Quick GIMP Tutorial for Photo Editing

I use GIMP, a free (yes, free) photo editing software, to enhance or modify nearly every picture I post here and in my shop.

This tutorial will:

  • Give suggestions for setting up for a good photo with limited supplies and effort
  • Explain how to use “curves”, a GIMP feature that increases the brightness and contrast of photos

You will need:

  • window (one that receives indirect light)
  • table
  • item you will be photographing
  • backdrop for item (optional)
  • digital camera (nothing fancy, I use a basic point-and-shoot)
  • GIMP software (you can download it for free here)

Directions:

1.  Position your table in front of the window.

2.  Set up your backdrop and item.  I use a plain, white canvas leftover from an art class I took at college as my backdrop.

3.  Set your camera’s white balance to “Auto” or “Daylight”, whichever gives you the truest colors when you snap a photo.  You will have to refer to your camera’s manual to learn how to do this if you need help.

4.  Get in there and take your pictures!  Snap a few from different angles and distances to see what works best for you and your item.  If you are taking up-close shots, turn on your camera’s “macro” option for clearer, crisper photos.

5.  Upload your photos to your computer.  We will be using this photo of one of my plush pet rocks for the tutorial:

Looks pretty good right?  Not too shabby on its own, but we can make it look much better.  Now you will want to open one of your photos in GIMP.

6.  To access the curves option, click “Colors” on the toolbar you see at the top of the window, then click “Curves”.  A new window will appear showing a graph-like image.  Click the diagonal line going across the graph and drag it up and to the left.  You will notice the brightness and contrast of your photo change as you move the line.  Here’s what I mean:

I find that pulling the line up and somewhere in the middle generally works well – Feel free to adjust according to your photo to make it look its best.  This is where I have decided to drag my curve:

7.  Now that your photo is bright and enhanced with contrast, click “OK” to save your changes.  You can also crop your photo by clicking the scalpel-like image in the Toolbox window.

8.  Save your edited photo and hooray, you’re done!

I know that I have only scratched the surface of what GIMP can do for my photos, but for now curves is all I need.  It gives my pictures that little added “oomph” to stand out and get noticed.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section.  I freely admit that I am no GIMP whiz so I will do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

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5 comments

  1. THANK YOU for posting this tutorial, Sasha. I’ve heard about GIMP being as good as Photoshop and I even have it downloaded on my PC. I use Picasa and Picnik for almost everything but I would very much like to try this. Great job!!!

  2. If anyone would like to make the switch from PS to GIMP but find the interface confusing (I did at first), there’s a GIMP skin for that.

    I’m a bit intimidated by curves (I know I shouldn’t be), so instead I tweak white balance via levels. Seems to work about as well for me.

    Another tip I’ve come across is using the “Unsharp Mask” filter (Filter -> Enhance -> Unsharp Mask). Properly applied, it lends a lot of natural crispness and clarity to a photo. Sometimes you need to tweak a bit, as the end result can make your image look grainy, but I’ve found a good base setting to be:

    Radius: 5
    Amount: 0.3
    Threshold: 0

    YMMV, of course. You can read more about the process here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsharp_masking

    • Ooo – I will definitely have to try the Unsharp Mask option – Thanks for sharing! I also used to use Levels – Which gives you the same result essentially, but I was having a problem with overexposure using it so I switched to curves which helped that.


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