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Review: Gimp 2.8 for Photographers

GIMP WITH PICTUREWith Adobe’s Photoshop moving to the cloud and a subscription basis, there has been a strong movement of hobbysists and amateur photographers to seek an alternative image editing software that is less expensive and unthethered.

I have been teaching workshops on Image Editing for the past thirteen years and in the past few months the inquiries and requests that I teach a workshop with alternative image editing software have increased. I had absolutely no skills in any image editing software other than Photoshop and so I began to look into other ways to edit images to see what was available.

Right on time for my needs Rocky Nook sent me a review copy of Klaus Goelker’s new book Gimp 2.8 for Photographers: Image Editing with Open Source Software, and I immediately opened the back of the book and removed the DVD that is attached there and loaded Gimp 2.8 onto my computer.

Since Gimp 2.8 is an open source software, it is designed to run versions on Mac, Windows, and Linux. Though the screen shots of the application may look slightly different on each platform the essential elements and tools remain in the same menu places in each version.

The DVD explains how to install the application, and in addition to the application itself, the DVD contains a PDF version of the book. I immediately downloaded a copy of the PDF to my Dropbox account and then retrieved the PDF on my iPad mini so that I could read the book where ever I was and that it would lie flat (as an iPad is wont to do) and would not entail fighting the tendency of book pages to flip themselves out of position.

It took a while for the PDF to upload to Dropbox, and an a slightly less equal time for it to be retrieved by my iPad.  Transferring the PDF to a reader as my iPad mini gave me choices of iBooks, Notability, GoodReader, NoteTaker HD, Skitch, FileApp, and FileApp Pro, Bluefire Reader and Kindle as these were all reader applications I had loaded on my iPad mini. I chose IBooks for no other reason than it was the first of my options. I downloaded it first to my iPad mini but found the diagrams a bit small for my old eyes so I dug out my older iPad 2 and downloaded it again, and again opened it in iBooks. My old eyes appreciated this larger display of the screen shots that are used continuously throughout the book.    

As an aside here, I think that including a PDF version of the book along with the printed copy is a fantastic benefit. One of the things that I have always hated when I am trying to follow a step-by-step procedure in a printed book is the usual need to put weights on opposite sides of the book to hold the pages down to keep the book open while I work on the computer. The ability to use an iPad or similar reader to lie nicely flat beside my computer while I am working is of great value to me.  This keeps me from having to break the spine of the book so badly in order to lie flat that the pages start to break away from the binding. Damaging the book seems like a real waste when it is printed on acid free paper and of really excellent printing quality. OK, that’s my $.02 on that subject. On to Klaus Goelker’s excellent instruction book itself.

He begins his instruction with an introduction to the GIMP program itself and a general look at the arrangement of the windows and menus encountered in beginning to work with the program. This is followed with a discussion on printing and the drivers necessary for GIMP to work with various makes of printers.

Scanning and image calculation for scanning follows, along with the usual problems encountered in scanning. This includes moire effect and unsquare scanning that requires rotation to solve the unsquare image. This is done in a step by step manner that the newcomer to GIMP should practice. Moving on,  the author picks up correction in levels and color and exposure. (I should mention here that all the images that the author uses as examples are available on the DVD that accompanies the book and it is suggested that the student new to GIMP download the images and follow the step by step procedures as Klaus Goelker demonstrates them.)

Curves and the placement of control points (as well as how to remove them) are next demonstrated. Hue and saturation adjustments are next. Then there’s an overview of the functions from the Colors Menu. Saving an image for the Internet is next.

As demonstrations contine, Touchup work is the next topic. This includes Color Casts, then we move on to removing spots, dust, and scratches. Cloning  for retouching and rebuilding damaged images is shown. 

(While not all key commands are the same between the Mac and the PC and while it seems that most of these commands are demonstrated in the Windows versions, translating each to the Mac is relatively easy with a little experimentation –using only a single button mouse on the Mac is the culprit.)

Healing, filters, sharpening, noise reduction, Gaussian blur, Non Linear, Edge Enhancement, Simulating Film Grain, are all demonstrated in step by step procedures which use the sample images provided on the DVD which accompanies the book.

Part 3 of the volume introduces us to Masks and Layers and the corresponding painting, filling, and color tools. Selections and edit menus give us means of modifying our selections. Red eye removal is demonstrated along with suggestions as to how to avoid it in the first place. The seemingly magic abilities of layers and how they work is explored. Correcting over and under-exposed images can be corrected in layers. Using Perspective Correction shows how to eliminate out of parallel appearing lines in images taken at less than optimum camera angles.  Removing Lens Distortion, Making Perspective Corrections, and Reducing Vingetting are next.

