an active support forum.

First slide
RawTherapee screen shot from
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Photopea – a free photoshop-like editor

An amazing project from a talented Czech Programer Ivan Kutskir. It comprises over 100,000 lines of code! This is an online program that you can run in your browser, with a photoshop-like interface with all the things you would expect. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. It works with some RAW formats though the raw processing is fairly basic – you get basic exposure adjustments then it converts to a PSD file that you can edit. However if you want, you could always use one of the more capable RAW converters (RawTherapee, DarkTable, or even Adobe Camera Raw (yes you can download that for free)). It features layers, blending modes, lots of filters, selection tools…. All for free (well almost. You “pay” by having a set of adverts flashing on the right hand side of the page – there is a paid option that removes the adverts).

If you use Chrome browser (or similar) you can “install” Photopea as an App so you can run it entirely from your computer without an internet connection. (I guess if you then turn off your internet, you can edit your photos without adverts popping up).

Here is one person’s review and another

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ON1 Photo Raw

ON1 Photo RAW is a relative newcomer to the photo editing arena (currently designated ON1 Photo RAW 2021.5), but looks to be feature filled. It includes Digital asset management and a non-destructive, layered editing paradigm, incorporating many features of photoshop as well as Lightroom. It comes with either a one-off license or a subscription model that allows you continued updates as the software develops. They offer a 14 day free trial.

ON1 file catalog screen

According to their website, ON1 can import Lightroom settings from existing LR catalogs (at least this is scheduled for the October 2021 release). It has photo-retouching tools, cloning, healing, removing blemishes, noise reduction, content aware fill etc. It handles HDR, focus stacking and panoramas. It uses some AI approaches to aspects of its image processing. It can also operate as a plugin for Adobe, Affinity and Corel applications.

On1 edit screen

Here are some brief reviews.

Some Reviews of ON1

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darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer. A virtual lighttable and darkroom for photographers. It manages your digital negatives in a database, lets you view them through a zoomable lighttable and enables you to develop raw images and enhance them.

Darktable is a powerful program with a wealth of features. Rather than re-inventing the wheel with a detailed analysis, I’ll give a quick overview of some of the main features and leave you to check out the reviews and comments section below.

Darktable has powerful features for image organisation and digital asset management. You can star-rate images, add keyword tags, edit metadata and so on. It is a powerful RAW image processor with a non-destructive workflow. Edits are saved and you can save the edit lists as xmp files with the original image if you wish. It supports a powerful array of processing filters, and can apply effects locally with a variety of mask creation tools. It has a mapping module that allows you to make use of the geolocation data in files. You can even control your tethered camera using Darktable. The couple of screenshots below give you a feel for the workspace. To my mind it looks quite similar to Lightroom’s.

Darktable’s Lighttable workspace where you can organise images, sort, select, rate, tag, edit metadata and so on.
Darktable’s Darkroom workspace where you can edit photos

Reviews and comments

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DigiKam is a free, open-source package for Linux, windows and macOS. It has strong digital asset management and a comprehensive processing workflow. It has powerful RAW file editing and a non-destructive workflow (edits are saved in a database). It supports a huge range of file formats. There is extensive documentation at the DigiKam website. Below are some screen shots to give you a feel for the program.

Some links to reviews are at the bottom (not all are for the latest version). My impression is that this free program provides a lot of power. It isn’t a slick or as fast as Lightroom, but it offers a huge array of features, notably in digital asset management (cataloging, metadata editing, organising, searching etc) that is lacking in most image processing software. And it is free, so costs nothing to try it out.

DigiKam’s main screen. Tabs at the left allow you to view the folder structure, ratings, keywords/tags, a timeline, advanced search functions, image similarity (great for winnowing duplicates or near duplicates), maps/geolocation, and people indexing (it can search images for faces and if you give names to faces, it will try to find similar faces in other photos, allowing you to search for specific people, once you have identified that person in photos).

