HiQ photos, 6: The Gimp

Many people don’t have the funds necessary for buying Photoshop and end up using a cracked (and possibly infected) illegal copy or some really bad editing solutions.

However there is a completely legal and really good quality alternative available for you. This article tries to recreate the workflow I showed in an earlier article about working with Photoshop but with this alternative instead.

The Gimp is a free (as in no cost) open source tool very similar to Photoshop and you can do almost anything you can with Photoshop in in a similar way. It also has the same kind of tools and is organized in the same way. With the proper training you can achieve the same quality with a program that costs…… nothing more than your effort.

There are versions for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux and translations exists for many languages… like my native Swedish and Gimp automatically adjust to the language preferences on your computer and shows up with the right language. It is therefore very easy to shift from Swedish to English like i just did for the snapshots in this article, that is much more difficult in Photoshop.

If you are on a Mac like I am, the Gimp runs under the X11.window system and that makes it a bit harder to install than a normal Mac program. There are some special packaging made for Mac by third parties, so if you have these problems you can go with for example Gimpshop.
(Let me know if you get stuck and I will try to help you.)

You can download The Gimp here:
http://www.gimp.org/

One other advantage that The Gimp has over Photoshop is that it is very easy to make your own short keys for all the tasks you normally do. As I work both in Photoshop and in The Gimp I have tried to make The Gimp behave as close to Photoshop as possible. If you look at the photo above  you can see where you do these settings and below you can read what short keys I have set in there.

Resize: alt + cmd + S
Layers: cmd + L
Contrast: cmd + K
Saturation: cmd + U
Brush tool: B
Crop tool: C
and so on……

In the rest of the article I will use those shortcuts above, but if you do not change them they will be completely different.

There are many different way to do the same tasks in both Photoshop and in The Gimp. In a later post I will explain about the adjustment layers and other wonderful tools. But today the focus is how to make your photos stand out in the quickest possible way. The steps below might seem complicated at first but i don’t spend more than 1-2 minutes in Photoshop for every photo that prepare for the web and you will soon be that quick to…. and believe me… it is worth every minute!

1. Start The Gimp and open your snapshot.

2. Crop the photo. It is important to try to focus on what we want to say in the photo and get rid of other distraction things and let the eye have an easy path for understanding the photo. With the HiQ setting we now have a much bigger resolution to work with. A normal photo now can be like in this example 2880 x 1704 pixels and normally we don’t want bigger photos that 800 pixels on the longest side for photos intended for a blog or the forum of InWorldz. That gives us plenty of space to play with.

Press C to activate the crop tool. Put the mouse arrow in the upper left corner of the desired area hold down the mouse button and drag to the lower right hand corned. Let go of the mouse button when you have the right area selected. If you made a mistake just press ESC and redo it once more. If you want to have an even square, then hold down the shift-key and drag with the mouse. This  is perfect if you plan to post at flickr for example, because square photos looks best there.

3. Levels. Often the photos from InWordlz gets exposed wrong in the parts of the photo that we think are the important ones. After the crop it is time to adjust the exposure. The easiest way is to do that with a tool called Levels.

Bring up the Level window with the short key Ctrl-L (PC) or CMD-L (Mac). Often there is no info staples at the rightmost part like in this image. The photo is badly exposed in photo language. If so drag the rightmost handle to the left until it touches the staples of black. Sometimes you need to do the same at with the left handle and drag it so it touches the first information staples. Lastly you might have to adjust the middle tones with the handle in the middle to make the exposure perfect.

I hope you see the difference between those two images before and after. I happens very often that photos from InWorldz gets this way and are wrongly exposed in my opinion. Now you know a good trick to fix that…  😉

4. Saturation. Many photos will look washed out, pale and uninteresting right out of InWorldz. To increase saturation a little bit is an easy way to give them more “punch”.
Open the Saturation window with the short key Ctrl-U (PC) and CMD-U (Mac). In the lower part you find the slider for saturation. I often use +20 increase in The Gimp or so. Look at the photo below to see the difference to the one above.

5. Make the final size. I normally choose 800 pixel at the longest size, that works good on Flickr, blogs and forums. If it is already smaller than that then that’s so… just leave it. Never make a photo bigger without special tools.
Call up the size tool with the shortcuts Ctrl-Alt-S (PC) CMD-Alt-S (Mac). Now be sure that the link tool (marked by the red  arrow here) is turned on so that the proportions don’t gets changed. Then enter 800 in the field with the highest number and click the Scale button.

6. Sharpen it. This is always the final step and must be done after the photo is in its final size. For my RL photos i need something better but for InWorldz  snapshotsthe built-in tool unsharp mask is good enough. You find that tool in the menu Filters/Enhance/Unsharp Mask.

Settings: Amount=0.50 (if you get white borders like sugar crust at hight contrast areas, then lower to 0.4),  Radius= 5.0, Threshold= 0…… thats it. Press OK when it looks good.

7. Save your masterpiece! Normally you should save in a non compression format like PNG. BUT!!! The forum only accepts JPG-files and only up to a size of 250 KB and that means that if your files are supposed to be posted in the forum you have to save them as JPG and lower the quality to maybe 10, so that the filesize is below the 250 KB limit.

Call up the save as dialogue with the short key Shift-Ctrl-S. When I am done with a photo i normally save it in a dedicated folder called, Blog, Forum or Out, so that i easily can track what photos are post processed and so on. I also change the filename and ad something like out to the name to further make that clear.

Change the Format to PNG, but if it is intended for the forum change to JPG instead and press Save. With JPG you have to click the Export button in the following Export dialogue to get to the quality dialogue. Be sure that the show preview is click in to show the file size and drag the quality slider so you get a file size just below 250 KB and press Save!

Look below to see the final result of our effort and compare to what we started with.

Now compare with the result from Photoshop…. nice huh…  how many 100 dollars (ponds/euros) did we save there?
So the next time you are using the free Gimp instead of expensive Photoshop or some really bad tool… think a nice thought about me…   ;o)

If you have endured all this way…. WOW… you are really wanting to make great photos!!! Now save those photos for the upcoming photo contest to be announced soon!

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