As I mentioned, I’ve been trying out various blocks in WordPress, and I’m starting with the default ones pre-programmed with Gutenberg’s basic install.
There are a number of blocks that I quite like:
regular paragraph (although I’d like more Tiny MCE buttons);
classic paragraph (boring, but not much choice but to keep it with all my old posts);
headers (dead simple, adds structure to the page);
NGG gallery (my images didn’t have captions for some reason but I like the extra container controls);
video block (simple container);
code block (I don’t really have much use for it, but easier than trying to put it in a pull quote);
basic button (radius for corners, multiple colours, and, more importantly, it autofills links to pages and posts on the site);
columns (feels like I’m on a site like Shutterfly choosing page layouts…I love the power, just not sure when I would use it too much, but admittedly the background colour options are really nice);
embed (pretty powerful, lots of options, including things like embedding a tweet);
I’m on the fence for a few others:
image block (I already use NGG for everything image related, but it has the option to change the image to a circle too!);
quote block (different sizes, but the citation isn’t as controllable);
cover block (a large page with the option to change opacity and add a title overtop, great for previews and sliders, but I don’t really need it);
file block (allows easy downloads, but I have a download manager that handles it just as well, and tracks traffic);
dividers (great for the small one, and the wide one, not sure about the three dots);
table (nothing special, although stripes is easy);
custom HTML (rarely have use for it, except when I’m embedding things);
pullquote (good simple info box);
verse (allows you basically a quick and dirty courier / ASCII layout, but not sure why);
media and text (I should love this one, but I just found the granularity for the image controls and text a bit weak);
Other ones, I don’t particularly like:
gallery from media library (no use for it when I have NGG);
list block (boring!);
audio block (no use for it);
I didn’t try the GROUP, MORE, or PAGE BREAK ones as I have no real use for them. Same with widgets that allow me to add widgets, shortcodes, archives, calendar, categories, comments, posts, RSS, and search — can’t think of when I would ever post them in a post or page.
I have YOAST installed, and it adds a few default ones too, including FAQ and a how-to layout for step by step instructions. Could prove useful, although I don’t have an immediate need.
Jetpack adds GIFs (mildly interesting) and a five-star rating system (too basic). On to the other block plugin options!
I participated in the overview of WordPress (WP 101 in the WordCamp for San Antonio, TX) that was done virtually this weekend, with two goals in mind…learn more about custom post types and figure out how to transition from classic editor to block editor.
I’ve literally had a mental “block” about switching to the block editor. I played with it initially just long enough to get confused, I wasn’t sure about how to align things, all my settings to tweak seemed to disappear, etc. I felt like it was giving me a lot of power over page layout like a graphics layout program used to do for printing paper when all I really wanted/needed was the digital equivalent of a typewriter. Maybe a few graphics to stick in here and there. Certainly things that I could easily do in something like Word without going for the full layout manager of another program.
I didn’t get to do much with custom post types, but I did watch an overview of blocks. And with the number of posts and themes that are going the way of blocks, well, I need to figure this out sooner rather than later. Particularly if I’m going to transform some layouts of things like book reviews that I’m in the process of tweaking right now anyway.
Blame it on the book reviews
My book reviews have a pretty stable layout overall:
An image that I pull from Good Reads via HTML and that will take me to the GR site if I click on it;
Three sections of text – Plot / Premise; What I liked; What I didn’t like;
My multi-star review;
A text bottom line of a few words;
Links to GoodReads site;
Links to my index of other book reviews; and,
My closing / signoff.
But I’ve made some tweaks before when I had about 90 reviews; again when I had about 130; and again now that I have 180. Each time, I’ve had to go back and reformat quite a bit. So, of course, it makes me wonder…would a block layout let me “fix” it once and move on? The short answer is that in many ways, this is EXACTLY one of three elements that a block editor will give you. So with the book reviews in play, I’m motivated to fix it once.
Options with the block editor
The block editor allows me to have a consistent look and feel (goal 1) while having a lot more flexibility (goal 2). But it is goal 3 that is the most exciting — creating reusable blocks that can be dropped into a post or page, and if later you want to edit it, it will update across all of the site. Sort of like a macro.
For the image, I paste / embed an image from Good Reads, and GR gives me the code to use for embedding. The only real “tweak” I do to it is to increase the size to a specific width. Ideally, I would put the code in a wrap container, it would resize the image, and voila, it would sit there perfectly in the same spot. I can even “save” it as a special block and reuse it, potentially.
