Photo processing adventures with a heffalump

I dropped a can of beans on my foot.

So I’ve mostly been confined to quarters. For me that means messing about with my computer and photographs. So this is not a story of great adventure in the wide world.

Here goes:

Once upon a time, a not-so-little, not-so-young girl..okay it was really an old-enough-to-be-a-grandmother, mature (most of the time) woman…got to go on a once-in-a-lifetime safari in Africa. She bought a new camera for the trip, with a huge (to her) zoom of 21x…

So long ago in experience, if not so many years. I have this block of photos from that trip that I treasure because they bring back great memories. My beloved (and still functioning!) Nikon L120 point and shoot caught some really great pictures, and I eventually got LightRoom to clean them up a bit and have used them now and again in posts.

My long-ish tale of woe

I have moved up in cameras, taking baby steps along the way, I now use a Sony RX10iv, which has manual mode and shoots in RAW. This has changed my “flow” a bunch. My older version of LightRoom can’t read the Sony ARW files so I have to convert them to DNG to use it. (Does anyone else think that paragraph reads like a bowl of alphabet soup? )

To upgrade LightRoom I would have to go to a subscription. A subscription won’t work for me. In addition to the cost, many places I go do not have reliable, or any, internet. So the easiest solution is out.

Working up options

LightRoom is both a photo management system and editing software. There are a lot of programs out there, some open source (free) and some cost. Most don’t combine the photo management and the processing.

Seeking a new way, I’ve tried several programs, both open source (free) and paid (only considering the modest cost ones). The system I am homing in on is a hybrid that uses a bit of all of them, depending on my mood and the photo.

With my foot elevated I decided to see what these programs can do with an older, not very high pixel count jpg from my trip to Africa.

On to my heffalump.

Straight out of the camera

The L120 does really well in circumstances where the light is good. But this photo, taken on a bright afternoon is a bit wonky. Here is the original, straight from the camera:

An old, low pixel count, jpg of an elephant at Masai Mara national park in Kenya. The back ground is blown out and the skin of the elephant is both grainy and has a lot of chromatic noise.
If you zoom in you can see that her skin is very grainy and mottled with weird color noise, also the background is pretty blown out, and there is a good bit of purple and green fringing.

Adobe’s LightRoom 5

Here is what I did with it in Adobe LightRoom 5. I used the regular sliders some, but also used gradient filters: linear ones to bring down the brightness of the sky and a radial one to bring clarity and a little light onto her face.

An African elephant photo post-processed using Lightroom 5.
If you zoom in you can see that her skins is much less mottled.

RAW Therapee

Raw Therapee is an open-source (free) program that is useful, to me, for two things:

  1. Viewing the photos so I can jot down the filename to import into Topaz Studio 2 or GIMP, since the Windows interface cannot read the photos it is a guessing game what will show up if you don’t preview.
  2. Applying camera and/or lens specific corrections before moving the file into Topaz Studio 2 or GIMP.

I thought I would take a look at what I can do with it to this old jpg file:

A low pixel count jpg photo of an African elephant image processed using RAW Therapee.
The elephant is okay, but the background, especially the sky needs work.

To be fair: I am not adept yet with this program, since I usually only use it for a very few basic adjustments prior to using another program. It does not seem to have masking or the ability to apply corrections to just part of an image. Which this image really needs. RAW Therapee is also not designed to work on jpg files.


GIMP (stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program) is also open source (free). It is very powerful, especially with some of the plug-ins available. I’ve been messing about with it for a while now and am far from adept. Here is what I was able to do with this photo in GIMP:

A low pixel count jpg photo of an African elephant image processed using Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).
The only way I could get the color noise out was to de-saturate the elephant.

Within GIMP there is a plug-in set called NIK. This is what I did using just NIK within GIMP.

A low pixel count jpg photo of an African elephant image processed using the NIK add-on for GIMP.
NIK did a good job of removing noise and keeping detail.

Luminar 3

In the “not free” category is Luminar 3. It had a lot of hype when it came out and I fell for it. With my old computer is was a dud. It really needs more than 8 gig of RAM. I was able to use Luminar Flex as a plug-in with Lightroom on my old machine, but that didn’t solve my need to become independent of LR. When I got a new computer, with 16 gig, it became usable and now I rather like it.

Here is what I did with the heffalump in Luminar 3:

A low pixel count jpg photo of an African elephant image processed using Luminar 3.

Topaz Studio 2

I impulsively got Topaz Studio 2 a few weeks ago, in large measure so I can play with some more artistic effects. Here is what the basic adjustment filters (with different settings applied to different areas of the photo) got me:

A low pixel count jpg photo of an African elephant image processed using the basic filters in Topaz Studio 2.

Here she is with “Safari Afternoon” look applied (it seemed appropriate), everywhere except her face:

A low pixel count jpg photo of an African elephant image processed using Topaz Studio 2, adding the Safari Afternoon Look.

There isn’t a moral to this story.

Unless it is to be more careful when collecting together chili supplies.

Each program has quirks, strengths and weaknesses. As always, I feel like I need to go back and do more with all of them. This was a challenging photo because the different parts of the back ground needed different treatments and there was a lot of noise in the elephant’s skin.

7 thoughts on “Photo processing adventures with a heffalump”

  1. Kate, very interesting post. Thanks for all the info. Unless I misunderstand it, there is a $10/mo subscription version of Lightroom that includes a stand alone version called Lightroom Classic that can be used off line. I am about to have confront this issue as my Mac o/s is giving me messages that if I upgrade the o/s my Lightroom 6 will not be compatible. It’s a bummer to have to go to a subscription.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for highlighting these software thoughts! My Photoshop and Lightroom became obsolete when I switched to a Mac a number of years ago. I’m still not sure what to do. I don’t care for the subscription model most of these companies now seem to have. I guess I’ll have to do some more research!

    Liked by 1 person

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