AB Friday Forum – Week 50 (Softening Without Losing Detail in GIMP)…


This week’s After Before was inspired by a tangent.  I was looking through GIMP Magazine Issue 5 (I’m a bit behind on my reading as they are about to publish issue 12).  I chose to read Issue 5 because Pat David was on the cover, and I have found his tutorials to be very helpful.

So Pat David was being interviewed, and he was asked which tools he used the most in GIMP.  He said, G’MIC Plug-in (which I have used in my tutorials), Curves, and Wavelet Decompose Plug-in.  He said that he found Wavelet Decompose to be indispensable for editing portraits.

I had to know more about this Wavelet Decompose Plug-in.  Basically the Wavelet Decompose filter takes your image and breaks it down into several layers of different frequencies.  What this allows you to do is make changes in the bigger details, like blemishes and frown lines, without losing the fine details, like pores on a face.  Normally when you try to lessen blemishes or frown lines you end up with a too smooth result that looks fake.

So I found one of Pat David’s Wavelet Decompose tutorials.  You can download the images he uses in the tutorial to practice on your own, so I did.  Here’s my tinkering with the image Martina by Flickr user Erik Olsson licensed as CC-BY-SA-NC. …

I followed along with the tutorial, then I went a few steps further and removed the small mole below her lip and changed her eye color – just to see if I could.  The seed was planted.  I wanted to try this plug-in on one of my own images.

But I don’t take photos of people, so what image could I use?  I decided to look for an image that had a distracting background to see if I could lessen the distraction.  I chose an image of a pink pom-pom flower that I took back in Feb 2014.

I lessened the contrast areas of the textured wall, then changed it’s color to a more pleasing grey (click to enlarge)…

I submitted these images to Stacy for the AB Friday Forum, but I continued to tinker with it.  I noticed that there was some pinkish noise near the flower, and a red blemish on one of the leaves, so I worked on it a bit further…

After After

After After

And then I wanted to nudge it just a bit more, so I added some pop with a multiply layer, a grey 70 layer (I’ll explain in the tutorial), and a touch of highlights…

After After2

After After2

Kind thoughts and comments are welcome!

Go find out what everyone else did this week for AB Friday Forum here.

I have joined ABFriday (after before Friday), it is a forum hosted by Stacy at Visual Venturing. This week’s forum can be seen here.

Every Friday Stacy showcases after/before photos we’ve submitted. Then, if we choose, we can tell how we did it on our own blogs.


I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this tutorial in a way that isn’t super long.  The main idea here is to use the Wavelet Decompose Plug-in to reduce the distraction of the background (texture and contrast).  Most of the other things I did to the image I’ve done in previous tutorials, so I’ll see if I can just link to some of those to make this more manageable.

You will need:

  • A photo editor, I used GIMP*
  • Your imagination

wilberTutorial – Quick Glance:


  1. I did my usual raw adjustments in UFRaw.
  2. Then I altered the image a bit with levels, curves, brightness-contrast, and color balance (I have plans to one day write up some tutorials that cover more basic features of GIMP, but I haven’t yet).
  3. Wavelet Decompose Plug-in. And changed the background color.
  4. Ran a Dodge/Burn script.
  5. Added a Multiply layer.
  6. Added a grey 70 layer.
  7. Added highlights.

*** The order of the layers does matter, keep this in mind as you create the new layers. ***

Detailed Notes:

1. I did my usual raw adjustments in UFRaw.


2. Then I altered the image a bit with levels, curves, brightness-contrast, and color balance (I have plans to one day write up some tutorials that cover more basic features of GIMP, but I haven't yet).

This is the image I called “Before”…


3. Wavelet Decompose Plug-in.  Changed the background color.  (Check out this tutorial by Pat David for a great breakdown and tutorial on this tool.)

This is the heart of this post, so I will spend more time in this section.

The Wavelet Decompose Plug-in basically will take your image and separate it into several layers each with it’s own frequency level plus a residual layer (all the rest of the information from your photo, like color).  The details from fine to large get separated out into individual layers (each set to Grain Merge mode).  This is important because you can blur, lessen, or remove portions of your image by playing around in the different levels of frequency.  To remove details in one of the frequency levels you can either use 50% grey (128,128,128) or you can clone/heal areas.

Let’s look at the breakdown of my image.  I originally chose the default of 5 layers plus residual, but the texture on the wall was still prevalent in the residual layer.  So I started over and created 8 layers plus a residual layer, it worked much better.

Go to Filters->Generic->Wavelet Decompose (after you’ve installed the plug-in found here).

wd-optionsThe default is 5 wavelet detail scales, start here and see if you like the results, because if you have too many layers it starts to be more work than it should be.  I chose 8 wavelet detail scales (after trying out 5 and then 10)…

140207_NAT_034-edit-wc-metrixThere is very fine detail in the wavelet scales 1-5 (we will leave these layers alone), and large details in wavelet scales 6-8… the large details are where we are going to do the most work.  As you can see, in order to make changes to the texture of the background wavelet scales 7&8 are going to make the biggest differences.

Now for this image I didn’t want to obliterate the background texture, I only wanted to lessen it.  So rather than using the basic paint brush with 100% hardness, I used a crackled brush (from the gps-gimp-paint-studio) and the airbrush tool .  See the difference below (click to enlarge)…

crackle-airbrush-3Starting with wavelet scale level 8 and then working my way to level 6, I used the airbrush (set to 50% grey) and worked to lightly lessen the contrast areas of the textured background (click to enlarge)…

I could have stopped here.

