Switching to Mac Part 5: Finding a Photo Editor

This post is part of a series of posts about switching to a Mac – here are links to all the posts:

Latest Update: See the ‘Update’ section at the end – a useful extra feature in DoubleTake makes it even better.

One thing that struck me as a bit odd about the whole process of switching to the Mac was that there didn’t seem to be an obvious choice for photo editing. On Windows, I’d happily used The GIMP, and loved it. I didn’t see any reason to change, until I tried actually using The GIMP on the Mac. It doesn’t run as a native app, it runs under the X11 interface. That means it doesn’t get a real menu bar, and it doesn’t look or feel like a real native app.

Things that look and feel a bit crap aren’t so jarring on Windows. On the Mac, though, it’s a different matter. The machine is beautiful. Most of the software is beautiful. Running The GIMP under X11 in the midst of all that just didn’t feel right.

Photoshop is available, but it’s expensive. Really expensive. The vast majority of the editing I do is pretty simple, so there’s just no real need to spend that much. There’s Photoshop Elements. That’s a much more reasonable price. It’s a version out of date on the Mac, I’m not sure I like the direction it’s going anyway, so a step behind isn’t a problem. The feature set isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough for me.

A while ago, I ran a little test. I had trial versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, along with a couple of good Mac native photo editors – Pixelmator and Acorn. I took an image that wasn’t very good, but worked out a few steps that would make it usable. It was a mallard. I selected the duck, inversed the selection, and desaturated the background. I then reverted the selection to the duck, and over-sharpened it to make it pop.

  • In Acorn, the selection was really hard work. Feathering the selection seemed to be ineffective. The adjustments didn’t turn out well.
  • Pixelmator was better, but still not great. The results took some work still, but less, and looked ok in the end.
  • Photoshop was great – easy to make the selection, as if it was doing most of the work for me – and the result was nice and smooth.
  • Photoshop Elements was harder than Photoshop, but not much harder. The difference was probably due to it being based on an earlier version of Photoshop.

I concluded that Photoshop Elements was the one for me.

I didn’t get around to buying it.

This weekend, I started trying to work on photos again, and happened on an article that listed some useful Mac apps for photographers.

PhotoConstruction - Birmingham Crowne Plaza Car Park The main thing I like to do with my photos that requires anything beyond what Aperture can handle is making what I usually call ‘Photo Constructions‘. Think of panoramas, where you take several photos of a scene, with the camera setting locked, and then stitch them together to make one big image. The usual aim is to make the joins invisible. After seeing an article in Practical Photography magazine about Michael Hallett, though, I didn’t want to hide the joins. I loved his style of rough panoramas, or Constructions. I loved his habit of including his own shadow, or even a foot, in the final work. I’d always thought that the last thing I needed, then, was software designed to seamlessly stitch panoramas together.

Minehead Harbour Photo Construction The article mentioned DoubleTake, though, and I decided to give it a go. It was very quick and easy to use. I threw a pile of images at it, intended for one of my Constructions. It seemed to have a pretty good idea of what to do with them. It did try to stitch them together, but seamless stitching wasn’t possible with such a rough heap of photos. I rather liked what it did with them. I rearranged them a bit, and liked the result even more. I put a few images from the same set around the merged result, and liked it a lot.

Construction from DoubleTake

The only problem was that it tried to merge any image added to some extent. I couldn’t layer another image over an ’empty’ part of the original (like an area of grey sky), which I like to do. I realised that I needed two things – one panorama maker, and one more general photo editor. Pixelmator was pretty good at the image editing, and DoubleTake was pretty good at making the base panorama.

I had some doubt, though. Photoshop Elements had a routine for making panoramas, and could certainly do the rest of the job perfectly well. I wanted to try it out again, but installing a new copy still knew my trial had expired. My gut feeling was that Photoshop Elements was the final version I’d get for the money, and it wasn’t a good well-written Mac app. Both Pixelmator and DoubleTake were nicely written, and felt very Mac. I installed the latest version of Pixelmator, and it gave me another chance to try it out.

