I'm looking to take an image looking out at a storm in the distance that has a fairly uneven horizon due to trees and a foreground fence post and only increase the contrast and decrease the brightness on the sky portion.

The lighting in the image is such that the foreground grass/fence becomes far too dark when I increase contrast and decrease brightness, but it makes the sky look absolutely fantastic. I've tried to use the magic wand and intelligent scissors in Gimp to try and outline the horizon and each and every time even the slightest mistake like missing some sky or including some tree in the selection is very obvious once the adjustments are made (avoiding that seems almost impossible). If no better solution exists I suppose a tedious hand draw is possible, I'm just curious about alternatives.

Is there an effective way to split the image across the horizon so I can only modify the sky portion in Gimp and leave the ground unchanged?


Forget the magic wand. Grab the Free Select (Lasso) tool, and draw a selection around the sky. You can make sure you get right to the edges by going outside the image boundary at the top, left and right. When it comes to the horizon, follow the line of trees very roughly but don't worry about being too precise. Now go to Select > Feather, enter 150 pixels and click OK. This will give you a soft, natural looking transition between the sky and foreground.

Now, it's always best to edit non-destructively. Because GIMP doesn't have Adjustment Layers like Photoshop, this means editing separate image layers. So, duplicate the background layer (there's an icon at the bottom of the layers palette to do just that). Then right click the new layer and click Add Layer Mask. Choose Selection and click OK. The area you had selected (i.e. the sky) is retained, and the foreground is masked out, so you are in fact looking at the foreground on the layer beneath.

Make sure you have selected the layer contents rather than the mask by click on the layer thumbnail icon (it should have a white border around it). You can now use the Levels or Curve tools (avoid Brightness/Contrast) to adjust the sky however you like. If you want to adjust the foreground, simply select the appropriate layer (duplicate the background layer again to retain a non-edited version) and adjust that.

  • This is definitely the right way for me to go. I need to find a happy feather level so that the transition isn't so clear, but I seem to be working in the right direction now. Thanks mate, this is exactly what I was looking for!
    – J.Deal
    May 23 '11 at 16:45
  • No problem. Feathering in GIMP seems to be 'weaker' than Photoshop, which I'm more used to, so you may well need to increase it to ease the transition a little more. Also be aware that you can paint into the layer mask with white and black to fine tune the area it covers. May 23 '11 at 17:00

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