As some of you know, I’m into astronomy. Although if you base it on how often I have gone out in the last two years, it seems like I’m an equipment hoarder more than an amateur astronomer.
And built within some of that work is a light interest in astrophotography with my smartphone at the scope more so than using a full WebCam or DSLR. I’m willing to play with both to get them to work, mostly to understand it all, but I want “less equipment” not more, and some of the hard-core astrophotographers have scopes, mounts, tripods, cameras, eyepieces, filters, tables, chairs, laptops, cables out the wazoo, power cords, storage devices, shields so the light from the laptops don’t bother other astronomers, etc. etc. etc.
But even with Smartphone Astrophotography, you do still need some options to process your images. Lots of stuff happens with video converters or stacking software, that’s a whole stage in and of itself, but once you get to the “image”, you frequently need to manipulate it. The people with deep pockets or someone else paying use PhotoShop. Some buy PixInsight, I splurged on a copy of Nebulosity at one point. Many of the processing programs are free.
Yet if you are looking for a photo editor that is pretty powerful, you’ll likely be a bit surprised to find that there is one that is totally free.
Enter the GNU Image Manipulation Program – GIMP
So, yes, GIMP is free. Ignore the Linux naming convention, it works on almost any platform imaginable, including Windows, and it has power that some feel rivals even Photoshop at times. All the great things for image manipulation AND it has abilities to do layers, so what’s not to love?
Well, the part that is not to love is that it is NOT the most wide-used program on the market and while there may be 1000s of training videos out there on how to do anything and everything in PhotoShop, so much so that Photoshop crossed over into being a verb long ago, GIMP is not as popular. I have found a few free books out there, some basic tutorials, the original tutorials that go with the software, and some tips and tricks here and there.
But I know it can do AP work — one of our local astronomy club experts teaches a course on image processing, and because it is free, last time he showed everyone how to do it in GIMP. Sweet. And, I’m not just interested for AP, I do take regular photos too that I want to occasionally tweak. I have a couple of photos that I’ve accumulated in the last 10 years where it’s a great photo, if say the shirt didn’t have a big stain on it. Lots of people know how to use image editors to remove that type of error. GIMP, for example, will do that too.
I just have to find a way to learn it. Enter an online producer of GIMP tutorials.
God Save The Queen
A British woman apparently has taught courses in using GIMP to regular photographers, and since I need to know how to use GIMP generally before I dig into the lessons/approaches for astrophotography, she seemed like a good starting point. For $18 Canadian, or 10 pounds UK, I downloaded her complete set of GIMP tutorials. More than 250 of them, in fact. They are all about 9-15 pages each in PDF format, along with a raw photo to work on, and to work through the technique. Once downloaded, they aren’t necessarily set in a specific “course” order, they are in the order from her training courses…it seems like when she needed to show X or Y, she created a new handout for it, and they are sequentially numbered by her need, not by a learning order.
She has them classified into 5 different levels, so I spent some time tonight sorting them after extracting them from three ZIP files. I’ll probably need to sort them even further at some point, but for now, it’s a start.
Beginners: Ten tutorials in total, with three dealing with optimizing and saving images, colour models, and inverting colours, each of which sounds easy enough. There’s also one for a Cubism Filter and another for a Posterised Distressed Image. Yeah, I have no clue about those. I found five hiding in a sub-folder, so there are also ones about launching GIMP, patterns (2), understanding resolution, and even the rule of thirds.
Beginners Plus: Well that escalated quickly — there are 116! Adding borders, applying filters, playing with colours, distorting images, etc. The filters will likely be VERY similar across the board, although with different tips for each one about how / when to use it I suppose.
Intermediate: There are eighty-four at this level, with some cloning, cutting, custom brushes, a bit of blending or colour adjustments, and then a huge number of tutorials about different types of text patterns that you can do.
Intermediate Plus: There are forty-six of these ones, and most of them seem like “PhotoShop” as a verb — adding things, tweaking granular items like textures and blemishes or red eyes, etc. A bit more “creativity” is added as opposed to simply processing what was already there. I know, I’m a purist, and so while many people might not blink twice about adding falling snow to a winterscape, I would hesitate as it would never be real to me after that — if it wasn’t snowing when I took a photo, I’m not looking to “invent” artifacts to add.
Advanced: The final level only has eight tutorials, and I’m not sure I would classify them as advanced so much as specialized effects. There are some animated options for example, and even how to take a large photo to frame it as a triptych for printing and hanging. And one for creating a graduated navigation button which isn’t something I need on my website.
I am not totally sure this is the best way to learn GIMP, but it appears to at least be a viable way. So I’m going with it. We’ll see what I learn as I go…