DoubleTake did it’s job perfectly. Pixelmator is very fast and does it’s job well. It isn’t perfect, but a new version is due soon, free to owners of previous versions, with more features. And, it’s from a small independent developer, not from Adobe. It’s written from the start as a Mac app, not something derived from a bigger app, written primarily for Windows.

I bought licenses for Pixelmator and DoubleTake. Using the SmokingApples coupon code, I saved 20% on Pixelmator, which helped a little. DoubleTake was more expensive than I’d expected, as they seem to have decided that UK VAT is 25%, not 15%, and the Euro exchange isn’t as good as I’d remembered, but even at £20, it does a job that’s otherwise a lot of work, with ease.

I’ll know better when I’ve spent more time with them, but I’m pretty happy with my choice at the moment. They both work very nicely with Aperture, too. I can select the images I want in my basic panorama, and drag them straight from Aperture to DoubleTake on the dock. It attempts to fit them together, so I just need to tweak what it’s done. I then just click the Aperture button on DoubleTake’s toolbar to send the image back to Aperture at full resolution. From there, I can open that image in Pixelmator as the external editor, drag any further images to layer over it straight from Aperture, and save the result straight back. Aperture just shows the final image as a new version of DoubleTake’s original export.


It’s a week later, and I’ve learned a little more. The developer of DoubleTake, Henrik, contacted me to let me know that it actually can build constructions without merging at all – just hit ‘0’, and it stops merging images. I’ve tried it out today, and it works. I’d hoped it would let you turn off merging, and drag another image or two into place, leaving the rest still merged. What it actually does is just turn off merging completely. All the merged images un-merge themselves. Hit 0 again, and they all go back to how they were.

For doing constructions the way I always have, it can do it very quickly and easily, so it’s an even better buy than I’d thought. I may well still play with its merging functions, though, as I do like the results.

Henrik also explained about the VAT calculation. As I really should have known, EU states collect VAT at their own rate, and Danish VAT is much higher than UK VAT. PayPal displays it badly as ‘UK VAT’, but it’s being collected correctly.

The number game of truths about me… from Facebook

Well, it’s not a massive development in my blogging revival, but these notes can sometimes be entertaining, so I thought I’d do one over here for a change…

10 Things You Wish You Could Say to 10 Different People

  1. If I have lost you, then I’m disappointed. But life goes on.

  2. Don’t you sweat like buggery under that big coat? I know I do.

  3. Face it, you don’t have a clue. Don’t worry, neither does anyone else in your team.

  4. You hurt me more than he did. But it’s water under the bridge now. Let’s move on.

  5. I wish you could remember me. I miss you so much.

  6. Does the rod up your arse have a rod up its arse?

  7. I’m not upset by what you did anymore. But I still can’t make eye contact with you because your face freaks me out.

  8. Treat her better.

  9. Christ onna bike, you’re nowt but ego and feet.

  10. We meet at last! Fancy a beer?

Nine random things about myself…

  1. I just put bacon in the knife drawer. I have no idea why.

  2. I removed the “P” plates from the car today – because now my driving is just average crappy rather than newbie crappy.

  3. I have no maternal instincts whatsoever and am in fact scared of children.

  4. However, one of my closest friends is 14 years old.

  5. I lived in a pub for two years.

  6. I have a big appetite and hairy feet. I think I’m half hobbit.

  7. I have a recurring dream where I’m chewing gum but it gets stuck in my throat. I dread to think what’s actually going on there.

  8. I’m running out of things to put here.

  9. I caught the bus to work on Friday. Never again.

Eight ways to win my heart…

  1. Tolerate my silly ways.

  2. Be silly with me.

  3. Enjoy food and drinks with me.

  4. Put up with me when I go off to my unhappy place.

  5. Back me up when I need it.

  6. Feed my fandom.

  7. Make me laugh.

  8. Love me as I am, broken and all.

Seven things that cross my mind a lot…

  1. Lu-Las

  2. Work

  3. Health

  4. My crazies

  5. The future

  6. The next London trip

  7. The next temp job

Six things I do before I fall asleep…

  1. Have a drink

  2. Undress

  3. Go to the loo

  4. Snuggle

  5. Snuggle

  6. Go to the loo again

Five groups of people who mean a lot…

  1. Close family (husband, mum, in-laws)

  2. My little gang of Lu-Las

  3. Other far-flung online buds

  4. Former SW chums

  5. Home town chums and their lovely doggies

Four things you’re wearing right now…

  1. Yellow t-shirt

  2. Black trousers

  3. Wedding & Engagement ring

  4. Glasses

Three songs that you listen to often…

  1. “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” Blood Sweat & Tears

  2. “Make Me Smile” Chicago

  3. “Atomic” Blondie

Two things you want to do before you die…

  1. Go to America.

  2. Be in a show of some kind.

One confession:

