Windows users will probably use Explorer to see and manage both user data and system files. Windows Explorer is good to thumbnail and manage our JPG images too, but pretty useless for more advanced imaging needs. I have been looking at some better options for Image Viewing.
Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between Image Viewers and Image Databases. Image Databases build detailed records of where images are located, thumbnails for them, how they have been processed etc. You can also create keywords for your images, locations, virtual collections etc. This can be invaluable if you are, for example, a professional photographer who needs to keep a client database, if you maintain detailed records for a hobby or collection, or if you are inherently disorganised and want something to locate and index your images. Examples of Image Databases are Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop Elements Organizer and Google Picasa. Because Image Databases rely on detailed records, it is important to back-up the database carefully and also important to manage your images only via your chosen program. If you go into Explorer and move images around, your Database program will then be unable to find them next time you open it. I do not use an Image Database and I am not talking about them today.
What should people expect from an Image Viewer?
- Thumbnails for any type of image file including raw files
- Full-screen previews
- Correct orientation for landscape and portrait images
- Customisable bulk re-naming facilities
- Bulk re-sizing facilities
- Ad-hoc slideshows
- Ad-hoc virtual collections
- Correct display whatever the colour space of the image.
In addition I have a couple of further requirements;
- Dual screen support
- Ability to play video clips in a wide range of formats.
WINDOWS EXPLORER (£free)
Historically poor at most of the above with the exception of thumbnailing JPGs and creating slideshows of them. Since Windows 7, Explorer has been colour-aware. Although no better in Windows 10, nevertheless Explorer is a capable and invaluable file manager.
FASTSTONE (£free) Windows only.
This has long-been my image viewer of choice and I use it every day. It drives my ad-hoc slideshows, thumbnails every type of raw file, looks pretty and works well on dual screens. However, it must be remembered that it simply ignores non-image files so it should never be used as a file manager.
Faststone has other features to commend it eg side-by-side comparisons of up to four images and a screen-capture tool.
XNVIEW (£free) Windows and Mac.
Equally as capable as Faststone but with the added facility to play video clips, show text files and run on a Mac. The only disadvantages are that it is not colour-aware and in my experience over several years, has suffered some software glitches from time to time. Nevertheless it is my slideshow program of choice when video clips are mixed in with the stills. I encountered some issues with video playback on Windows 10 recently but this will no doubt be resolved in time.
ADOBE BRIDGE CREATIVE CLOUD (£free?) Windows and Mac.
Bridge has long-been packaged with Photoshop CS at £600ish and whilst a very capable image viewer it has priced itself out of the amateur market. Three years ago Adobe moved to a subscription model and for £8.57 per month you will receive Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC. Once signed-up you can also download Bridge CC. However I read that if you opt for the 30 day trial of CC you can download Bridge CC and it will not expire if you never sign-up for CC. This is apparently not an error. Adobe see Bridge as the glue that binds their ecosystem of creative applications and seem to have decided to give it away.
Bridge can do everything on my list except dual screen working. Previews and bulk re-sizing are not really inherent to the program and rely on Photoshop or other Adobe programs to be present.
There are many other image viewers available – each with their own unique feature set but I have found one other of particular note;
FASTRAWVIEWER Windows and Mac. (£16 currently on offer for £12)
Almost all image viewers that preview a raw image file can only do so by showing the small JPG that is embedded inside it by the camera. The true potential of raw files can only be discovered by opening them individually in a true raw file handling program such as Photoshop Elements or Lightroom. That makes sorting and culling large numbers of raw images time-consuming and tricky. The makers of FastRawViewer claim to have solved this problem by creating a true raw file viewer that shows the actual raw histogram and image and does so very quickly. They give an example of a set of exposure-bracketed images where viewing the embedded JPG alone might lead you to discard the best-exposed images. The raw and embedded JPG previews can be alternated with a single keystroke and it’s educational to see the dramatic difference that the in-camera processing makes to the JPG in comparison to the untouched raw file. Raws from my Sony RX100 were distorted and very noisy – something that is never normally seen. The subject of mandatory camera and lens profiles applied by software such as ACR was discussed in the November 2015 Digital Group meeting.
These benefits may be of more interest to a professional or seeker of ultimate image quality. I was more attracted to another feature which is the ability to preview a set of images in monochrome – a benefit that I have often wished-for but never found. Furthermore, the mono previews of the R, G and B channels can also be easily previewed. If, like me, you struggle to visualise colour images in mono, this is a valuable tool.
In other respects, FastRawViewer is missing many of my desirable features but it does have these handy tricks up it’s sleeve and is worth the very reasonable price to me.
PAINTING A NARROWBOAT WITH PHOTOSHOP
As the member of a narrowboat syndicate, I was asked to help everyone visualise various possible colour schemes for a future re-paint.
Having taken some reference photos in good lighting, the first job was to make and save selections of each area of the boat to be painted in a discrete colour. The many selection tools in Photoshop Elements are used in combination to achieve this. In particular the Quick Selection Brush, refined by the Polygon Lasso Tool are a powerful and controllable combination for man-made shapes such as these.
The second step was then to colour those selection areas. I found that two techniques were most effective; a) a Solid Colour adjustment layer or b) a Hue and Saturation adjustment layer. Curved panels look curved because of their reflections and shading. This must be maintained if the result is to look believable. In order to maintain the original lighting it was necessary to use blending modes to mix the adjustments layers with the original image below. It was almost impossible to guess which blending mode would give the best result and it varied depending upon the colour required and the underlying colour. Sometimes, experimentation revealed that a stack of up to three such adjustment layers in combination would be needed to get just the right shade and lighting effect on a particular panel.
The visual effect of individual blending modes can rarely be predicted, in my experience. The easiest way to try them all is to click on the blending mode button to highlight ‘Normal’ and then to use the up and down arrow keys on the keyboard to try them all out.
Meeting Notes March 2009 to 2018.
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