Enhancing Color

Click on the photo to read the steps if it's too small.  Notice how the photo on the left has a "gray haze"?  At first the color seems great, until you look at the one on the right.  I was standing in the same spot and the photos were taken only seconds apart, I just happened to have these two photos side by side on the screen when I thought "quick tutorial".  This is what I do to bring true color out without really doing any editing effects.  There aren't any overlays, minus the use of the original photograph, no brush work and no filters.  These steps won't work on all photos in every scenario.  Sometimes the use of "multiply" is too much, sometimes just using "overlay" mode isn't enough.  You have to find what's going to work for the series of photos you are editing and go with it (see post below).

Editing a Series

[Many steps in the tip below are geared toward beginners as they learn about their images and their programs used to edit them.  If you are familiar enough, being as meticulous can be skipped.]

If you have a series of photos to be edited, lets say there's a color defect, so your process to color correct is being repeated over and over again, you'll need to keep track of your actions.  From your first image type up each and every step you take and settings you use.  Some settings will save, some won't.  Put these in a notepad document and save it with a title to match your project.  Even if you make a mistake, don't erase the mistake you typed up, keep it (trust me, you might need this info later), just put on there that you hit undo until "this" step.  The reason for this is if you undo, then move on, then realize you actually had it right the first time, your original steps are gone from the Gimp undo dialog.  The only way to get that back is to back track through your document or if you saved your edited image before you hit undo.

Once you get your steps right for how you want to edit your series, save the original notepad document, then resave again under a new name.  Alter the document to reflect only the steps you need to take and take those steps on your next image.  Did it turn out the same?  Note: certain items will need to be tweeked from one image to the next do to lighting changes, etc, however the basic steps and settings should be pretty close.  You don't want to color correct a series and later see that one photo has too much blue taken out and another not enough. Repeating the same general steps will prevent this.  In real life colors shift a bit and is so subtle we don't notice but in a framed collage setting someone will if you don't do it correctly.  You could say this is a "learn from my mistake" tip.

Borders, Overlays and Masks

This graphic shows an example of what a border, overlay or mask will do.  You don't have to use those mask layers as specifically intended.  I often use them in just a layer mode setting for effects more than actual editing and selecting.

The black and white image is the border used on both photos.  The one on the left is used when the image is black with a white border, the one on the right is white with a black border.  Note the gray edges and how the yellow coat pops and his face is highlighted.

Many are frightened about using overlays like these because they don't know how to use them and in their raw state they look kind of ugly.  Don't fret.  If there are items on the overlay you dislike, do some brush work, even eraser work, smudge it, blur it.  Use invert, rescale, pixelate, noise.

Undo - Making and Fixing Mistakes

First off, I can't stress enough about saving as you go as well as saving in layers (xcf, psd).  As a reminder, I always use the word "edit" in my saved title and sometimes I add a number to designate the edited version, so I know that this image isn't finished and should not be shared.  Saving these can also help prove yourself in a copyright case, as I had to once before.  Some projects you'll find you save more edits than others.  Now that digital storage (thumb drives, CD's, DVD's, external hard drives) is getting cheaper and cheaper, it doesn't hurt to keep these around.

When should you save an edited version?  That depends on you and your project.  If you think you'll want to create another version of this but with certain changes, save just before you go in one direction, such as erasing and recoloring.  I always keep the bottom layer as my unedited base image in case I need a quick copy.  It's usually called "background" by default.

When you first install Gimp, it has a default setting for undo levels.  This setting is inadequate, especially once you apply a script-fu.  So if you have ever wanted to undo something but can only go so far, there's a fix for this.  Go into the main Gimp box and click on File> Preferences> Environment.  I have my settings at 99 undo levels and 100 megabytes of undo memory.  This seems to be fine for what I do and for my system resources.  Even when I was running W98, 1 gig ram with 14 gigs of memory, it seemed to work just fine.

Now when you make a mistake you should be able to back yourself up through your undo levels or simply by opening up a saved edit.

XCF Revisited - Layers and Filters Too

I was just asked again what an XCF file is and if she should use this file instead of something else.  I believe I have covered this before but I will cover it again for those that may be new or missed it.

An XCF file is a Gimp image file and you can only open it (currently) with the Gimp program.  If you are familiar with Photoshop, XCF is Gimp's equivalent.  What makes an XCF file special is that you can save your work in layers and including any guides, masks etc. you have added.

Do you save as a PSD or an XCF?  That's for you to decide.  I usually save as a PSD so I can swap the image between different programs, as well as the fact that ACDSee (an image organizer and viewer) can translate a PSD into a thumbnail.  I did find that an XCF file does save faster and at a slightly smaller file size.  I have not seen any quality difference between the two.

What do I mean by swap?  For some reason I like the Gimp text tool so much better than Adobe's.  I don't do a lot of text on a path (meaning I leave most of my text in a straight line), but I like adding layer styles to the text.  If I save as a PSD then open it back up in Photoshop, I can add the style to the text layer.  Use this with caution as some layers will apply to a layer and other layers will vanish, but this is rare with Photoshop - not so rare with Gimp's script-fu.  To get around this you can save that layer as a separate image and edit it, save, import back into image.  How?  In Gimp layers dialog box click on the text layer, then in the image box select Edit>Copy, Edit>Paste As New.  Save image.  Edit in Gimp with script-fu or open in Photoshop and add your layer style.

What is a layer style?  Layer styles are like Gimp's script-fu's.  They are a single click transformation of your shape or text.  You can make something look like glass, metal, neon... choices are endless.  With a layer style you don't see the steps used to create the effect.  Photoshop also has actions which are like layer styles but with more creativity and actions allow for editing several layers at once, depending on the action used.  Elements does not use actions, only the Creative Suite line.  So now when you are reading a PS tutorial trying to interpret it into Gimp you'll know what they are talking about.  As of right now Gimp cannot use Adobe layer styles or actions like they can some brushes and filters.

Filters?  Filters are awesome.  When you have time to play with these, you should.  Filters are a set of quick commands given to the program to edit an image.  Filters by themselves might not have that wow effect until you learn that in Gimp and Photoshop nothing is limited, you can keep pushing the limits until you created what you wanted.  I use filters all of the time to enhance a photo with layer modes.  If you have a photo open right now try this quick trick as an example.  Copy your image in the layers dialog box.  Click on the new layer (called selecting layer), and in the image box click on Filters> Artistic> Photocopy.  Now you should have a cartooney black and white image.  Click on Mode in the layers dialog box and change the setting to overlay.  Interesting right?  Now try this: click in the image box Layers> Transparency> Color to Alpha.  Default is set to white, leave that and click ok.  It should have removed all white from that layer and now you have different results.

As I said... Limitless.  Now go have some fun!