  1. I’m stronger than I give myself credit for. I just keep forgetting.

Pictures from recent fangirly adventures

I’m not ashamed to admit it. This year I have become one of those sorts that go to conventions, and fan events and all sorts of fun malarkey like that. I even cosplay. Not as well as others, but it’s the perfect excuse to raid the dress-up box.

Here are some photos from my recent adventures at conventions…

18th April 2009, Collectormania Midlands

In which I cosplayed as Rupert Galvin from Demons (occasionally with dodgy US accent) accompanied by Anni, who made a very convincing Mina Harker, and my lovely friend LJ as Ruby.

I will smite thee with my water pistol.

I contemplated joining the Dark Side. Lovely chap, that Mr Vader.

You're Mr Stevens??

And did my best to hide from this guy…

Scary thing.

7th June 2009, Collectormania Milton Keynes

Many photos were taken at this event, and many good times were had. But this is the money shot… and not just because it cost me fifteen quid.

Me and The Lovely Mr Glenister

No, I didn’t tell him what I would be up to just two weeks later. Which was, of course, dressing up as his most popular character and, er, getting very very drunk.

20th June 2009, Luigi’s Meet, London

Despite it being hot as hell down there I got suited and booted and gloved in an attempt to entertain fellow A2A fangirls and a few cast members who turned up as a surprise…

Me with Jack Walters and Michael Barber, a couple of the background CID boys who made their presence felt during Series 2 of Ashes to Ashes without having to say a word.

Later on this month I’m off to the London Film and Comic Con where I’ll be meeting Danny John Jules (The Cat from Red Dwarf) and Bolly-Kecks ‘erself, Keeley Hawes. Looking forward to it.

FACEBOOK and other time vampires

(or a list of excuses for neglecting my blog)

I can’t remember where I came across the expression “time vampire” but it perfectly sums up what happens to me when I switch on my computer on a morning and attempt to have a productive day. Today is a fine example. Today, I decided, was the day I would finally put together something for my blog. Something witty, something informative, something entertaining… then this happens…

“You’ve just been tagged in a note on Facebook.”

And there’s the time vampire. I’m hopelessly hooked on these things – although half the time the questions are pathetic, repetitive and aimed at high schoolers. I’m in my mid-thirties, married and really should be spending my time doing something far more constructive than sharing with my pals who was responsible for the fourth text in my inbox.

So off I go to a blank text file ready to share my thoughts with those three viewers we have left here (Hi Gary).

“New post alert in “Pictures of Gene Hunt” at Luigi’s”

Oh one quick look at the pic thread won’t hurt, will it?

Oh eyes and hands, eyes and hands and hair and ohhhh dear I’m lost on a wave of squee. Damn you Glenister. Damn you. I was hoping to use this first weekend at home in a few weeks productively to share a few tales of what’s been happening recently and here I am again sucked back into the fandom… oh look! A new theory about how Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars links in with the bible and Gene Hunt is in fact God! Fascinating!

But now, back to my blog. After I’ve chatted to my friends. And eaten. And done a bit of tidying up. And fed the cat. And been shopping. And phoned my mum.


I will try harder. I promise. I shall stop feeding the book of face and feed the blog of me instead… or at least try to.

Hello Kitty Mug

I wanted some pics of a few things I’d bought while we were in Birmingham. I used the black paper the mug was wrapped in, set the camera to control a remote flash, and hand-held my SB-800 flash. I used an Apple Store bag wrapped over the flash head to diffuse the light, and left the built-in flash to fire, but at -2.0 stops so it only filled in a little. Turned out reasonably well:

Hello Kitty Mug