GIMP: A Beginner’s Guide To Photo Manipulation

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Despite gimp being an advanced image manipulation tool people don’t see gimp that way, for many people, gimp is a simple image editing software, and also people use gimp for very simple things like crop, increase brightness, or contrast, but gimp is a lot more complex, and as gimp user myself some time I surprised as well about how many things gimp can do.

The Basics

You can’t use the full potential of any tool without understanding the basics, so here is the most basic this that you will use frequently in gimp for photo manipulation.

I will not gonna explain the extreme basics like how to crop or mask, but rather the basics of a good workflow.

Keyboard Shortcut

The keyboard shortcut is great for optimizing the workflow, few months before I wrote an article about an important keyboard shortcut for gimp, you can check it out if you want, but here is a short brief about keyboard shortcuts.

Shift+T to transform, you can use this shortcut to transform an image, a transformation like a scale, rotate, change perspective.

Ctrl+I to invert your selection, you can use this shortcut to invert your selection.

Shift+Ctrl+D to duplicate your layer, this is very helpful since gimp doesn’t have an adjustment layer, which means you will use this shortcut all the time.

Ctrl+Scroll wheel to zoom in and zoom out. This is very helpful because you will use this shortcut a lot I mean a lot.

Alt + Left mouse key to making a selection around your layer.

Customize layout in GIMP

GIMP comes with a layout that is not bad but also not very good, and for your, information gimp is completely customizable, which means you can make your gimp’s layout look whatever you want.

Personally, I make my gimp to look close to photoshop because I come from photoshop, so I feel my workflow is better in photoshop layout, and if you want your gimp to look like mine then you can check out, our article about making gimp look like photoshop.

But you can make it look whatever you want, like here is another layout that I like.

Now you know the basics, now we can move to the manipulation part, the most basic part of image manipulation is the scale and rotate but most of the people reading this already know that, so we will cover a little bit more advance but still very easy to understand.

Blending Mode

One of the most basic ways to manipulate images is blending modes, every image manipulation software has one, like affinity, photoshop, and as well gimp.

There are very few things you need to understand about blending modes, and that is all blending modes have some purpose that will help you in some way.

Gimp has a lot of blending modes I mean more than photoshop, and in my personal experience no blending mode is useless in gimp, all blending mode has some usage but it depends on your condition.

Type of Blending Mode

GIMP has thirty-eight layer modes, split up into seven types, despite all blending being somewhat important,.but in photo manipulation, you will money need a few so we will cover all the important ones that you will use in your work.

There is a blending mode that darkens the image, and there is a blending mode that brightens the image, and there is also a bunch of blending modes that help you to play with color, so there are a plethora of options in terms of Blending Modes, but here I will show what Blending Mode you will use most and what Blending Mode is most important.

Important blending modes


With Screen blend mode, the values of the pixels in the two layers are inverted, multiplied, and then inverted again. The result is the opposite of Multiply: wherever either layer was darker than white, the composite is brighter.

But this information is not that understandable if you are a beginner, so let me show you what it does.

The screen is also good for glow light and haze night light 


The Multiply mode multiplies the colors of the blending layer and the base layers, resulting in a darker color. This mode is useful for coloring shadows. The Color burn mode is named after the photography film development technique of “burning” or overexposing prints to make the colors darker.

There is a lot of examples that can be given, Multiply is not that complicated, all it does is darken the color, so usually good for shadow and reducing the exposure.

And you can further control the effect by adding a mask and reducing opacity.

Darken Only

It looks at the color information in each channel and selects the base or blend color, whichever is darker, as the result color. Pixels lighter than the blend color are replaced, and pixels darker than the blend color do not change.

If this definition doesn’t hit your brain, then let me show you what scenarios this blending mode is good for.

For example, this image of the whale is not blended with the composite, and in this exact scenario, this blending mode sines.

First, sample the closest color from the background and create a new layer and paint that color over the layer.

And of course, you know what to do. Change your blending mode to Darken Only and adjust your opacity to blend better.

Lighten Only

Looks at the color information in each channel and selects the base or blend color whichever is lighter as the result color. Pixels darker than the blend color are replaced, and pixels lighter than the blend color do not change.

