Saturday, April 14, 2012

GIMP Filters and Exposure Levels

If you've been with me so far, you'll be up to speed on the fact that I'm a beginning photographer interested in passing along my musings as I discover them. This time, it's a little different. I've been a GIMP user for many years, and as it is a lot like Photoshop, it can be rather intimidating, with a steep learning curve. I've not even so much as touched most of what GIMP can do, in spite of having used it since around 2003. I tend to gravitate toward the things that it performs easily, or automatically, and many of these easy-peasy features are truly superb!

If you've bought and learned Photoshop, you are likely way ahead of me anyway. However, if all you have is the software that came with your camera, or rely on Windows Photo Editor, and if you're Photoshop-curious, but don't wish to lay out the big bucks for it, I strongly encourage you to download and install GIMP here. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Moving along, above is a picture I shot near Reversing Falls in Saint John NB, using my preferred setup - the Canon EOS 40D with Sigma 17-70 Zoom. This is straight from the camera, with only the GIMP Color > Auto > White Balance applied; also I cropped it to a 4:3 ratio (DSLR's shoot 3:2, which is too tall and skinny for a vertical picture). It's not a bad pic, is it? I like the composition elements, but the foreground is a little bit too busy, so I thought I'd like to keep them in the picture, but tame them down somehow. I'll jump right to my final product, and then show you how I got there:

As you can see, there's more "punch" in the main part of the composition, ending up with brighter colors, more detail around the door of the old furnace, but I reduced the detail in the foreground, without actually losing any of what the objects were contributing to the picture.

To accomplish this, I only did two things with GIMP - 1) The Lomo Filter, and 2) adjusted the color curves. This time, I discovered that "Lomo" doesn't have to be a simulation of Low Fidelity cheap plastic cameras. I simply dialed down some of the effects, especially the blurring, and I made the wide-angle distortion a bit less pronounced. I kept the Vignette effect (darkening of the corner regions) strong however. The darkening was a bit too much, but rather than dialing it down and repeating, I thought I'd try something else. Using the "Color > Curves" function, I raised the curve a bit from it's default flat-line. It gives a real-time preview, so I just slid the mouse back and forth along the curve whilst pulling it upward, and this restored just a hint of the detail in the old staircase, and, to my delight also found a lot of hidden detail around the door that was even not visible in my original shot!

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