For the three headings, they never change so I can preprogram them and set specific font and heading size. If I ever want to change them, as long as I save them as separate reusable chunks, they’ll stay put. If I change one, it will change them all. Similarly, I can add in three paragraph blocks just after them, although those will change.
For the review, some of the block plugins come with review formats, but I kinda like my “reading frog” image. So I’ll likely stick with that. I *could* play with the format and look/feel for a 1 star / 2 star / etc setup and save those. Then, if I ever decide to ditch the frog and go with stars, for example, I just need to edit the block and they’ll all change.
The bottom line is a set header plus a flexible paragraph text, so again, pretty straightforward.
Where things might get interesting is the Good Reads link. Like the image, it is a set “format” but not a set block (the link would be different each time). However, the link to my other reviews is a set block that can be reused easily.
And then there’s my signoff block. It is a standard element I use ALL the time. So it will definitely get turned into a reusable block. And give me maximum flexibility for the future.
Enter the block plugins
The default Gutenberg editor has a lot of default blocks, and they are more than enough to get me going for testing things. But not all blocks can be converted to all other types of blocks, so I don’t want to get too far down the testing and then find another block plugin has this awesome additional block that is perfect for my Good Reads images, for example. So I’m working through a bunch of the main block options.
After playing around with some Photo editors, I realized that some of the functionality I was hoping for at a slightly higher level was in fact more for a photo organizer / management program than an editor. So now I’m going down a different rabbit hole looking at free ones.
First up, surprisingly, is Adobe Bridge. I say surprisingly because I just blew all the old copies of all Adobe products OFF my system, so why would I download it? Well, just to try it. And I’m underwhelmed. It’s okay, and if I was into tagging or keywords, sure. One thing it does REALLY well is handle metadata. There’s even a view mode i.e. kind of like details in a file listing where you have about eight columns of metadata with dates, times, keywords, ratings, etc. Not bad, but nothing I really need. Pass.
Now, with the behemoth out of the way, I am moving on to XNViewMP, one that I am really interested in. I have already used XNView in the past, nowhere near using the full power of the tool, and this version is the upgrade. Heck, I’m impressed when I get to the first folder of files. It shows me it in “preview” thumbnail mode, but below each photo is a bunch of EXIF data. Fantastic. Different “views” show different info, but the default includes dates, sizes, and then lens mm (irrelevant for the iPhone ones), f stop, exposure duration, and ISO. Sweet. File conversions to other formats are built in, which is useful for comics and memes in making them all JPGs (better for sharing on social media). And BAM! it allows me to flip horizontal too, without changing the quality or file size. Double sweet. Let’s see what else it can do.
Change thumbnail size, occasionally useful. Add tags and ratings, doubtful (although the ratings are nice — six levels of excellent to poor, but also separated from the tags which allow for personal / work / etc.). Resizing for email, always useful. Upload, probably not the tool I’ll use. Some GPS work that I’ll probably ignore (I try to turn it off on my photos). Oooh, nice, I can edit the EXIF thumbnail, which annoys me sometimes with not matching the proper orientation. I like it.
Oh, interesting, there is even a decent screen capture option with a built-in delay so you can tab over to get it looking right on your screen. It could even tell when I told it to look that I had a webpage over in Firefox and gave me the option to capture just that. Sweet Jesus, this thing has some features I never even knew I needed! Including a CREATE function for file listings, contact sheets, a banner even…wow. This software is downright awesome. I’m in love. Now, if it would only let me do a bunch of internal editing. 🙂 Okay, okay, that’s not the point of this post. Just saying. Oh, and it does a bunch of other things including batch processing, most of which I can do in my file explorer, so not as critical.
While I’m already in love with the XN software, I thought I would check out its cousins:
XNConvert — I didn’t see any reason to download this, as XNView already includes conversion. But not like this…every mask / filter / tweak you ever thought of doing, you can do in this batch tool. Denoise, blur, crop even. I don’t know when or if I would ever use it, but it’s a lot of power at once.
XNRetro — allows you in theory to provide just a bunch of filter looks to existing photos, but it actually does more than that…you can adjust brightness, contrast, colours, etc. all manually too in a VERY simple interface. I tried it on my darker-than-desired shot of Jacob inside a tube slide, and although 20 retro looks/colours, 15 lightings, 5 vignettes, and 30 frames later and it wasn’t really doing anything for me, it is still nice to have, and free, so might as well leave it installed. I could play with brightness, contrast, etc. myself, not really the point of looking for simple “out of the box” adjustments though. Weird that it runs as a standalone file, i.e. doesn’t need to be installed. Could probably run it from a USB key if you wanted to.
