Photo Editing with Free Open Source Software

Processed with XnView and Darktable

It’s FOSS – that’s Free and Open Source Software. Great for editing your photos, and definitely not expensive!

Folow discussion threads on photography, or groups on Facebook and you will see the queries cropping up. Photographers looking for good editing software without committing to the costs of high end software, like Lightroom and Photoshop. They are good products, but offer a whole lot more than the average hobby photographer will ever use.

Back in 2014 I wrote a post on Linux and Photography, which emphasises the advantages of using Linux. It misses the point that all of the software which I use to manage and edit my photos is FOSS and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.

The software is generally free to use, and quite a number of people have written comparisons with other products.

My workflow generally starts with the Linux specific Pix application. Pix very effectively offloads images from the SD card and organises them by my rules on the hard drive. It is, in itself an effective organiser, but is Linux specific.

XnView MP

A Jigsaw puzzle on my Redbubble site processed with XnView MP
Large print jigsaw processed in XnView MP

Once the images are on the drive, the simple and intuitive organisation XnView forms the centre point of how I manage them. Apart from the basic organisation of the images, XnView provides useful editing tools, so it is possible to edit a raw image, save it as a jpeg and upload it directly.

XnView also has a very useful, two level flagging system. This allows you go through a directory of images, marking them either for quality, or future action, or both, with 5 values for each. Then select by value and carry out whatever action you wish.

So my typical first edit will be to go through the images quickly and, using the keyboard, flag the images with a 1 star rating. Set a filter to select only the 1 star, then flag the best with 2 stars. Until I have flagged the best of that set.

I prefer to copy all of my “working” images to a separate folder, achieved by simply using the “Copy to” tool.

Of major importance to me is the abilty to upsize images, with resampling, for upload to Redbubble and similar sites, where products need a large image.XnView MP does this well. Certainly none of my “large image” product sales from Redbubble have been returned.

An important part of that is the ability to store actions. So I have stored actions which allow me to quickly mass resize images for blog posting, and for resizing for various Redbubble products. That is so useful!

If the image was a good one in camera it may just need a few tweaks of contrast, saturation, and perhaps a levelling of the horizon and a bit of cropping. XnView is perfect for that.

Note that XnView also produces some mobile apps. I use XnResize alongside Snapseed on Android and Chromebook.

If those simple edits aren’t enough, then the next step will be a raw edit, in Darktable.


Cleaned up with XnView MP
Clean-up with Darktable.

Nobody says it better than the developers themselves: “darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer”. In fact it is also a full on editor for most image formats.

It is powerful, with editing options from the most simple to some high complexity. Add a virtual light table and it is one very powerful piece of software.

Often, in my workflow, Darktable editing results in the final product. I will save that to an appropriate folder in jpeg (uncompressed) form, for final name editing in XnView.

Sometimes I may want to do some cleaning up, so I will export the image from Darktable in either tiff format, or the native .xcf format used by the venerable old package, Gimp.

Apart from the very irritating ad popup, here’s an interesting article comparing Darktable and Lightroom.


Colour popped with Gimp
Colour popped with Gimp

Gimp is full fledged image editor, offering layers and many of the tools found in products like Photoshop.

In my workflow Gimp’s main role is in cleaning up images. Removing people, or unwanted objects. I am currently working with Gimp to develop a more artistic approach.

Again, apart from the irritating popup, heres a comparison between Gimp and Photoshop.

Other Considerations

It is worth giving some thought to other costs of running your choice of software.

I have used the above applications on Windows 7 and 10, basic 4GB systems. They work.

Darktable and Gimp do run under Crostini Linux on my VERY low spec Chromebook. Not recommended, as they are slow, but they have allowed me to process the odd image while out and about.

Keeping up with the latest software subscriptions will need you to keep your Windows and Mac systems up to date.

My own system is a laptop which was “high end” at release some 8 years ago, and will not run Windows 10 very well. It has been loaded with Linux Mint. It cost me very little as it was out of date.

Summing it Up

Unless you are making a good bit of income, or making your living from photography, you probably will never use all of the tools which you are paying for in the expensive image editing and processing software.

Why go to that expense when there are such good products available for free?


My Photos

See more of my photography in these galleries. Feel free to browse and (maybe?) buy a print.

Redbubble for over 60 products printed on merchandise including T-shirts, prints, throw pillows and more.

Photo4Me for Canvas wall art and other prints. . (Fine Art America) for prints and printed merchandise.

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