Photo Editing On The Cheap by Glenn Euloth

I love pho­tog­ra­phy and as much as I try to get the image right in cam­era when I press the shut­ter release there are just some times when you need adjust some over­ex­posed bits or pos­si­bly do some cus­tom edit­ing to cre­ate a minia­ture look or selec­tive colour­ing. What­ever the rea­son might be there will be times when you need to edit your images. A full out copy of Pho­to­shop is more than $500. Even Pho­to­shop Ele­ments clocks in at $100 or so which is not super expen­sive but still, if I have an extra $100 I’m putting it towards a new lens or maybe that new tri­pod that I need.

In my last blog for I wrote about Picasa. Picasa does a won­der­ful job of basic photo edit­ing, how­ever, it just doesn’t cut it for any­thing really detailed. When I need more detailed edit­ing capa­bil­i­ties I use Gimp. Gimp is a won­der­ful piece of soft­ware avail­able for free use for Win­dows and Mac users as well as the orig­i­nal Unix plat­form. A com­pan­ion prod­uct called ufRAW, also free, allows Gimp to open and edit RAW image files and since I shoot almost exclu­sively in RAW for­mat it was a nec­es­sary add-on.

Gimp will do a lot more than I am capa­ble of doing and I have still used it to do some amaz­ing things. Like Pho­to­shop it allows you to edit images using mul­ti­ple lay­ers, has many dif­fer­ent fil­ters and scripts that can change the look of your images (or parts of it) and also pro­vides many dif­fer­ent tools to work on your images. In this blog post I’ll edit an image and pro­vide some screen shots to give you an idea of the capa­bil­i­ties of this won­der­ful piece of soft­ware, how­ever, to really learn how to use it visit the tuto­ri­als page on the Gimp site.

In order to give you the broad­est tour pos­si­ble I will take an orig­i­nal image where I’ve done a fair bit of work on the image and walk you through the edit­ing steps that I took to get it the way I wanted. Some of you out there may be much bet­ter at photo edit­ing and so you will undoubt­edly see areas where I am doing some­thing wrong. Please feel free to com­ment below so I can learn more about how to do this stuff properly.

Let’s start with this pho­to­graph of a but­ter­fly. Here’s the JPEG ver­sion cre­ated by export­ing from Picasa with default set­tings. All things con­sid­ered it’s not a hor­ri­ble shot of the but­ter­fly but the com­po­si­tion is kind of blah and the butterfly’s cam­ou­flage makes it dif­fi­cult to see. Let’s open it in Gimp to see what we can do with this bor­ing image.

Butterfly on Tree

First up, since it’s a RAW and I have ufRAW installed it auto­mat­i­cally opens in ufRAW for me.  Here I can make adjust­ments to the RAW image before jump­ing into the Gimp edi­tor proper.  For this image I’m going to make a few adjust­ments here so I end up in Gimp with the basics already com­pleted.  This is the gen­eral process for me.

  1. From Picasa I right click and select Open in Gimp.
  2. It auto­mat­i­cally opens in ufRAW because it’s a RAW image.
  3. I’ve clipped a few high­lights 0.1% and so I adjust the black lev­els a touch to elim­i­nate those.
  4. I then adjust the curves to boost the over­all expo­sure to where I like the image.
  5. Using the crop/rotate/size adjust tab I select a pleas­ing crop which puts the but­ter­fly on an inter­sec­tion of thirds and gives him space to “fly into”.  Note the grid lines allow me to do this easily.
  6. Click­ing OK trans­fers the image into Gimp for fur­ther edit­ing where I adjust the colour lev­els and pump up the sat­u­ra­tion on this one to give that but­ter­fly a lit­tle more life.
  7. Next, I’m going to do some selec­tive colour­ing to really make him stand out.  So, I’ll dupli­cate the layer so I now have two butterflies.
  8. Change the top layer to B&W and cre­ate a layer mask that I paint through to expose the butterfly.
  9. I switched to the colour layer and added a touch of unsharp mask to sharpen up the image.
  10. Last, to fin­ish it off, I add a cou­ple of bor­ders, first white, then black and save as a JPEG.


6b  6c 


8b  8c 

9a  9b 

10a  10b

That’s it!  Here’s the result:

Butterfly Edited

Liv­ing in Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia, Glenn Euloth enjoys trav­el­ling on the pho­to­graphic jour­ney.  Visit to join him on the trip or find him on our pho­tog­ra­phy forum under the nick­name of Iguanasan.


  1. mtelesha says:

    I also LOVE any­thing Open Source. Heck I had a copy of Adobe CS3 from work and I used my Open Sourced tools more. (I guess I was more com­fort­able with them but I also love the way these tools work with my work style)

    My favorite pro­grams for Graphics:

    1: DigiKAM (KDE pro­gram Avail­able in Linux-Windows-OS X) I can’t say enough for this pro­gram. It really is a great man­ager and edi­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy. There is also a great book called DigiKam Tricks that really helps get the most out of this program.

    2: Krita (KDE Office Pro­gram) Works in Linux-Windows-OS X Best kept secret EVER. If I was talk­ing gen­eral graph­ics pro­gram this would be num­ber 1. The only dif­fer­ence is the DigiKam works so good with photography.

    3: GIMP — I can’t wait for the sin­gle win­dow gui com­ing in the next update (Pushed to later this year)

    Free­ware (Not open Sourced) I like and Picasa

  2. John Barresi says:

    Hi Glenn:

    Great arti­cle. But I needed to try it myself to get the finer details. I’ve posted my result­ing sim­i­lar image at:

    Though they are pretty explicit, I had a few prob­lems fol­low­ing the instruc­tions.
    First: I couldn’t get from Picasa to Gimp by the right click, at least for the image I used. I had to go directly to Gimp to obtain the image, which then put it into UFRaw.
    Sec­ond: My ini­tial set­tings for the image in UFRaw were not at 0 but .71. I had to hit the reset on the right to get it to 0. Prob­a­bly this is needed due to pre­vi­ous set­tings on UFRaw.
    Third: I had a bit of trou­ble fig­ur­ing out what you did on get­ting 0 from the clip­ping. I was able to raise the left or black end of the line up a bit and it changed num­bers for my image in a sim­i­lar way.
    Fourth: I did fig­ure out that one could put dots into the line and change expo­sure to a curve like you did, though it didn’t help my image, no doubt because it had dif­fer­ent expo­sure.
    Six, I next had a prob­lem with lay­er­ing. I had to look up on the web to find out how to do the mask, by choos­ing “mask” and “add mask” in the Layer list, then “white or full opac­ity”. After this I was able to ‘paint’ through it, though I had trou­ble with choos­ing a brush size.
    Sev­enth: I’m not sure whether the two ver­sions merged in my final out­put. Is this auto­matic? It seemed that I may have only got­ten the back­ground orig­i­nal image, but I couldn’t really tell.
    Eighth: Related to this, I couldn’t save it in JPG, but had to Export it instead, because it had a trans­par­ent layer.

    Any­way, whether I did it right or wrong, this was a great tuto­r­ial, and I’ve learned a lot from it on how to use UFRaw and GIMP on images.



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