How I did it: The Boots Photo

November 24, 2009

I got me some new boots

I recently posted the above photo on flickr and was asked how I achieved the look that I did from it. I’m not going to reveal any amazing new tricks or anything, but if you’d like a glimpse into my photo taking and editing process, read on!

Before I start, I have to admit something: I usually either save the gimp file or write down the steps I took to edit a photo if it’s anything more than your typical levels adjustment, but of course I didn’t with this photo, so I’m going to have to redo it as I go and the two final images might not look exactly the same. But they’re really close, I swear!

The set up of this shot was fairly simple. My bathroom is rather cramped (as in, you can’t sit straight on the toilet or your knees will bump into the side of the tub. I’m not kidding, either), so I knew I’d need the wide angle lens for this. In fact, this was shot at 10mm. I also wanted a large depth of field, because I wanted to see the gritty details of my (very old) bathroom in the background, so I shot at f/8.0. Because I wasn’t hand-holding the camera, and it’s actually rather bright in my bathroom, I was able to get away with an ISO of 200. Speaking of not holding the camera, if you really want to know, because of how cramped it was, there was no easy way to set up a tripod either. Instead I used this very technical approach: The camera is sitting on top of a box of tampons which is sitting on the closed lid of the toilet seat. Photography is all about class, is it not?

I took a number of test shots of just the tub to make sure everything was lined up ok, and then 7 shots with me actually in the tub before I got this one. Actually, only 7 shots to get a decent self portrait is really good for me.

Now, for the editing. I shoot in RAW, so I opened up the RAW file in UFRaw. Sometimes I mess with things in here, sometimes I don’t. In this case, I wanted to start with a really bright, slightly-overexposed photo, so I upped the exposure some, and ended up with this photo in Gimp:

Bringing the photo into Gimp

The first thing I always do when editing photos is adjust either the Curves or Levels. I can’t explain my reasoning for why I sometimes pick Levels and sometimes Curves, but this time it was Levels, and I moved the black slider just slightly to the right. All this did was make the boots just a little more pure black.

Next, something HAD to be done about this composition. Two things need fixed: it’s at an angle and I don’t like the shampoo bottles and shadow from the shower curtain on the left side.

When it comes to rotating images like this – or photos with horizons – where you have a line that NEEDS to be straight, it helps to have some sort of guide to figure out when you have that line straight. There are two ways I’ve done this before. One is to put a guide line somewhere on the photo. You can easily create a guide line by clicking in the ruler below the menu bar and dragging down onto your photo:

Creating a Guide Line

You can also create vertical guide lines by dragging from the ruler on the left. Once you have your guide lines in, you can rotate as usual and see when things start to line up.

Or you can do your rotation backwards, which is what I like to do. Select the Rotate tool from the Toolbox, and select “Corrective (Backward)” and Preview Grid:

Rotate Selections

Now when you click on the photo to start rotating, you’re not rotating the image itself, but a grid:

Rotating the Grid

Personally, I think this makes it easier to line up all the lines. Notice that you can also up the number of grid lines as one of the Rotate options.

Once my images is rotated, I want to crop. When I have the crop tool selected, I make sure the “Rule of thirds” is selected in the Guide drop-down, and make sure that the top of the tub is right along the bottom thirds line. Conveniently, when I crop out the shampoo and shadows, this also puts my legs coming out of the tub right around the left third line:


So, this is where we’re at now:


I knew I wanted something a bit more old camera-looking. Or as if someone had processed the film just a bit off. The first thing I tried was running the FX-Foundry Berkovich Lomo (discussed here) with the default settings, and that gave me this:

With Berkovich Lomo (REALLY PINK!)

Eeek! Too much! Too much! I did like the idea of having a pink tinge, though, and I liked the white flare and black edges, though. So instead of undoing it, I just made all the layers invisible and went back to the original layer, and this time ran the Cross processing effect, also from FX-foundry. Now I have this:

Cross-Processed (Sickly Green!)

I like this, but now this seems a bit too green. I want something between the two. The first thing I did was turn the white flare and frame levels from the Lomo script back on. Next I turned off the aqua colorcast layer from the cross processing script. Since I knew I wanted to bring some of that pink back in, I took the very pink layer from the Lomo script and put it below the base layer from the Cross Processing script, then turned it back on. This made no change at first, because the base layer from the Cross Processing effect is Normal and 100%, so you’re not seeing anything below it, so I switched both it and the pink layer to Overlay mode. The photo was still REALLY pink, so I dropped the opacity of that layer down to about 40%.

I know that all sounds a bit confusing. Hopefully this helps. Here’s what my final layers were, what scripts they came from, and anything I changed on them:

All the layers

And here’s my final image:

Final image!

I think there’s a few main points to recap here:

  • I knew the basic idea of what I wanted from the picture, but wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to go about getting it.
  • I experimented with a few scripts that I thought might give me what I wanted, but neither one gave me something I really liked out-of-the-box
  • I wasn’t afraid to play around and make some changes

A lot of the photos I edit are landscapes, and my goal is get a photo that’s really true to what I saw with my eyes, and so I wouldn’t be doing something like this. But it’s fun to experiment sometimes, and I played around a lot until I got this final look. And I think that’s ok. As long as it’s still fun to experiment – experiment!

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  • Great Blog! Absolutely love your how-to's & photos

  • whereisjohnwilson

    The green image reminds me of the same filter/style they used to shoot the first SAW film. Nice work.

  • Nice article on a fun photo. Also nice to find somone using gimp!

  • haikalaziz

    yes i cant wait for that post!

  • haikalaziz

    hey ive noticed some of your pictures have the dark blurry border around the picture(photowalk 47 fallen on the trail). im just wondering how do i just get that without affecting the picture like this boots picture. anw i wanted to follow you on tumblr and so i created a tumblr acc ( ) and i realised you dont have one! i mistook your twitter for tumblr.

  • That's a great question! I've put it on my list of things to write about, so there should be a whole entry dedicated to it soon!

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