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Flipping the Linux switch: Quick and easy photo management with F-Spot

Photo management software for Windows makes us weep. For most people, photo management consists of loading the software (and drivers) that came from the camera manufacturer. So you've got a Nikon camera, and the photo management software is really different from your significant other's Kodak software.

It looks different. It acts different. It's easier to set up some ways, or more inflexible in others. It might even be installing extraneous applications on your machine you weren't expecting.

Linux, as you've probably guessed, handles cameras a little differently. Camera drivers -- many different camera drivers -- are handled by gphoto2 and its libraries. Your pictures are downloaded and organized through photo management software, which runs on top of the gphoto2 drivers. (As a side note, gphoto2 can also be used to download pictures from the command line.)

Your Nikon, your mom's Kodak, and your brother's Sony will all use the same photo management program on your Linux machine. Now that's a little less complicated.

Today we're taking a look at the F-Spot photo manager.
There are several (really good) photo managers available for Linux. F-Spot is associated with the GNOME desktop, primarily. KDE has DigiKam, which is an excellent program with very similar functionality to F-Spot. There is even a version of Google's Picasa that works in Linux (through emulation).

F-Spot is full-featured, yet clean and fairly straightforward to use. Photos can be arranged by date or folders, and can be tagged for quick retrieval. The application is also capable of performing some common photo editing tasks, such as red-eye reduction, color adjustments, cropping and angle adjustments. It also uses something the developers call "versions." When a picture is opened for editing, the original is saved, and a new version receives the edits. Subsequent edits are done to the new version, so that the original picture remains untouched. This is a nice feature for those of us that don't have mad editing skills.

F-Spot features the ability to export photos to Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug, 23hq and to burn to CD directly from the application. It also supports uploading to web galleries should your home page support it.

F-Spot typically stores and looks for photos in the Photos directory. If you already have photos on your hard drive located in other directories, it is possible to import them by clicking the import button, and selecting the appropriate directories. The images are then copied into the Photos directory (and also remain in their original directory.) Through Edit>Preferences, you can also set F-Spot to store newly imported photos in a directory other than Photos.

Of course, the real question for most people is how exactly F-Spot interacts with their camera. As long as gphoto2 supports your camera drivers, the process we're going to show should be quite similar to what will happen when you plug in your own camera.

Fire up F-Spot (we're guessing you have already, if you're poking around importing pictures). Go ahead and plug in your camera. F-Spot can find cameras via USB and PTP connections. If your camera is like ours, and supports both, try each method. You might get lucky and they'll both work. We found, however, that PTP was a lot more reliable (not just with F-Spot, but also with DigiKam).

Click the import button, and turn on your camera. Select your connection mode on your camera, if it makes you jump through that extra hoop (our Panasonic Lumix makes us do this.)

You'll notice a few things happening, all at once. Don't freak out. Chances are good your desktop environment will pop up a message that a camera was detected and ask you want you want to do with the photos. You don't want your desktop environment to do anything, at this point, so feel free to cancel out and ignore this little window.

Nearly simultaneously, you'll find (taa daa!) that F-Spot has auto-detected your camera. If it doesn't auto-detect, you may want to try either another connection mode (if possible) or see if there's a similar driver gphoto2 can safely substitute for your camera.

You may also notice that F-Spot is not reporting your camera model correctly. Our Panasonic is a DMC-FZ7, not an FZ20. This is not a cause for concern (gphoto2 found a workable driver substitute for us).

Here you can choose to copy your files to the Photos folder. You can also bulk attach tags, if you want. For now, though just select your camera and click import.

You'll then be presented with all the photos on your camera. You can add tags here as well, as a group or individually. Clicking copy will import them into the F-Spot application.

When the download is complete, you'll be brought back to F-Spot's main browse screen. There, the really hard part is done. That wasn't so bad, now, was it?

For our next trick, we'll try a simple edit. To select the photo we want to edit, we click on it and (creatively) press the edit button.

The editing options appear on the bottom of the window. Since this appears to be a big black blob in a darkly framed picture, we're going to try to do some color adjustments.

Up comes the hue window where we can try to make things a bit brighter. What this doesn't show is that the photo, visible behind the hue window, lightens and adjusts in real time as we pull the handles.

Happy with what we've got? We now have the modified version of the original picture (remember the versions we told you about earlier?). Simply pulling down the "Version' menu on the left side of the screen and selecting "original" can bring us back to our base photo.

Two points need to be made perfectly clear with F-Spot (or any other photo manager). The interface is the same, regardless of camera. This makes things easier to adjust to and work with.

The second thing? It's not Photoshop. It's not even GIMP. If you're really into high end digital photography, the editing tools are not going to get you very far. We're willing to bet, though, that most casual users won't care. We're willing to bet a large percentage of readers resize, lighten, sharpen and crop their photos, upload them to Flickr or Picasa, and call it done.

F-Spot does this quite nicely. We'd recommend giving it a try, especially if you use a non-KDE environment. If KDE is more your style, we'd advise trying DigiKam first.

The latest version of F-Spot is currently 0.4.2, and F-Spot is likely available for easy install through your distribution's official repositories. It can also be downloaded from the project's homepage.

Tags: editing, f-spot, flickr, gphoto2, howtos, linux, linux-switch, opensource, photo, photo editing, photo management, PhotoEditing, PhotoManagement, picasa