The image editor window gives access to a wide range of editing tools. The tabs at the right give access to image properties, metadata, a map, captions and tools (see below).

The tools tab gives access to a lot of functionality including links to the image editor, tag manager, batch manager, a light table (good for sorting images, comparing images side by side, rating, tagging etc). Post processing tools include image stacking (HDR, focus stack), generation of calendars, web galleries etc. Export tools allow you to export to local storage or a range of online systems. You can also import images from your SmugMug or Google galleries, or from a scanner.

Some Reviews

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The making of an intentionally blurred image (VIcki Moritz)

So you spent years learning how to shoot images in focus? Just for a change here is how to make an intentional blurred image such as the one below

Source images- demonstrating you can make something out of not much!

An outline of the steps taken:

  1. First select an image (or images) that you think will work. A wide angle image with a point of
    interest you can reintroduce in a masking step is a good start
  2. Perform basic black/white point adjustments and ensure the buildings are straight (lens
  3. This technique uses photoshop- the first step selected the man from a wet day in Melbourne
    and pasted and positioned him in the walkway image taken at a club outing to South Wharf.
    Remember to include reflections or shadows if you have them in the original image. In the
    case of the man it was a reflection
  4. Duplicate the layer that now contains the man and background and convert it to a smart
    object (right click on the layer- convert to smart object). This ensures you can still see the
    settings you use and can make alterations
  5. To create the blur I used filter/blur/motion blur. The setting was 1267 pixels at 90O
  6. I then added a mask to the layer and masked out the effect in the foreground as I wanted
    the image to be grounded
  7. I then duplicated the layer in step 4 again (before blur), added it to the top of the layer stack
    and added a black mask to bring back the blurred layer. I then painted in white on the mask
    to bring back areas that I didn’t want to see blurred eg the man and the railing leading into
    the image
  8. Final step was to convert to B&W using Nik software and darken areas on the edges

Enjoy having a go at this

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Face in the clouds How-To (Stephen Hilton)

This How-To covers Stephen Hilton’s approach to create his image Face in the clouds.

Start with a sky as your background layer (below). If the clouds are little dull, brighten them up with a curves or levels adjustment. Tip: I found it best to have a patch of sky with minimal cloud for overlaying the face as it made the face stand out better.

Paste a face into a new layer. Tip: you can lower the opacity of the face layer to help you position the face in the desired position.

Apply an “Invert” adjustment to the face layer, followed by a “Black and White” adjustment.

Set blend mode to “Screen” and lower the opacity to taste (in my case, about 40% opacity).

Apply a Gaussian blur adjustment (in my case, about 7 pixels).

  • Add a mask to the face layer.
  • Select brush tool.
  • Set to black brush, low flow, low hardness (I used 5% flow and 0% hardness)
  • Gradually paint out unwanted areas by painting onto the mask with the black brush. Tip: if you make a mistake, change brush colour to white and paint onto the mask.
  • Select brush tool.
  • Set to black brush, low flow, low hardness (I used 5% flow and 0% hardness)
  • Gradually paint out unwanted areas by painting onto the mask with the black brush. Tip: if you make a mistake, change brush colour to white and paint onto the mask.

You may need to tweak the white balance of the cloud layer to match the face.  Mine was pretty close and the adjustment was barely noticeable.

You can use a soft, white brush on the background layer to fill in the cloud if there are any gaps. I did some very subtle adjustments here.

Add the balloon on a separate layer to get the final image

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Select Subject tool

Adobe’s select subject tool (and some other applications have similar functionality) is becoming remarkably good, using AI approaches to make sometimes fiddly selections automatically. Here is an example.

This is a particularly challenging image – the background is mottled, not a uniform colour and brightness. There are heaps of flyaway hair strands. Trying to select the person from the background using the traditional approaches isn’t simple.

Let’s try the AI powered Select Subject tool. First I have duplicated the background layer, and added a black colour fill layer underneath it — you will see why in a second. Now apply the filter.