XNSketch — allows you to convert your photo into something like a sketch or oil painting. Nothing awesome, although I confess I thought the photocopy effect looked the most realistic of a bad photocopy from the past. Okay to leave it installed, nothing exciting when trying it on a pic of Jacob and Andrea. However, I did a sketch version of my telescope setup and it is pretty sharp. Definitely some interesting possibilities for the future.
XNShell — by installing this, it adds a bunch of the functionality of XNView to my context (right click) menus in file explorer or my replacement program. Including horizontal flips. Nice.
I almost don’t need to continue, I already have success! But okay, why not?
I’ll give StudioLine Photo Basic 4 the next test slot. Okay, weird startup. It wants to save its data in C:\StudioLine. Why would it think anyone would want it in the C:\ root as opposed to under \Data or \Documents or \Pictures? Or even \user\blah blah blah. Whatever. Okay, time for abandonment. Like a few of the other classic “managers”, it wants you to import everything into a database. I don’t have time for that, I’m modifying locations and files on the fly. The database just can’t keep up. I played with a few settings, and almost nothing was intuitive to me. Pass, uninstall.
FastStone Image Viewer has a simpler interface, very clean and clear. Easy to navigate because it looks like a file manager. A few clicks, and I can flip pics horizontally with lossless JPEG format. Resizing for email or other purposes is pretty easy, with option to just copy and save to another folder. All of it from the right-click / context menu. I tried full view mode, which was a good option. And from that view, taking my mouse all the way to the left pulls up a sidebar-like set of menus (resizing, files, rotations, colors, effects); going to the top gives you a filmstrip of other files; going to the bottom is a navigator menu with the most used options from the main menu I think; and over to the right gives you all the EXIF data. My scroll wheel takes me to the next photo in the filmstrip. There’s a crop and heal function for a shirt with a stain, but I’m no artist at fixing blendings. Lighting adjustments on a dark pic of Jacob on a tube slide were pretty basic. And it has options to create Contact Sheets, etc. Overall? A pretty good tool. But doesn’t do anything that XNViewMP can’t do, and most not as well. Pass, uninstalling.
Moving on to Magix Photo Manager. On the install, I normally accept default installs, but for these, I’m afraid things are going to change my Picture File Associations, so I’m going custom. And this one? It was going to install something called Music Maker too (for soundtracks for videos)? No warnings, not a question, just extra bloat to install by default. Not impressed. Equally, there was a bloatware program called SimplyClean…default in custom was NOT to install, wonder what default was in regular install. I hate software that does that. Not many options that I want for stuff. However, it does have an option for basic facial recognition, which could be useful, but it didn’t seem to recognize Andrea or Jacob in two photos taken seconds apart. Pass, uninstall. Except after I was done, there were three extra remnants left that I had to uninstall manually. I don’t know if it’s malware, or what, but seriously unimpressed.
Apowersoft Photo Viewer was next on my list. It was pretty basic, and it really was mostly a viewer, but even the basic editing didn’t integrate well. Nothing to write home about, pass/uninstall.
Nomacs Image Lounge. The program did nothing for me, nothing to make it stand out. But I would remiss in mentioning that it has a basic Mosaic option I haven’t seen in any other program i.e. take a photo, tell it a batch of other photos, and have it create a mosaic by arranging tiles of all the other photos into the shape of the original. I tried it with a basic print of the moon, and only a handful of images for it to work with, but it turned out well enough for me to keep it as an option to try some other time with much more complicated inputs.
Okay, so what’s next. DigiKam. Okay…oops, it says I have it already installed. Not promising if I don’t even remember still having it. Well, at least I can update to the latest version, right? Okay, so I have no idea what’s going on. In my folder for Pictures, I have one called Working, and in it I have the batch I’m playing with called B1 as the folder. Digikam won’t show it to me. It won’t even show me it exists. Okaaay, so I went to my sub-folder that has my latest imports in it. Nada, doesn’t like that folder either. There are four or five sub-folders under it, but even with REFRESHING the folder, it doesn’t do squat. Trying to import the folder or files doesn’t help either. WTF? Okay, well bye bye, thanks for coming out. Oh, wait, it comes with another program called ShowFoto. Which kind of does the same stuff as other organizers, but not well. Okay, enough time wasted. Uninstalling. I think I only had it in there because it handles RAW. And then, wtf, the importing of a folder created some sort of recursion within the folder. 10K files duplicated, and 20GB of data later, it looked like there was no end. So I zapped the directory. Yikers. No idea what that was about. But definitely glad I removed it.