But I decided I wanted to try to see if I could make the background color more pleasing.

I created a duplicate copy of the residual layer, changed the blend mode to Color.  Next I took the color picker tool and sampled the dark brown area of the background.  I made a transparent layer, filled that layer with the brown color, then inverted that layer to get a pretty light blue.  I sampled the light blue and deleted the blue layer.  (I cover this in more depth in my Split-Toning Tutorial).  By selecting the inverse color of the background I will get a more neutral grey color when the two layers are blended together.

Now with the blue as my foreground color, I chose a scratch brush and painted haphazardly around the flower with blue scratches.  Then I used the Speed Blend setting I mentioned here, to blend the blue into the background.  I was a little over zealous near the flower’s stamens and I ended up having to add a mask to fix those areas.   Then I changed the opacity to 50% (image below shows the layer at 100%)…

wavelet-residual-chgbkgcolorYou will notice that right up around the flower and leaves it is less blend-y looking, that is because after I had added some other edits and submitted my image to Stacy for the AB Friday, I noticed that around the flower wasn’t as blended as it could have been so I went back to the residual copy, used the color picker tool to get that blue again, and then painted in the areas that needed some extra work.  I also worked on the red blemish on the leaf (by repeating similar steps like I did for the background on layers 6-8).  (Click to enlarge)…


4. Ran a Dodge/Burn script.

It’s a subtle edit.  I ran the dodge/burn script [Script-Fu->Enhance->Dodge and Burn] at values Thin:5 Thick:35 (click to enlarge).

5. Added a Multiply layer.

I created a Layer->New Layer from Visible to capture all that I had done thus far.  Then I duplicated that layer and changed it’s blend mode to Multiply and lowered it’s opacity to 25%…


6. Added a grey 70 layer.

I felt it was just a tad bit too dark.  So I added a transparent layer, filled it with 70% grey and changed the blend mode to Overlay and reduced the opacity to 50%…


7. Added highlights.

Lastly, I added a little bit more pop by increasing some highlights.  I added a transparent layer, changed the foreground color to white and then painted over the areas I wanted highlighted with a brush, then changed the blend mode to Overlay and reduced the opacity to 25%…


Wow that was long!  I hope you were able to follow along.  Here’s the final Before/After (click to enlarge)…


I hope that you got something out of this tutorial and that you will try it (or parts of it) out.  Please let me know if you do and tell me how it went.

Until next time…

* GIMP is Open Source software that is available for all platforms (Linux, Mac, and Windows), it is a photo editor that does many (if not all) of the things you can do in Photoshop. You can download it for free here. The GIMP online manual can be found here.


Like Wilber? You can get him here.

19 thoughts on “AB Friday Forum – Week 50 (Softening Without Losing Detail in GIMP)…

  1. Wow, super interesting post, Nic. I particulaly like how you applied a tool to something totally different than its usual use. I don’t use GIMP, but Ben’s comment that it is similar to Frequency Separation in Photoshop will give me a possible avenue to explore. I really like the final result. By the way, your Google search on the Henry George ad was a cool idea. It inspired me to look further and it seems those cigars were a big deal in the 1930s; they even had their own radio show. But I digress. I also wanted to say that the tutorial here was very impressive.

    • Thanks, Robin! Yeah, frequency separation is a really awesome way to remove stuff without losing the details, I hope you check it out.

      Oh cool, I read that the Henry George Cigars Ad on that particular building was just recently revealed when they tore down the building next to a place called, Mom’s Cafe. On the wall of Mom’s Cafe they claim they’ve been there since 1929. 🙂 Yeah, apparently they were only 5 cents and were pretty good quality, made for the working man – which is why they used Henry George’s visage.

      Thank you again, I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorial, I hope it inspires you. 😀

  2. At first Nic I was a bit lost (since I don’t use Gimp) but when mentioned the plugin using layers and then softening skin with out losing details I was following straight away. This is frequency separation, in photoshop and really useful then needing to fix colour or detail areas without affecting the other. Nice tutorial and an interesting read.

    • Thanks, Ben! 😀 Yes it’s frequency separation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think in Photoshop you only get high frequency and low frequency. With the Wavelet Decompose Plug-in I can get as many levels of frequency as I’m willing to work with, which as I mentioned, I needed a few more levels than the default setting (5 +residual) because the contrast on that textured wall needed to be broken down into a few more frequency levels.

    • Thanks, Katie! I really wanted the focus on the flower and that wall (background) is just so textured that it became distracting.

  3. Wow, Nic, this is one amazing tutorial that you’ve put together! I can’t imagine the time it takes you to do something like this. You are the GIMP guru 🙂

    I love how you thought outside the box and applied the plug-in to this photo. It makes a great difference, bringing in a lovely shallow DOF. Combined that with all the other tweaks you made and you ended up with a wonderful final image.

    By the way, how do you do the automated slideshows? Such a cool feature 🙂

    • Thanks, Mary! I really like flowers that uncurl and then pop out these little fringes. I think this one is called a pom-pom flower (Calliandra Haematocephala). In the Southern California area I have seen them in pink and red, as vines and as trees. 🙂

Kind thoughts and comments are always welcome...

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