madshutterbug (madshutterbug) wrote,

Things I Am Learning About Gimp

Above and beyond the free thing, actually. I mean, I've mentioned it before, and the free thing, and my somewhat dis-satisfaction with Adobe and whole Photoshop thing. My marvelous, wonderful, familiar old copy of Seven ceasing to function. Contemplating purchasing an upgrade. Actually purchasing same, yet not getting around to installation for a few weeks and then Adobe announcing that Photoshop is moving to the Cloud.

Perhaps I'm old-fashioned. I'm not sure I'm a fan of the Cloud. I mean, I am using aspects of it, and I'm not using a lot of aspects of it. First impressions from the Adobe announcement were that one would need to connect to their site to run the software all the time. Not totally true; there is still a down-loadable component. However, it does need to be … refreshed shall we say … on a regular basis. And paid for. Monthly.

This is a great financial plan for Adobe. Not so much for me. I am pretty darn comfortable with shelling out several hundred bucks every few years or so to upgrade. Well, OK, even more comfortable with doing that every few decades. Plus, I'd downloaded the Gimp and Wilbur and all, installed that application and started learning it. Because hey, supposed to do pretty much what Photoshop does. And it's free, open source software and all.

Some of this is quite revealing about my workflow. As in what I do to process an image, even fairly simple one-off image without any composite work. Composite is something fairly new for me, though yes I did work a little bit at it in Darkroom Days way back when, after I first learned about Jerry Uelsmann and all. Enough to really, really respect what that man produces. Jump forward now to oh 10 years ago or so, and I start learning digital processing.

First by scanning negatives, and occasionally digital images made from borrowed cameras, and working with both PaintShop Pro and assorted other lesser known apps then, '03 or so, Photoshop. Now, transitioning into Gimp.

So. How do I process an image?

Well, going back to basics I'm still primarily focused (pun intended) on a print as the outcome of making a photograph. Some of the learning briefly glossed over above involved putting images out onto the World Wide Web. What I want to do is make and sell prints. I'm willing to hire a printer for some of this (a lot, actually, in one way) however it's that printing process that is a big part of it. So, there is a short detour here that learning the digital printing process, rather than the darkroom alchemy, is an ongoing aspect in order to (I tells myself) trim my costs.

Learning any craft involves expense. There are efforts made, judged, and discarded as learning curve. So trimming costs is sort of a non sequitur in all this.

Leaving the detour behind, though it is involved, back to processing the image.
In darkroom alchemy, these are the steps I am remembering and briefly outlining:
Film exposed
Film processed – developed. Chemistry involved.
Film examined. One of the early points in achieving prints is a proof, where the film is laid on a sheet of print paper, exposed and processed. Now we've got positives of the negative image. Helps in evaluating the work. Given enough time, some photographers use proof sheets less; we learn to see the qualities in the negative.
Image selected, negative loaded into enlarger, and the process starts for a print. First proof here is a timed exposure with a card covering the paper, moved (in, say, three to five second increments) along, and then the paper is developed. Chemistry involved. Come along in a bit for a brief discussion of chemistry.
Each one of those bands will be a different amount of light/time on the paper. One or more but usually not more than three will look like the best time. Another proof is done, fewer bands, card moved across at say one second intervals starting with the shortest time from the starting to look good bands in the original proof.
All of this assumes fresh chemicals (developer, stop, fixer). Developers may be totally hand-mixed from selected chemicals, or purchased pre-mixed (usually powders, going to be mixed with water for the darkroom session). Or at least, could be back in the day. I'm not sure how much post 9/11 all of this is available as basic ingredients. I do know it is still possible to purchase basic developers and fixers from assorted photographic supply companies.
However, things someone not as deeply into photography and the alchemy side might not think about, and some photographers do. How does Vitamin C (ascorbic acid, eh) effect sharpness of emulsion when used as part of a developer recipe? Turns out it helps make the grain in either the negative or the print finer...

Anyway, once the general exposure time is determined there will still be portions which need more or less light to help bring everything up the way the photographer wants. So now there is experimentation with dodging (shading portions sooner to limit how much light they get exposed to) and burning (shading other portions to provide more light to some sections, usually smaller sections) and then into the developer again.

How long in the developer also effects final image. As the paper goes in and the chemicals interact with the silver in the emulsion, the reactions 'exhaust' the developer. Papers need to stay in the developer longer for a while, then it gets to be too long, and it becomes obvious the reactions with the silver aren't happening. The developer solution needs to be refreshed or replaced.

OK. But go back to that dodging and burning; there are tools which equate to that in Photoshop and other apps. They are even called the Dodge and Burn Tools. There are other tools which equate to that amount of time the silver emulsion is exposed to light (Levels, Curves, Balance, lots of names, and they all apply) and that is simply with the analogy being limited to black and white photography. It carries over to colour work as well.

Myself, I am what is sometimes called a colour vision deficient person. I prefer to describe this as I see colours in my own unique manner. I do see colour. I am not colour blind where everything is only black, white, shades of grey. I know some of those colours don't match how other people see them. This means that my colour work is likely to look odd to other people. That's y'alls problem.

And is one reason I so very much like to work in black and white and shades of grey. I am, in fact, contemplating doing what some other photographers chose to do and staying with black and white, even in digital processing. That jury is still deliberating.

Right, then, back to post-production or processing. I've demonstrated it isn't anything new, there's always been post-production processing in photography.

Layers are one of the strongest tools in digital processing. One reason Photoshop is considered top of the line is that applications multiple means to work with layers, different types of layers, and layer masks. Layer masks, at least to me, are much like that card I used to first come up with proofs, then to do dodging and burning. They are something which 'hides' portions of the image, or lets through more or less light to adjust how it appears. Or both.

Some of what I'm learning or re-learning then with Gimp is ways and means to manipulate layers. This is coming along. Perhaps I miss certain aspects of Photoshop. Perhaps I simply am adjusting to a different manner of manipulating how much light is coming through to the final image. Perhaps I'm willing to use a more brute force method to put things into a certain order where once a menu choice allowed re-shaping things.

The final image is still coming into focus for me.

And that's the point.

It's been a couple weeks since I've made any entries, and one of my goals as an artist is to write something about it every week, to share some of this journey with you, whoever you are reading this. This is OK. As Mr. John Lennon once said, 'Life is what happens when you are making plans.'

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
Tags: art, photography, studio

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