Make your Photos Sparkle with GIMP

Make your Photos Sparkle with GIMP

A Guest Contribution by

What this tutorial will show you
In short: how I made the photo on the right become the photo on the left.


In this tutorial, we will cover basic tools of the free photo editing software GIMP.
Here is a quick rundown of the features covered in this tutorial:

  • Crop a photo in GIMP
  • Increase contrast with the Levels panel
  • Make the colors pop with the Hue & Saturation panel
  • Adjust colors with the Color Balance panel
  • Add a color filter to boost the warm colors in your photo.

Sound hard? Don’t worry. I’ll guide you through the whole process, step by step.


First of all, you need to have GIMP installed. Click here to download GIMP, and then follow the instructions provided with the software.

If you want to follow along with me in this tutorial, the original photo can be downloaded here. I shot the photo myself last year. The sportscar is a racing green Volvo P1800, just like the one Roger Moore drove in The Saint – yep, my dad tells me the story every time we ride in that car.

You are free to use the photo for whatever you may want, as long as it isn’t illegal of course.

If you are interested in the specifications of my camera, it is:

Enough with the anecdotes; let’s start editing.

Start it all Up

After you have started up GIMP, open up the image you want to edit. If you have chosen to follow along and you haven’t changed too much in the standard layout in GIMP, it should look like this.


Fixing the Composition

The first thing I want to fix is how I composed the image. I don’t like the license plate showing in the original photo. Ideally, I would like to see no license plate and at the same time as much as possible of both the car and sky.

The easiest way would be just cropping off the right of the photo until the license plate is gone.


I know my mother will most likely print this photo – just as with all the other photos I’ve sent her. In order to make the process of printing the images as smooth as possible, I need to keep the proportions of the image in tact (I don’t want the print service computer system to decide how the photo is cropped).

With that in mind, choose the Crop tool from the toolbox on the left (Shortcut Shift + C).

To make sure proportions are kept, check the box labeled Fixed. From the drop-down menu, you should select Aspect Ratio and the value should be set to current. Like this:


Now you can drag out the area you want to keep. You can adjust it by dragging the corners around the image. When you are satisfied, hit enter and your photo is cropped.


So far, so good. The image is still dull, I know. Let’s get moving.

Quick Tip – Duplicate the Background Layer

When you open up a photo in GIMP, a background layer will be created automatically. Don’t edit directly on that. Instead, you should make a copy of the layer by pressing Ctrl + Shift + D (Mac: Cmd + Shift + D).

Now you have the original background layer for reference while editing, and no matter the mess you make, you can easily start from scratch.

And now we must go back to the sports car!

Use Levels to Increase Contrast

The first thing I want to do is increase the contrast. This is mainly to darken the ugly details on the back of the car, in order to let the more shiny parts sparkle.

First, open op the Levels panel Color > Levels:


I’ve made a simple move. I just increased the darks by 10 and kept the whites at 255. I kept the whites at 255 to ensure most details are preserved in the sky; we’ve now set the best base for boosting the color of the image.

Work the Colors

The first panel I use in this process is Adjust Hue/Lightness/Saturation.
Go to Colors > Hue-Saturation:


I won’t be explaining every panel I use in detail. Instead, I’ll focus on the settings I needed for this tutorial. I’ve only adjusted the master channel in this panel.

I’ve increased the hue a little. Six steps up isn’t a lot, but you’ll easily notice the difference. Increasing the hue removes the slight magenta shade in the sky.

Even though I adjusted the Levels before, I want an even more warm and dark feeling. Almost like a classical sunset-silhouette – just keeping the details in the photo.

By decreasing the Lightness, I darken the photo and turn up the colors even more in the sky. The Volvo P1800 even starts looking right with dark green colour (the actual name is British Racing Green – another dad anecdote).

The final step in the Hue-Saturation panel is increasing Saturation – a lot! I’m putting the pedal to the metal now. All in on sunset.


