As some users asked for, here's a tutorial for enhancing your SC4 pics with GIMP. I've explained the steps I follow to photoedit my pictures and another person may follow another way. That's just mine and it works quite fine... Suggestions are very welcome!
There's already a tutorial on the Omnibus showing how to get the pictures, what to focus in and some really useful advices. This tutorial is going to be devoted to the procedure to follow on enhancing the pics.
Step 0: Get the GIMP
Step 1: Adjusting contrast and saturation
Step 2: Focusing and bluring
The extra stuff: Adding lens flares
The extra stuff: Flipping the picture
The extra stuff: Adding a border
The extra stuff: Adding a billboard
Step 3: Saving the picture.
Step 0: Get the GIMP
Obviously, a GIMP tutorial can't be followed without the program installed. I've downloaded my version from here [link]. As far as I've seen, the program will automatically check your operating system language and will install this language version. Mine is in Spanish, so I want to say sorry for the inconvenience. I've tried to translate all the tools and concepts, but maybe the translation isn't exact. Please, have this in mind.
Step 1: Adjusting contrast and saturation
You'll see that you have two floating toolbars at both sides of your screen. You can do with them whatever you want, try to fit them in a position they don't bother you, or hiding them until you need their tools.
First of all, we're going to open one of our pictures. Just go to File --> Open, just like you would do with another program. Choose the pic you want from the folder you have your pics and we'll be ready.
Here we can see a raw pic, directly taken from the game. It features a good amount of custom content, which will allow us to play a little bit with the tools.
Here comes the first big question: How's the weather outside? Is it raining? Is it cloudy? Is it sunny? The light you want the pic to have will determine the feel of it. If it's going to depict a vibrant city or a dull and grey slum it's up to the treatment you give to the pic. Let's go for a sunny day.
We're going to pull the contrast up. Doing this is nearly mandatory, as in-game contrast is too low in my humble opinion. We have to go to Colours --> Brightness and Contrast.
We increase the contrast around 15-20%. Make sure you tick the "Previous view" option to see how your pic changes when slight changes are applied.
Contrast solved! Only making this we have made this pic a little bit more vivid. Now we're going to solve the saturation "problem".
Saturation will really affect the feel of your picture, and I think that it's going more easy to explain with images than with words. We have to go to Colours --> Hue and Saturation.
If we pull the saturation slider down, we can see how colours disappear gradually, to the point that if we pull it to -100%, the pic will become a greyscale image. We don't want this, we want to make this pic to look as it was a sunny day; taking the saturation slider to the 25-35% will do the trick. We can even give the pic a sunrise/sunset feeling taking the saturation to the +100%.
As for the other commands, we won't need them as they don't make the pics more realistic. You can use them to make some psychodelic effects taking them to the max, but that's not the goal of this tutorial.
Finally, our pic looks like this:
The changes applied are subtle, but the whole feeling has changed a lot. Colours are now more vibrant and realistic, and the city seems a little bit more "alive".
Step 2: Focusing and blurring
These two are simple but very effective tricks to make the picture more realistic, but they have to be used wisely. Let's play a game:
Just take a pencil, a pen or another narrow object. Look at it with one of your eyes closed. It is clearly defined, while the background is totally blurred. Now focus your sight in your background, you'll realize your pen is blurry now. This is what real life cameras do and what we're trying to recreate with the GIMP.
Now comes another big question: "What do I want to focus in?" My goal is to "pretend" that the camera operator wanted to take a pic of the grey building, but the background is obvioulsy showing in the photo. This will also make the viewers to pay their attention to the grey building. Let's go.
We'll zoom in the picture to work more precisely. Just go to View --> Enlarge --> 1:1 (100%). That's the way we see the pic in-game.
And we try to hide a little bit one of the toolbars, which we won't need now. Now, we have to pick the free selection tool.
Here comes the tricky part. Try to follow click-by-click the whole perimeter of the zone you want to focus. We are going to focus in the buiding, so we have to select it. Just going click-by-click.
As you see, we are trying to "separate" the building of the rest of the picture. Feel free to increase the zoom to feel more confortable with the free selection tool or to select trickier buildings, like cathedrals. To finish the selection, just click on the place you've made your starting click.
