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Make the Free GIMP Photo Editor Easier to Use

The free Adaptable GIMP add-on adds recipes for common photo editing tasks to the open-souce image editor.

Not everyone uses the same photo editing software. There are many programs to choose from, ranging from the industry standard Adobe Photoshop CS to more accessible and affordable programs like Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paint Shop Pro. Which program you use may be a matter of budget, need, and ability. Even if you could afford Photoshop CS, for example, you might not need all of its features. And the program is complicated and difficult to master. Likewise, there are a slew of free photo editors out there--you can read about some of the more popular ones in my free photo editor roundup.

I know from reader email that a lot of folks love one free program in particular: GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It's a powerful photo editing program, but the sparse interface is somewhat unforgiving and difficult for new users--and some typically simple tasks are involved, multistep processes in GIMP. Once you find your way around, though, there's a good chance you'll really like the program.

Adaptable GIMP

I'm reminding you about GIMP because this week I wanted to introduce you to an impressive add-on I recently found. Adaptable GIMP transforms the program by making it far easier to do a lot of editing tasks.

Adaptable GIMP was developed by the Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Waterloo. In essence, this program modifies the GIMP toolbar so that tools and tasks are easier to locate. On the left is what the toolbox looks like ordinarily.

And on the right is what it looks like when you run Adaptable GIMP.

The most obvious difference is that the program's many tools are arranged in a list and labeled. But there's a lot more under the hood than that. Adaptable GIMP uses the concept of task sets--essentially, recipes for performing common tasks. You can search for a task set in the search box at the top of the toolbox, and choose the appropriate option from the search results. You are then presented with a limited set of tools that you can use to perform the task you were interested in.

Not sure how to use the tools or perform the task? That's not a problem, either; there are help icons to the right of every task set and tool. Click the icon and a small window will open with detailed instructions.

Build Your Own

So where do the task sets come from? They're user generated, and stored on the Adaptable GIMP Wiki page, which you can visit in your Web browser. If you're the industrious sort, you can also add your own task sets to the growing library. Just click the Task Set drop-down menu and choose Add Task Set. There's a handy interface for selecting the right tools and adding instructions.

Adaptable GIMP is an awesome add-on for GIMP and it promises a ton of potential. Right now, there are task sets for basic photo editing, red-eye removal, special effects like black-and-white and sepia toning, torn paper effects, glowing text, and more. Even so, there are still only a few dozen options to choose from, so it's going to take a large and dedicated community to build out the program's potential. If you're a GIMP fan, though--or if you are looking for a new free photo editor to check out--you should install GIMP and Adaptable GIMP. Don't worry about Adaptable GIMP "overwriting" your original GIMP installation. You can continue to run GIMP in either form, with the traditional or the new toolbox.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "A Bug's Perspective" by Brian Sierfeld, Las Vegas, Nevada

Brian captured this photo with a Canon Rebel T3 and 250mm lens.

This week's runner-up: "New Hampshire Rye" by Eric Hoar, Dover, New Hampshire

Eric writes: "I took this photo at the University of New Hampshire's Kingman Farm in Madbury, New Hampshire. I wanted to photograph the lush stalks of grain against the wonderful early evening sky, so I got down low and took several pictures using a Panasonic DMC-ZS5. I then made this image as a panorama from three vertical shots."

To see last month's winners, visit our September Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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