3 Simple Ways to Make Your Pictures Pop with Gimp

If you’ve ever wondered why your pictures never look quite as good as those lavishly spread across the pages of a magazine, part of the answer may lay in the post-processing: photos are very rarely shown straight out of the camera.

Instead, they often go through photo-editing software, which may be thought of as a powerful digital darkroom.

Although Photoshop is the most well-known software, it is also very expensive. This is where Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/) comes in: a free, open-source alternative for your photographic needs. Best of all, you don’t have to be a computer wizard to begin using it – just download , install and run Gimp, open up the picture of your choice and follow these three simple steps:

Add some contrast

What is contrast? Contrast is simply about a difference of tones within the picture. A high contrast will make your darks darker, and your lights lighter – the stronger difference between those extremes, or contrast, will result in a picture that jumps up from the page. But be careful – the higher the contrast, the more fine details you might lose. As in all things, it is a question of balance.

To add some contrast to your picture, simply go to Colors > Brightness-Contrast and move the Contrast slider to the right. Moving the slider will also show you a live preview of the result, so feel free to play around until you like what you see, then click OK!

Warm it up

Every color in the world, and thus in your pictures, is a subtle mix of primary colors: red, green, blue and yellow. Adjusting the level of each of these primaries will change the overall tone of the picture.

First, go to Colors > Color Balance. The window that pops up will offer you a choice of 3 sliders, each playing 2 primary colors against each other: Cyan Vs Red, Magenta Vs Green, Yellow Vs Blue. Moving the sliders will allow you to favor one of these hues over the one opposing it, thus tipping the color balance. Because human beings tend to like warm colors, it is generally a good idea to tip the balance in favor of yellow, and to a lesser extent red. Once again, you will be shown a live preview as you move the sliders, so by all means feel free to experiment – colder or wilder choices may work for some images!


Sharpening, as its name suggests, will make your pictures look crisper – well-defined edges that will make the focus look tack sharp instead of soft or slightly blurred. Although this trick won’t save a bad blurry picture, it will definitely help. And if your picture was sharp to begin with – even better. Sharpening will add a layer of polish that will make the picture look finer and extremely well detailed.

Ready for to work the magic? Simply go to Filters > Enhance > Sharpen. Once again, you will be given a slider to adjust, and a small window containing a 100% live preview. Because sharpening will also aggravate noise and imperfections in an image, do be gentle with it. An amount between 20 and 50 will probably work best – once again, don’t be afraid to experiment!

That’s it – with higher contrast, warmer colors and a pin sharp polish, your picture will now pack a serious punch, achieved in a matter of minutes and a few simple clicks.

Click image to expand it and see the difference!

Click image to expand it and see the difference!

Many thanks to Stef who volunteered to write this very informative and useful piece for Our Hiking Blog. We love the simple instructions and images that show how small changes can really improve an image.

Have you every used Gimp?

Do you post process your images?

What other post processing software do you use, if any?

About Stef
I’m a freelance travel writer and photographer and do the bulk of my work in Australia and New Zealand.

My main interests are natural landscapes and wildlife encounters, but I’ve been known to shoot the occasional wedding and portraits. You can check out my online portfolio at http://portfolio.toothbrushnomads.com/ or contact me on toothbrushnomads@gmail.com


  1. says

    Interesting article. Often it really can be that simple to improve an image. But personally I would recommend Gimp only to people with strong nerves, I find it incredibly annoying to use.

    For most people (in particular for beginners) I think a better approach is to use a dedicated photo management/editing solution. Every Mac ships with iPhoto – if that’s not enough you can upgrade to Aperture (which I use, it’s fantastic). But there are also free solutions like Google Picasa which is available for Mac, Win and Linux. Software like that is more optimised for quickly enhancing photos, something Gimp wasn’t exactly made for.

    A big advantage of iPhoto/Aperture/Picasa etc compared to Gimp, is that their editing features are non-destructive, which means changes are always applied to a copy of the image and the original image is never touched. So you can always return to the original image.


  2. says

    I love the GIMP. It does take a bit of getting used to, but it’s very powerful. I don’t do much photo post-processing, but do use it for all sort of other things. It even includes a powerful scripting engine so that some fairly complex processing jobs can be automated.

    And of course it’s freely available for a wide variety of platforms (more than any other image processing software I’m aware of), because it’s open source.

  3. says

    GIMP is pretty damn good especially since its free, Adobe photoshop used to drive me crazy but i found GIMP is alot more user friendly and with some plug-in downloads is just as capable as Photoshop.

  4. says

    PS. I forgot to mention that the scripting language is based on ‘LISP’. And when I was a student studying computing, I thought I’d never use LISP in the real world! I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to pick it up again.

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