Friday, November 1, 2013

The Halloween GIMP

Everyone knows the power of photo editing via computer software (including what you can now do with your hand-held computer / smart-phone. By far, the most popular photo editing software is PhotoShop - it has become the by-word of this type of application (as in "this photo must have been PhotoShopped!") But PhotoShop is expensive; always was. Even with their new scheme of renting the software with a monthly payment, it's expensive. Then there's PhotoShop Elements, which is a more stripped down version, and much cheaper to buy. It even is included for free when you buy certain hardware - for example, I bought my Epson V500 Photo Scanner for $139 on sale, and the normally $89 PS Elements was included with it. Many up scale digital cameras also include Elements in the box.

My own personal choice is GIMP, which is always free, for Linux, Windows and Mac. It functions a whole lot like PS Elements - if you're accustomed to Elements, or even the full blown big brother PhotoShop, then you'll have no trouble adapting to GIMP. I found the reverse to be true - I've been using GIMP for years, but just bought my scanner last year, and so loaded up PS Elements to run under Windows 7. Aside from having a lot less features than GIMP, the experience is so similar, I quickly found everything I needed in the menu structure. To the best of my knowledge, Elements has one advantage - it will edit a 16-bit TIF file, but GIMP can only export a 16-bit file by first down-converting it to 8-bit. All of us GIMP fans are still waiting for the 16-bit package to become available. The difference is barely visible on a screen, but somewhat more visible when printing.

Anyway, this is one little demonstration of what can be done with GIMP - I wanted to take an after dark Halloween photo, taken with my EOS 5D and Sigma 50mm f1.4 lens, make it look like a foggy night, add some film grain and convert it to black and white. The original was shot at f2.8, ISO 1600, and shutter spee of 1/30 sec, so there is a bit of motion blur, as seen below:

Original Photo
End Result
Colour Transition
 So, the step by step in GIMP was very easy -

  1. Crop the photo to improve the composition (Tools > Transform tools > Crop)
  2. "Save" the Image - don't "Export" yet - this will ensure it is kept in GIMP's own format (*.xcf), so there will be no quality loss with subsequent edits. 
  3. Add a layer of Fog (Filters > Render > Clouds > Fog). Fog will be added as a Layer, so you can control both the original picture and what the fog looks like separately. I brightened the original picture a bit, and also, separately changed the fog colour.
  4. Once you get the fog looking like you want it, you can combine the layers (Image > Flatten Image)
  5. Now I wanted to turn the street lamp into the dominant light source, so I added a "light" to the image (Filters > Light and Shadow > Lighting Effects... > Light). This gives you all kinds of options, including the placement, colour and behaviour of the "Light". I made the light directional, moved it to the right source point over the street lamp (with mouse) and changed the colour from pure white to pale yellow.
  6. Add some film grain (Filters > Noise > Add film grain).... again lots of options.
  7. Save it again
  8. Export the colour image as a JPG (File > Export and select file type JPEG)
  9. Re-open the *.xcf Image to do the further work
  10. Change the xcf image to a B&W (Colours > BW Film Simulation) Choose your favourite B&W film type, click on "Auto Levels" and click OK.
  11. Brighten the picture's highlights (Colours > Curves... and then boost the upper part of the line by dragging it with your mouse)
  12. "Save as..." and be sure to give the BW version a different filename if you want to keep the colour version too.
  13. Finally, export the BW image as a JPG (File > Export, and select file type JPEG)

Any good photo editing tool offers tremendous creative options. I tend to stick with what looks real - if the "fog" didn't look like the real thing, I wouldn't use it.

So there you have it - a dark, murky and creepy picture for Halloween, with lots of kids, little and big, having fun.

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