Well, I’m going to keep plowing ahead. I tweaked my anti-virus and anti-malware and my firewalls to max, even though I already had it on high alert and was only downloading based on high-end sites reviewing the software and certifying it safe to try.
Photo QT Image Viewer is next up. A fairly decent photo viewer. With an odd “transparency” model built in to see the apps running behind it. In full pic mode, I can lock the metadata info bar on the left, decent layout. But nothing exceptional, and XNViewMP blows it away by a mile. Moving on, uninstalling.
And last, but not least, is WildBit Viewer. The viewer was basic except when it comes to EXIF / metadata — it had it laid out in SPADES. Almost worth it to keep it just for that. But most of that I never use beyond the basics. The editor is decent, but when I saved a flipped image, it dropped the size by 30%. Nope, can’t have that. Okay, I’m done. Bye bye.
Looks like XNViewMP was the clear winner. Good to know. And soon I’ll have all the bases covered. Now I want to see what’s out there for facial recognition and mosaics.
Since I’m getting into the whole AstroPhotography thing, at least insofar as I’m doing iPhone stuff at the eyepiece, I decided I would play with some software to see how easily I could stack some stuff. Although I’m mainly interested in single-frame stuff, planets are proving elusive for single frames. So I went with what I already had installed and didn’t have a lot of luck out of the gate.
But I began to wonder if I’m jumping too far ahead. Interestingly, I noticed I was having troubles even with just basic photo processing. While I had an old unreliable version of Photoshop, Lightroom, and even Photo Essentials, I’ve never liked what they do to my photo organization. I want something that does what I tell it to do, and nothing else — so I blew all three of the Adobe products off. I can always put them back if I need the power, but for now, gone with the wind.
Designing a test batch
I decided I’d play with two sets of files. First are my moon shots from a few nights ago — they all need flipping left to right (horizontal). Second is a photo from a few years ago with Andrea and Jacob, and it’s a great shot except for a stain on her shirt. I cropped around it previously, but the shot is decent, so I’d like to just remove the blemish so to speak.
Starting the product review
I tried PhotoScape X, which was from the Windows store. I’m a little worried it doesn’t even seem to show up in my “installed files”, yet it is indeed installed. Individual photo editing seems non-intuitive, but I loved the viewer mode — it let me, for example, provide a horizontal flip on all of my moon photos in one go without reducing the file size, something other apps seem to mess with or requires me to do it one at a time. I might keep it around just for that, unless I can’t find something else I want to keep that has that functionality too. $52 if I want to upgrade to pro mode though. But the simple photo editing seemed complicated — I couldn’t even figure out how to get back to a simple pencil / paint brush editing tool.
Next up to try is inPixio Photo Clip 9, which is a free photo editor. Although as it turns out, it isn’t actually free. Almost all of the good functionality is reserved for the premium version, which is $30-$40 Canadian. Seemed too simple in format, with many missing obvious functions even for a quick touch-up. Except the photo eraser and photo cutter work fine. Not quite what I’m looking for, but an interesting set of features. I’m not a big fan of crippleware, so I uninstalled.
I tried DarkTable which was billed as a good RAW editor and manager, which was fine, but again, the interface didn’t wow me. I did manage to figure out how to do some spot removal on some photos, but nothing else about the tool excited me. And since I’m rarely using RAW right now, I uninstalled, and moved on.
Another popular one is Affinity. It’s not free, runs about $50, but it has a free trial, so why not try it? Well, for one thing, as soon as I loaded it, it told me there was a newer version. Really? Why didn’t it check that before installing? Okay, whatever. And of course there are a bunch of pop-ups. Ads for a workbook to buy. Sales on iPad versions. Try the Designer companion app for free. Save on everything in the store. Or just buy it outright. Grrr…so I got past the ads, it IS a trial version after all, and under the menu, the first thing I see is an option to do a stack. I have three pics of Jupiter that are sitting in my trial zone, so I tried it. Straight-through, no problem, stacked! Complete with adjustments, slight rotations, nicely done. It’s a little washed out when done, but I don’t think that’s the program’s fault.
I played with the stacking on two sets of Jupiter images, did okay. Tried it on a batch of moon images, there’s no “best of” option, it just did its best to include all of them. Final image was okay, but a bit blurry, which isn’t much worse than the originals. It would do in a pinch.
I switched over to the picture with the stain, and while I have no real talent, I could make it work well enough with various brushes and tools to get it to look like the stain was gone without leaving a giant colour difference in the same spot. Not awesome, but that is the painter, not the brush.
