Thursday, August 14, 2008

Now that I think about it... [2]

I was recently interviewed by Brooks Jensen for the LensWork Extended #78 Sept-Oct issue. Some of my "In the RailYard" will be published.

After we hung up, I got to thinking a bit more about the questions Brooks asked and my reply. Hindsight being what it is, I would like to amend or add to my comments.

The second topic I would like to cover is the use of Open Source tools for image processing.

During the interview, I think I may have rambled a bit, trying to get everything that came to mind into a couple paragraphs. It might be a meaningless mess to try and listen to.

The topic of image processing tools is, for me, an important topic. I will start by comparing and contrasting commercial for sale tools with Open Source tools.

Commercial for sale tools are widely known in the West. Its how we live our lives. That is, we buy what we want and hope that it does the things we intend them to do. I think of commercial entities as large mostly inaccessible beings with few points of access to their inner sanctums. Someone or something "gives" us a tool in a one to many kind of relationship. One company, and perhaps many customers. Intellectual property and copyright protections are granted to the commercial entity, not to the human creators of a work. Furthermore, aside from what might be available from "value added partners", there are few opportunities to extend a tool beyond its original capabilities. The barrier to entry is money. Pure and simple.

This kind of approach is easy for Westerners to understand since this is what we have been raised to expect. Closed protectionist capitalism is like this. For photographic tools I think of the foundation being Microsoft Windows, with perhaps a few Apple OS-X users thrown in, just to mix things up. For the tools themselves, I think of Adobe and their Photoshop suite of applications.

For more than a decade I have been making use of Open Source infrastructure and tools. In my work-a-day life I have attempted to introduce people to the joys and freedom provided by the Linux operating system. Several companies have allowed me to influence their operating system choices in this direction. One company even makes over $400 Million a year based on products that use Linux inside.

When I transitioned from traditional mechanical-chemical tools and processes to digital, I naturally looked into what Open Source tools might be available to me.

Open Source has a few properties that stand in stark contrast to commercial entities. For instance, Open Source provides a many to many relationship. There are many developers and many consumers. Developers are protected by a license scheme that grants the originators copyright protections. This also helps protect creator's intellectual property. Open Source works are openly shared and many times cost nothing to acquire. As a user, if you make an enhancement or fix a few bugs, you give your updates back to the community at large. Over time the Open Source community strengthens as more developers participate and more good solid work is released. The most common barrier to entry in the use of Open Source tools is time, not usually money.

When I think of Open Source, I think of Google who bases their massive search engine on Linux. I think of Apache web servers, which serve over 70% of all web pages to computer users world wide. I think of Open Source works as being accessible, easy to engage, and extendible in any direction a user or developer might need or desire.

For the LensWork portfolio I used a variety of Open Source image processing tools.

I used Qtpfsgui to capture the high dynamic range of the original scene. I then used Qtpfsgui's ability to map tones using several different operators and a wide variety of parameters to achieve the desired effect. In the commercial space, Photomatrix is Qtpfsgui's equivalent.

In a few cases I used Hugin to stitch multiple images together to form the foundation image that I worked from. In the commercial space, there are several panorama applications to choose from. But unlike its commercial counterparts, Hugin offers nearly a dozen ways of projecting an image onto the final image space.

I used the Gimp for Photoshop-like manipulations. The Gimp offers all the features and functions of Photoshop, and it does it for free.

Binaries of each of these packages are available for Windows, Mac OS-X, as well as native Linux.

A final word about operating systems and compute infrastructure: In my experience of running applications on top of the Linux operating system I have found stability. Real stability. No funny wierdness of things not working, or slowing down, or corrupting my work. Furthermore, Linux runs on just about any Intel or AMD processor based computer. This includes nearly any computer a person can buy today. Windows, on the other hand... ah... how can people stand that operating system? Maybe they just don't know any better? Apple... makes brilliant stuff! But the brilliance comes at a cost. I can't afford it so I use Linux.

Brooklyn Roundhouse - in Sepia

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