Monday, May 9, 2011

Gimp Tutorial - How to Use Gimp to do an HDR Photography inspired method of editing a black and white photo

I'll start this post with a quote:
Ted Grant once said: “When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in B&W, you photograph their souls!"
Now, I don't know if that's true or not, I can't say I've ever seen a soul in a black and white photo, but I can't argue that there are definitely times where that pesky color gets in the way!

In this post, I'm going to show you how to use GIMP to take HDR-like methods, and use a photo's color (that's right, it's color) and adjust the levels of gray with it, in a very fine-tuned, and accurate way. Most importantly, using this method will allow you to make changes at later points in your edit that would normally be impossible otherwise.
Here's the original photo:

Here's the finished photo:

And HERE is what GIMP came up with when I simply clicked "Colors>>>Desaturate"

Note that some key areas lack the contrast obtained in my final version. Also note that this version is a lot more challenging to modify.
Step 1: How To use GIMP to create the HDR effect
Did you say HDR?
Close. This GIMP how to is HDR inspired. In case you don't know, HDR Photography is a unique method of photo-editing that is done by taking multiple versions of the same image, taking samples of each version, and putting it together to make a single unique shot. HDR Photography makes for some stunning images, but using it's concept in a black and white photograph can give us a lot of control.
Duplicate the background layer. Name the duplicated layer "Green."
click on Colors>>>levels

Adjust the levels of the red and blue channel all the way down, removing all red and blue information from the layer. Your photo should look like this:

There's 1/3 of our information.
Duplicate the background layer. Name the duplicated layer "Red"

Click on colors>>>levels

Adjust the levels of the blue and green all the way down, removing all green and blue information from the layer. My red layer looks like this:

There's the other third. Guess what's next?
Duplicate the background layer. Name the duplicated layer "Blue"

Click on colors>>>levels

Adjust the levels of the red and green all the way down, removing all green and red information from the layer. My blue layer looks like this:
And there's the final bits of info.
It doesn't matter what order these three layers are in, but it will change how your layer masks work. Try to move them in an order that works best for you. In this tutorial, my order of layers (from the bottom up) is Background, Red, Green, and then Blue.
Create a new layer. Fill the layer with black. Name the layer "Desaturate." Set desaturate's layer mode to "Saturation." Make sure the desaturate layer is the topmost layer. This will desaturate the image.

add a layer mask to the blue layer. Fill the blue layer mask with black. This will hide the blue layer, and will make your High Water sign show up again.

using the lasso tool, trace the striped tubing gating the road. Make sure you're still editing the blue layer mask, and fill your selection with white.

Your image should look something like this:

By masking off everything but the fence, we get the high-contrast the blue layer offers, without sacrificing information in other parts of the photo.

Add a layer mask to the green layer, filling it with white.
Select the skyline. Make sure you're editing the green layer mask, and fill it with black. This will darken the sky a bit.
Using the brush tool, mask off parts of the image with black or white. Alternate between black and white, slowly going over underexposed or overexposed parts of the image until you have adjusted the image to something you're happy with.
I ended up with this:
Remember, if you ever notice anything that you want to change about your photo at a later point, this method will make modifying it a lot easier.
What do you guys think? How would you have edited this photo? Do you think this is a viable method of editing a black and white photo?
Related Posts:
Layer Masks Using Gimp


  1. Color correction was also needful for me .

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this post .

  3. Very nice tutorial. I am really so benefited. Thanks


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