Use an IPhone and GIMP to Get Images From Your Desk to Your Desktop

Introduction: Use an IPhone and GIMP to Get Images From Your Desk to Your Desktop

Digital spaces should be accessible so everyone can share their stories. Not all museums have the same resources and budgets as large institutions, creating barriers that make it impossible to put some collections online. Luckily, you can still create a digital museum without access to professional technology and share the stories that aren’t frequently captured, you just have to get creative with digitization.

Photo editing is challenging without access to Photoshop or professional grade software. Using free apps can be frustrating due to annoying ads and technology limitations while knowing what software to trust is alienating. GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is an excellent option for those looking to edit images with powerful and trustworthy free software. GIMP has a range of functions from common tasks like cropping and resizing images, to professional grade photo retouching and file conversion.

Additionally, lockdown has removed access to scanners for people who use these devices at schools, libraries, or community centres. Luckily, you can use an iPhone to scan items and take them from your desk to your desktop in no time at all. This is also a great option for items that don’t fit on a typical scanner. How is this different than just snapping a picture? The scanner option on an iPhone automatically straightens and fixes the perspective of the image so it is proportional, like it would be with a scanner. Though you won’t get quite the same quality you would with a scanner, this is a great option to start importing and editing images without a scanner, and it’s fast and easy!

The following instructions will show you how you can use an iPhone and free software to digitize and edit a photograph. You can also use this method to make physical posters, art, flyers, and lots of other items into digital images. This low-barrier method is useful for small museums, community centres, schools, families, and anyone who wants to digitize their history but doesn't have the resources.

First, you will learn how to use an iPhone to scan a photograph and then you will learn how to use GIMP to import, crop, resize, and colour correct it. Finally, you will learn how to export your image into the desired format. A few more examples of items that have been processed with this method are included at the end, as well as some useful resources if you want to learn more.


  • Photographs (or other items you want to digitize, such as flyers and posters)
  • Computer with internet access and admin rights
  • GIMP (Download here)
  • iPhone

Step 1: Scan the Photo

To start, you will use an iPhone to take a scan of an item. Make sure the item is lying flat in a well lit room and be careful your shadow doesn't fall across the item while you are taking the scan.

To scan the item:

  1. Open Notes and open a New Note.
  2. Select the Camera icon and press Scan Documents.
  3. Centre the photo on the screen, drag the four corner icons on the screen to match the four corners of your photo, and take the picture.
  4. Click Keep Scan > Save.
  5. Click Done when the PDF appears on your screen.
  6. Click the Ellipsis (...) and send the PDF to your desktop via AirDrop or email.

Now you have a scan of the item, you can start working with GIMP. Ensure you have downloaded GIMP from here.

Step 2: Open GIMP

Here is a breakdown of the basic areas you see on your screen when you open GIMP:

  • The Toolbox: displays most of the tools you need for basic editing.
  • Tool Options: displays what tool you have selected and some of the extra options available for that tool.
  • Image Pane: displays the image you are currently editing.
  • Image Window: displays images you have open in the program, allowing you to easily zoom in and out of the image.
  • Layers, Channels, and Paths Window: displays the various layers, channels, and paths available to edit for your image.

Step 3: Import the Image

To import your image to GIMP:

  1. Click File > Open.
  2. Navigate to the PDF you created with the iPhone scan.
  3. Select the PDF.
  4. Click Open > Import.

When your image imports, use the Zoom icon in the Image Window to resize the image so you can start editing.

Step 4: Rotate and Crop the Image

The image might need to be rotated vertically or horizontally, depending how you did the scan.

To rotate the image:

  1. Click Image > Transform.
  2. Select the appropriate action.

If your image imports with a white border, you will likely want to crop it before you edit.

To crop the image:

  1. Select the Crop tool from the toolbox.
  2. Select the part of the image you would like crop.
  3. Click the centre of the image or press Enter.

