Using the GIMP

Despite the odd name - it stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program - this is the best free photo software you can download. If you can’t justify paying £ 600 for Adobe Photoshop, this is just as good as Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop Elements. In fact I prefer The GIMP to either of these two, and it’s free.

Installing the GIMP:

The GIMP is unusual in that it’s available for Windows, Mac, or Linux, and although it’s free you can make a donation to the project if you wish, but that’s entirely up to you.  I do believe in supporting organisations like this, even if you only give a few pounds. The fact that there are free applications at all is down to hundreds of volunteers who give up their time. When they produce free software as good as this they deserve our support.

Downloading the GIMP.  This may seem a little harder than usual. As part of the programme’s GNU / Linux background the source code is freely available, and that is what serious techies will download. Happy compiling guys. For the rest of us there are files available which will install just like any other program. Click on the links below :

Download Windows Installer        Look for   Installer near the top of the page.

Download the Mac Version              Two Mac OSX bundles are available. 

The users manual is available as a separate download, and in many languages.

GIMP:  Getting Started

If you’re used to the Mac version of Photoshop, you’ll feel reasonably at home with the GIMP’s default layout of floating everything. However, I prefer a more normal Windows look, and have very strong views on image backgrounds while editing.

I believe that all photo editing or assessment, whether on screen or not, requires the image to be viewed against a neutral mid grey background, not against a bright orange sunset, or deep blue sea or whatever you have as your desktop background. Fortunately the GIMP has lots of options so this is easily changed.

When you start the GIMP and open an image it appears in a separate window floating on your desktop. I’m not a fan of this layout, so to change to a more normal look, first click the maximise button (the little box) in the top right hand corner of the image. This will provide a normal layout, covering your desktop background, but it will be very light grey, not mid grey, which I think is the best choice. To change this, choose Edit / Preferences then click the little + next to Image Windows and Appearance will em....appear. In that menu box change Canvas Padding Mode to Dark Check Color in both the Default Appearance in Normal Mode, and the Default Appearance in Fullscreen Mode menus. Hey presto you will have a more normal workspace.

Unfortunately the image now appears to have a yellow selection around it. Again I find this very distracting, but it can be removed by selecting View and unticking View Layer Boundary. The workspace now looks like Photoshop and I think is ideal for photo editing. As you will have seen along the way here, the GIMP can be customised in many ways so feel free to make your very own version, these are only my suggestions.

If you’re familiar with Photoshop you’ll gradually find your way around. Levels and Curves are for some reason found in the Colors menu, and although by default there are no keyboard shortcuts, you can define as many as you like: Edit / Preferences / User Interface - so in my installation Ctrl L works just fine. GIMP even has a healing tool.  Amazing.

If all of this is new to you, take some time to check out the online Tutorials

Then open one of your better images, save a copy as yourname adjusted.TIF and see if you can improve it. There are basic Brightness / Contrast and Color Balance tools in the Colors menu, try using them. Don’t be put off by all the other menu choices that you see. Many of them simply aren’t needed for basic photographic adjustments, so just ignore them to begin with.

Above all have fun - to quote the GIMP website :

 “Grab a properly chilled beverage and enjoy.”


© David Gold
All text and images copyright David Gold 2006 - 2011
and must not be reproduced in any way without permission.