The Color Needs more Attention

This is much better. But, I want to adjust it a little bit more. Next stop: the Color Balance panel.

Go to Color > Color Balance:


Again, I’m not going into detail on all functions. Just the ones I altered. In this case, it’s the Color Levels of the Midtones.

Cyan Red

Everything got a little too blue when I boosted Saturation – especially the car. The first step is decreasing Cyan (by increasing Red). Now the car is getting warmer.

Magenta Green

One step down is not doing much, but I really think it helped. It needed some compensation after increasing Red and Yellow.

Yellow Blue

Let’s add even more color to the sky and some warmth to the chrome on the car.


Adding a Color Filter is the Last Thing

I still don’t like the blue shade on the chrome. The last step is to add a color filter. It’s really simple.

First, add a new transparent layer. Just go to Layer > New Layer (Ctrl + Shift + N).
Name the layer “Warm Color Filter.” Choose a transparent layer and click Ok.


Now select the foreground color and set it to #F4B905. Actually, I just went for a warm orange and landed on this. Not freakishly important. Just go for a warm orange color.

Select the Bucket Fill Tool (Ctrl + B) and fill your new transparent layer with warm orange.

This should turn your entire image warm orange. Looking great, ay?

Ok. Now change the layer opacity to 10%, and set the blend mode to Dodge.


The result is a nice and warm feeling to the overall photo. And it also got us rid of that blue trouble in the chrome details. Nice.

Saving is now Exporting

As you may already know, GIMP does no longer save in JPEG. But don’t worry, the good people working with GIMP has just moved the function a bit and it is now called Export (Ctrl + E) and Export As (Shift + Ctrl + E), if you need to rename the file.

The Final Result


My mom actually ended up printing all the photos of my dad’s sports car. If you want to check out the rest of the sports car photos and even more GIMP tutorials, head over to my blog at

More specifically, the images of the sports car are here:

And all my tutorials for GIMP are here:

Anotherphotographynoob is a European blogger and photo enthusiast, blogging daily at It all started as a simple blog posting a photo a day, but recently the blog has moved to a self-hosted solution and now tutorials are being written on a daily basis to help other photo nerds.

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Some Older Comments

  • Andrea June 17, 2013 08:03 pm

    If you are looking for an OSS version of Lightroom and if you are using a Linux Operating system, let's try Darktable ( ).
    At the moment is not so powerful as Ligthroom, but the development team is adding new features.

  • Brian May 24, 2013 01:28 pm

    Great tutorial!! The only thing I would question is leaving your whites at 255. With a 255 setting which is considered pure white, during printing no ink is put on the paper. At 250 white is still white however this white would be from ink and not plain paper.

  • gnslngr45 May 24, 2013 04:39 am

    GIMP is supposed to have a UI overlay that makes it look just like Photoshop dropdowns. I have not checked it out myself as I don't use Photoshop.
    I am going to try it out though. The program I use (Serif PhotoPlus) doesn't work well with my new 18mp Canon 7D. The files are too large and I don't want to update to the newest version due to price.


  • Cramer Imaging May 21, 2013 05:02 am

    I learned how to manipulate images like this in Photoshop. My spouse keeps trying to get me to use the GIMP as it's freeware. The interface is so different that it's not intuitive to me like Photoshop has become. The menus are called different things and the way certain functions are handled is different. I appreciate the description on the filter though. I had only been using it for sepia work but this is interesting and might save me some work on certain pictures. Thanks.

  • timgray May 21, 2013 12:22 am

    Awesome! now if someone can point me to an OSS version of Lightroom I would be far happier. Not liking the direction that Adobe is going with their software.

  • Lauro Sollero May 20, 2013 08:11 pm

    I really like Gimp, people should quit piracy and use it more...

    The link to the website is wrong! There is a typo...

  • Chad May 20, 2013 03:07 pm

    Clear, concise and well done tutorial on GIMP. I use it all the time and find the free over comes the sometimes lacking features. It's a great tool for hobby photogs but can be very powerful.

    Good job.