GIMP Tutorial - Simple Photo Editing for the Complete Idiot


How to Get Started Using Gimp—a Free, Opensource, and Powerful Photo Editing Program

Perhaps you've heard what a great, free photo editing program GIMP is. If you haven't, let me clue you in. GIMP's toolbox rivals Photoshop's, and it is truly quite similar in function. If you want to move beyond that cheesy software that came with your camera, but you're not ready to spend the money for Photoshop, GIMP is a good next step.

If you've taken the plunge and downloaded and installed the software on your system, and you have absolutely no idea what to do with it now, you've come to the right place. We're going to take it slow and easy, and start at the beginning.

For this tutorial, I'm using GIMP 2.6. That's important, because the menus change with each new version and features are added removed or modified.

Save a Copy of Your Photos First

Before you start, it's a good idea to make a copy of your photos, just in case something goes horribly wrong. If you have several photos you want to edit, the easiest way is, put them in a folder together, then make a copy of that folder. Make sure to name it something easily distinguishable from the original folder.

Open Your Photo in GIMP

Now, just open your working folder and right-click on the photo you want to edit, on the menu that pops up, select "Edit with Gimp," and your photo opens. I've noticed that if I have another window open on my desktop sometimes Gimp will open behind that window, so if you don't see your photo pop up, try minimizing any other windows you have open.

Cropping a Photo in GIMP

If you want to crop your photo, you can do a simple crop by clicking on the rectangle tool at the top, left of the toolbox, then dragging to draw a rectangle around the area you want to keep. If you want the cropped image to be a perfect square, you can hold down the shift key while dragging. Once the selection is made, go to "Image > Crop to Selection."

Using the Crop Tool in GIMP

If you need to have more control over what size your cropped photo is, you can use the cropping tool. That's the tool that looks like an X-acto knife. If you click it you get some boxes at the bottom of the toolbox you can fill in to choose how you want to crop, leave those as they are for now.

Drag to draw the rectangle for your crop, just as you did before. Then go to the bottom of the toolbox. To crop by size, just type in the measurements you want your finished photo to be.

The default measurement unit is in pixels, so if you want inches or some other unit of measure be sure to change it. After you put numbers in the boxes it may change the aspect ratio of the box (change the width or height).

On this photo of Booker T and the Drive-By Truckers, I wanted to get rid of everything else and just have a portrait of Booker T. Jones.
On this photo of Booker T and the Drive-By Truckers, I wanted to get rid of everything else and just have a portrait of Booker T. Jones.

You can make adjustments to the numbers or move the box around if you need to. When you have the box where you want it, then hit enter and your rectangle will change to the designated size. When you have the rectangle positioned the way you want it, click inside of it and your photo will be cropped.

Cropped photo of Booker T. Jones
Cropped photo of Booker T. Jones | Source

Color Corrections and Light Adjustments

In the menu at the top of the new window, look at the options under "Colors." I like to start with "Curves." So, select "Curves," and you'll see a diagonal line on a graph. If you use your mouse to pull on the end of the line at the bottom, left of the graph, it will adjust the darkness of the darkest part of your photo, making it darker or lighter. The top, right end of the line has a similar effect on the lightest part of the picture. You can pull the center of the line up or down, creating a curve, to adjust the mid-tones. Make sure that the preview box is checked so you can see how you are changing your photo while you work.

Try the other options under "Colors," like "Color Balance" and "Brightness-Contrast." Do some experimenting with those tools to see what they do. Each time you get some changes made that you're sure you want to keep, save your photo, then if you mess up you can always go back to that last saved version.

When you get everything the way you want it, click OK. If the picture gets all messed up, no worries, just click cancel to close the curves message window and start over.

Any time you mess up in Gimp you can hold down the Ctrl key and hit z that will undo your last action. Gimp allows you to undo many steps.

Brighten it up With Unsharp Mask

Another favorite tool of mine, that is a super easy way to enhance a photo, is unsharp mask. It's under "Filters > Enhance > Unsharp Mask," all the way at the bottom of the menu.

There are three different sliders you can adjust while you're previewing your image. You'll just want to move them a little at a time, too much and the image will look fake. The effect should be subtle, but it can really add sparkle.

