Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Photo Editing with Gimp - Brightness and Contrast

One of the fastest and easiest tweaks you can make to improve your photos is brightness and contrast. 

I haven't quite mastered exposure with my digital camera yet, so many of the photos I have taken are either too bright or too dark, resulting in my subject looking washed out or dim.  Again, Gimp to the rescue!

Let's use the original photo I took of the sign at the Loveless Cafe in Nashville as an example. 

See how the color of the sign (which is brilliant blue, in person) doesn't really pop?  And how the trees look muted in the background, despite their gorgeous fall hues?

To begin work on it, I drag the photo into my Gimp workspace.  Then I select the menu options, Colors and Brightness-Contract, like this:

A Brightness-Contrast dialog window opens, like this:

I can do one of three things to adjust Brightness and Contrast here.  I can:
  • click on the slider button in the middle for Brightness and/or Contrast
  • click the up or down arrow to the right of the number box for Brightness and/or Contrast; or
  • type a number (or negative number) in the number box for Brightness and/or Contrast.
I find that dragging the slider is easiest to get in the range I want, and then using the up and down arrows to make slight adjustments works great.  Try it out and see what works best for you.

I'm going to start with decreasing brightness, since my photo is overexposed.

I drag the slider next to Brightness to the left by 50, like this:

Once I'm satisfied with the brightness level (which I can see in my original photo because the Preview box is checked), I click the OK button.

My photo now looks like this:

It's hard to see much difference between the original and this one, but it will make a huge difference when you begin to adjust contrast! 

Contrast is the difference between the lightest parts of the photo and the darkest parts of the photo. I again use the menu options Colors and Brightness-Contrast to open the Brightness-Contrast dialog window.  This time I drag the slider on the Contrast portion and, rather than reducing, I increase, like this:

Once I'm happy with the original photo (which I can see because Preview is checked), I click the OK button, and end up with a photo that looks like this:

Much better, don't you think?  Love that the blue now looks much more like it looked when I was standing there.  And the red of the tree to the right of the sign... yes, that's what I wanted. 

You do have to be careful with Brightness and Contrast, as it can cause your photo to look unnatural and lose detail if you overdo it, like this (confession:  I actually kind of like it, but more as an artsy piece than a photo):

Play with it a little, or a lot, until you like what you have.  And remember that the Undo feature (menu options Edit and Undo) is your friend.  Leave a comment if you're having trouble and I'll do my best to help out.  You can also leave a comment if you're just loving what you're learning to do with Gimp or you just want to say hi.  Hi!

Next time we'll talk about another way to adjust brightness and contrast without using the brightness and contrast tool -- layers!


Lynda Anderson said...

The new and improved version is, well, improved!! As long as I've been taking digital photos I still find it difficult at times to get just the right exposures. I rely on photo editing to hone in on all of the greatness of the location (or person, animal, etc) that I so loved in the first place!

Mia Marie said...

I agree. Photo taking is an art, and so is photo MAKING. :)

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