Creative work

Impressions from Sweden & my color-grading workflow in Gimp

I thought I’d combine two topics in this one: (1) How I’m color-grading images 100% open-source using GIMP on my debian system, without any RAW tool, and (2) sharing some beautiful images from Sweden. I took all of these pictures using my Sony Alpha 6400, to which I recently switched from first the RX100. Before that I had a Nikon 7200 DSLR. Yes, mirrorless since one year. Haven’t touched my old camera ever since. I feel a bit sad about it, but it was the right choice.

IMO modern mirrorless cameras are more than good enough for hobbyists and YouTubers. And I won’t fall into the trap of »upgraderitis« just because some boomer pro from photography college still clings to their 4 pound DSLR 😛

Effortless scenic color-grading in Gimp

Cobwebs I found around the grass and many plants here on the fields right in front of the house. They were all over the fields, so many of them… It was a foggy and dusty morning, so beautiful. I just had to take photos of them. Here is how I color-graded them.

I like this mellow look with a loss of depth in the shadows and sometimes also the lights, as long as it does not take away too much detail.

First I use curves to adjust the lighting. Then I adapt the hue/saturation values. Here, you see a lot of greens being turned into a more cosy red scale. But don’t be fooled, you have to edit the yellow channel!

Color-grading prep using the curves tool in Gimp

Usually, I also re-edit the value curve into a slightly stronger cinematic s-shape after adapting the colors in the hue/saturation dialog. It just often looks totally different after adapting the colors.

You can also edit all of this just in the curves panel, but I prefer it this way, because it is way more intuitive and you can neglect the whole intensity (lightness) setting that is hard to preserve in curves. So in hue/sat IMO it is much easier to just play with the colors, decoupled from their value.

Flattening your value spectrum creates that moody look

For this image of my beloved Flauschi I used almost the same curve, but since it is very dark already in the upper right corner (no, I did not feel like making this lighter manually, I am not a heavy editor to be honest… I am a lazy editor), I did not go up with the black level as much. Also, you lose detail in the face and hair if you do that, and I wanted her to look like she looks and not too weird and hipsterish.

I also removed a bit of the saturation in the greens, to make Flauschi »pop« more in the center of the image with her cute little cognac-colored pants. This is the perfect autumn picture with the nice contrast of orange and dark brownish green! I love this one so much 🙂

Color-grading prep in Gimp: If you want a flat-looking image, condense the dark tones like this. It will swallow all the details in the dark areas and make the image look like an aged photo. Also works for cinematic video, but don’t overdo it!

Almost every color-grading benefits from less blue in the dark tones and more red in the yellow

Finally, a still from inside the house. The only difference here is that I reduced the yellows a little more. That, and desaturating cyan always makes an image look more professional and less playful. I also like to take out the blue completely, when I have a black or dark object. The blue-yellow s-curve is something truly ugly and not at all cinematic in my opinion. It is just outdated. If you want an image to look professional and high-quality, don’t go »deep-blue«. Drain the blue instead.

The most difficult about this thing is that you have so many red tones in the flowers. So it is hard to play a lot with the table and wall browns. I like to change the hue from the yellows to a more orange/red tone usually, but I can’t overdo it here. If I want to, I have to edit that manually. You can also try playing with the color channels, but it is just not my favorite panel, to be honest…

You don’t even need RAW for this color-grading technique—just practice on your JPEGs

One last annotation: All images were taken in JPEG-Fine quality, I don’t care about RAW at all. I don’t find that I need a lot of light corrections, which is the main use I had for it in the past. In fact, I don’t care at all about »perfect« light. I didn’t take a single RAW image in the last 2 years and I did not miss it one time.

But if you want maximum control, yes, totally, use RAW. If you want to go pro, use RAW. If you are afraid of losing information, and you might want to print on a large scale and have perfect shadows and lights, use RAW. But if you are like me: You only ever print those pictures for relatives, in fact you don’t want anyone to buy and print them, and you don’t seek perfection at all, well then save yourself the disk space, lol ;-D

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