When you're done (sometimes after two or three trials) we have to see something like this:
See the dashed line along all the building profile? This is telling us that this is the selected region and everything we do now will only affect this part of the picture.
Now we can focus the building. We're going to Filters --> Enhance --> Focus.
Just adjust the slider according to the previous view. I've gone to 35% but the focusing can be done up to 40-45% without the risk of overdoing the effect. Beyond the 45%, you'll overfocus the pic and the building will look quite bad...
We have focused in the building. You may not really see the effect, because it needs to be combined with the blur effect:
We need to select the background now, because it's time to blur it. We have to go to Filters --> Blur --> Blur. This is the basic type of blur, there are others like "Motion blur" to simulate somethings is moving, or the "Gaussian blur" which allows us to have a total control of the effect. The latter is too advanced for us, we just use here the basic blur.
Choosing the basic blur, you'll have to apply the effect several times to get the desired result. I've applied four times before getting the following:
Now you can deselect the background just hitting the Esc key to see how it looks.
In my opinion, it's the blur what creates the "magic". Now, the pic looks MUCH better than before.
The Extra Stuff
Lens flares always look nice and artistic when placed properly, and they give the pic a more realistic look. The process to get them is much more simple that you may think.
We only have to go to Filters --> Lights and shadows --> Lens Flare.
In the dialog, we can adjust the properties of the lens flare, but the default values are good for us. The only thing to keep in mind is "where" to place the lens flare, we'll always place it on a reflecting surface, like a glass façade, a body of water or a windshield. Just click on it.
Done! Easy, fast and nice! What else we can ask for?
Flipping the picture
SC4 game camera has four fixed angles, but with a simple effect we can pretend we have four more angles! This trick will try to give the pics the effect they haven't been taken in-game.
We simply have to go to Picture --> Transform --> Horizontal flip.
And that's it!
To make the effect nicer, if you want to show a RHD (Right Hand Drive) region, you could try switching your game to LHD (Left Hand Drive) and then, taking the pic. When you flip it, your automata will look as if they were driving RHD!
Adding a border
We have to select the whole pic now, it's going to be easier if we go to Select --> All. Then, we need to go to Edit --> Stroke selection.
On the dialog, we'll have to specify the thickness of the border, a black 20-25 pixel border will be enough. You can change the colour whenever you want.
I've chosen a basic design, the only limit to make your borders is your imagination; you can get hundreds of different border designs with some practice.
Adding a billboard
We can try to add a custom billboard to the building, I've made this having undone the previous effects. This isn't as easy as the things made before, but it can be perfectly done. We have to choose the Text tool in the toolbar.
Just drag a box wherever in the pic and write what you need, a new layer will be created. From now on, it is very important to make sure we are applying the effects to the new layer or things will mess up. Remember you can undo the things you do!
I've written the text "SAMPLE". It's time to check what font do we like the most for our billboard. If you feel the one you want isn't there, you can download hundreds of different fonts here [link].
Now, let's move the billboard to a better position. We'll do this with the Move tool.
Once we have it on the desired position, we need to give the "billboard" the perspective we want. We're going to do this with the Incline tool.
We have to click on the "billboard" to activate it and we'll get the following dialog:
We'll have to type 82 in the Y inclination. This, way, the billboard will automatically look like this:
We move it again to make it fit to the desired position and we could be done. We could give the pic more details, drawing by hand some supports for the billboard or making some shadows, but this has to be done when it's needed.
And that's it!
Step 3: Saving the picture
This is a quite important step because when you have to upload the picture to post it on your City Journal/Mayor Diary/City Showcase/etc, it has to agree some requirements, one of them is that the pic must be saved in *.jpg format.
We go to File --> Save as... option.
Click on the Select the file type option:
This will lead to another dialog, just look for JPEG and rename your file.
We'll see another dialog when saving, it talks about the layer stuff. Just click on Export. The next dialog is really important because it will determine the image quality of the picture. No need to say you have to pull the slider to the 100%.
Note that I haven't resized the pic. You can resize it at the time of uploading it to the image hosting server (before it hits the CJ). In the case of Simtropolis, the Imageshack tool can resize the pic according to your requirements, remember that the maximum allowed size is 800x600.
And... that's all! As you can see, photoedition can make a picture more appealing, more realistic and finally, make your CJ a little bit better.