Do you use Linux and wonder what your alternatives are when it comes to photo processing? Are you a photo enthusiast trying to find alternatives to your current software? Or perhaps you’ve read this far and still have no idea what I’m talking about—great! This article is for all of you.
Why Linux, and what is it anyway?
In short, Linux comes in a range of different flavours (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, etc.) but the common core in all of them is an operating system built primarily around free and open-source software. Many people choose Linux not only because it’s free, but also for the security and stability it offers, as well as the chance to gain more control over and knowledge about the software they use.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a computer whiz to use Linux. All you need is some basic knowledge about how to use computers and a willingness to learn.
Even if you’re not a Linux user, you might still benefit from learning about some of the free Lightroom and Photoshop alternatives that are available by reading this article.
I’ve done all my photo processing in Linux since 2012, the same year I started working as a professional photographer. The main challenge was not that I haven’t been able to use Lightroom or Photoshop, but to find alternatives and choose between them.
This has involved a decent amount of research, so to help you on the way I’ve decided to collect my findings in this article. Hopefully this is a first step in your research process, leading you to a solution that works best for you.
As will become apparent soon, using Linux doesn’t even mean that you can’t use Lightroom, Photoshop, or any other program you prefer; it may just take a bit of tweaking. The important thing is to use something that can deliver what you need, not what others think you need.
Figuring out the alternatives
To choose the software that works best for you, you have to ask yourself what it is you’re looking for. Do you need a photo editor? Do you want to be able to manage and catalogue your photos? Is it the ability to process RAW photos you’re after? Or maybe all of the above?
Some of the programs I’ll be presenting here can offer everything, others are only suited to specific tasks. I’m going to be focusing on solutions that offer photo editing (including RAW processing), and less on photo management software.
The other important thing is to know what’s out there, and that’s the goal of the rest of this article.
Alternative 1: Using software that works directly in Linux
These are the programs that can be installed directly on your system. All of these are open-source and free, and they work in Linux, Windows, and Mac OS, unless otherwise stated.
Darktable allows you to manage and process photos, including RAW images, in Linux and Mac OS. The two main tasks are separated into two spaces; the light-table for managing and cataloguing, and the darkroom for editing and processing photos.
As you may have noticed, the name of the software is a combination of those two words, just like Lightroom. It’s a powerful and non-destructive editor which requires a bit of time to get used to, but for anyone who has ever used post-processing software before, it’s not a problem.
Raw Therapee is a post-processing program for RAW images which works in most operating systems. It can be used to manage photos, but if you have a big collection, it’s good to combine it with software specifically aimed at image management, such as DigiKam. It’s easy and intuitive to use.
With Rawstudio you can process RAW images, as the name suggests. It works in Linux and Mac OS, but not in Windows. It’s especially good for bulk processing and it can read essentially any RAW image format. It doesn’t support the latest versions of Debian, so if you’re using Ubuntu and have a newer version than 13.10, it won’t work for you.
Photivo is another RAW image processing program. I’ve never used it, but it supposed to be good once you learn how to handle it, which might take a bit of time due to the number of different options. You can’t manage or catalog your photos with it, but if it sounds tempting anyway, you can combine it with one of the many great stand-alone photo management programs out there.
GTKRawGallery is a lightweight program for managing and processing RAW images. It doesn’t work very well if you’re processing a lot of photos, but it’s faster for single image edits. It works in Linux and Windows, but not in Mac OS.
Corel AfterShot Pro3
Corel AfterShot Pro3 is the only commercial processing software I’m going to mention, as it’s the only one that works directly in Linux and provides a good alternative to software such as Lightroom.
It’s not open-source, unlike all the other software mentioned so far. But, there is a free 30-day trial, which might help you decide between alternatives. It’s the program I use for my everyday and professional photo management and post-processing needs.
It’s difficult to talk about photo editing software in Linux without mentioning GIMP. This program won’t read RAW files without some tweaking, so many use it for post-post-processing, such as saving in a variety of different formats, retouching, and even drawing.
It’s free, open-source, works in many different operating systems, and with the right add-on, it can also open RAW files.
Alternative 2: Using tools developed for other operating systems
If you have a favorite piece of software that doesn’t work in Linux, don’t despair! There are a few ways for you to use popular programs like Lightroom and Photoshop without giving up on Linux.
1. Virtual machine
A virtual machine is a software that makes it possible for your computer to act like another computer, it basically works like a second physical computer in your operating system. You can install the operating system of your choice in the virtual machine, and use it as if it were, for instance, a Windows computer.
VirtualBox is a free, open-source virtual machine I use when I really need to run a program in Windows.
Apart from making it possible to install software that only works in non-Linux operating systems on your Linux machine, a virtual machine is useful compared to having separate partitions, because you don’t have to reboot to use it and you can easily share files between systems, have a joint clipboard, etc.
The drawbacks are that the virtual machine won’t be as efficient at using the available hardware as a normal machine. That can prove to be a problem for big and heavy programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom (but with a modern computer you’ll probably be okay).
Wine is a free, open-source interface that lets you run Windows software in Linux. Unlike a virtual machine, Wine doesn’t work like a separate computer; instead, it makes the software think it’s in Windows. That also means you don’t get the added security of a virtual machine, where the program is running on a virtual computer instead of directly on yours.
One great thing about Wine is that you can run software for different Windows versions; backward compatibility is better than in Windows itself. However, all Windows software won’t necessarily run in Wine, and getting a program to work can sometimes involve lots of tinkering.
PlayOnLinux is a free, open-source tool that takes the hassle out of setting up programs in Wine. CrossOver is a similar option but it’s proprietary and is commercial – on the other hand, that means you have someone you can call if things aren’t working.
As you can see, being a photographer and Linux user is not at all incompatible. There are many different alternatives out there. Also, it’s always nice to find great, supported, and constantly developed photo processing software that is also free!
What software do you use for your photo processing, and why? Do you have more alternatives to add to this incomplete list? I would love if you shared your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.