Freshening a Dull Sky gives us another eleven pages of step by step procedures, and this is followed by adding a sun and sunlight modifications. Now the author introduces the procedures of adding text to an image; this includes creating three-dimensional text and drop shadows. Creating Vignettes and picture frames are next, followed by Lighting Effects and Shadow Layers.

Next in the step by step procedures is Extracting Image Objects with Select and Masking Tools. Using the Paths Tool to create Vector Forms and Selections is followed by the use of Filters for Light Effects.

Paths and Text are demonstrated, aligning images with the alignment tool, and the Cage Transform Tool are defined and demonstrated step by step. Cross-Fading with Masks and Selections are followed by ways to modify the canvas size.  This is well explained in nine pages of diagrams and screen shots.

One of the more interesting tools is the Foreground Select Tool and it is thoroughly explained over another seven pages. Then another six pages cover how to do the same masking technique with brushes. It’s complex, but the illustrations are more than adequate to grasp the technique. My only complaint up to this point is to wish that the author had at times used an annotation program to draw a square or circle around a particular menu so it was easier to more quickly follow just where an item was located.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging is defined. HDR imaging is beyond the standard download of GIMP until a number of add-ons on plug ins are added, but the author tells you where to go on the Internet to find the appropriate PC and Mac software to add HDR techniques.

Layer Masks are introduced with five pages of step by step instructions, and will work slightly differently than what the Photoshop user will expect. However, following the steps that are demonstrated will siffice for the novice user of GIMP.

Section 4 of the book concerns Working With Black and White and Color Images and is broken down into a number of exercises. It begins with Converting Color Images Partly or Entirely Into Grayscale Images. Using the Channel Mixer begins the discussion of converting color images to black and white, and using the GEGL techniques are briefly discussed. But GEGL techniques are an as yet incomplete part of GIMP 2.8 and leave much yet to another discussion when completed. Threshold, Desaturation, and simulated Infrared techniques are discussed and shown as exercises. The tricky techniques of using the Threshold function to separate hair from a background is demonstrated. It’s followed by the method of using Channels to extract an object from the background, and that section was followed by methods of Coloring Grayscale Images. That took another fourteen pages so you can see that it covered a number of techniques.

Section 5, looks at working with Other File Formats. Raw, Gimp and UFRaw (a user installed addition to the basic GIMP 2.8.0 but not the 2.8.2 version, but UFRaw can be operated as a stand-alone program), and RawTherapee take twenty five pages of discussion and explanation.

Finally, the use of PDF Formatting to Share Print Layouts begins to end the book. How to use GIMP to produce PDFs and a discussion of the available free alternative PDF Creation and Viewing Software. Open Office, Libre Office, and the PDF Import Plug-in for Open Office are introduced. NitroPDFReader includes PDF editing tools—available in both PC and Mac versions. Exporting and reading Photoshop’s PSD files with GIMP are not 100% compatible as so functions of PSD files fail to make the translation. A chart shows which functions are compatible.

An Appendix gives a couple of “Easter Eggs”—almost hidden gems of wisdom and a THANK YOU to the translator (Mr. Jeremy Cloot) who took the original text and translated it into English, and who did a very good job of it in my opinion.

It’s taken me 1,600 words or so to cover this review, as well as a solid week of following the exercises on my computer. I’ve taken the time because I honestly wanted to learn GIMP as an alternative Graphic Editing Program. A week is not enough time to become totally proficient with GIMP, but it is enough time to decide that Klaus Goelker’s book is an excellent one. It will most certainly be read again as I try to become competent with GIMP, and I can recommend it whole-heartedly to the beginning photographer or graphic designer who cannot enter into the long term contract with Adobe in the company’s new approach to renting their software as opposed to selling it. I wanted to itemize the contents of Mr. Goelker’s book so the reader can have a full idea of what the book covers. It’s 400 pages (in paperback) of thorough instruction, with a DVD of GIMP and a number of Plug-Ins or add-ons, as well as practice images. It’s a good buy!

GIMP 2.8 for Photographers: Image Editing with Open Source Software by Klaus Goelker, Rocky Nook Press, ISBN 978-1-937538-26-2, US$ 39.95, CAN$ 41.95 and $24.65 from Amazon. Amazon can also deliver a Kindle version alone for $16.95 and if you have good eyes and a larger screen iPad or Kindle device that $16.95 is a real deal; it might even convince you to buy the full sized book version just for the ease of reference usage.

By Dr. Michael N. Roach

Dr. Michael N. Roach is a retired Professor of Art from Stephen F. Austin State University. His 33 year teaching career spans the silver to digital age. His images have been shown throughout the American South, Russia, Ireland and France; some of them are in the permanent collection of the Combes Gallery at The American University of Paris in France. An avid Mac Computer advocate he teaches workshops on digital imaging and courses in Adobe Photoshop as well as digital printing for the Fine Arts.