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Digital Image Editing with GIMP

by Alan German

Sure, you could go wild and buy Adobe Photoshop CS6 for around $750 (or perhaps the Extended edition for more like $1050). Or, maybe you would be satisfied with their baby brother, Adobe Photoshop Elements, at around $100. Then again, you could get most of the power, with none of the cost, by trying GIMP - the GNU Image Manipulation Program.

Currently at Version 2.8, this open-source software, is available for both Windows and Linux. Its current claim to fame is that the program will run in a single window, rather than the separate image window and floating tool bars that were used previously. Of course, having the program run in a single window isn't the default, and making it do so isn't necessarily intuitive. While one might think it would be necessary to find a setting under Edit - Preferences, the "Single-window mode" toggle is actually located under the Windows menu.




Once enabled, the program window contains a display of the current image being processed, various tool bars and, of course, the main menu. There is an array of image selection tools, a wide range of pencils and brushes, the ability to add text in various fonts, dozens of image filters, and many more options. While these provide a bewildering range of features, some frequently-used image editing items are readily implemented.

For example cropping an image is simply a matter of clicking the mouse on the Rectangle Select Tool (the rectangle icon in the top-left corner of the first tool bar), then clicking on the image at a point marking the top-left corner of the area to be cropped, holding the mouse button down and dragging the cursor to the bottom-right corner of the area to be cropped. The selected area is now outlined by a rectangle. Making the cut is as simple as selecting Image - Crop to Selection from the main menu.

To adjust the brightness and contrast of an image, select Colors - Brightness/Contrast from the main menu. Adjusting the slider bars creates an instant preview of the potential changes. Once you are satisfied, simply press the OK button.

Red-eye removal may be even easier. From the main menu, select Filters - Enhance - Red Eye Removal. It is quite likely that the software will correctly identify - and fix - the subject red eyes. Magic!

However, sometimes, the red-eye removal process doesn't work too well automatically. One issue can be if the young lady with the red eyes is wearing a red dress. Automatic red-eye removal will fix the eyes, but will also change the dress to black! As the dialogue box states: "Manually selecting the eyes may improve the results". So, it's clearly time for a little manual processing. (It turns out all that is necessary is to select each of the subject's red eyes in turn, using the Ellipse Select Tool, before applying the red-eye removal filter.)

Such usage details are readily available in GIMP's help system. However, the user manual isn't part of a regular download of GIMP. A language-specific (e.g. English) version can be obtained in a separate download process. But, this may not be necessary since, for most users, the on-line manual is readily available over a high-speed link, and the context of the help request leads directly to the required information. And, the official documentation isn't the only source of assistance. There are many web sites that provide GIMP tutorials, tips and tricks, and even video tutorials on YouTube to show you how to do specific tasks.

I found one new program feature that I don't much like when it came time to save my modified image. In the past, this was as simple as File - Save; however, this option now brings up a warning that the file can only be "saved" in GIMP's native XCF file format. One now has to use File - Export to save a JPG file as a JPG. This isn't a show stopper, but for past users of the program it is certainly a minor annoyance.

GIMP is an extremely powerful image editor, but using the program can be as easy or as complex as you might wish. The good news is that the software, being an open-source product, is available at no cost. So, you can download it, try it, and determine if GIMP fits your digital image editing requirements.

Bottom Line:

GNU Image Manipulation Program (Open-Source)
Version 2.8

Originally published: October, 2012

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