Friday, August 10, 2012

Photo tips: Getting a white background with GIMP

My last photo tip post was about good things to use in backgrounds, and I posted that up mainly to appeal to the other side because, I hate to say it, I am a white background person. I just think my shop items stand out better on white, treasury curators tend to agree, and based on the comments on that background post I am not the only one!  I once heard a tip about job interviews that you should never wear perfume, you never know who you're going to offend or create allergy issues for, why risk the distraction?  Well, same with backgrounds.  You can't go wrong with white.

The problem is that I'm cheap. I have two digital cameras, one's a Casio that cost around $70 and the other is an older Sony Cybershot that I got off ebay for $40 because my kid broke the battery holder on the casio... long off-topic story there. But honestly, both cameras take about equally "okay" pictures.

I have a light box that I made myself from PVC pipes and clip-on lamps from Lowes that were around $6 each. The lamps have full-spectrum CFL bulbs - that was important to me, and expensive, I special ordered them from 1000 bulbs and really wanted CFLs because they don't generate as much heat (and they last an awfully long time!) I have five of these 23-watt bad boys shining in my lightbox. The inside of my lightbox is a posterboard surface and I use white ripstop nylon inside to reflect light.

After all that effort, here's what my camera churns out for my lovely little nebula zipper pouch:

It's an okay image! But clearly not white, and the colors aren't as bright as they are on the real thing. That means it's time for some post processing.

My favorite image tool EVER is the GIMP. It's free and open-source and runs on all kinds of operating systems.

First I brighten up the picture by quickly adjusting the white balance, because my cameras don't have great white balance adjustments (and who wants to spend hours messing with that anyway?) In GIMP, this is done with the menu Colors > Auto > White balance. And here's the result:

Notice how much easier it is to mess with an image on your computer, rather than on your camera?

Now that the image looks like it's "supposed" to be on a white background, I use the magic wand "Fuzzy Select" tool with threshold 50, feather edges 20 or the tool next to it (select similar colors) to select the gray-ish background and hit "delete" to make it white:

The result:

Then finally I crop the image to Etsy's 10x8 ratio so I know it'll look great in the thumbnail view and no edges will be left off (refer to the awful examples in my post about thinking in the thumbnail to catch what I'm talking about).

Wasn't that fast an easy? Thank you GIMP and the open source movement for giving us such a great tool!

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