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GIMP Tutorial: Get the look of a medium format contact print

How to create the look of a medium format contact print with slightly rough edge in GIMP.

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Tutorial by Kat Landreth -

A new medium format camera can cost several thousands of pounds. Does that fit into your budget No? Me neither. But the look of medium format film can be really cool. Especially those streaky black and white edges.

So, how do you get the look without spending your nest egg on a camera and film? GIMP of course!
You can follow this tutorial if you're using Photoshop and are familiar with its controls and tools. The exact method will be a little different but the concept is the same.

In this tutorial I'll take a regular colour image from my digital camera and give it a photo journalistic medium format film look.

Crop the photo

I chose a square format to simulate, so I need to crop this photo into a square. GIMP lets you constrain the proportions of the crop tool so it's easy to make a perfect square, or any format you choose.
  • Open the Photo in GIMP
  • Grab the Crop Tool from the Toolbox
  • In the Crop Tool options window choose Fixed Aspect Ratio and fill in 1:1 for a square crop, or use the aspect ratio you've chosen for your photo
  • Click and drag on the photo to highlight the area you want to keep
  • Press Enter to Crop the photo

Make the photo black & white

  • Go to Colours>Desaturate in the Main Menu - The Desaturate window will pop up
  • There are three choices for the desaturation method and GIMP gives you a preview of each one- Flip through each method and choose the one that works best for your photo
  • Click OK to change your photo from Full Colour to Black and White
    Colour to black and white

Add contrast

My photo needed more contrast. If your photo doesn't, skip this step.

  • Duplicate the Background layer and name the copy 'Contrast'
  • Make sure the Contrast layer is active, and go to Colours > Curves in the Main Menu - the Curves window will pop up
  • Make sure the Channel option is set to Value, Curve Type is set to Smooth, and the Preview option is checked
  • Just grab a point on the right half of the diagonal line and drag it up to make lights parts of the photo brighter
  • Then grab a point on the left half of the diagonal line and drag it down to make darks in the photo darker
  • When you're happy, click OK
Curves adjustment

I make the curves adjustment on a new layer because that makes it easy to adjust if I decide the effect is too strong. Just turn down the opacity of the Contrast layer to make the effect more subtle. When you're happy with the adjustment, Merge the Visible Layers.

Adjust contrast

Add film grain

I add the grain effect on a new layer so I can make it blend into the original more. That makes it look a little less like digital noise (which is actually what it is) and more like film grain.

I'm going for a photo journalistic effect so I added a bit more grain than you might like if you want more of a fine art look.

If you're mimicking a low speed film, skip this step.
  • Duplicate the new black and white background layer and name it 'Grain'
  • Make sure the Grain Layer is active, and go to Filters > Noise > Noise Generator in the Main Window - the Noise Generator window will pop up
  • I used the Laplace Tab with the Scale set to about 7 and the Luminance Noise Only and Preview buttons checked - Play around to find the best settings for your photo - Click OK to add the noise
  • Adjust the Opacity of the Grain layer using the Opacity slider in the Layers Dialogue - I chose around 50% but your results will depend on your photo
  • When you're happy merge the visible layers
Add noise
Add grain

Add the border

Medium format contact prints leave sometimes have a rough and streaky border that I really like. The border was actually the inspiration for this whole tutorial! Here's how I simulate the look:

Increase canvas size

  • Go to Image > Canvas Size in the Main Menu - the Canvas Size menu will pop up
  • Make sure the Width and Height dimensions are chained to each other to keep the correct aspect ratio (the chain icon should not be broken)
  • Increase the width (or height) by 10 or 15 pixels
  • Click the  Center button under the Offest section of the menu
  • Make sure resize layers is set to None
  • Click Resize to apply the effect

Add a new white layer

This is where the border will be.
  • Click the Add New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers Dialogue - the Add New Layer window will pop up
  • Name the New Layer 'Border'
  • Don't change the width or height dimensions
  • Choose White as the layer color
  • Click OK to add the new white layer
  • Drag this new layer under the background layer in the layers dialogue - You'll see a white outline around your photo in the Main Window

Paint black streaks with a scratchy brush

The key to getting this look is in the brush you choose. If you don't have a rough scratchy brush it's easy to add one. I have an article at all about GIMP Brushes complete with places to find free brushes and how to install them.
  • Using a Scratchy Brush with the foreground color set to Black paint black lines along the edge of the image on the Border Layer
  • Set the foreground color to White and using the same scratchy brush, rough up the corners of the border to make them less square
Scratchy brush

Paint white streaks with the paths tool

I use the paths tool here for a couple of reasons: First, it lets me choose very precisely where I put those white streaky parts. Second, I can choose to Emulate Brush Dynamics when I stroke the Path. I'll set my brush dynamics in the brush tool options to make them fade out at the ends. That's something that's harder to achieve by directly painting lines.
  • Make the white rough paint brush very small, only a few pixels
  • Expand the Brush Dynamics section of the Brush Tool Options
  • Check the boxes for Pressure- Opacity and Velocity- Opacity
  • Now, grab the Paths Tool from the Toolbox and make a two point line along one edge, right in the middle of the black
  • Go to Edit > Stroke Path in the Main Menu- the Stroke Path window will pop up
  • Choose Stroke With a Paint Tool
  • Choose the Paintbrush from the dropdown menu
  • Check the Emulate Brush Dynamics box
  • Click Stroke to paint the line
Add white streaks
Border complete

Finishing touches

The border looked just a little harsher than I likes, so I added about 4 pixels of Gaussian Blur to soften it up a bit.. Here's how I did it:
  • Make sure the Border layer is active (highlighted in the Layers Dialogue)
  • Go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur in the Main Menu- the Gaussian Blur window will pop up
  • Under Blur Radius, choose about 3 or 4 pixels for both the Vertical and Horizontal options
  • Click OK to apply the blur

When you're happy with the effect, merge the layers and save. You're all done!

Image complete with new frame and grain applied

Tutorial by Kat Landreth -

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Karen001 Junior Member 8 1 United Kingdom
12 Oct 2011 9:27AM
Thank you for putting this tutorial together. I found it helpful. Smile

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