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My friend took this photograph of me at a resort. However, as it was night and dimly lit the picture is not pleasing (Thanks to my friend's lack of pro photography skills) !

I downloaded GIMP in order to enhance the picture and try to make it better but sadly I'm a newbie to photo editing and all the tools in GIMP have confused me. How could I improve this image?

enter image description here Thank You

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  • Hi. Welcome to GDSE. I've edited your question because asking for free work is not really allowed here. So, I've made it more of a "how to do it" question.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 6 '20 at 11:33
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The photo is quite poor quality, and so editing it will probably produce poor quality results. Nothing you can really do about that unfortunately, but you could improve it a little.

In GIMP do Colours > Shadows-Highlights, and move the sliders to lighten the shadows. Don't go too far with this or it will just look bad. The problem here is that the image is quite noisy, so if you brighten too much it will make the problem worse.

Anyway, here's an Example showing the adjustments

enter image description here

Before and after

enter image description here

Since you're new to GIMP you'll also need to know how to save it. Do File > Export As, and choose a new file name, and set the file type to PNG.

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    @Tetsujin there are also Tone Mapping (HDR-like) filters in GIMP which could be used for an effect similar to your answer. These are under Colours > Tone Mapping, but they're a little tricky to use. I suggested this method because the OP is a beginner, and it's fairly easy.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 6 '20 at 12:18
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    I added a Curves example to mine, so at least I'm showing some kind of solution using Gimp itself. The Tone Mapping dialog on Mac seems too buggy to actually use (beachballing with an almost unused CPU on a 12-core Mac Pro) - I just grabbed the (almost) latest 2.10 so I'm fumbling around even more than usual. I've lived in Photoshop too long ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 6 '20 at 12:29
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    @Tetsujin Here's an example using the Reinhard 2005 Tone Mapping filter. You have to be patient when using these filters as they are a little CPU intensive, not so much buggy, just sluggish.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 6 '20 at 12:38
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    Indeed. Might be interesting to try it on a full-res image sometime, but even on this little jpg I see it hit 100% of one core for a few seconds, so it looks like it's single-threaded & means it can't even update the GUI whilst it's thinking, while 23 other HT cores sit waiting ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 6 '20 at 12:56
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    @Tetsujin - GIMP doesn't seem to take advantage of multiple cores like Photoshop does, even though it does have multiple threading. This may be a deliberate policy of the GIMP devs, since GIMP can work (albeit slowly) on just about any old computer, unlike recent versions of Photoshop.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 6 '20 at 13:03
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I'm not sure anyone could provide you a full tutorial on how to rescue over-dark & wrongly-lit photographs. This one suffers from both those issues & also a third… it's not of high-enough technical quality to rescue.
It's too noisy. If you try to lift the dark areas, there's not enough detail in them.

For a beginner, this type of rescue operation is often best performed by a dedicated HDR app, such as Aurora HDR. It will attempt to lift the dark areas without killing the bright areas… however, in this case there's not a lot that it can do to fix this shot.
Here's a two-minute attempt, to show you how little detail can be regained.

The only way to have fixed this shot would have been to not have almost all the lighting behind the subject.

enter image description here

Following Billy Kerr's answer using Gimp itself, here's an alternative method using Curves. It's similar to using the Shadows/Highlights feature, but allows for finer control. The same caveats apply, the image is too dark & too noisy to fully rescue by this or any method. Here I've over-pushed the settings to make the result clearer to see…

enter image description here

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Lights are in a little wrong places, but the photo shooting session is already done, so only edits are possible.

Duplicate the image layer. Apply to the copy Color > Curves to lift the person a little more visible. Do not get disturbed by lights which become bloomy and the dark background which start to look noisy:

enter image description here

Insert a black layer mask to the adjusted top layer. Black means full transparency, so the edited layer is hidden. Bring the person back by painting white to the layer mask with a big soft brush.

enter image description here

You can fix an error by painting black or by pressing Ctrl+Z, but there's no need to get the white to cover exactly and only the person. In professional photo sessions the lights often cover also a more or less the background and the target has shadow areas.

This is a 2 layer image. It must be exported to get a JPG or PNG.

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  • +1 for another nice answer with a different approach.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 6 '20 at 13:14
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Step #1 is fixing colors so that the areas which are too dark are easier to see. You can do that with Levels, Curves and similar tools, whichever you prefer.

However, step #2 is cleaning up all the noise from low ISO and I don't think GIMP (or Photoshop) has the necessary tools. I usually use Topaz Denoise AI for this as it has a lot of flexibility and can improve sharpness too.

This is what I got:

If you don't have access to Topaz applications, you can also try various free denoising neural models for ESRGAN like 1x_ISO_denoise_v2.

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