Step 5: Resize the Image

Even though you’re viewing the image in the workspace at a workable size, remember that you’ve only used the zoom function, you haven’t actually resized the image. Now it’s time to think about what size you want the image to be. Even if you’re only importing the image for digital storage, appropriately resizing the image will make it easier to work with in the future.

The size of the image will be manipulated based on pixel height and width, meaning, you will select the number of pixels the image will have overall based on a height and width calculation. You may already have an idea of how big you want your image to be but if you don’t, 800 x 600 is a common size for a landscape photo.

To resize an image:

  1. Click Image > Scale Image.
  2. Change the Quality Interpolation to None.
  3. Change the Image Size Height and Width to be the size you want, such as 800 x 600.
  4. Click Scale.

Note: If you have an image that is NOT a regular size, keep the Quality Interpolation as Cubic. This will allow the image to retain its unique dimensions when you change either the height or width of the photo. When you keep the Quality Interpolation as Cubic and you change either the Height or Width, you will see the corresponding value change automatically to retain the unique dimension of the image.

Step 6: Understanding Colour

Colour correcting will make a digital image more representative of the original, physical image. It can also help photographs suffering from fading, red cast, and light leaks. Colour correcting will create a brighter and more accurate digital image.

A colour correction is usually done with a colour reference (a sheet with actual white and black references on it) but you can use the most apparent light and dark spaces on an image as a reference to do an approximate colour correction in GIMP.

Colours on a computer are a mix of the primary colours red, blue, and green (generally shortened to RGB) at different levels from a minimum of 0 to a maximum of 255. Black has 0 red, green, or black, while white has the maximum of 255 of red, green, and blue. You will be using the Pointer tool in GIMP to find the areas of the image closest to black (0/0/0) and white (255/255/255)

Want to know more about colour? Check these links!

Step 7: Find the Dark and Light Spots

Now that you understand RGB at a basic level, you can use RGB values to find the darkest and lightest spots in your image. These spots will be used as the reference for the colour correction.

To find the dark and light colour references:

    1. Look at your image and decide where the darkest (closest to black) and lightest (closest to white) spots are.
    2. Select the Pointer tool in the Image window.
    3. Float the pointer over the darkest spot in the image.
    4. Look at the RGB reference to see where the numbers are lowest (RGB closest to 0).
    5. Float the pointer over the lightest spot in the image.
    6. Look at the RGB reference to see where the numbers are highest (RGB closest to 255).
    7. Remember where these spots are for the colour correction.

    Step 8: Correct the Colour

    Using the darkest and lightest spots on the image, you can now correct the colours.

    To correct the colours in your image:

    1. Select the Pick Black Point For All Channels button.
    2. Click on the previously established darkest part of the image.
    3. Select the Pick White Point For All Channels button.
    4. Click on the previously established lightest part of the image.
    5. If you are happy with your selection, click OK.
    6. Click Colours > Levels.

    Note: If you want to try again, click Reset and start the selection again. If you find the colour correction doesn’t create a more balanced or accurate photo, click Cancel.

    Step 9: Export the Image

    You now have an appropriately rotated, cropped, and scaled image, possibly with a colour correction too! The final step is to export your image into the desired format.

    To export your image:

    1. Click File > Export As.
    2. Rename your image.
    3. Select the location you want to save the image.
    4. Expand the Select File Type (By Extension) menu.
    5. Select the desired format, most likely JPEG or TIFF.
    6. Click Export > Export to finish saving your image.

    Step 10: Decide What's Next

    While this is only a basic introduction to the things you can do with GIMP, it should serve as a low-barrier method to help groups or individuals move physical items into a digital format without a scanner.

    The only question is, what will you do with your images next? Here are a few ideas!

    Step 11: Examples and Resources

    The above images were captured with an iPhone and processed using GIMP.

    Want to learn more about GIMP? Check out these resources!

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      Mario EmmanuelA
      Mario EmmanuelA

      2 days ago on Step 11

      I think that GIMP its a great software for create photo editions.