There are many options in the OpenSource world, but in the end you are most likely to choose as your main graphics application Krita if you use KDE, or The Gimp if you use any other desktop (in particular Gnome). Both are slick and powerful and will do everything you are likely to need.
If you use a digital camera that is capable of saving RAW (ie., NEF) image files, then I hope you are indeed using that format. It takes more space and is in many ways more trouble but it is worth doing. The RAE files (and this is a slight oversimplification) save all of the data (the pixels) that your camera is capable of collecting. You might as well save all of the data. You can crunch it down and compress it and manipulate it later to suite your needs, but if you save the files (in your camera) as compressed files or anything other than RAW, you are throwing out information. In fact, if you have a nice SLR digital camera and you don’t routinely save the data as RAW, please give your camera to someone else who will make proper use of it and get yourself a PHS* camera.
For those of you who do have RAW files sitting in your camera or on your hard drive, you may want to consider a nice piece of software I just recently discovered to process these files. It s called Rawstudio. I had a one-click installation experience on my Ubuntu box, and it worked very nicely. (One trick you need to know: It does not open files. It opens directories. Then you pick the files from the directory. In other words, the final step in the standard “open file” sequence is moved back to the main application instead of the dialog box for file opening. A little odd but it works nicely).
Raw Studio supports a wide range of formats, allows batch processing, and does a good job at converting RAW formats to other more common formats such as JPG, PNG and TIF.
Once files are on your hard drive (or, for the job of moving files from camera to hard drive) there are a number of album-like image sorting/organizing software packages. I hate them all, and I’ve used all of the commonly known packages on a Mac, Windows, and Linux, so my disdain is platform independent. I’m not particularly sure I need these packages anyway. I keep my photos in directories, and I can see them there, and if I want to do something with them I’ll copy them out to a working directory, play around, and produce some kind of product that uses them. I don’t need no stinking album software.
Album software also creeps me out because it pretends that the original files are not really important. Files are “in the album” or not, and I don’t know what that means. I just want to see my photos, which I know are files on a hard drive, as files. On a hard drive. Where I can see them.
I had a very bad experience with iPhoto, the most horrific of the album apps. iPhoto told me my photos were in the album, and I could see them there and everything. So when I deleted them from the camera I assumed they would be on the hard drive. But they were not. Nor were they on the CD’s I had backed them up to. They were just gone.
Anyway, if you use Linux, and you must use an album sort of application, and you are using a Gnome system, F-Spot is tolerable. This is the app that Gnome opens up when it thinks you’ve attached a camera to your computer. It can download the images from your computer (which, of course, you can do by telling your computer that the camera is a hard drive).
F-Spot;s ability to make web albums from your photos is overstated (it may not really work). It allows you to tag photos into different categories that you can make up and manipulate, it allows you to watch a slide show, and it allows some basic manipulation of images.
For your basic day to day work, I’d like to point you to two OpenSource photo/bitmap manipulation applications. First, a quick look at Krita. This is the KDE photo manipulation app. I’ve played around with it, and I like it, even though I don’t use KDE. (You can of course run it under Gnome if you want.) It has a reasonably friendly user interface and all the usual tools.
Of the two apps I’m showing you, Krita actually handles more formats and does some higher level work. It also has some cool features, like guides that you can use for painting and airbrushing. Krita also integrates into the KOffice office suite.
Although Krita may (or may not) be better than The Gimp, I use The Gimp, which is the next app I’d like to point out. The Gimp is a pioneer in OpenSource software, coming out of the GNU project (“GIMP” = GNU Image Manipulation Program). So this is hard core OpenSource. The Gimp runs on multiple platforms, including Windows. I’ve used it on Windows quite a bit and it functions in that environment perfectly well. Runs on Mac’s as well.
The Gimp’s internal workings can be accessed by programmers, and it has zillions of plugins and all sorts of features. It also has a funny paradigm (familiar to Mac users) of having windows all over the place instead of windows and toolbars/etc all organized in one meta window. At first you may find this annoying, but in fact, most of what you need is available from the menu that goes with the picture. Also, there are ways to use The Gimp all in one window. In fact, there is a version of The Gimp in which all the menu items are rearranged and renamed as necessary to make it a Photo Shop clone (I tried that version a couple of years ago and did not like it … so I’m not actually vouching for it at this point).
Of all of the OpenSource image manipulation software out there, you’ll find more how-tos and general advice on The Gimp, which is one reason to use this as your main image manipulation application. There are even several books on The Gimp, including Gimp: The Official Handbook: Learn the Ins and Outs of Gimp from the Masters Who Wrote the GIMP User’s Manual on The Web, Beginning GIMP: From Novice to Professional, Second Edition, the highly acclaimed GIMP 2 for Photographers: Image Editing with Open Source Software, and if you want to access the Power of The Gimp (and other software) at truly dangerous levels, you must read Perl Graphics Programming: Creating SVG, SWF (Flash), JPEG and PNG files with Perl.
There’s more. There are graphics manipulation utilities that I’ll cover later that work from the command line, and there are other apps like those I’ve described here that have nice user interfaces. But this set is a good place to start and some subset of these tools will form the base of your graphics utilities for day to day work in the Linux environment.
A bit later we’ll look at vector graphics software.
*PHS = “push here stoopid”