And if this also does not hit your brain then the answer is pretty obvious, because Lighten Only does the opposite of Darken Only.

To use this blending mode you have to do the same, paint the closest color to the new layer over the subject.
Then change the blending mode to Lighten Only to see the effect.
And if you see no effect after changing the blending modes then try reducing the opacity to blend better.


The Overlay blend mode multiplies dark areas and screens light areas at the same time, so dark areas become darker and light areas become lighter. Anything on the layer that is 50% gray completely disappears from view. This has the effect of boosting image contrast, which is why one of its most common uses in photo editing is to quickly and easily improve contrast in badly faded images.

And also you use the overlay to dodge and burn the image, which means you can manually change which part of your image should be darker or lighter.

Look at this simple composite for example, I want to make upper side of the turtle lighten and lower part darken, because light is coming from up.

So to do that, first create a new layer, and its always to do that inside a layer group because that way this wont appect the other part of the image.

And then paint brighter color in the place where you want to brighten the image, and dark color where you want image to be darken, and the amazing part is its non destructive means you wont affect your image directly, its all happening in new layer.


Divide is a very underrated blending mode. It doesn’t get that much usage in photo manipulation, but one of its strengths is making realistic highlights.

To understand more, watch this video from the photo manipulation channel. They have shown this technique in photoshop, but it can easily be translated into gimp.

And always understand that doing any of these things does it in a new layer, and always duplicate your original layer before applying any permanent changes.

Also, you can add layer masks to further control the effects, and always go for subtlety. This means you don’t have to overwhelm your composite with high density colour or effect, always go for a low amount like lowering your layer opacity and reducing your brush flow to 1 or 2 to get the best result.


LCH color is also a very great overlay and the most common usage is in photo manipulation, matching the color.

And to do that, all you have to do is duplicate your background layer and put it in the main subject layer group just above your subject layer, and then set the blend mode to lch color, although in some cases, hsl color might work better.

Some Gimp Tips & tricks For Photo Manipulation

Clipping Effects

If you are familiar with photoshop then you have idea of how clipping mask works in photoshop and if you are not, then let me explain you, clipping mask works like you make another layer restrict to one layer, in gimp this thing works slightly different.

How to use it.

  • Create Layer Group
  • Put your Main subject Inside your Layer Group
  • You must now change your blending modes every time you add a new layer to that group in order to limit the effect to the subject layer.


This abandoned building is plainly out of place in this composition; as you can see in this image, I have already created the layer group, and my subject is inside the group with two additional effects.

To match this with the surroundings, the brightness must be matched, but first you must darken the entire image so that we can mask all the darkness in the brighter areas of the image.

Create a new layer and fill it with all black.

Then change the blending mode to multiply.

Reduce the opacity to your liking.

Now mask the dark layer where you don’t need that darker effect.

You can also use this method to brighten layers with screen blending mode or any other effect, in addition to darkening them.

Painting Highlight

As a mouse and keyboard user Painting Highlight always has been the hardest thing to learn in photo manipulations, but after so many experimenting i found mt method of painting highlight in any image.

I paint highlights using three method .

1. First paint the highlight roughly

2. Then fade the Raugh highlights using mask (Use very low flow and hardness in brush settings)

With Highlight And Without Highlight.

Tutorial Translation

Tutorial Translation is a notion I created. It does not mean translating tutorials into another language, but rather translating tutorials between softwares such as Photoshop, Affinity, and Gimp.

When I was new to gimp, I was often annoyed by doing simple tasks in gimp; now, I am experienced enough to say that I can apply nearly 90% of the photoshop tutorials in gimp.
However, I will not translate Photoshop tutorials into Gimp, but rather provide you with tips and tricks to assist you transfer Photoshop tutorials to Gimp.
First, remember that gimp has over 90% of the tools and functions of Photoshop, but with different names, such as the Brush Tool in gimp being called Paintbrush, and that you can find many tools and features in gimp with other names.

Tutorial Translation Tips

1. In Gimp, search for the features and tools used in the tutorials.
2. Learn or change keyboard shortcuts for your most used tools to match tutorials you’re watching, such as CTRL+J in Photoshop, which you may assign and convert to a new shortcut in gimp.