The photo on the right has had unsharp mask applied to it.
The photo on the right has had unsharp mask applied to it. | Source

File Format

Gimp will save the photo in the same format it was in when you opened it, for instance a jpeg will automatically be saved as a jpeg. If you want the photo saved in a different format than it was before, do a Save As... and either change the extension in the name (the letters that come after the period, such as .jpeg or .tiff) or select a file type by clicking on the + button next to "select file type" in the message window and choosing from the list.

New Guestbook Comments 34 comments

English-lion profile image

English-lion 3 years ago

Thanks for the tips I have seen gimp on the internet and wonder if it was worth downloading

ketchingup lm profile image

ketchingup lm 3 years ago

I use pixlr most of the time. I'll have to take a look at gimp. Thanks

Commandrix profile image

Commandrix 3 years ago from Benson, IL

Nice...Gimp is a good alternative if you think Photoshop is overpriced for a photo editing tool. Mostly I use it for cropping or making minor alterations for pictures I intend to use online.

anonymous 3 years ago

I've been using Photoshop for well over a decade, but if I didn't know or have Photoshop, I'd be using Gimp. It is a full featured graphics editor, which I have recommended to clients for years.

Good job hitting the editing basics in this mini-tutorial.

fifta profile image

fifta 3 years ago

I love using Gimp, since I could not afford Photoshop. Perhaps you can create a tutorial series for Gimp, starting with this simple one to the more advance. It will be a great niche I think.

TenPoundTenor profile image

TenPoundTenor 3 years ago

Great guide. I started with Gimp and then moved to Photoshop a few years later. A lot of the skills transferred over. Great lens.

Sylvestermouse profile image

Sylvestermouse 3 years ago from United States

Good place to start for sure. I really like Gimp, but it can be overwhelming when you first begin.

mjoonline profile image

mjoonline 3 years ago

You can do so many cool things with GIMP. Really good free tool. Great tutorial.

crispwrites profile image

crispwrites 3 years ago

This has come at a good time for me. Just recently downloaded Gimp but it seems so complicated. I know it's a great tool so this beginners guide will do the trick. Bookmarked for later referral as well. Thank you

WritingForChange profile image

WritingForChange 3 years ago

Really useful tutorial. I need something more than the very basic editing tools included on my computer but I'm not ready to spend out on something like photoshop yet. this could be a great in-between step for me. Thanks.

shewins profile image

shewins 3 years ago Author

@crispwrites: I hope this helps you get started. Please let me know if you have any problems with the instructions.

shewins profile image

shewins 3 years ago Author

@WritingForChange: Gimp really is a powerful program, I think you'll find that the things you learn using it will translate well to photoshop when you are ready.

LiteraryMind profile image

LiteraryMind 3 years ago from Connecticut, USA

Thanks for the tutorial.

anonymous 3 years ago

Cool tutorial thanks

BarbRad profile image

BarbRad 3 years ago from Templeton, CA

Your explanations of how to use Gimp are clear. Will it work on a MAC or is it just for a PC?

shewins profile image

shewins 3 years ago Author

@BarbRad: That's a good question BarbRad. I don't know. I've never used it on a Mac. Most programs I've used on both Mac and PC were pretty similar, so I'm guessing that's the case here.

donaldwilson profile image

donaldwilson 3 years ago from Yakima, WA

Thanks for this tutorial. I can use all the help I can get.

Whatsittoyou profile image

Whatsittoyou 3 years ago from Canada

Thank you. I have been looking for a good photo editor. I can give this one a try thanks to your instructions.

TxCowboyDancer profile image

TxCowboyDancer 3 years ago from Dallas, TX

Does it come in a Mac version? oh, btw, I followed a link in the Squidoo forums to your lens. You may want to go edit the link because you copied and posted the workshop URL rather than the live URL. I cut and pasted and edited the URL to get here because the topic intrigued me. :-) Thanks for sharing the info on this program. I'll check it out.

shewins profile image

shewins 3 years ago Author

@TxCowboyDancer: There is a version for Mac. It's opensource software, I first started using it on Linux. Thanks for the info on my link.

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