December 20, 2008
Continuing our series of occasional interviews, I recently approached Lightroom 3rd party developer Timothy Armes to talk about photography, Lightroom and his excellent plugins.
Hi Tim and welcome to Lightroom News
Thanks Sean, it’s great to be here.
Give us some idea about your photographic background?
Well, my interest in photography was sparked at a very young age when my mum bought herself an SLR which I used whenever I got the chance, but it wasn’t until I finished university that I bought my own camera. I suppose that I struggled in my initial attempts to “find myself” in photography – at the time I didn’t have the photographic culture necessary to move myself along.
About 12 years ago I enrolled in a photography course, and that’s what really got my started. Although I learned to develop and print my own film I felt more comfortable in the digital darkroom, so I used to shoot film and then scan it in so that I could learn to hone my post-processing skills.
Finally the digital revolution came about and that really changed everything for me. The digital SLR allowed me to experiment with all forms of photography without the additional costs that film entails. Photography became my foremost passion and I haven’t looked back since. It’s allowed me to express myself in ways that I’ve never been able to before. I’m lucky in that my engineering background facilitates my understanding of all the the technical aspects of photography, allowing me to concentrate solely on creative expression when I’m shooting…
Tell us about your programming background.
I started programming at the age of about 10 on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, so software engineering was the obvious career choice for me. Although I don’t regret that decision in any way, it’s time for me to move on. I’ve set up a photography business that I run on a part-time basis and I’m gradually moving that business towards a full time endeavor. However, in the current financial crises and with a young family to look after I’m not rushing things!
Do you specialise in any particular areas of Photography?
That’s a good question. One of the things that I love about photography is that it’s so eclectic, and I get inspired by all areas of photography, even those that I don’t practise myself. I have a garage studio which allows me to do still-life work, but I also love environmental portraiture and commercial photography. Working in these very different areas keeps me motivated and experimental – I don’t want to stop learning new techniques and pushing my limits.
What first attracted you to Lightroom?
I’d tried many tools in my search for the perfect digital darkroom. I was very proficient with Photoshop, but I wasn’t happy with the organisation of my images. Lightroom was the ideal solution – nearly everything in one clean and slick package. I also appreciated the public beta approach that the Lightroom team chose, I think that really help to get the product right for a lot of people, and with each release it gets better and better.
When did you start developing for Lightroom?
I started playing as soon as the first version of the SDK came out at the end of 2007.
What was the inspiration to get started creating plug-ins?
Well, plug-in development was a fairly natural choice for me. It allows me to mix my software development skills with my favourite photo application!
The first plug-in came about because I wanted to be able to export my photos directly from Lightroom so that I could send them to Alamy. Alamy requires that all images are upsized to at least 48Mb, which is basically 16MPixels, however Lightroom doesn’t offer the ability to upsize to a minimum total pixel count. Thus was born LR/Mogrify, a plug-in that would upsize the images exported by Lightroom using Mogrify from the open source ImageMagick suite.
As I started to explore the potential of ImageMagick I realised that I could use it to perform all mannor of useful things, such as adding borders, annotations and watermarks to images. Once I added these features the interest in LR/Mogrify became huge. The nice thing about this approach is that it retains Lightroom’s non-destructive philosophy – the original photos aren’t modified, it’s just the exported one that are “mogrified”.
I think that the Lightroom team were quite surprised to see how I’d “abused” their SDK. They originally intended to allow plug-in writers to provide greater export functionality – uploading to web sites and that sort of thing. They obviously liked the idea though because the Lightroom 2 SDK was endowed specifically with the ability to create “post-processing” plug-ins, and I was thrilled when they used LR/Mogrify as the basis for this development.
Post-process plug-ins can be used in tandem with any other export plug-in. Jeffrey Freidl also played an essential roll in pushing this along when he initially created his “Piglets” in order to try to add this feature to Lightroom 1.4.
LR2/Mogrify now uses this more versatile approach.
LR/Mogrify was your first plug-in, but you’ve done a number since. Would you care to embellish on these?
Well, my second plug-in was LR/Transporter. This plug-in essentially allows photographers to export the the meta data in their photos in the format of their own choosing. By creating a template the photographer can export image meta data as, for example, a CSV or XML file. One recent user has created a template for exporting a Google KML file – now he can upload his geo-encoding information to his website and have the location that his photos were taken displayed using Google Maps.
Until recently however the response to LR/Transporter was very subdued. LR2′s SDK has allowed me to add many more features, such as the ability to import meta data from a CSV file. The plug-in’s started to generate more interest now.
I’ve used LR/Transporter myself for photoblogging when folderblog was my blogging software. The text export was useful for creating titles and captions. What was your third plug-in?
My third plug-in was LR/Enfuse. Enfuse is a superb open source program for blending multiple exposures. The idea is similar to HDR, but blending is easier and results in very natural looking images. Enfuse doesn’t have a user interface though, and that was likely to be a barrier for most photographers, so I set to work developping a plug-in that would give Lightroom users an easy method of blending multiple exposure using Enfuse. Now they can just select the images to blend and choose LR/Enfuse from the menu. The latest version even allows for batch processing.
So you’re saying that it’s possible to do automatic blending from within Lightroom, with automatic adding to the Catalog?
That’s right, although you need Lightroom 2 in order to have the image re-imported into the catalog automatically.
Are you working on anything you can tell us about?
Yes I am. The PLUS coalition is an organisation that has created a fantastic standard for embedding image rights usage information into images. I’ve worked with them to develop a plug-in that’ll allow professional photographers to embed PLUS meta data into their images as they are exported from Lightroom. It’s by far the most complex plug-in that I’ve written to date. It’s currently in test and I hope to release it at the beginning of next year – I just need to find time to write the documentation!
Any advice for would be plug-in makers?
That’s a hard question. If you’re a programmer then it doesn’t take too long to get up to speed with the SDK, although it does involve learning a fairly esoteric programming language. The hardest thing is coming up with new ideas, and the only piece of advice that I have there is to create something that’ll be personally useful. If you do that, someone else is bound to find it useful too.
Also, be prepared to spend a huge amount of time offering support and adding new features.
I hear you’ve begun blogging yourself, where can we find you?
Yes I have! I’ve wanted to blog for a while, but a recent video released by Chase Jarvis on the subject of blogging spurred me onwards. I’m blogging about “Photography as I experience it”, which is a phrase that can be read two ways, and both ways are right! I’ll be talking about photos that I’ve taken, photographic techniques, my plug-ins, post-processing, and a little about gear. Anything that interests me. You can find it here:
Thanks for your time, Tim, in taking the interview. Keep up the great work!
You’re welcome, I’m honoured that you invited me. It’s great to be able to chat about my passion!