I had one more “backup” picture to play with. Taken the same day as the shirt photo, it has Jacob inside a tube slide, and while one or two of the shots at the top of the slide are okay, inside the tube it is VERY dark and almost impossible to see his face. More like a silhouette in a couple of shots, which were easily discarded. It’s far from an amazing shot, just playing with perspective and it didn’t work out. But, I opened the file, played with a bunch of preset lighting options, and after a bit of trial and error, I managed to get the colour down, the light up, the contrast showing, and it’s an usable shot. Not worth the effort, he’s too pale by the time I’m done, but there are other options I could perhaps try and get a better outcome, lighting up some areas but not others perhaps. Nevertheless, it worked. Decent tool.
And, finally, I opened something called the BATCH MODE, and it lets me do a bunch of macros including taking a bunch of files and changing the format, as well as a series of macros (converting to sRGB, stripping metadata, converting to black and white, and HELLO, flipping horizontally). Nice.
I am BARELY scratching the surface of this software and it already can do everything I want. The stacking isn’t amazing, but I’ve got astro software to do that. We have ourselves a contender, even at $50. And if you had a complicated workflow that was streamlined, you can record it as a macro. Sweet.
Next on my list is the everlasting Paint.Net. No, not quite the old Windows program, although lots of people have thought so. Will it do the job? Sure. But so will Windows Photos. And nothing in batch mode. Pass.
Also on my list was Photo Pos Pro v3, yet another free photo editor. After launching, it asked me if I wanted the PRO interface or the Novice interface. Yes, this is a good level question for me. 🙂 Novice it is. But then it asks me about my preference for colour schemes — classic / bright, high contrast (dark background), or silver. High contrast it is. So I played with the order this time…I started with the dark slide photo. One series of “AUTO FIX” options later for brightness and I got everything I got earlier. For the stain, I could probably get better at it, but it wasn’t awesome tool design, even in pro mode. But they have something called a “recovery brush”, and without knowing more about it, just gave it a go. It literally removed the stain and left the underlying shirt the matching colour nearby. Like a facial blemish removal tool, but there was a separate one for that. Decently done. For the “batch” mode, though, I found two problems. First, I tried switching between novice and pro mode, and to do so, it says you have to first save the image, and asks you if you want to save with three options: YES, NO, CANCEL. Presumably you should be able to say no, i.e. you don’t want to save, you just want to switch, but no works the same as cancel, you just go back to the same screen without changing modes. I had to close, say no to saving, and then reopen after switching. That’s just silly. Second, to get into batch mode, it has a great menu offering you the chance to add a bunch of scripts to run and add a list of files to process. But there’s no indication of where to find the scripts or how to create them (like a macro). Some decent tools, and since it’s free, I’m tempted to leave it installed.
Saving the big boy for last
For anyone who has ever looked at free photo software, the big boy on the block is Gimp. Short for Gnu Image Manipulation Program, Gimp has been around a long time. And I have never liked it.
Too complicated, too bloated, didn’t like the interface. I’ve downloaded it in Linux versions, Windows versions, you name it, I’ve tried it and despite being free, I have ALWAYS uninstalled it. But someone whose methods I’m trying to emulate often tweaks his final astro photos in Gimp, so I thought I would give it a try again.
As soon as I open it, I remember why I don’t like it. The User Interface is ugly and unfriendly. But I digress.
The stain on the shirt? Able to be removed with the healing brush. Took me a second to find it, but just layout issues, not a design flaw.
The dark slide shot? I couldn’t figure out to easily make the changes. I could make some, but beyond that, not so much.
Stacking? Not really relevant, but sure, I could do it as layers, manually.
And no “batch” processing mode to flip a bunch of photos horizontally. Sigh.
I wish I liked Gimp, I really do wish it. But I just plain don’t.
A backup question
So, if one of the things I want to do is batch process some images, like flipping them horizontally, is a photo editor even what I’m looking for? I do have XNView installed, which is a viewer and organizer. And it will let me select multiple images, convert them even to other formats (I have a bunch of GIF comics that I flip into JPGs before sharing on FB, for instance), and while I have only used the program for conversions, I realized that it does let me do a series of basic tweaks, like flipping. Through lossless JPGs. Which makes me wonder about some of the other processing? Should I have been looking for a better view and organizer rather than an editor?
And the XN group have other tools…like XNConvert which does even more than the viewer does, and also free. XNRetro adjusts lighting. And for no reason that I need, XNSketch will convert your photo into a cartoon version. Me thinks I have another category to look through before moving on to Astro processing tools.