Monday, August 2, 2010

Previewing a house on your lot with Gimp

Google for Gimp, download and install the version for your computer.

Gimp is like Photoshop, only it is known for being more difficult to use. It’s not a commercial product so the support is not there, but it has a HELP function and some instruction pages on their website.

The OPEN SOURCE software movement is a collaborative effort, each programmer working on one small section or aspect, to make high quality software available for free, and usually for advanced users. Unfortunately, they don’t have any mission to teach the software to beginners.

If you are new to graphics software, have never used Adobe Photoshop, you may want to start by searching for some videos on how to use Gimp. Use Google video search.

If you haven’t used graphics software before, to paint, crop, resize, etc. then you get used to using tools on a single photo, and don’t bother trying to do something like this difficult project, placing a house from one photo to another, until you get good at doing the basics.

Even if you have some graphics experience -- and know how to crop and resize etc -- but are new to Gimp, best to try doing a simple house first, one with no railings, decks etc., and paste that into scenery, before you go to all the trouble of lassoing around a complex object like an entire ihouse. The ehome is easy to do. Use my photos if you want.

Gimp’s default extension for saving a photo is the Gimp format. The first time you save your work, just “SAVE AS” and keep using the Gimp default format, using SAVE after the initial SAVE AS.

For the final photograph, after finishing, having done the last SAVE in Gimp format, do a SAVE AS in .jpg format. You can’t see the Gimp format photo, outside of Gimp software. The Gimp format, however, remembers all the steps. The .jpg format won't. So save copies in both formats.

So, when you want to do your first SAVE AS, perhaps after you’ve done the copy and paste, and are done with the model photo, do a SAVE as with a name, e.g., MYHOUSE (or whatever) and don’t put in an extension. So, when you do you are completely done, doing a the last SAVE in Gimp. Then do another SAVE AS, and put in MYHOUSE.jpg


Okay, now to get started. You have a photo of a model house, and a photo of the land where you want to put it. Before starting, make copies (In Windows, right click on photo, MAKE COPY) of each of these photos, and use the copies instead of the originals. That way, you don't have to worry about writing over your original photos.

In Gimp, open the two photos (one of the model, one of the land), one after the other.

You juggle between the two images by reducing them (- sign in upper right) to the status bar, and then click on them in the status bar if you want to reconstitute it to the main Gimp window.

IMAGE, Scale Image

Go to the photo of the model house and scale (resize ) it, using the instruction above (the CAPS are the heading selection, and then “Scale Image” is the selection in the drop down window) to something that would look about the size you want in the photo. I made it smaller because I didn’t want the house taking up the whole photo, as it does in my photo of the model.

Remember, Cntrl-Z to undo a step if you want to go back. (Cntrl-Y to redo a step).

Then, use the lasso tool (Looks like a noose. See below for more tips on using the lasso tool) to draw around the house, the part to be clipped out which included the surrounding land and shadow, going point to point, (clicking on each point).

After that is done so that you are at the point you began, click or even double click so that a dotted line appears around the whole area.

Press Cntrl-C to copy.

Reduce the image of the model you‘ve clipped from, reducing it to the status bar, click on the rectangular crop tool (first icon in the tool box), just to get out of the lasso, while you are on the photo of the land, click on it, and press Cntrl-V to paste the house.

After positioning or re-positioning the house by just dragging it holding the mouse button down, release the mouse button.

Remember, you can move the tool box around to get it out of your way. Just click on the heading bar and drag it.

COLORS, Brightness-Contrast

Adjust the brightness/contrast (See above heading, where that is located), so it would fit in the land and be about the same light value.

Then click somewhere on the photo, outside of the pasted in selection, to release the image, so the two images merge. (You can undo, Cntrl-Z, if you make a mistake)

Now the detail work begins. Blending the edges of the house, filling in the scenery. Don’t go for perfection on your first try.

For these refinements I used the following tools:

Rectangle (like the lasso but goes in only a rectangle)
Zoom in
Zoom out
Burn (darken an area)
Dodge (lighten an area)
Eye dropper (to pick up color from an area in the photo to use to paint)
Cntrl-Shift-E (full screen)
Cntrl-Z (undo)
Cntrl-Y (redo)

I also did a lot of lassoing, copying (Cntrl-C) and pasting (Cntrl-V).

Most of the tools above, like “Paint” or “Smudge” come with adjustable parameters, brush size, brush type, opacity. The tool remembers the last size you have it set at but size changes are necessary depending on the task. For example, if the blur tool is set to too small a size, it will take forever to blur an inch of the photo. If it is too big, it will blur too big an area.


A word of explanation of the lasso tool in Gimp. It has a dual use. If you hold down the mouse button, you can draw around any shaped object like curves, however, that is not how to use it for something like this. Instead, I use the point to point use. You can even draw around a curve, going point to point.

The first click, places the point, then release the button and drag a straight line next to the edge you want to clip, and click when reaching the next corner. You can click and drag as many times as you want. It is not until you return to where you started, that you want to get the blinking dotted line.

Sometimes, after the last click, after getting it to blink around everything you want to CUT, there’ll be yet another line as the cursor is pulled away. Don’t worry about that. That will not be copied.

I know a few fairly experienced computer users who were not able to learn Gimp or Photoshop. This is very complex and unique software, whereas most other software falls into a pattern of the menus.

You don’t burn, dodge, blur etc in a word processor or spread sheet. Then there are the quirks. The biggest quirk in Gimp, for this project, is that to get out of the Lasso tool, you have to always click on the Rectangular crop tool. Otherwise it gets stuck.

Anywhere along the way, with graphics software, you can mess up HOURS of work with one little slip. That’s why it is important to master the UNDO command (Cntrl-Z), and to keep saving your work throughout the project, always in the native GIMP format, which is the default. I probably used the undo command a hundred times in one project. I try something, doesn’t work right, so undo it.

Only at the very end, do you SAVE AS in a JPG format, to display on a web page or anywhere. (The Gimp format does not display anywhere except GIMP.)

It can take weeks or even months to become an advanced user of Gimp. It takes experience to know when PAINTING might be easier than SMUDGING.

For my I-house photo, I did a lot of clipping and pasting of bits of green land area to put in the railing sections, because the scenery behind the railing, was wrong for the site photo.

If you are new to graphics software, get used to playing with everything, learning how all the tools work, and don’t get goal or project oriented.

I’m sorry I can’t do a real step-by-step lesson, with photos or even video that shows how I use a tool, but that would just take me days to put together.


Let's say you are taking a photo of property where you want your house. Pace off a certain number of step and pretend you envision where your house will be. Then take some photos.

Then when you take a photo of the model house, pace off the same number of steps and get the model at the same angle.

The problem is, in a dealer lot, you sometimes won't be able to get the model at the right angle, because of other homes, fences or buildings nearby. I lucked out with the ehome, because it had a lot of open area in the front.

When I did my composite photo of the i-house, I really took liberties with the proportions. I could have more accurate, but ignored that and just wanted to make the photo look good.

Some houses are much easier to do than others. The less railing and decks there is, the easier it is. Well, you’ll see when you try to do it. Have fun.