How to get started with The Gimp

January 12, 2010
f/1.8, 1/4000sec, 50mm, ISO 200<br>This is probably the first photo that I edited in Gimp that, when done, I thought "wow, that's actually kinda what I wanted!"

f/1.8, 1/4000sec, 50mm, ISO 200

What you see above is the probably the first photo I ever edited with Gimp that, when done, I thought “wow! I actually kinda got what I wanted!” It also represents what a long road it is to start learning Gimp! About a week ago, Shotslot asked me a question I’ve gotten a couple times and look! I’m finally getting around to answering him! The basic question is: I just got Gimp. Now what? Where do I start?

The following are my suggestions.

Watch These Videos

If you have the time, I highly recommend the Meet the GIMP videos (you can see a list of all of them here). Meet the Gimp is a video podcast all about using Gimp. You follow along as Rolf walks you through step-by-step with what he’s doing, and he’s very good at it.

That being said, I honestly haven’t had the time to watch more than two or three of them, so I guess maybe I’m not the best recommendation out there. In addition, Rolf is German and has a strong German accent, which made it hard for me to understand one or two things that he said, but not impossible.

Do These Tutorials

I learned most of what I know by following a bunch of tutorials. At first, I was following pretty blindly, just doing what they told me to do without really knowing why I was doing it (this is mostly why I get so wordy in my tutorials – since I wished I knew why I was doing things, I like to tell you that in my tutorials). After I while, though, when pretty much every tutorial was telling me to create a layer mask, I started to get the hang of what exactly layer masks were and how to use them. Here’s a few recommended tutorial sites:

  • Tutorials – The Gimp site itself has a few tutorials on it.
  • Tutorials – This site is pretty old (there’s an UPDATED! graphic on there that says it was updated in 2002….), so the version of gimp he’s using probably isn’t the same as yours, but I think he does a great job of explaining each step, and it’s usually pretty easy to find what he’s talking about in my version, so I still recommend him
  • Gimp wiki tutorials – These are great tutorials, divided into Basics and Beyond Basics. They include a lot of screenshots and step-by-step instructions.
  • photo tutorials – Gimpology is a site that basically compiles and links to a bunch of gimp tutorials all over the web. The problem is, not all of them are photography related, and I’m going to assume you don’t need to know how to create text that looks like it’s on fire, so I’m linking directly to the results of searching the archive for the word “photo”.
  • Me! – of course, there’s always my tutorials. This is a link to my “Photo Editing” category, most of which contains tutorials, and I only edit in Gimp, so if I’m telling you how to edit something, I’m telling you about Gimp.

One thing I can say about all these sites, though, is that you’re probably going to find each one of them telling you a different way to do something. For instance, I know there’s a tutorial for adding a vignette to your photo on the Gimp wiki that’s different than the one I posted. It can sometimes get overwhelming/frustrating wondering “but what is the right way???”. Neither one of us is right, and neither one of us wrong. Learn both and decide for yourself which you like better.

Follow These People

A while ago, I started following the discussion thread of the GIMP users group on flickr via my rss reader. Holy cow, sometimes I have no idea what they’re talking about. But the more I read it, the more I start understanding, and the more ideas it gives me for things that I want to try. I have lost myself for hours in there sometimes, starting with one thread, and then clicking on some link and there, and then googling something they said I don’t understand, and then downloading some scrip that they mentioned, etc.

So, actually, I don’t recommend that as a starting point, because I think it can be very overwhelming for me, and while I do NOT claim to be a master of Gimp, I do use it a lot, so if I’m overwhelmed sometimes, if you’re just getting started, it might be too much. But once you start to feel comfortable with what you do know, and you want to start to learn more, start lurking over there!

Do Something

The other way I’ve learned what I know about Gimp was to start clicking around. I’d create a new layer and then start clicking on things just to see what they did. This almost never resulted in an image that actually looked good, but it did start to teach me what things actually did – which was a good foundation for me when I started diving into more complicated topics.

On a completely unrelated side note, one downside to the fact that I created this wordpress theme from scratch (coupled with the fact that I had little to no idea what I was doing), is that it’s taken me a while to get some things working as I like on here. But, as you may have noticed, I’m finally messing around with the size/caption on photos! I don’t know why I waited this long to do this when it’s a blog about photography. But. Oh well.

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  • haikalaziz


    ive been reading abour HDR and ive seen edits using that technique and i think theyre wonderful! can GIMP do this? and if it could, please please have a post of it! thanks thanks! ! :P

  • I'm not ignoring your question - but I will say that the short answer is: No, not technically, but there are a couple different ways to fake it. I'm glad you asked, though, because it should make a pretty good post, but it's taking me a bit longer to write it than I thought it would, so it might not go up until next week (or later... but hopefully not later).

  • Thank you for this post. I too downloaded GIMP recently and have need direction. Last night I downloaded UFRAW since that's all I shoot in. I am looking forward to learning GIMP. I find your posts very helpful. Great blog by the way.

  • After putting it off for a few months I finally bit the bullet and downloaded the Gimp last week. Great - lots of good features - looking forward to more of your tutorials and tips for making the most of it : )

  • I've been using GIMP for a while and I'm really glad that a photography blogger uses GIMP. It's not that easy to find. ;-D

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