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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Adjusting Brightness and Contrast

The most powerful approach to adjusting brightness and contrast across an image, for more expert GIMP users, is to create a new layer above the one you are working on, and then in the Layers dialog set the Mode for the upper layer to “Multiply”. The new layer then serves as a “gain control” layer for the layer below it, with white yielding maximum gain and black yielding a gain of zero. Thus, by painting on the new layer, you can selectively adjust the gain for each area of the image, giving you very fine control. You should try to paint only with smooth gradients, because sudden changes in gain will give rise to spurious edges in the result. Paint only using shades of gray, not colors, unless you want to produce color shifts in the image.

Actually, “Multiply” is not the only mode that is useful for gain control. In fact, “Multiply” mode can only darken parts of an image, never lighten them, so it is only useful where some parts of an image are overexposed. Using “Divide” mode has the opposite effect: it can brighten areas of an image but not darken them. Here is a trick that is often useful for bringing out the maximum amount of detail across all areas of an image:
  1. Duplicate the layer (producing a new layer above it).
  2. Desaturate the new layer.
  3. Apply a Gaussian blur to the result, with a large radius (100 or more).
  4. Set Mode in the Layers dialog to Divide.
  5. Control the amount of correction by adjusting opacity in the Layers dialog, or by using Brightness/Contrast, Levels, or Curves tools on the new layer.
  6. When you are happy with the result, you can use Merge Down to combine the control layer and the original layer into a single layer.
In addition to “Multiply” and “Divide”, you may every so often get useful effects with other layer combination modes, such as “Dodge”, “Burn”, or “Soft Light”. It is all too easy, though, once you start playing with these things, to look away from the computer for a moment and suddenly find that you have just spent an hour twiddling parameters. Be warned: the more options you have, the harder it is to make a decision.

From GIMP manual

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