How to give photos a free shot of "oomph" (come GIMP with me!)

23 Aug

I’m all in favour of a little helping hand when it comes to digital photo making. Sometimes you find a so-so photo that has the potential to be fab.. if only it weren’t so flat.

I use a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop CS4 to give my photos a kick up the arse when they need it, but there’s plenty of tools out there that will do the job just as well for free (like totally!). One of my favourites is GIMP.

So what can it do? Well pretty much what Photoshop can to be honest. It handles the most common fixes I use, a bit of colour boost and sharpening. And like Photoshop there are loads of ways to get the same result. When you find one you like you tend to stick with it. Go on, find something dull and washed out and give it a kick (no not you OH – you want to GIMP them then that’s a whole other post).

Something more like this.

Pretty dull huh?

Here’s what GIMP looks like once you have opened a file in it and maximised the window… on the left you have a Toobox which is basically all the thing you can turn your cursor into Β and on the right you have some info to help you work with the opened file.

The first thing I usually do is crop my photo – I rarely manage to frame things the way I like in camera – I am working on it though.

The crop tool is in the Toolbox, you just click on it to activate it then click and drag to select the area of your image you wish to keep before hitting enter to confirm (you can also use the arrow keys once you have selected an area should you wish to nudge it over a bit).

Next I fill the screen with my image so I can see it better (must be an age thing).

OK, now I’m going to brighten this thing up using a few of my favourite methods.. a Levels Adjustment, a Curves Adjustment, the Sharpen filter and a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment. You can use them together or separately depending on how much oomph you think your photo needs.

I always make a duplicate layer first, that way if I make a real pig’s ear of things I can just delete the layer with all the adjustments and get my original photo back again quickly.

Always make sure the copy layer is selected before doing anything else! (you don’t wanna hear the swearing I do when I realise I’ve edited my original).

First I fix the Levels.

When I select this option a Levels Adjustment box opens and I can fiddle about with the settings until I get something I like – GIMP previews my changes as I make them and before I commit to them – which is very helpful indeed.

For a basic pop I drag the black triangle on the left and the white triangle on the right in a bit towards the middle – just a bit usually but since the input Β levels on this particular photo are skewed to the left I’ve pulled the light one in far enough to meet where it tapers off. Click OK then to see the effect of this adjustment you can switch the duplicate layer on and off by clicking on the eye next to it

Here’s it on (visible)

And here’s if off (hidden)

That one adjustment is often all it takes.

But I usually prefer things to be a bitty more dramatic (who’d have thunk it?).

Another favourite adjustment of mine is a Curves Adjustment. It’s a powerful tool and the one I use to recreate all sorts of vintage looks but for now I’m just using it to inject even more oomph into this scene. So… still working on the duplicate layer…

… opens up the Curves adjustment box.

You can click on that straight line anywhere you want and drag it into all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes. Each time you click a new anchor point is created and you can have a ball with it. For now though I’m just going to tweak it into an elongated “S” shape so bump up my highlights and lowlights.

Nearly there.

One thing I can’t live without is Lightroom’s Sharpen, it’s a serious bit of kit and has more than adequately replaced some rather expensive Photoshop Actions as my preferred tool. GIMP gives it a pretty good shot though.

For this image I slide it up to 42 – it’s a trial and error thing – if you do apply an adjustment and think better of it the universal get-out (Ctrl-Z) will undo it.

The final thing I’m going to do with this photo may sound like a step backward but meh – it’s easy to overdo things. All that lowlight boosting has left it a bit dark for my liking so a quick Brightness/Contrast Adjustment fixes it nicely.

I slide them both up to 20 in the Brightness/Contrast adjustment box.

And that’s the lot.

If after all this work you do feel it’s all a bit too much you can always reduce the opacity of the duplicate layer. This in effect “turns down” the adjustments.

Before I can save it as a JPEG I must flatten the image.

This merges all the visible layers and gets rid of any transparencies leaving me with something I can “Save As” a new JPEG file.

And here’s the Before and After.

Those few adjustments give the scene a bit more depth, the light is more directional and the reflections on the ceiling have appeared from nowhere.

Have a go. You can download GIMP for free HERE.

And I’d love to see what you come up with.


11 Responses to “How to give photos a free shot of "oomph" (come GIMP with me!)”

  1. Priness_L_88 August 23, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    I love you! I really really love you! I have been attempting to learn how to use GIMP for a couple of weeks now and failing epically! Thank you so much for posting this! *bookmarks*

    • mrsw August 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

      You are very welcome – I might make this a regular feature if there’s interest – GIMP can do a LOT πŸ™‚

  2. cartside August 23, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    oh thank you for that! I’ve tried Gimp in the past but just fail to understand the whole concept of a layer and what to do with this. Curves? Never heard of it (well, not in photoediting software anyway)! Your post gives a great starting point, just to know what is worthwhile trying out from all those options and what it actually does to the image.

    • mrsw August 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

      Once you get the hang of layers you can start doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things to photos πŸ™‚

  3. Marylin August 23, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    What a great tutorial! GIMP seems to have changed for the better since I last tried it about 2 years ago. πŸ™‚

    • mrsw August 23, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

      GIMP is the business these days – was well surprised to see it supported layers – the only thing missing really is masking but you can fudge that.

  4. Spudballoo August 24, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Oh you are SO clever!!! I just cant’ cope with PS at all, it’s too much for my Small Brain. GIMP appalls me due to (a) its name, snigger and (b) how similar it is to PS!!

    Fabulous post, you clever clever thing. xx

    • mrsw August 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

      Yeah I am always a bit uneasy GIMPING my photos πŸ˜› I feel such a heel when people ask me how I got a look and I have to mutter that it was Photoshop when it’s so bloody expensive (we get it Education otherwise I’d choke at the price). I think I can probably recreate about 90% of what I do in PS in GIMP – I’m going to give it a try anyway – textures next I think πŸ™‚

  5. Satakieli August 26, 2010 at 8:40 am #

    Nice edit, I adore that gimp is free and think it’s a fabulous tool but I’m afraid nothing will convince me to give up Lightroom.

    Great tutorial though!

    • mrsw August 26, 2010 at 9:50 am #

      Nothing would convince me either! When people ask me for advice on taking photos it would disingenuous of me to suggest they are straight out of the camera πŸ™‚ It’s easy to say I edited it in Photoshop/Lightroom using MCP Actions, Noiseware Professional and Alien Skin filters but that’s a heck of software investment. Unless you qualify for higher education discount you’re looking at the best part of Β£1k for that lot 😦 With GIMP now supporting layers I can show a lot of what I do with my photos and anyone can have a go at recreating it. It’s fab πŸ™‚

  6. Tenille August 27, 2010 at 4:40 am #

    That’s a brilliant tutorial, thank you!

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