How I did it: The vines on the wall photo

January 16, 2010

It’s winter around here, which has made me start thumbing through some of my old photos for two reasons: 1) It’s too cold and/or dark to go out shooting on most days and 2) It’s refreshing to see a bit more color in my photos than the stuff I’m getting when I do go outside.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to re-edit an old photo and just share with you the entire process I’m going through. I’ve been really into using scripts lately, and I felt it was time to play around without a script and see where it gets me. Here is my unedited photo – just converted from RAW (note: I always boost saturation just a bit when I convert from RAW):

f/3.5, 1/160sec, 10mm, ISO 200

f/3.5, 1/160sec, 10mm, ISO 200

The first thing I always do when editing a photo is create a duplicate layer. There’s something about me that needs to have the unedited version sitting there in a layer just in case – it’s also helpful once I start really editing and I start wondering “wait, did I just make it worse?”. I like going back and pulling up the unedited version to compare, and it’s easy to do with that background layer. Ok. After I add a duplicate layer, I always adjust the levels:

Adjust the Levels

This one didn’t need much adjusting, I just moved the left-most slider over a bit, as you can see. It just adds a bit more contrast to the photo, and makes the dark parts of the wall darker, and the shadow under the overpass into a nice black:

After Levels

Once again, since I like my photo at this point, I do a duplicate layer. This is really an ongoing theme for me. I often end up with 15 layers on my photos full of different experiments. It sometimes get confusing, so I’m not necessarily suggesting this is a good idea!

After I have my duplicate layer, I open up my Curves dialog. Now, I’ve talked about curves in the past (part one and part two), but I haven’t yet written part three where I talk about the different channels. I’ll cover it in more details when I write that post, but for now, just trust me that there are different channels for each color (which you can get to from the Channel dropdown). Once you’ve adjusted the curves, too, you can save them as a Preset, which I have done in the past, so I start testing out all those presets and I end with one that I call “funky”. The curves for Red and Green can be seen below (I didn’t adjust Blue):

Red Curves

Green Curves

And the photo now looks like this:

After Curves

Next, I decided to add these things I made that I call “colored overlays”. I have no idea if this is a usual practice and if they have a more scientific name, but a while ago, I wanted something that was going to add a bit of a vignette, and also play with the colors of the photos. I got the idea from a combination of things:

  • I used to use a photo of light bokeh to put over my photos and it gave it a cool look, but it was pretty obviously it was a photo of light bokeh, so I wanted something a bit more organic
  • When looking through tutorials for a vintage look, they almost all had a step that involved adding a magenta layer. Other tutorials had a sepia-ish colored level. Same thing with Cross-processing tutorials – they often have a colored layer that you add, and I liked the idea of color
  • I like the vignette look, but I often think that vignetting to black is a bit too obvious.

Now, I’m really bad at creating things in Gimp. I’m much better at playing with things that I already have (like photos, or textures from other people), but I decided to take a stab at it. These are not works of art. I currently have two – a magenta-ish one and a brown-ish one, but of which you can see below (If you click on them, you’ll see I’ve uploaded the full size if you want it, but I have a feeling you can probably create something better yourself!):

click for full size

click for full size

click for full size

click for full size

Now, back to the photo I’m editing. First I added the brownish color overlay and stretched it out so it covered the entire image. Then I set the blending mode to screen, because I knew I wanted to wash the photo out some. The shapes in this overlay are much more defined than in the magenta-ish one, and they’re pretty obvious, so I tone the effect down some by setting the opacity to 50% and I end up with this:

After brownish overlay

Next, I added the magenta layer and set it it Screen. Oh jeez, it made my photo really pink! To tone it down, I set it to 50% and now it looks like … oh dear. I can’t show you what it looks like because I just now realized I forgot to save the photo at that step. It looks like the photo at the next step, but with the leaf in the middle a bit more washed out (sorry!)

I like this. it’s got a warm, vintage look – the blurry shapes in both of my color overlays can be seen, but aren’t obvious, which I also like, and the edges of the photo have a slight vignette to them, but it’s not screaming out to you.

But I don’t like that I’ve kinda lost that leaf in the middle that was the subject of the photo to begin with. So I want to use some layer masks to get it out. I add a layer mask to both colored levels and use a brush with the opacity set to 50% in order to bring back the main leaf without it being too harsh. Now my photo looks like this:

After Layer Masks

Here’s where I start to completely second-guess myself and wonder if I went down the wrong path. I always do this! Then I start moving the image back and forth between my monitor and laptop screen. While I believe my monitor is more “correct”, I also know that not everyone’s monitor matches mine, and since my photos always look different on my laptop, I try to make my photos look acceptable on both screens, that way I assume it will look good on anything calibrated somewhere between the two screens. I’m not sure if this is true, but it makes me feel a bit better inside, so I do it.

After moving and thinking and thinking and moving, I finally decide it’s just too magenta-y. I like my magenta colored layer because of the vignette it adds, but I remember that after I adjusted the curves, it, too, added a bit of a magenta flavor, so I make that layer invisible to see what it looks like now:

No more curves

Not sure I like that. It just doesn’t seem to have enough definition. Or something. But there are other curve presets I have, maybe I should look at those again. So I create a duplicate layer of the layer that I used to adjust the levels and play with my curve presets again, and pick one that I have labeled as “Cross Processed”. I believe I got this from some tutorial somewhere. Here’s the channels:

Red Curves - take two

Green Curves - take two

Blue Curves - take two

Now my photo looks like this:

After the other curves adjustment

I like the colors more, but it’s still missing that definition. To fix that, I change the Curves layer to Overlay and set it at 70% Opacity, and think I might have the final image:

Curves to Overlay

After staring at it for a while, I decide that, while I like it, and it could be a final image, I’m just not sure if this photo is screaming out for the washed out vintage look. I know that’s mostly coming from the colored layers, so I switch them both from Screen mode to Soft Light, and – yes, I think this will be the final image:

clicking will take you to the image on flickr

clicking will take you to the image on flickr

BTW – This obviously isn’t a tutorial, otherwise I would have just showed you the necessary steps to the final image instead of the whole process. I just wanted to give you a glimpse into my crazy workflow to perhaps spark some ideas for you. Hope it wasn’t too much!

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  • Jafael

    I think I've learned more from this entry than I have in the past six months of tinkering around on my own. Wow! I would never have thought a magenta layer would do anything so interesting. I shall have to practice and see what I can get! Great work, as ever.

  • RASL30

    Wow, thanks for taking the time to post that!
    I have to say, I hated the way the images looked in the middle, but loved the ending photo. I guess you never know what you will end up with! I have often wondered how to play with backgrounds... and now I know ;-) Very cool.
    I want to learn more about editing, but **gasp** severely lack the time. Reading your posts saves me a bit of time, so thanks!

  • I love this, thanks for showing us your workflow. I actually like the image more with the color layers as screen, but to each their own. I'm glad to know that others do a lot of testing and experimenting in gimp. I always feel like others just know this is how I want it to look and this is the steps to get it there. It's hard to imagine all the attempts when I see only see the final shot and it looks like that is how it should be. So it's great to see that you work it and revise that work. As for making a dup everytime I like how it looks, would be too confusing to me, but I do like to write down the steps as I do them so that hopefully I can use that later when I want to re-create a similar effect. Thanks for sharing.

  • tpettygirl

    I love your site; you explain things that make sense to the novice user of Gimp. You have definitely inspired me to keep working at Gimp to get the results I am looking for. Thank you so much for all the time you take with your site, I come here everyday just to see what you have done.

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