Photo Compositing with The GIMP: Part 1

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Basing from my previous GIMP article titled Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP, you learned how to do some basic selection manipulation, gradient application, faking Depth of Field, etc.  In line with that, I’m following it with a new article very much related to the concepts discussed therein but we’ll raise the bar a bit by having a glimpse on compositing, where we’ll use an existing image or photograph and later add in our 2-dimensional element seamlessly with the said picture.

So if you haven’t read yet “Creating Pseudo-3D Imagery with GIMP”, I highly suggest you do so since almost all major concepts we’ll tackle here are based off of that article.  But if you have an idea on how to do the implied concepts here, then you’re good to go.

If you have been following my advices lately, this might feel cliché to you, but you can’t blame me if I say “Always plan what you have to do!”, right? There you go, another useful and tad overused advice.

Just to give you an overview, this article you are about to spend some time on will teach you basically how to: 1) add 2-dimensional elements to photos or just any other image you wish to, 2) apply effects to better enhance the composition, 3) plan out your scenes well

However, this guide doesn’t teach you how to pick the right color combination nor does it help you how to shoot great photographs, but hopefully though, at the end of your reading, you’ll soon be able to apply the concepts with no hassle and get comfortable with it each time you do.

Some of you might be a bit daunted by the title alone of this article, especially those of you most inclined with specialized compositing software, but as much as I would want to make use of those applications, I’m much more comfortable exploring what GIMP is capable of, not only as a simple drawing application but as a minor compositing app as well.  The concepts that I present here though are just basic representations of what compositing actually is.  And in this context, we’ll only be focusing on still images as reference and output all throughout this article.  If you wanted however to do compositing on series of images, animation, or movie, I highly suggest GIMP’s 3D partner – Blender. Ok, promotion set aside, let’s head back to the topic at hand.

To give you an idea (because I believe [and I’m positive you do too] that pictures speak louder than words), here’s what we should be having by the end of this article, probably not exactly matching it but fairly close enough and I’ll try my best to be as guiding as possible. So let’s hop on!

Photo Compositing with The GIMP

Heart and Sphere Composited with GIMP

Compose, Compose, Compose!

Yup, you read it thrice, I did too, don’t worry.  So what’s the fuss about composing anyway? The answer is pretty straightforward, though. Just like how a song is written through a composition, a photo/image is almost the same thing.  Without the proper composition, your image would never give life.  By composition, I mean a proper mix of colors, framing, lighting, etc.  This is one of the hardest obstacles any artist or photographer might face.  It will either ruin a majestic idea or it will turn your doodle into a wonderful creation you could almost hear the melody of your lines rhythm through your senses (wow, that was almost a mouthful!).

Whichever tool you’re comfortable using, it really doesn’t differ a lot as compared to how you could easily interpret your ideas into something much more fruitful than worrying how to work your way around. That’s probably one reason I stuck into using GIMP, not only am I confident it can deliver anything I could 2-dimensionally think of but more importantly I am comfortable using it, which is a very important thing regarding design in my opinion.

Just like how I wrote this article, composition comes into play (or you might already have doubted me already?).  Without the drafts and planning I made, I don’t believe I could even finish writing a paragraph of this one.

To start off the process, we’ll use one photograph I shot just for this article (in an attempt to recreate the first image I showed you). Or if you don’t want to follow this article thoroughly, you can grab a sample photo from Google Images or from Stock Exchange (www.sxc.hu), just be sure to credit the owner though or whatever conditions or licenses the image has.

Photo Compositing with The GIMP

Photo to work on

Photo Enhancement

Honestly, the photo we have is already decent enough to work with, but let’s just try making it better so we won’t have to go and adjust it later on.

First, let’s open our image and do some primary color correction to it, just in case you’re the type who thinks “something has got to be better, always”.  Go ahead and fire up our tool of choice (GIMP in this case) and open the image (as you can see below).

Photo Compositing with The GIMP

Opening the image in GIMP

 

With our photo active in our canvas and the layer it is on (which is the only layer that you see in the Layer Window by default), right click on the image, select Color, then choose Levels. Adjusting the image’s color levels is one good way to fix some color cast problems and to edit the color range of your colors non-destructively (extreme cases excluded), another great tool is using the Curves Tool to manipulate your image the same way that you do with Levels. But again, for the sake of this tutorial, we’ll use the levels tool since it’s much easier and faster to edit.

You can see a screenshot below of the Levels Tool that we’ll be using in awhile.

Photo Compositing with The GIMP

Levels Tool

One nifty tool we can use under our Levels Tool is the Auto function which (you guessed it right again!), automates the color adjustment on our image based on the histogram reading and graph analysis of GIMP. Oftentimes, it makes the task easier for you but it might also ruin your image.  Nothing beats your visual judgment still so if you’re not contented with what the Auto Leveling gives you, go on and move the sliders that you see in the window.  Normally, I only adjust the Value data of the image to correct it’s overall brightness and contrast without altering the overall color mood of the photo.  But if in case you weren’t lucky enough to set your color balance settings on your camera the moment you shot the photo or if you felt the image you’re seeing infront of you is color casted too much, you can freely choose the other color channels (Red, Green, and Blue respectively) from the drop-down menu.

You can see a screenshot below on how I adjusted the photo we currently loaded.

Photo Compositing with The GIMP

Value Level Adjustment

 

Photo Compositing with The GIMP

RGB Color Level Choices

That’s basically all that we need to do to enhance our photo (or you could go ahead and repeat the process a few more times to get the appropriate feel you wanted).

If you wanted a safer way of editing (just in case you might run out of undo steps), duplicate your base layer that holds your image and work on the duplicate layer instead of the original one, then you can just switch the visibility on and off to see the changes you’ve made so far.

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