Book Reviews

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GIMP 2 for Photographers
Title:GIMP 2 for Photographers
Author(s):Klaus Goelker
Publisher:O'Reilly Media
Reviewer:Jon Allen

A glance through any photography magazine will confirm that Adobe Photoshop is the accepted standard image editing software, offering almost unparalleled power and conrol over your images. However, costing more than many DSLR cameras, for non-professionals it can be a very hard purchase to justify (and of course for Linux users this is a moot point, as Photoshop is not available for their platform).

Luckily, the free software community has provided us with an alternative. The GIMP, or Gnu Image Manipulation Program, offers a huge amount of the power of Photoshop but is available at no cost. Additionally GIMP is cross-platform, available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Unix.

The one downside to using GIMP is that most magazines and photography books use Photoshop in their articles and tutorials, so if you do choose GIMP there's a bit more of a learning curve. Now once you're used to GIMP you'll find that many of Photoshop's features have equivalents, albeit with a different user interface, but getting that inital level of experience and familiarity with the software can be rather difficult. The GIMP does come with a manual, but it is really more of a reference guide and while very comprehensive it is not particuarly friendly for new users.

GIMP 2 for Photographers aims to rectify this.

Written clearly from a photographer's point of view (the author is a photographer who also teaches image editing), this book takes a task-oriented approach, looking at the types of editing operations that a photographer would require and then showing how to perform each task in the GIMP.

Rather helpfully, the GIMP software (for Windows, Mac, and Linux) is included on the book's accompanying CD. This means that you can follow each tutorial using the exact same version of software as the author, which really helps to build confidence that you're doing everything right.

I already have GIMP installed on OS X, so to test out the instructions in the book I performed an installation from the CD on a clean Microsoft Windows XP machine.

The exact filenames of the installation packages on the CD differ slightly from those in the accompanying README file, but the instructions in the book do list the correct files and after following this procedure the installation went without a hitch. The setup files do not ask any overly 'techy' questions, so it literally took less than 5 minutes to set up a fully working system.

As well as the GIMP application, the CD also includes all of the sample images used in the book, and for each editing tutorial the "final" image is provided so you can check your own work against the expected result.

Even more usefully, the CD contains an electronic copy of the complete book as a PDF file, so you can keep it on your laptop as a reference guide, invaluable when editing images on location (or on holiday!).

I'd have to say that this is without a doubt the most useful CD I've ever recieved with a book. Providing the applications and example files is good, giving readers instant gratification without needing to deal with downloads and websites (which may well have changed after the book went to press). But including the complete book on the CD as well is nothing short of a masterstroke, and something I'd love to see other publishers adopt.

So, the CD gets full marks but what about the book itself?

After showing how to install the software, the author takes us through basic GIMP operations - opening and saving files, cropping, resizing images, and printing. Once these basics are out of the way, the book moves on to a series of examples based on "real-life" image editing scenarios.

These examples are very well chosen, both in the fact that the vast majority of the technques shown are genuinely useful, but also in the way that they are ordered. Each example introduces a new feature of the software, building up your knowledge as you work through the book. By the end you can expect to be skilled not only in "standard" editing - adjusting colour balance, fixing red-eye, removing dust spots, and so on - but also in compositing, perspective correction, lighting and shadow effects, and building panoramic images.

Between the examples there is a good amount of more "reference" type material, with detailed descriptions of the various menus, toolbars, and dialogs you will encounter while using the software. Combined with lots of well-labelled screenshots this strikes a very good balance, ensuring that even after going through all the tutorials you'll still get value from the book as something to refer back to.

Overall the quality of the writing and general production standard is very high indeed. There are some points where it is noticable that the book was originally published in German, but this never becomes a stumbling block to the reader's understanding. Most importantly though, the author employs the "show, don't tell" philosophy throughout which is key to successful teaching.

In conclusion, I would have no hesitation in recommending GIMP 2 for Photographers to anyone with more than a passing interest in improving their photos. And even if you already use image editing software, the book is well worth a read - I have been using GIMP for several years and still learned a great deal. The accompanying CD is the icing on the cake, making GIMP 2 for Photographers a simply essential purchase.