And the result is this

The Marching Ants view doesn’t clearly show the detail of the selection, so let’s click the Make Mask icon (the white rectangle with black circle in it) from the tools at the bottom of the layers panel. Now the underlying black colour layer shows through the masked areas so you can see how beautifully the selection has dealt with all of Danielle’s frizzy hair.

OK, it’s not perfect, but you can always refine the selection/mask using select and mask or other selection tools.

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Displacement Map Example

The displacement map filter is found in Photoshop under the menu items: Filter >> Distort >> Displace. A displacement map moves the pixels of an image by an amount that varies depending on the brightness of another image. I will give two examples below.

Example 1: Curvaceous 2.

For example 1, I generated a grayscale image comprising a set of horizontal lines. I converted this image layer to a smart layer (right click on the layer name and select Convert to Smart Object) so I can tweak the filter later with the least amount of effort.

Now organise your source image. I opened this in Photoshop from LR, made it into a smart layer, and saved it as a PSD (Photoshop wants PSD files for the displacement map) in the folder with my horizontal line image (so it is easy to find). Based on past experience, I applied a Gaussian blur filter – without a bit of blurring, the end result can be a bit frizzy. You can play with the filter and adjust the degree of blurring to experiment with the effect on the resulting displacement map image.

Save the modified PSD file and switch back to the horizontal line image.

Next, apply a displacement filter (Filter>>Distort>>Displace). Choose the settings. Horizontal scale indicates how many pixels distance the maximum displacement will be in the horizontal direction. Vertical scale … you guessed it. I chose “stretch to fit” in this example, but it wasn’t necessary since the two images used were the same size at the start. The screen grab to the right shows Repeat Edge Pixels but after seeing the effect, I decided the Wrap Around setting was the one to use for this image.

Apply the filter and see what effect you get. If it isn’t what you want try one of the following:
* change the settings of the displacement filter. Increase or decrease the displacement scales etc. Since this is a smart object layer, you can double click the Displace filter for the layer and the filter will open and after applying the new settings, the smart layer will update to the new settings.
* have a play with the image used for the displacement map. Tweak the contrast levels, apply local adjustments, apply artistic filters etc… to adjust the source (if you are using smart layers the edits and filters will be non-destructive so you can try out lots of settings quicly. Unfortunately you will need to re-apply the displacement filter in the other image to see what effect the tweaks to the displacement map have had.

Example 2: A woodland scene

Here I have a bit of Scandinavian woodland. Just for fun, I am applying a wavy displacement map image. For this I made repeated gradients to make horizontal stripes, then added a wave filter to give it a bit of wobble in the vertical direction. Since this image is already blurred, there was no need to apply a Gaussian blur filter to smooth out any jagged bits.

Switching back to the woodland I apply a displacement filter – actually I added two, one 5pixel horizontal displacement with the horizontal lines, then added another displacement with the wavy version (you can see two Displace filters under the Smart Filters:

OK, so this isn’t going to win a prize, but hopefully it serves to illustrate the approach.

Here are some other ideas. Use a displacement map to apply a canvas texture or other texture to your image (use an image of canvas, tree bark, something else as the displacement map image); make a reflection on water by applying a displacement map to generate distortion to match the waves in the water; make colour or pattern overlays wrap round a shape using a distortion map.

Further references

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Krita is a free and open source graphics editor for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. It is designed primarily for graphic artists for digital painting and 2D animation, but it is also a competent editor for photos. Its user interface has the usual features with multiple configurable tool panels and straightforward menus. Workspaces can be customised to suit your workflow.

Krita supports layers and masks, blending modes, a wealth of non-destructive filters (with real-time preview), different colour models (RGB, CYMK, Lab etc, and so on. It supports at least some RAW file formats, but lacks a sophisticated RAW processing back end (ie no equivalent of Adobe Camera Raw). If you want, however, you can process your RAW files in powerful free programs like DarkTable or RawTherapee (or Adobe Camera Raw – also a free download at present), then export to TIFF or PSD to import into Krita for further processing.

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