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Editor's Note: Professional-Level Photography With Linux, And Nobody Goes To Jail

Oct 17, 2008, 23:03 (24 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Photography aficionados can be just as fussy and impossible-to-please as audio geeks. Only the most expensive, elite gear is good enough, and even then there are endless debates over which is the elitest. Consequently, you don't find much information on Linux as a high-quality digital photography platform. In fact if you can find anything that isn't Adobe Photoshop-centric that means you have mighty searching powers because the digital photography world worships at the Photoshop altar. Books, articles, and training courses mostly teach Photoshop as though it were photography itself.

Me, I think giving so much as one devalued red cent to Adobe is equivalent to saying "Why yes, I am for corrupt corporate control of everything and vandalism of fundamental civil rights" because of what they did to Dmitry Sklyarov. To this day no one at Adobe has apologized or admitted error; they stubbornly cling to the "we must protect our precious IP" party line. Call me a moldy old hippie, but in my world due process, fairness, and civil rights trump Adobe's precious IP. Which wasn't so precious at all, but closer to laughable. Which is why we have the fun lovin' abomination called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the bought-and-paid-for refuge of greedy incompetent thieving rights-holder everywhere. (Everywhere in the US, that is.)

Linux Digital Photography Studio

OK then, let's get back on track, which is Linux as a high-quality digital photography platform even if Adobe weren't a gang of Constitution-trampling thugs. The FOSS world offers an abundance of excellent digital image-editing applications. Here is a sampling of my favorites:
  • Digikam is an awesome all-in-one photo archiving and management, editing, and printing application. It's not an advanced editor like Gimp and Krita, but its feature set is comprehensive enough that you won't need Gimp or Krita for every editing job. It includes dcraw for high-quality RAW file manipulation, all kinds of handy batch processes, tags for organizing vast quantities of photos, and a super-nice composition and cropping editor.
  • Even though Gimp still lags behind the resolution of modern digital cameras and supports only 8-bit RGB, it's still more than good enough for Web images and darned good printed photos. You'll have to compare to very high-end color printing to see the differences that higher resolution and more accurate color management make. It's just a matter of time until Gimp delivers 24- and 32-bit depths and CMYK; the current release incorporates the GEGL image-processing framework for the first time, which supports these higher resolutions and more color spaces. It's still buggy, but it's on its way.
  • I gave Krita my vote as the real "Photoshop killer", and I still feel that way. It supports more color spaces than any other Linux application, and it was designed from the ground up to meet the needs of professionals. Though now that Gimp is moving to GEGL, I can say that Linux will someday have two "Photoshop killers". The biggest difference will be the sheer numbers of plugins available for Photoshop; everyone in the world writes Photoshop plugins.
  • Color management is a big issue for professional-quality work. Everything in your toolchain must have accurate ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles: camera, monitor, scanner, and printer. This is how you get predictable, accurate colors without a lot of trial-and-error. For Linux try the ColorVision Spyder2 with the ArgyllCMS software.
  • Printer drivers are still the big PITA for Linux users. Here we are eight years into the new millennium and Linux is still the unwanted stepchild. Even when we get good-quality drivers we usually don't get the nice management and fine-tweakage software that Windows gets. Canon and Epson rule the roost for high-quality photo printing, though beware of Epson's dye-based inks-- they clog the printer heads and drive you crazy and waste your money. If CUPS doesn't include good drivers for your color photo printer, try the TurboPrint drivers.
I could write a book on this, and probably will. Meanwhile the short story is you don't need to mortgage your house to fund a high-quality digital photography studio. Put the money you save into some nice cameras that will make you happy. This modern era of digital photography is wonderful- much less waste, endless do-overs for free, you get to work with the lights on, and no nasty smelly chemicals. I learned photography the old-fashioned way in a literal dark room all full of special papers, chemicals, enlarger, and all the rest of the bulky, expensive paraphernalia that was needed. This newfangled digital stuff is better.

And now, the obligatory photos: Stash cat on the fence, and Pups.


Linux Photography
Fred Miranda
The Digital Picture

A Bit of History

A quick refresher on the Dmitry Sklyarov case: Mr. Sklyarov is a Russian citizen. In 2001 he was an employee of ElcomSoft, a Russian company that cracked Adobe's eBook (amusingly feeble) encryption code and then distributed a software application-- Adobe eBook Processor or AEBPR-- that converted the eBook format to other formats such as PDF, and formats that could be read aloud by text-to-speech programs. eBook couldn't do any of that. In fact it couldn't do much of anything except annoy anyone who made the mistake of buying it.

When Adobe learned that Mr. Sklyarov was coming to DefCon in Las Vegas in July 2001 to give a talk on this, corporate officials pressured the FBI into arresting him on the grounds that he was committing a flagrant DMCA violation. To their discredit the FBI went along with it. To make a long story short, Mr. Sklyarov spent about three weeks first in jail and then a federal lockup, and after his release on bail he was not allowed to return home until mid-December, and then only after agreeing to testify against ElcomSoft. So he was detained and kept from his family and home for five months. In December 2002 ElcomSoft was put on trial in San Jose, California, and after two weeks of testimony found not guilty. Which was a good verdict considering that what Mr. Sklyarov and ElcomSoft did is not illegal in Russia, and until the DMCA wasn't illegal in the US either. Hurrah for freedom and democracy.

There is still a lot of information about the case online, so anyone wanting more details can easily find them.